Opinions Editor

Jim Dey is a staff writer for The News-Gazette. His email is jdey@news-gazette.com.

Listen to this article

When state Rep. Carol Ammons was suddenly replaced

on new Illinois House Speaker Chris Welch’s legislative leadership team in late May, the demotion included a roughly $18,000 pay cut for the Urbana Democrat.

But a few weeks later, Welch eased Ammons’ financial pain by appointing her chairwoman of a newly created Small Business, Tech Innovation and Entrepreneurship Committee, a post that restores more than half of the money she lost.

Records in the House clerk’s office, however, show that Ammons, who receives a $10,574 stipend for her role as chairwoman, is the only member of the new committee to which “at this time, no legislation has been assigned.”

Welch notified the clerk of the appointment on the crucial date of June 30.

“Pursuant to House Rule 13, I am establishing the House Special Committee on Small Business, Tech Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Please be advised that today, I am making the following appointment. This appointment is effective immediately,” Welch wrote in his letter naming Ammons as the committee’s leader.

On Wednesday, Welch spokeswoman Jaclyn Driscoll confirmed his appointment of Ammons.

But she has since declined to respond to written questions about why Welch made the appointment.

Ammons also has declined to respond to inquiries. A media representative for Democratic House members initially indicated she would present Ammons a list of questions to answer regarding the appointment.

But after reviewing the questions, Ammons spokeswoman Emma Holzauer wrote in an email to The News-Gazette that they “would be answered best by Speaker Welch.”

The date of Welch’s appointment — the last day of June — allowed Ammons to be paid her stipend as if she had held the position for the entire month.

Comptroller Susana Mendoza’s office said Ammons received an $881 payment for June because she was named the committee’s leader on June 30.

Mendoza has complained bitterly in the past about legislators being paid for an entire month when they only are on the job for one day.

The Legislature recently changed the rules, but they apply only to legislators who are leaving office.

The new law “doesn’t apply to her,” said Abdon Pallasch, a spokesman for the comptroller’s office.

Prior to Welch’s decision to create a new committee, the 118 House members were assigned to 46 committees.

Serving as chair or the ranking minority committee member carries a cash payment called a stipend. It’s an additional payment on top of a legislator’s salary of nearly $70,000 a year.

Stipends play a big role in allowing legislators to collect higher salaries while escaping public recriminations.

Welch receives a stipend of $28,136 for taking on the speaker’s duties. Republican leader Jim Durkin receives the same extra pay for overseeing his party members.

Prior to her departure, Ammons served as leader of the Democratic Conference, a post that paid an $18,500 stipend.

So leaving her post and being replaced by East St. Louis state Rep. LaToya Greenwood was considerably more than embarrassing. It was also expensive.

Neither Welch nor Ammons have explained what led to Welch’s decision to remove her as conference leader. But news reports at the time indicated that Ammons abused her position while she presided over House debate on a piece of legislation that Ammons opposed.

The measure involved reporting issues at the Department of Children and Family Services.

Critics charged that Ammons allowed another opponent of the bill, state Rep. Mary Flowers, D-Chicago, to engage in extended and personally hostile questioning of the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Terra Costa Howard, D-Lombard.

Representatives of the speaker who preside over House debate are required to conduct themselves in a neutral and professional manner, something several of Ammons’ fellow Democrats said she did not do.

Springfield political analyst Rich Miller reported that Ammons was unrepentant about her conduct when Welch confronted her about what occurred.

He subsequently — and politely — announced that Ammons was out and Greenwood was in.

Welch’s conduct regarding Ammons is in sharp contrast to

how his predecessor, former House Speaker Michael Madigan, handled fellow Democrats who did not follow his rules.

Madigan would strip them of prestigious committee posts, deny them the stipends they coveted and frustrate their efforts to pass legislation or otherwise marginalize them.

Victims of those tactics include current state Rep. Jay Hoffman of Belleville, who subsequently made peace with Madigan, and former state Rep. Scott Drury, who left politics after an unsuccessful run for the Democratic Party’s nomination for attorney general.

In contrast, Welch not only has come to Ammons’ financial assistance, but has also attended a public meet-and-greet with her at a local union hall.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached at jdey@news-gazette.com or 217-393-8251.

Trending Videos