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Column

EYE ON ILLINOIS: Pritzker still above water on virus response, but balance is delicate

The chess pieces are moving.

Gov. JB Pritzker is speaking around the state, warning regions where COVID-19 data is worsening of possible tightened restrictions.

School districts are quickly adjusting plans for resuming classes in August while changes to the high school sports calendar and new limits on youth activities put family plans into a new realm of uncertainty.

Thomas DeVore, the downstate lawyer behind about a dozen lawsuits challenging the state’s coronavirus response, said Wednesday he’d stall his litigation if lawmakers returned to Springfield.

Pressure is mounting on House Speaker Mike Madigan, implicated in a federal investigation of ComEd bribery allegations, to resign from his leadership post, House seat and as head of the state Democratic party.

Despite the logic of shifting pandemic response from the executive branch only to a shared approach with the legislative, there were no indications Pritzker had planned to call for a special session. While he likely wouldn’t take action that could be perceived as caving to DeVore, the governor can barely mention lawmakers in the present climate without inviting questions about Madigan he clearly would rather avoid.

In the coronavirus context, Pritzker remains above water with his constituents. The COVID-19 Consortium for Understanding the Public’s Policy Preferences Across States (http://covidstates.org), a joint project of Northeastern, Harvard, Rutgers and Northwestern universities, conducted its seventh nationwide survey from July 10 to 26, this time involving more than 19,000 participants.

Pritzker’s rating (a percentage of respondents who approve or strongly approve) went from 63% in late April to to 54% in early May, 52% in late May, 58% in late June and back to 52% in late July. That’s better than the ratings of 27 other governors and tied with two others (Minnesota and Pennsylvania). The national average has dropped, going from 64 to 59 to 54 to 53 to 51.

The survey asks the same question regarding President Trump. Illinoisans gave him a 36% approval rating in late April and early May, from then it dropped to 34% and 28% before settling at 26%. He’s currently faring better in 42 other states and the same in New Mexico and Rhode Island. Trump’s national average has dropped as well, falling from 42 to 40 to 34 twice and resting at 32.

But with only three months to stump for his graduated income tax referendum, Pritzker is fighting on multiple fronts. The longer he goes without bringing lawmakers to the table, the louder the criticisms of executive overreach. Ignoring Madigan makes it harder to distance an essential election from vital fundraising dollars.

Yet Illinois’ pandemic response still has majority support, because Pritzker pledged to prioritize safety then followed through.

It’s a delicate balance. How long can it last?

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

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