Seven more Illinois House Democrats have come forward to say they’ve received the COVID-19 vaccine, following the publication of a WBEZ survey on the COVID-19 vaccination status of all 177 Illinois state lawmakers.
The additional responses mean 82% of the state’s legislators are willing to say that they are vaccinated against the quickly mutating and spreading coronavirus. State Rep. Dan Caulkins, R-Decatur, was the only one to say he is not vaccinated.
Three of the seven new respondents are members of the House Black Caucus, which reduces the number of Black House members who have not answered whether they are vaccinated.
Several Black Caucus members who had not responded before publication of the survey represent Black communities with low vaccination rates. Across Illinois, Black and Latino residents have lagged other racial groups in getting vaccinated. Community leaders and public health experts attribute that, in part, to long-standing distrust of government and health officials.
Four House Democrats still have not supplied an answer to WBEZ as to whether they’re vaccinated: Reps. Mary Flowers, of Chicago, who also is a member of House Speaker Emanuel Chris Welch’s leadership team; Thaddeus Jones, of Calumet City; Rita Mayfield, of Waukegan; and Curtis Tarver, of Chicago.
Among the seven Democrats who did come forward with answers after publication is State Rep. John D’Amico, D-Chicago.“The reason he was vaccinated was because he wanted to protect himself, his family and everyone around him,” a D’Amico spokeswoman said.
Seeing the results of the survey “puts pressure on” the hold-outs to respond and make their own status known, said Kent Redfield, professor emeritus of political studies at the University of Illinois at Springfield. Candidates are required to report their home addresses, and they routinely disclose details about their health during campaigns. Officeholders also are legally required to report personal financial details and expensive gifts.
But that pressure was not being felt by House Republicans, who far and away continue to be the largest legislative bloc who either did not respond to WBEZ’s vaccination survey, or declined to answer.
Twenty-three of 45 House Republicans and three GOP senators still haven’t responded.
Several Republicans had voiced opposition to answering the survey, saying their vaccination status is a private matter and they should not have to make it public.
“This is personal health information, of course it is,” Redfield said. “But it’s also a public health issue, and what you do and what your constituents do has an impact on everyone else in the community and the state at-large because it’s a highly communicable, contagious disease. I just think it’s incumbent to provide leadership.”
Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods, did not acknowledge the lack of GOP responses to the survey and instead presented more criticisms of Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker’s handling of the pandemic. It’s the latest dust-up among legislative Republicans over Pritzker’s handling of the pandemic.
McConchie ridiculed Pritzker for allowing legislators to be vaccinated ahead of the general public — which Pritzker said he granted after receiving many requests from General Assembly members.
“This kind of extreme decision-making is exactly why the governor should not continue to be allowed endless, unilateral control of the state during an emergency,” McConchie said in a statement. “This is only one example why the legislature should actively oversee his ongoing response as the pandemic continues.”
More recently, Republicans criticized Pritzker’s mandate that schools require everyone to wear a mask, arguing the decision should be left to local school boards.
Pritzker also wants to mandate vaccination for state employees who work in congregate settings, such as prisons and veterans’ homes.
The first-term Democratic governor is running for re-election next year, and he got his COVID-19 vaccine in front of rolling cameras. He reacted to the survey results by calling on the remaining lawmakers who haven’t been vaccinated to do so and to promote the shot’s effectiveness to their constituents.
“Leadership during tough times requires leading by example and doing everything possible to inform your community about the benefits of vaccination,” Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said in a statement. “Right now, people are dying who do not have to die. We finally have a tool to fight coronavirus, and leaders should be touting the benefits of this tool, not stigmatizing it. The Governor encourages all lawmakers not only to get vaccinated, but also to encourage their constituents to get the life-saving vaccine.”
Tony Arnold and Dave McKinney cover Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow them @tonyjarnold and @davemckinney.