In May 2013, State Rep. Greg Harris choked back tears on the floor of the Illinois House when he told supporters that he wouldn’t be calling for a vote on his measure to legalize same-sex marriage, which already had been approved in the Senate and had the support of then-Gov. Pat Quinn.
In the face of opposition from Catholic and conservative Black church groups, Harris, an openly gay North Side Democrat, said he wanted to give fellow lawmakers more time to weigh the issue. He later called the decision to wait “the hardest thing I’ve done in my life.”
The wait lasted just a few months. The House approved the bill during its fall session that November, with a handful of Republican votes proving to be decisive, and it was later signed into law by Quinn.
That combination of progressive values and political pragmatism served Harris as he rose through the ranks for the House Democratic caucus to become majority leader in 2019, serving as top deputy for two House speakers, Michael Madigan and Emanuel “Chris” Welch.
On Monday, Harris, 66, announced that he won’t seek reelection and will leave the House when his term expires in early 2023.
In his statement, Harris did not give a specific reason for leaving the General Assembly.
“When I stepped into this office 15 years ago, I was committed to making change,” Harris said in a statement. “I wanted to improve the lives of LGBTQ folks, support our immigrant community, increase the diversity of our caucus and fight for those who for so long have been ignored. As I look back at my time in Springfield, I can confidently say that I was fortunate to do that and more.”
Prior to becoming House majority leader in 2019, Harris was Madigan’s point man on budget issues during the Democratic-controlled General Assembly’s long-running budget standoff with former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.
He continued to be one of the chief architects of the state budget in the ensuing years, including the past two years as the state has grappled with financial uncertainty brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
“As a proud member of the Democratic Caucus, I can say we stood together and worked toward change over the course of eight General Assemblies, four Governors, two recessions and a pandemic,” Harris said. “I am proud to have worked with dedicated colleagues, staff and activists.”
With the announcement of impending departure, Harris received praise from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
Welch praised Harris in a statement as “a values-oriented leader.”
“Greg Harris embodies public service and throughout his fifteen year career, he has been a passionate advocate for what’s fair and just,” Welch said. “His command of a wide range of public policy issues, particularly Medicaid and our state budget, has been such a vital asset to the entire state.”
Rep. Tom Demmer of Dixon, a deputy leader of the GOP minority in the House, likewise lauded Harris as “a tremendous legislator and a great public servant.”
“Working with him on budget and Medicaid issues has been a true highlight of my time in the House,” Demmer wrote in a Twitter post. “All of his colleagues, and the House as an institution, will miss his leadership.”
Harris took office in December 2006, having been appointed to fill a vacancy created by the resignation of Rep. Larry McKeon. Harris had already won the November election for the term that began in January 2007.
Before becoming a legislator, Harris was chief of staff to then-Ald. Mary Ann Smith, 48th, for 14 years.
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