Ellyn Fortino Friday January 15th, 2016, 2:57pm
State Reps. Tom Demmer (R-Dixon), Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago) and other young legislators in the Illinois House are spearheading a new bipartisan caucus focused on addressing issues important to millennials.
Demmer and Guzzardi are co-chairs of the Illinois Future Caucus, which launched Friday and so far includes 11 House members from both sides of the aisle.
"Despite having some differences about our values and how we think that things ought to go forward, we also have profound commonality," Guzzardi said of the new caucus. "We understand that the problems facing the next generation of Illinoisans are not being addressed by the previous generation of legislators."
The caucus, expected to hold its first official meeting in early February, plans to work on issues involving technology, innovation, higher education, criminal justice reform and other areas. More specifically, Demmer said he expects the caucus to find common ground on policies related to the sharing economy, facilitated by smartphones and the Internet.
"Part of the point of this caucus is that there is an opportunity" to "look for areas where you might cross over and might not have traditional partisan labels attached" to them, Demmer said. "A lot of the issues are not traditionally partisan when it comes to millennials."
Other caucus members include state Reps. Avery Bourne (R-Raymond), Jehan Gordon-Booth (D-Peoria), Sonya Harper (D-Chicago), Christian Mitchell (D-Chicago), Silvana Tabares (D-Chicago), Art Turner (D-Chicago), Litesa Wallace (D-Rockford), Sara Wojcicki Jimenez (R-Springfield) and Mike Zalewski (D-Riverside).
Creation of the caucus comes amid the ongoing state budget impasse, now in its seventh month. Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic legislative leaders remain at odds over a spending plan for the 2016 fiscal year, which started July 1.
At the center of the impasse is Rauner's pro-business, anti-union "turnaround agenda" that he wants approved as part of the budgeting process. Democrats oppose Rauner's anti-union proposals, which, they say, should not be tied to passage of a budget.
Given the partisan political atmosphere in Springfield, now is a good time to form the new caucus, according to Guzzardi.
"As a new and up-and-coming generation of legislators in this state, we have a responsibility to transcend the partisanship that has caused such hardship in this state and to build solutions to the challenges that are coming down the road for Illinois," he said.
The lawmakers were optimistic about what the caucus can accomplish, despite the budget standoff.
"Even in the throes of these very difficult issues that our state is facing, I really believe that there is room for compromise and legislative achievement that is meaningful and addresses issues that are important to the people of the state," Guzzardi said. "I think we have an opportunity to get that done."
The Illinois Future Caucus plans to work with similar groups of young lawmakers in Congress and 11 other states.
The caucus has the support of the Millennial Action Project (MAP), a national, nonpartisan organization working to mobilize "millennial policymakers to create post-partisan political cooperation," according to its website.
MAP's co-founder and president Steven Olikara joined Demmer and Guzzardi Friday morning in announcing the creation of the Illinois Future Caucus.
Illinois, Olikara said, is home to more than 3.5 million millennials, representing over 25 percent of the state's population.
"It's extremely important that this generation has an organized and unified voice in the state Capitol," he said. "This is not about political uniformity. This is about political cooperation. This is about building relationships across party line. It's about building a culture where we can have constructive and quality debate, and I am so inspired by the leadership that we're seeing here."