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Opinion

EYE ON ILLINOIS: Wednesday’s actions show the importance of consensus during coronavirus

There are many unknowns concerning how Illinois will move forward during a global health crisis, but two events Wednesday gave one clear indication.

The first was Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s withdrawal of a newly filed emergency rule, avoiding a contentious Joint Committee on Administrative Rules debate. The second was the state House voting 81-27 to eject Rep. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, for refusing to wear a mask.

These events, which transpired in the matter of a few hours on lawmakers’ first day back in session, are evidence of the importance — and popularity — of cooperation.

There’s no doubt Pritzker’s administration bowed to public pressure. Once Republicans latched onto the talking point that certain business operators could be fined or even jailed for violating the emergency safety provisions, it became clear Pritzker would have to either withdraw the rules or bear responsibility for the JCAR debate and vote. He may still have his rules, but only by going through the conventional, public process that first subjects them to legislative analysis and approval.

For his part, Bailey refused to cave to pressure. Seemingly empowered by vocal protesters on the capital city streets, as well as the Clay County constituents who have cheered his lawsuit against Pritzker, Bailey entered the makeshift House chamber unmasked and refused to don one even after his colleagues codified their own health safety rules on a 97-12 vote.

“We cannot ignore nor compromise the health and safety of every member of the General Assembly, their family members, every one of our staffers who works tirelessly for us,” said Rep. Jim Durkin, House minority leader, before Bailey took his stand.

The vote to eject Bailey was bipartisan, as was the push to make Pritzker stand down. The governor realizes the security of his Democratic majority in the Legislature and positive polling concerning his COVID-19 response aren’t as valuable as projecting an image as open to discussion and collaboration. The rebuke of Bailey indicates GOP leadership recognizes the importance of taking public health seriously and that working on resurrecting the economy is a matter of smarts and safety, not stunts and showboating.

Illinoisans of all stripes are anxious for life to return to some semblance of normal, but only those on the extremes think the governor has been either wholly perfect or entirely incorrect. The reality — distressing as it may be for publicity hounds — is somewhere in between, awash in the reality that there is no economy if shoppers and workers are scared, sick or dead.

There still are far more questions than answers, but Wednesday effected a notable shift in public discourse. Consensus will carry the state through the murky future, and there is comfort in having seen the evidence on display.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at tsloup@shawmedia.com.

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