Pritzker plucks Manar from stagnant state Senate

Illinois Capitol News

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — One of Illinois’ most influential state legislators is leaving elected office to take a job in Governor J.B. Pritzker’s administration.

State Senator Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) announced his decision to resign from Illinois’ 48th Senate District in a press release on Monday morning. Moments later, a press release from Pritzker’s office named Manar as a new senior advisor.

Pritzker’s office said Manar will advise the governor on “downstate economic revitalization, appropriations, and COVID-19 recovery efforts.”

The pandemic sidelined the statehouse, waylaid many of Manar’s 2020 legislative ambitions, and frustrated a number of state lawmakers who felt their collective role as an equal branch of government was effectively reduced to a mere sounding board during a time of crisis.

“COVID has changed people’s lives,” Manar said Monday night. “So, it’s given me time to reflect on many things personally and professionally.”

The veteran legislator was first elected mayor of his hometown at age 22 before winning a seat on the Macoupin County Board. He later served as budget director and chief of staff to former Senate President John Cullerton before he won his seat in the Senate, a job he considered “an incredible privilege.”

Pritzker expressed his admiration for Manar at an October ribbon cutting to announce grant funding for broadband expansion in Staunton, noting how routinely Manar defers credit to others. But Manar’s colleagues credit him with a number of major legislative accomplishments, including repairing the state’s worst-in-the-nation education funding formula, overriding former Republican Governor Bruce Rauner’s veto of a bill to implement automatic voter registration, and capping the out-of-pocket cost of insulin for thousands of diabetics on state-run health insurance plans.

“We did it because people demanded a change of their government,” Manar said. “It didn’t happen just because of me. It happened because there were thousands of people working on it across the state.”

The downstate Democrat, whose district has skewed more conservative in recent years, says he’s not maneuvering for higher office in a statewide run, but rather reinventing his role in public service.

Manar’s exit not only avoids the uncertainty of a new political map in 2022, but also thrusts him into the center of an executive branch that exercised rare emergency powers to commandeer the state’s response to the Coronavirus and ordered businesses to close to slow the spread of the virus.

“That doesn’t come without severe disagreement,” Manar said, acknowledging a mounting downstate discontent toward Coronavirus closures and business restrictions. “We’re in a place that we’ve never been before. That’s the fact of the matter. And you know, the politics are what they are. But I see a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Downstate Democrats like Manar, who boasted wider and wider margins of victory in each of his four consecutive election wins, are increasingly rare in rural regions where many voters have ditched the drab grey of dedicated public officials in search of a more colorful strain of populist politics that rewards rage over results and protest over progress. He attributes the shifting political sentiments in his district to “a national trend” born of anxiety and fear about a shrinking hope in the American dream.

“When it comes to the economics of what is going on in rural America today, it hasn’t been great,” he said. “And it hasn’t been great for quite some time. And I say that having lived my entire life in a town of 1,700 people. I’ve seen the change. I’ve seen what has happened with my own eyes. More oftentimes than not, it gives people concern about the future, and a negative outlook about what’s happening to small businesses in their community, or what’s happening at their school, or what’s going on with the availability of jobs. All those things have taken their toll.”

The career change will quadruple Manar’s salary, from an annual base pay of roughly $67,900 to $278,000. Half of his paycheck will come from the state, the other half from a private company Pritzker set up with his own funds to compensate a handful of select figures in his administration.

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