New state lawmakers start finding their way around
New suburban state lawmakers were sworn in Wednesday afternoon, preparing to take on the serious challenges that face Illinois.
But the new jobs also mean spending a lot of time away from home and family, setting up new offices, and learning to adapt to a new city and some new menu items.
"I'm really looking forward to ordering a Horseshoe," said new state Rep. Christine Winger, a Wood Dale Republican who says people have already advised her to try Springfield's signature dish, an open-faced sandwich where a choice of meat is covered in french fries and cheese sauce.
Government staff members helped new members of the House and their guests navigate a crowded auditorium at the University of Illinois' Springfield campus before the swearing-in ceremony. Helpers held signs marked with lawmakers' names and directed them to their designated seats.
In the Illinois Senate, flowers adorned some desks and bunting hung from the spectators' gallery. Family members were allowed on the Senate floor when lawmakers took the oath of office. Families of House members were in the auditorium crowd as lawmakers sat on risers onstage.
The 2015 freshman class of lawmakers is smaller than two years ago but starts its work under a different political dynamic after Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner started his job Monday.
Among those getting a first full term in the Illinois House are: Winger; Rep. Anna Moeller, an Elgin Democrat; Rep. Peter Breen, a Lombard Republican; Rep. Steven Andersson, a Geneva Republican; Rep. Sheri Jesiel, a Winthrop Harbor Republican; and Rep. Grant Wehrli, a Naperville Republican. State Sen. Chris Nybo, an Elmhurst Republican, gets a first full term in the Illinois Senate.
Moeller has already served about six months in office, giving her a head start on most of the freshman class in getting to know her way around the legislature and the city where she'll reside part-time.
"I really like to run, so when the weather's nice it's great to run around Lincoln's old home," Moeller said. "It's such a historic area, it's beautiful and inspiring, and running around the Capitol is nice."
Breen said he hasn't had much time to explore Springfield outside of the Capitol.
"I have a lot of work to do in terms of getting up to speed," Breen said. "I'm hoping some of my constituents will come down and visit in Springfield, I'm looking forward to seeing them, but really my main focus has been getting up to speed."
Inside the Capitol, Andersson says he's gotten help getting around.
"Some of the staff have given me a behind-the-scenes tour so that I can figure out how to get places quickly and efficiently," Andersson said.
Democratic Senate President John Cullerton won another term as the Senate's leader and says he wants to work with Rauner to provide better funding for schools, raise the minimum wage and make it easier to open a new business in Illinois. Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont and House Republican Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs also will continue in those roles.
Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan also was re-elected and pledged to "work professionally and cooperatively" with Rauner. Madigan said the biggest issue ahead is the state's budget and that both sides must work together in dealing with an expected $5.7 billion deficit next year.
•The Associated Press contributed to this story.