Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker on Wednesday called on embattled State Senator Martin Sandoval to step aside as chairman of the influential Senate Transportation Committee, and called on Senate President John Cullerton to strip Sandoval of the position if he refuses.
Federal agents made a public show of raiding Sandoval’s home and legislative offices last week. According to the warrant, federal agents justified the seizures at Sandoval’s state offices last Tuesday as they investigated whether the state senator violated seven federal statutes, including conspiracy, mail fraud and even a section of the U.S. Code called “interference with commerce by threats or violence.”
Sandoval has not been charged with wrongdoing.
It’s an unusual call for Pritzker, who has tried to cultivate a positive working relationship with the legislature.
Pritzker’s motivation to call for Sandoval to step aside comes as he defends one of his signature accomplishments from this year’s historically productive legislative sessions. Sandoval led the passage of a massive $45 billion infrastructure construction bill. Those projects range from simple road paving to bridge repairs to upgrades on the Chicago Transit Authority to the construction of new school buildings.
But Pritzker has been criticized for doubling the state’s gas tax to help pay for the construction projects, and on Wednesday he cited Sandoval’s involvement in negotiations as the primary reason Sandoval should step aside from his post as Senate Transportation Committee chairman.
“We must assure the public that this work is on the up-and-up,” Pritzker told reporters Wednesday. “Corruption and self-dealing will not be tolerated.”
Sandoval could not immediately be reached.
Senate President John Cullerton, who has the power to strip Sandoval of his chairmanship, appeared to buck Pritzker’s wish. In a statement, Cullerton’s spokesman did not say what Cullerton intends to do.
“This remains an active investigation, and the Senate President wants to make informed decisions,” Cullerton spokesman John Patterson wrote.
“Sometimes I have to say some difficult things to the leaders,” Pritzker said of his conversation with Senate President John Cullerton about Sandoval. “Frankly I’m angry that there is a corruption that exists that we have to root out.”
By keeping Sandoval in place, Cullerton is staying consistent with a precedent he set earlier this year when WBEZ reported that another state senator was under federal criminal investigation. Federal prosecutors issued a subpoena to Cullerton’s office as part of an investigation into his distant cousin, state Sen. Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park, over his ties to the Teamsters. But Tom Cullerton kept his position as chairman of the Senate Labor Committee until he was indicted for being paid by the Teamsters while doing little to no work for them. Once he was indicted, the senate president moved Tom Cullerton from the Labor Committee chairmanship to chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Tom Cullerton has pleaded not guilty.
Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow him @tonyjarnold.