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SPRINGFIELD — Long conversations with Democratic Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker came before a couple of appointments to his Cabinet, and that's a good sign, according to a bipartisan duo of former lawmakers set to lead departments for the new administration.

"Some folks in the campaign team approached me and I had ... lengthy conversations, kind of going up the ladder, until I had a long conversation — in excess of an hour as a matter of fact — with the governor-elect himself," said former state Rep. David Harris, an Arlington Heights Republican tapped to run the Department of Revenue.

"I think people will find him to be an engaging, enthusiastic individual who wants to move this state forward," Harris said last week at what was his Stratton Building legislative office. Harris, 70, didn't seek a new term in the House, so his tenure as a legislator ended Wednesday with the inauguration of the 101st General Assembly.

And former state Sen. John Sullivan, a Rushville Democrat, said that after many people prompted him to apply to head the Department of Agriculture, he did so.

Sullivan said he had meetings with "some of the governor's folks," trying to get an idea if Pritzker would be micromanaging agencies -- something he said has been "part of the problem" in the administration of GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner.

"Then I had almost a two-hour sit-down with the governor-elect himself," Sullivan said. "And we really, really had a good discussion."

Sullivan, 60, said he wasn't too involved in the Pritzker campaign, but did support him locally.

"Every time I met him, I came away from the conversation more impressed with ... just who he was, I mean his frank, honest assessment of issues," said Sullivan. "To me, a sign of a good leader is somebody that, when they don't know the answer, they say, 'I don't know ... but I'll do my best to try and find it out.'

"And he has done that on several occasions. He comes right out and says, 'I don't know anything about agriculture, and I'm going to have to rely on people that know.'"

Sullivan also said he was "very impressed" with Pritzker's talk of bipartisanship.

"He believes in putting good people into leadership positions," Sullivan said, "and the fact of whether they're a Democrat, Republican, independent, that wasn't as big a factor to him as the fact that they have the leadership skills and the talent to do the job."

State Rep. Tim Butler, a Springfield Republican, said he's not sure how many Republicans Pritzker will ultimately have in his administration, but "certainly, putting Rep. Harris in there was a big deal." He noted that Harris also led the Illinois National Guard as the state's adjutant general and is "one of our top people in the state when it comes to revenue and the budget. So I think that's really good."

Butler also noted Sullivan's involvement with agriculture — Sullivan has a 200-acre farm that produces mostly grain but also has a small cow herd and has long worked in his family's auction business — bodes well.

Sullivan is, Butler said, "well respected across both sides of the aisle. I've heard nothing but positive things about John as the director-designate. I think he'll do a great job."

About David Harris

Harris served in the House for 18 years -- a 10-year stint through 1992 and eight years ending last week. He was senior vice president of the Illinois Hospital Association for seven years after his first decade in the House. And then-Gov. George Ryan appointed him state adjutant general. He was in that post, leading the state's national guard, when the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, occurred, and he attended regular meetings at the Pentagon as forces were mobilized in the aftermath of that terrorism. He was a two-star general when he retired from the military, having a total of 33 years in all, including the Army, some Reserve service and 22 years with the National Guard.

He also served in a diplomatic post, as chief of staff for the Iraq Reconstruction Management Office, for just more than year starting in the summer of 2005. The office oversaw spending of about $21 billion that Congress appropriated for reconstruction of Iraq.

A Reading, Pennsylvania, native, Harris moved with his family to Mount Prospect, and he graduated from St. Viator High in Arlington Heights, where he still lives. He studied politics and graduated from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

He worked on President Ronald Reagan's national advance team on an as-needed basis, from the time Reagan was a candidate for president in 1976 through 1988 -- Reagan's final year in the White House.

"I had some fascinating experiences traveling internationally and nationally with the president," he said.

He and his wife, Michelle, have two sons, including a West Point graduate.

Harris said he's been a Republican his whole life. But in 2017, he voted over Rauner's objection for a budget, including a tax increase, ending a two-year budget impasse.

"It troubled me that we had a Republican administration that was willing to let the state go over the cliff," Harris said. "We would have been the only state in the history of the United States to have our bonds rated as junk."

Harris also said that unlike his GOP colleagues in the House, he didn't sign on to a resolution opposed to a graduated income tax. Moving the state to such a system was a key campaign issue for Pritzker, who says the rich would pay more and those in the middle class and "striving to get there" would pay less.

Rauner and many Republicans said most people would pay more, and Pritzker hasn't revealed proposed graduated tax rates, saying he wants to work with lawmakers on brackets.

"I believe that the graduated income tax is a question of fairness," Harris said.

While he will have his policy differences with Pritzker, Harris said, he believes Pritzker will be bipartisan as much as possible.

"A lot of the Republicans have said, 'Well, Speaker (Michael) Madigan is going to dictate to him, or (Senate) President (John) Cullerton is going to dictate to him," Harris said. "I don't think anybody is going to dictate to anybody else. ... He's going to listen, .... but he's not going to be dictated to, and, at the same time, he's not going to try to dictate to them -- which (is) maybe what our incumbent has tried to do."

About John Sullivan

Sullivan Auctioneers in Hamilton, which is in Hancock County, does auctions in many states, mostly of farm machinery and farm real estate, and has been in business for four decades. Sullivan, who took a leave from that business during his 14 years in the state Senate and will do so again, said he has three brothers, two sons, a daughter-in-law, and nieces and nephews in the business.

Sullivan was born in Macomb and lived in Nauvoo and Hamilton before graduating from Hamilton High. He got a history degree at what is now Quincy University and worked in banking and lending for five years. He has lived near Rushville since the 1980s, and was in the auction business for 20 years before he started his Senate stint in 2003. He and his wife, Joan, have three married sons and a daughter. There are already four granddaughters, and each of his three daughter-in-laws is expecting another child.

Sullivan said he represented a "very Republican district" in the Senate.

"But I worked very hard at it ... constituency work as well as just being out and going to events and talking to people," he said.

One friend he made while in the Senate was Barack Obama, who represented a Chicago district there before being elected a U.S. senator and president. Sullivan campaigned for Obama for president in four or five states, he said.

"He was another person that wasn't afraid to say, 'John, I don't know anything about agriculture ... so help me with this," Sullivan said of Obama.

Sullivan said he's glad to have served as co-chair of Pritzker's agriculture transition team, which he said was made up of a very diverse group, with different parts of the state, as well as ag organizations and businesses represented. A main focus of the group, he said, was "to talk about growing the ag economy and rural development."

Sullivan also said he's excited that farmers will have a new crop to choose from in industrial hemp, and he's planning to study up on new rules allowing production.

Sullivan said he knows some of his neighbors in western Illinois will disagree with Pritzker on some issues.

"But the state of Illinois has been lacking in leadership for a long time," Sullivan said, "and we need somebody that will lead this state. And I feel very confident that J.B. Pritzker is the person that can do it."

Harris and Sullivan's appointments will be up confirmation in the Illinois Senate.

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