SPRINGFIELD — An Illinois lawmaker dissatisfied with Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s handling of the large number of COVID-19-related unemployment claims is calling on his colleagues to support an effort to remove the governor from office.
Republican Rep. Allen Skillicorn, of Crystal Lake, said lack of staffing at the Illinois Department of Employment Security and its website’s disclosure of sensitive information is evidence of Pritzker’s “continued inaction.”
After issuing a news release notifying residents of his initiative, Skillicorn told reporters in a video news conference on Tuesday, May 26 he “would actually prefer to avoid coverage.”
“This is a nonpartisan issue. This is about the people of Illinois,” he said. “This is not my voice, it’s the voice of over 1 million people in Illinois that are now unemployed. … It’s not about me. It’s not about my party.”
The representative, who said his constituents contact him daily about their challenges in getting unemployment claims processed, said he will drop his effort to recall Pritzker if the governor better secures IDES’s website and hires more call center agents.
But Pritzker on Tuesday said it is not that easy.
No one could “possibly anticipate that we would have a number of unemployment filings that was an enormous multiple of that which occurred during the Great Recession” in 2008, he said during his daily COVID-19 press briefing in Chicago. Those claims coupled with decades of IDES being “left behind” in the state budget meant officials were unprepared to handle complications caused by the pandemic.
The department’s website was designed 10 years ago, the governor added. The state since hired Deloitte, a third-party private firm, to upgrade its capabilities “as quickly as we could.”
On May 15, officials detected a security issue — the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance portal had a “glitch” that allowed one resident filing a claim to view personal information of more than 32,000 Illinoisans.
“In typical Chicago Democrat fashion, the governor decided the best way to fix the website was to hand out a lavish no-bid contract,” Skillicorn said in a written statement. “Now secure data has been unleashed into the public domain. It is an epic failure.”
The department and Deloitte worked to “quickly correct the issue and conduct an investigation and analysis,” according to a news release.
And the number of call center agents was increased “modestly,” the governor added, due to restrictions implemented by the federal government. Those who process unemployment claims over the phone must receive rigorous training because those agents handle private information.
Skillicorn accused the governor of “minimizing” the IDES issues.
Pritzker, in a response to a reporter’s question on May 26, said he is “glad to hear that the representative … apparently believes that we need to fund the state government instead of hollow it out the way he has voted over the course of his career.”
Illinois’ Constitution provides an avenue for lawmakers and voters to recall a governor. It was added to the governing document in 2010 and was an initiative of former Gov. Pat Quinn, said Ann Lousin, a professor at the John Marshall Law School in Chicago who helped draft the Constitution five decades ago.
But there are many big hurdles to getting a recall question to voters.
First, 30 legislators — 20 representatives and 10 senators, half from each party — must sign an affidavit supporting the motion to remove a governor from office. Once officials from the State Board of Elections certify that notice to circulate a petition, voters may weigh in with their signature.
At least 636,825 residents — or, 15 percent of the votes cast in the gubernatorial election — have 150 days to sign the petition for it to be successful. There also must be at least 25 counties with 100 signatures among those on the petition.
If those requirements are met, a special election on whether to recall the governor must be held within 100 days of the petitions’ certification. A special election with candidates from “established” political parties — currently, only Democrats and Republicans — would also occur concurrently.
The Constitution provides that once a governor survives a recall vote, there may not be another challenge during “the remainder of the current term of office.”
Skillicorn said Tuesday, May 26 he began the process to gain lawmaker support. He said he already secured three representatives’ support and “fully (plans) to be able to get the full 30 we need.”