New House GOP Conference chair says voters have mandated reform
GOP legislators in Springfield received their marching orders in November's general election to keep pushing for reform, the newly named House Republican Conference chairman said during a recent interview.
"Voters elected more Republicans to the Illinois House in November than we had during my first term," state Rep. Keith Wheeler (R-Oswego) said. "That is our mandate to keep fighting for reform in Springfield, and as conference chairman, I intend to highlight our shared values and work to bring people together."
While Republicans remain the minority party in the Illinois General Assembly, members now have more incentive to listen, according to Wheeler.
"Being in the minority is challenging because we don’t have the ability to ensure that our legislation is allowed a hearing or a vote," he said. "Yet, [as of] Jan. 11, Democrats no longer enjoy a supermajority in the Illinois House of Representatives. This means Republicans have a seat at the table when budget and other important policy negotiations are held between the Governor’s Office and legislative leaders. As conference chairman, I can help strengthen and steer Republican proposals to that table and work to ensure that bipartisan agreements include some of the critical reforms we’re fighting for."
Wheeler's was one of two high-level House GOP appointments announced Jan. 3 by House Republican Leader Jim Durkin. Durkin also announced the appointment of state Rep. Peter Breen (R-Lombard) as new assistant House Republican Conference leader.
Wheeler will take over the conference chairmanship from Rep. Adam Brown, who resigned after serving out the remainder of his term.
"Keith Wheeler has made a significant impact on the Illinois House of Representatives in just two short years," Durkin said in his announcement. "In addition to being a vocal and effective advocate for his constituents, Rep. Wheeler has been a leader in our caucus on issues important to Illinois' small business community and reforming the state budget. He has earned this opportunity to play a larger role in shaping policy moving forward as we work together to make Illinois a place where everyone can be proud to live, work and raise a family once again."
Wheeler, who just completed his freshman term in the state House, won a second term in November to represent the 50th District, which includes portions of Kane and Kendall counties. Wheeler received almost 61 percent to soundly defeat Democrat challenger Valerie Burd.
His appointment as House Republican Conference chairman this week was not a surprise, Wheeler told the Will County Gazette.
"Leader Durkin and I speak on a regular basis about legislation and policy goals that we’re working to advance in Springfield with colleagues on both sides of the aisle," Wheeler said. "He called me over the holidays and asked if I would be interested in stepping up to take on a leadership role within our caucus. As a 25-year small business owner who came to Springfield to fight for common-sense reforms on issues like workers compensation, property tax relief, and growing our economy, I was eager to accept this opportunity to have a stronger voice in shaping House Republicans’ strategy and putting forward initiatives to not only resolve the current budget impasse, but to chart a more positive course for Illinois’ future."
As Republican Conference chairman, Wheeler will be responsible for leading caucus meetings in Springfield during the legislative session.
"My goals are to give every member an opportunity to have their voice heard and contribute to discussions so that we can come together as a team to advance fiscally conservative, reform-minded legislation; and to prevent bad legislation from passing," he said. "By bad legislation I mean anything that maintains the status quo, adds to the state’s mountain of debt and backlog of unpaid bills, or inhibits the hardworking entrepreneurs and men and women of our small business community from being able to retain and grow Illinois jobs for Illinois families. Simply put, we are going to stand up for policies that will restore stability to the state budget and growth to our economy."