As Illinois State Senate President John Cullerton steps down, a heated contest has developed between two senators looking to take over the powerful role.
State Sen. Kimberly Lightford, who has represented Illinois’ 4th Senate District since 1998, is currently the Senate’s Majority Leader. She is engaged in a battle with State Sen. Don Harmon, who has represented the 39th District since 2003. He is currently the President Pro Tempore of the State Senate, having taken over that role in 2011.
Both candidates are working the phones in the run-up to Sunday’s vote, and are meeting personally with their colleagues.
“I’m asking to be judged on my 17-year record of leadership and service in the Illinois Senate,” Harmon said. “The Senate presidency really has to tackle these three areas: the policy, the politics and the personal.”
Lightford, who is also the chair of the Senate Black Caucus, said she is running on her record of being able to work under both Republican and Democratic administrations, and that she is ready for the challenge she’ll face if elected.
“I’ve been through six governors and three Senate presidents, both Republican and Democrat alike,” she said. “It’s the right time, and I’m ready.”
The winning candidate will have no shortage of crises to deal with, from federal investigations of several state senators and lobbyists to serious ethical investigations into the conduct of members and their staffers.
The leadership role also requires a candidate who can fundraise for fellow senators, and in that area Harmon has a decided advantage, having outraised Lightford while also donating far more money to other political candidates.
“Don has more money in his coffers, but that’s because he’s been running for the idea of the presidency for a lot longer than I have,” she said.
“On the political side I think I’m in the best position to protect our caucus and to grow it,” Harmon said. “I’ve demonstrated my ability to help my colleagues with their election and raising the resources we need.”
Lightford is seeking to become the first African-American woman to ascend to the Senate presidency, but she says that her primary objective is to do good work for her colleagues and for the state of Illinois.
“I don’t see a color issue,” she said. “I just see more of an opportunity and I’m going for it, and I hope at the end of the day that Sen. Harmon and I will continue to work together.”
As for Gov. J.B. Pritzker, the executive has not taken a side in the debate between candidates. Senator Harmon did not support Pritzker in the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial primary, and Lightford has lined up key Pritzker allies, perhaps giving an indication of where the governor’s preference lies.
The election will be held Sunday in Springfield.