Don Harmon Elected Illinois Senate President


Published on January 20 2020 11:10 am
Last Updated on January 20 2020 2:19 pm


Senator Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, was elected as the 39th president of the Illinois Senate on Sunday after hours of behind-the-scenes negotiations.


The race had been weeks in the making, and by the time the closed-door negotiations began Sunday shortly after 11 a.m., the field of candidates was down to two — Harmon, who has served in the chamber since 2003, and Sen. Kimberly Lightford, a Maywood Democrat and the majority leader, who has served in the Senate since 1998.

The negotiations took place in the Senate president’s office, which was then occupied by John Cullerton, who relinquished the gavel Sunday prior to the vote on Harmon. The doors to that office were locked to the public and media.

Harmon succeeds Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat who surprised his colleagues in November by announcing his plans to step down. He resigned his Senate seat shortly after Harmon was sworn in.

Harmon reportedly held a 22-17 lead after the first blind ballot, with two senators calling in their votes via phone. Midway through the second round of negotiations, Sen. Emil Jones III, a Chicago Democrat whose father was the previous Senate president before Cullerton, spoke briefly with reporters about the intensity of the negotiations.

Democrats emerged from their closed-door caucus shortly before 5 p.m. with a deal that Lightford would concede the race and support Harmon, but that she would also stay on as majority leader. After the caucus meeting, the full Senate convened for the formal vote. The vote went 37-12 in Harmon’s favor.

Two of the Senate’s 40 Democrats were absent from the chamber and Cullerton abstained. Harmon and Minority Leader Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, voted for each other as Republicans ceremoniously nominated Brady for the post. Harmon, 53, was born and raised in Oak Park.

During the 2019 session, he was the principal sponsor in the Senate of the proposed constitutional amendment to overhaul the state’s income tax system, which will appear on the November general election ballot. Earlier, he pushed for legislation to require gun dealers to be licensed by the state and to expand early childhood education programs. He has also been an advocate for voting rights and clean energy initiatives.