Saturday Feb 04, 2023

Showdown between Pritzker, Senate on parole board a microcosm of crime as 2022 campaign issue – The Pantagraph


SPRINGFIELD — Gov. J.B. Pritzker was clearly frustrated.

In a Tuesday press conference in his Capitol office that followed a ceremony commemorating the centennial of the Illinois State Police, Pritzker did little to mask his irritation with the Illinois Senate’s rejection of two of his nominees to the Prisoner Review Board.

“This is what the GQP has been all about: tearing government apart,” Pritzker said, using a disparaging acronym that mixes the Republican Party’s nickname with QAnon, the far-right conspiracy theory. “I think we ought to stand up for the integrity of the people that get appointed and the very tough decisions that they have to make, but obviously we’re going to move forward and keep the PRB operating as best we can.”

The 15-member panel is charged with, among other responsibilities, considering the release of prisoners incarcerated before 1978, when the state’s determined sentence law took effect.


Pritzker’s anger with Republicans was palpable — they have certainly been beating the drum on issues with the board for more than a year. Yet some could argue it was misplaced.

All members of the Republican superminority, as expected, voted down Pritzker’s nominees, but it was the supermajority Democrats who ultimately sank their nominations.

On Monday, the Senate rejected board appointee Eleanor Wilson on a 15-31 roll. Fourteen Democrats voted “no” and another 12 did not vote at all. Earlier in the day, board appointee Oreal James resigned to avoid a similar fate.

Why were their nominations doomed? They were among board members who voted to release Joseph Hurst and Johnny Veal, who were each convicted of killing police officers. 

Another board member, Jeff Mears, had his nomination rejected by the Senate last week over concerns on his votes to release convicted killers.

Before it all came to a head, Pritzker and Senate Democrats danced around the issue, with the governor routinely withdrawing and then reappointing his nominees to get around the requirement that nominations be approved within 60 session days. 

This loophole, which has been used by governors of both parties in the past, essentially allowed Pritzker to have his nominees while allowing Senate Democrats to avoid taking politically-tough votes. 

But the nominees became too politically toxic for Democratic senators to ignore. 

“The murder of a police officer is more than an attack on an individual, it is an attack on the rule of law itself,” said Sen. Bill Cunningham, D-Chicago. “No individual who commits such a heinous crime should ever be paroled. The Prisoner Review Board should ensure that the most severe crimes are met with the most severe punishment under the law.”


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