Ahead of swearing-in, Tarver discusses orientation, constituent services, Raoul’s replacement

Curtis J. Tarver II

Staff Writer

State Rep.-elect Curtis Tarver II (D-25th) did not take himself out of the running for Illinois General-elect Kwame Raoul’s (D) state senate seat during an interview with the Herald. He also described new member orientation in Springfield and his approach to constituent services outside of Hyde Park–Kenwood.

Tarver, an attorney and North Kenwood resident, said orientation focused on “pretty much the nuts and bolts of the office,” with instruction on introducing legislation and hiring staff. With dozens of new legislators present, he called it a good opportunity to network and “get a feel for what people want to do, so we can hit the ground running.”

“I met people from throughout the state — folks from here in Chicago, folks from southern Illinois — and we really had the opportunity before Jan. 9 to start developing these relationships,” Tarver said. He said he is excited to work with Rep.-elect Bob Morgan (D-58th), an old friend and another attorney just elected to represent parts of the North Shore suburbs.

While noting that the new lawmakers expressed bipartisan concerns about education and the coming infrastructural improvements-funding capital bill as well as excitement about the potential legalization of recreational marijuana both for its expected tax revenue and as criminal justice reform, Tarver said that there was “not a ton of talk” about the proposed progressive income tax, which would have to be passed by the General Assembly as a constitutional amendment dependent on voters’ approval by referendum.

Tarver also noted that many legislators who won close elections in November remained in campaign mode during orientation.

“A lot of [their] questions and the conversation became partisan pretty early,” he said, with Democrats blaming Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) for the state’s “malaise” and dysfunction and Republicans claiming that the outgoing executive had been “fighting the establishment, as it were, and trying to do some positive things.” He said conversations about revenue and education funding caused the most heel-digging.

There was also “a very deep focus on ethics” and the distinction between governmental and campaign operations. “Which is not surprising,” Tarver said, “but it’s definitely good to have people going to depth about that and what that means and how easily the lines can be blurred,”

Tarver has not been assigned to House committees yet, understanding both that it will take place after the session begins and that, as a freshman representative, his lack of seniority may preclude plum assignments.

Speaking in November, incumbent Speaker Michael J. Madigan (D-22nd) suggested that Tarver try for an appointment to the judiciary committee, calling it both a “sleeper” and “important.”

“He will be a good representative,” Madigan said. “He’s got a good background and, from my experience with him, a very nice personality. [He] understands the area. I expect that he’s going to be a good representative.”

During an interview for a summertime Herald profile, Tarver deferred on saying whether he would support Madigan for another term as speaker of the House, not knowing who else was running. This time, with no known challengers for the speakership, he qualified his response.

“As far as I know, Speaker Madigan is the only person running,” he said. “I have no reason not to vote for him. I plan to vote for him for speaker.”

Tarver has hired his district staff: Annette Harley, a 17-year staffer for outgoing Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, will stay on as legislative liaison, and former campaign manager Bernie Williams will be his district director.

“One of the awesome things about Bernie is that she’s also bilingual, which is very important to me,” Tarver said. Most of the district’s Spanish speakers are based in the extreme southeastern 10th Ward; Chicago’s East Side neighborhood is majority-Latino.

While Tarver expects his district office to remain at Currie’s location, 1303 E. 53rd St., he is keen on holding regular meeting hours at other neighborhoods’ public libraries and said it is very likely that he will open a satellite office further south.

“It won’t be that everyone has to come into Hyde Park in order for us to meet with them,” he said. “We’re going to go on a pretty regular basis into other neighborhoods to make sure that we’re meeting them there.” He said that Williams has “mapped out” his entire year.

Asked is he would take an apartment in the capital as his predecessor has, Tarver said he plans to feel out the commute over his four to six weeks in office and sleep at hotels.

With State Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-13th) and Rep. Christian Mitchell (D-26th) set to resign early next month to become state attorney general and deputy governor, respectively, Tarver will be the only legislator representing Hyde Park–Kenwood who was elected to office. The districts’ Democratic ward representatives — all aldermen except Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle in the 4th Ward and Kevin Bailey, himself an aldermanic candidate, in the 20th — will choose the next legislators.

After an interview, Tarver sent a statement on the selection, saying his focus is on the 25th District and that he trusts the process to determine Raoul’s successor.

“If the committeemen feel that I would be a good representative for the senate district, I would do my best to represent the entire district with the same interests as I have stated for the 25th House District,” he said. “I trust that the committeemen will select the person they think is best suited for responsibility.

“I look forward to working with whomever I can, no matter where I sit, for the best interests of the entire district.”