Don Harmon
Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) was elected as the next leader of the Illinois Senate Sunday night. (Greg Bishop/The Center Square photo)

SPRINGFIELD (The Center Square) — Democrats elected state Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) to be Illinois’ new Senate President on Sunday.

Harmon said at a news conference after being elected that he will push for a graduated income tax.

Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) announced in November he planned to retire. Cullerton resigned Sunday.

“I’ve enjoyed working with all of you, Republicans and Democrats alike,” Cullerton said. “We’ve accomplished a great deal together. And now it’s time for me to move on. My grandchildren await.”

Before the rare Sunday session started, senators met privately. After several rounds of private ballots, Harmon came out on top over Maywood Democratic state Sen. Kimberly Lightford. Harmon got 37 votes on the Senate floor.

Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, resigns, as Gov. J.B. Pritzker presides over the election of Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, as next leader. State Sens. Emil Jones III, D-Chicago, and Jason Plummer, R-Edwardsville, speak before the vote. (

“Honest, collaborative, representative, these are the principles that will guide me as we start our journey together,” Harmon said. “And now let us begin.”

Harmon has served in the Senate since 2003 and was on the chamber’s Executive Committee, among others. The attorney from Oak Park has three children with his wife, Teresa.

Harmon will serve as Senate President until January 2021, when the next General Assembly will be seated and will choose new leaders. Gov. J.B. Pritzker presided over the vote Sunday, which was his birthday. The Republican minority kept its leaders in place.

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State Sen. Emil Jones III (D-Chicago) said he initially believed a black woman could be elected Senate President.

“But if you don’t have the support to pull it over the finish line, me putting my district first, I chose to be with the winner,” Jones said.

Being in the Senate minority, state Sen. Jason Plummer (R-Edwardsville) said he wanted to see the new Senate President show some independence and support a fair legislative map-making process and ethics reforms to curb corruption.

“You go to the average voter in the street right now, they laugh at their state government,” Plummer said. “It’s embarrassing. It’s frankly appalling the regard in which we’re held to the average voter. It’s something that needs to be addressed and I hope people take that seriously.”

Both chambers return later this month for the start of the spring session.

Reporting by Greg Bishop

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