Don Harmon Elected President of Illinois State Senate

Harmon was elected Sunday after a tight race against Sen. Kimberly Lightford

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Illinois state senators voted Sunday to elect Sen. Don Harmon as the chamber's new president, its first new leader in more than a decade.

Harmon's primary opposition in the race to become the new Senate leader was Sen. Kimberly Lightford, the current Senate majority leader.

"The work now begins in earnest," Harmon said in a statement after being sworn in as president. "I look forward to joining together with Governor Pritzker and leaders in both chambers as we work to change the trajectory of our state and set a better course for our future."

The Illinois State Senate has elected a new president, and NBC 5's Mary Ann Ahern has the latest details.

Harmon led in early voting during Sunday's special session, but negotiations continued until just before 5 p.m. when a deal was reached to guarantee Harmon enough votes to win the leadership role.

The change in leadership comes in the wake of current Senate President John Cullerton's impending retirement. Cullerton made the surprise announcement in November that he would be stepping down after nearly four decades in the legislature. He had been president of the Senate since 2009.

Harmon was most recently an assistant majority leader in the Senate, where he's served since 2003. Harmon represents the 39th District, which is directly north of Lightford's district and includes parts of Oak Park, Franklin Park, Melrose Park, Bensenville and more, including O'Hare International Airport.

"I’m asking to be judged on my 17-year record of leadership and service in the Illinois Senate,” Harmon said in a separate interview Thursday. “The Senate presidency really has to tackle these three areas: the policy, the politics and the personal."

Harmon has highlighted his fundraising acumen as one reason lawmakers should support him for president. Across three campaign committees, state records show Harmon had more than $2.2 million in his war chest as of Thursday - far outpacing Lightford's $264,000.

"Having a good leader and a strong leader will help you in your district and help bring resources back to your community," Sen. Emil Jones III said.

In a statement, Governor J.B. Pritzker congratulated Harmon on his election, saying that he's confident in the senator's abilities as the chamber's new leader.

"With 17 years of experience in the upper chamber, I am confident that Don will ably serve and lead the Senate with a steady hand and hold integrity above all else," he said. "I look forward to working with Senate President Harmon to build on the progress we made last year and continue to move our state in the right direction."

Pritzker also praised Lightford, whom he lauded for helping to raise the state's minimum wage.

"I commend Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford on a historic run and am proud of her work tackling big challenges for working families," he said. "I know she has more important work to do as Majority Leader."

Lightford, second-in-command in the chamber, has represented the 4th District - encompassing parts of Bellwod, Maywood, Westchester and other areas of the western suburbs, as well as part of Chicago's Austin neighborhood - since 1998.

Pritzker, who presided over the vote, did not endorse either candidate, and had said he personally did not have a preference in the election, adding that he's collaborated with both candidates - Harmon on the effort to implement a graduated income tax in Illinois, and Lightford on raising the state's minimum wage.

There is one major change to the election of the Senate president this time around: Harmon only be able to serve in that position for a maximum of 10 years, or five terms in the General Assembly, because the chamber passed term limits on its leadership positions in 2017.

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