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“Governor Blagojevich should remain in prison,” Pritzker said

Gov. J.B. Pritzker stands next to Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton as he takes questions after a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Illinois State Fair on Thursday in Springfield. Pritzker addressed the possibility raised Wednesday by President Donald Trump that the president was considering commuting the prison sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. “Governor Blagojevich should remain in prison,” Pritzker said. 

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Wednesday praised the release of a report detailing a culture of sexual harassment, bullying and intimidation that pervaded Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan's office and his Democratic caucus, but skirted questions about whether he has confidence in the speaker's leadership.

"The culture of sexual harassment exists in Springfield on both sides of the aisle," the rookie Democratic governor said Wednesday at an unrelated event in Chicago. "It has been pervasive for a long time. I think anybody that's worked in Springfield has talked about it and knows about it. And it is a very positive thing that these things have come to light."

The report from Maggie Hickey, a former federal prosecutor and state executive inspector general under Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, pointed the blame for many of the problems within the speaker's office at his longtime chief of staff, Tim Mapes.

Mapes, who also was House clerk and executive director of the Madigan-led state Democratic Party, was ousted from his positions last summer after a staffer publicly accused him of fostering "a culture of sexism, harassment and bullying that creates an extremely difficult working environment."

Pritzker said the report detailed "a special kind of harassment and intimidation from Tim Mapes."

"You can't put people in positions of power who hold those kinds of views and clearly had those views for many years, according to the report," the governor said.

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Asked if putting Mapes in positions of power reflects poorly on the speaker's judgment, Pritzker said, "It depends on what he knew."

Allegations of sexual harassment and bullying within Madigan's political organization were surfacing as Pritzker was campaigning for the Democratic nomination for governor in early 2018, but he shied away from directly criticizing the speaker during the race. Pritzker joined Democratic lawmakers in calling for an independent investigation of allegations within Madigan's political organization.

The state Democratic Party hired attorney Kelly Smith-Haley to conduct an investigation, but questions were raised about her ties to Madigan's political operation. The status of that review is unclear. Smith-Haley did not respond to a request for comment, and a party spokeswoman declined to comment.

"I am counting on the speaker and the Senate president and the minority leader of the House and the minority leader of the Senate to carry out functions that will safeguard women, anybody that could be sexually harassed or attacked in Springfield," Pritzker said Wednesday. "That is our job going forward now that all of this has been brought to bear."

When allegations of harassment stemming from the #MeToo movement were proliferating in Springfield, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs brought in "an outside firm to review, assess and evaluate our office procedures, protocols and work environment," Durkin spokeswoman Eleni Demertzis said in a statement.

Employees in Springfield and Chicago were "randomly selected" to be interviewed, and the review conducted by the firm Alvarez & Marsal, which was internal and not made public, lasted about two months, Demertzis said.

That resulted in an expanded harassment section of the House Republican staff handbook, with a "more comprehensive document for employees to turn to if they are subject to harassment," Demertzis said. "We have a zero-tolerance policy of harassment of any kind."

Durkin also introduced a bill to create a state sexual harassment and discrimination helpline, which went live last year, Demertzis said.

In late 2017, victim rights advocate Denise Rotheimer publicly accused then-Sen. Ira Silverstein of sexual harassment and said when she reported his behavior, it went unaddressed. Rotheimer went public with the allegations during a hearing on the culture of sexual harassment, at a time when a rush of women made complaints about sexual harassment in Illinois politics and as women in industries nationwide brought forward their experiences with harassment as part of the #MeToo movement.

Months later, Silverstein lost a Democratic primary race in his bid to keep a seat he held in the General Assembly for nearly two decades.

The legislative inspector general's office is tasked with looking into such complaints, but the post was vacant at that time. A new legislative inspector general cleared Silverstein of the sexual harassment allegations, but said in a report he behaved in a way "unbecoming" of a state lawmaker.

In response to the #MeToo movement and an open letter signed by more than 300 state legislators, lobbyists and staffers about the "pervasive culture" of sexual harassment in state politics and government, Sen. Melinda Bush, a Grayslake Democrat, co-chaired the bipartisan Senate Sexual Discrimination and Harassment Awareness and Prevention Task Force, which led to an omnibus bill that Pritzker signed into law earlier this month.

Report finds sexual harassment, inappropriate behavior and bullying widespread in Springfield; House Speaker Michael Madigan takes responsibility 'for not doing enough'

The package of legislation was passed without opposition by both chambers of the General Assembly this spring, and extends to both the public and private sectors, prohibiting employers from requiring workers to sign nondisclosure and arbitration agreements related to harassment or discrimination, and requiring hotels and casinos provide some employees with panic buttons.

When Pritzker signed the sexual harassment legislation this month, Bush said it goes beyond a law change, that "we're trying to change a culture."

Pritzker reiterated the importance of that cultural change on Wednesday.

"We need to hold everybody accountable, frankly, and that also means we need to address the culture. That's the biggest thing. Let's address the culture," he said. "You can't just do one-time trainings; you can't just announce that this is a problem. You have to be persistent and consistent about addressing it."

Hickey's report acknowledges steps Madigan has taken to address harassment within his organization and recommends additional changes, including a more active role for the speaker in the day-to-day management of his office.

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