November 8, 2017

State lawmaker calls out AG Lisa Madigan over sexual harassment scandal

ILLINOIS NEWS NETWORK

An Illinois state lawmaker is calling out Attorney General Lisa Madigan in the ongoing sexual harassment scandal that grips Springfield.

Rep. Allen Skillicorn, R-East Dundee, introduced legislation that would create a dedicated phone line in the Attorney General's Office that individuals can call directly to report sexual harassment.

In filing the legislation, Skillicorn wondered where Madigan's office has been as a culture of sexual harassment manifested itself at the state Capitol.

"Where has the attorney general been?" Skillicorn said in a statement announcing his legislation. "From the AG’s website, ‘The first female attorney general of Illinois, Lisa Madigan, has long advocated in state government for women’s safety.’ Apparently, that doesn’t include the shenanigans at the Capitol just up the street."

At a House Committee meeting last week, Lobbyist Denise Rotheimer, an advocate who supports legislation against sexual harassment and sexual assault, said she filed a sexual harassment complaint against state Sen. Ira Silverstein, D-Chicago, a year ago, but nothing ever came of it.

Senate President John Cullerton's office said it received Rotheimer's complaint and forwarded it to the Legislative Inspector General's office, which is charged with reviewing and investigating complaints against lawmakers and their staffs. But that post had been unfilled for two years. It was later disclosed that 27 separate complaints had gone uninvestigated because there was no inspector general.

"It's a real problem," Skillicorn told Illinois News Network on Tuesday. "They have 27 complaints on the record, yet no action. Where is the attorney general on this matter? She's been silent on this. She says on her website she's for women's rights and advancing those issues, but why isn't she defending the women who are being harassed in the statehouse?"

In response, the Illinois Attorney General's office said it only became aware of the uninvestigated complaints at the same time lawmakers did last week. When the AG's office learned about it, it reached out to the Legislative Ethics Commission and recommended a special inspector general be appointed, according to the office, noting that a hotline already exists that individuals can call to report allegations of sexual harassment. That number is 877-581-3692.

More than 300 Illinois women with ties to state government have signed a #MeToo letter demanding a change in culture in Springfield that they say allows rampant sexual harassment to occur under a veil of secrecy. The national #MeToo movement started last month after dozens of women came forward to make sexual harassment and rape allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

Skillicorn said that a lack of action is common at the Capitol, noting that oftentimes new legislation in the House that Speaker Michael Madigan opposes is sent to Rules Committee and never given a hearing.

"As bills go to die in the Rules Committee, so, too – apparently – complaints went to an empty office for years, never to be seen," Skillicorn said. "As a freshman legislator, I am continually shocked by the unbelievable malfeasance in the operation of our government – from bloated budgets and a burgeoning backlog of bills to the unchecked abuse of power without oversight."

Members of the Legislative Ethics Commission appointed Julie Porter its new inspector general in an emergency meeting Saturday. Porter is a founding partner at Salvatore Prescott & Porter based in its Chicago office and a former assistant state's attorney in Chicago.

Skillicorn also pointed to Lisa Madigan's connection to longtime House Speaker Michael Madigan, her stepfather, a lack of corruption cases being investigated by the AG, and the property tax appeals process in Chicago that has been criticized as favoring the connected and wealthy over the less affluent.

"The taxpayers deserve better representation from the Attorney General's Office," Skillicorn said.