Illinois Senate President Don Harmon

Thank you Governor Pritzker for presiding over our opening ceremonies.

One of these years, maybe, just maybe, we’ll have a normal Senate ceremony in our normal Senate chamber.

But probably not anytime soon.

The Senate seems to be pretty good at finding new and different ways to be different.

I am honored and humbled to receive the support of my colleagues to serve in this post.

Thank you.

My commitment to you is that I will strive each day to do my best to live up to the responsibilities and trust you have placed in me.

I am also a bit surprised by the reality that, as of today, with a whopping tenure of not quite three years, I am now the longest serving legislative leader in the General Assembly.

Make of that what you will.

On the flip side, I’d like to congratulate the newest member of the four tops, Republican Leader John Curran.

Leader Curran, I look forward to the opportunity to work with you.

I want to thank Senator Villanueva and Senator Turner for their kind remarks.

And I especially want to thank my seatmate and legislative neighbor back home, Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford.

I am humbled to have your support and looking forward to another great and productive session working with you.

I want to think my pastor, Father Carl Morello for delivering the invocation and Rabbi Shoshanna Conover for the benediction.

We are honored to have in our presence today a veritable who’s who of Illinois government.

A two-term governor deserves a second welcome. Governor Pritzker, thanks for being here.

The Honorable Juliana Stratton, Lieutenant Governor

The Honorable Jesse White, former Secretary of State

The Honorable Kwame Raoul, Attorney General

The Honorable Michael W. Frerichs, Treasurer

The Honorable Lisa Holder White, Supreme Court Justice

The Honorable Joy V. Cunningham, Supreme Court Justice

The Honorable John G. Mulroe, Justice, Circuit Court of Cook County


The Honorable James O. Langfelder, Mayor, City of Springfield

Thank you all for being here with us.

I have my Harmon support group here today.

My wife, Teri.

And our children:

  • Don,
  • Frances
  • and Maggie

They are the foundation of every good decision I make.

And if I make any bad decisions, it’s clear I didn’t seek their counsel.

OK, so here we are.

The ongoing Capitol construction project dispatched us to this historic chamber for today’s ceremony.

I want to thank Justin Blandford and his historic sites team at the Department of Natural Resources for all their work shoehorning us in and helping make this event happen.

This building and its history are a treasure for our state and I hope everyone comes back in due time to explore that legacy.

We have in our midst today 16 Senators taking the inaugural oath of office for the very first time.

Welcome aboard.

Our roll call shows 59 members, but I would like to acknowledge a 60th Senator who is not here.

We lost a friend last month with the passing of Senator Scott Bennett.

May his life serve as a reminder to value and enjoy the time we have.

He was a model for public service, and we miss him dearly.

I would ask that we have a moment of silence in his honor.

Of all the places we could have picked for today today’s ceremony, it’s fitting that we are here in this building and this chamber.

This is a place of fresh starts and new beginnings.

Not so long ago, our former colleague Barack Obama launched his campaign for the presidency from the steps outside.

Less renowned, but arguably just as important, this very chamber hosts naturalization ceremonies in which people from across the globe complete their journey to become US citizens.

On February 1, 1865, the House, in this chamber, rushed to make Illinois the first state in the nation to ratify the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery, approving the measure by large majorities and, just as impressively, wrapping up those historic votes by 4:30 that afternoon.

Lawmakers then quickly moved to repeal the state’s infamous Black Laws.

I trust they worked late into the evening.

And arguably most famously, it is here, in 1858, I believe in the spot where I am standing, that Abraham Lincoln drew biblical inspiration to challenge the morality of slavery in delivering his “House Divided” speech upon receiving the Republican nomination for the US Senate.

“A house divided against itself cannot stand."
“I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.”

I have to tell you, as a bit of a history geek, and a graduate of Galesburg’s Knox College, the self-professed ‘hub of Lincoln scholarship,’ it is the thrill of a lifetime to stand at this podium and speak the words of Abraham Lincoln.

We look back in admiration at Lincoln’s eloquence, his forthright stamina in defending what is right.

But truth be told, back in the day it was delivered, the speech bombed.

His friends and advisers warned it was far too radical for the times.

Probably sounds familiar to a few of you … on both sides of the aisle.

Lincoln would lose that Senate race to Stephen Douglas.

Some would blame the tone of the speech for the loss.

So why give it?

Because Lincoln believed there was an important message that people needed to hear.

The debate had gone on long enough.

It was time to pick a side.

Yes, Lincoln lost that Senate race, but just two years later, that same message would propel him to the White House, where he would go on to become one of the greatest presidents in American history.

It’s humbling to be in this chamber and contemplate the magnitude of Lincoln’s words.

It is my hope that we all think deeply about why it is that we find ourselves here, and what we wish to accomplish for the people of Illinois in the days, weeks, months and years ahead.

The Senate that I know is one filled with good and decent people, elected to do right by their communities.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately of something my mom told me when I was first elected.

“I don’t worry that you won’t do the right thing when you go to Springfield,” she said.

“I worry that Springfield will change your notion of what the right thing is.”

My mom passed away New Year’s Day.

She was, and will always be, my hero.

Her words, and the challenge they instill, stuck with me.

I will forever do my best to live up to her expectations.

I offer a similar challenge to all of you.

Each of us serves roughly a quarter million people back home.

A quarter million people.

What is best for them?

What is best for the millions of working families across our state?

What is best for the nearly 13 million people who collectively call Illinois home?

Be guided by that truth, whether it be politically convenient or not.

If your motivations are elsewhere, the Illinois Senate is not for you.

James Rochford was the superintendent of the Chicago Police Department in 1976.

That year he welcomed a new class of patrol officers with a stern warning that seems appropriate to revisit today.

“If you lack integrity, get out – get out now – because you will be found out. To be sorry is too late. If you remember the esteem in which you are held by our family and friends, many of whom are in this hall, you will save them the eventual shame and heartbreak.”

We’ve all unfortunately witnessed the sweeping tarnish that comes when even one elected official strays.

If you aren’t here to do what’s right for the people of Illinois, I would suggest you take Mr. Rochford’s advice.

The people of Illinois deserve better and it is up to us to deliver.

I will close with Lincoln’s own concluding remarks from the House Divided speech and look forward to working with all of you to improve the lives of all of the people who call the great state of Illinois their home.

Wise counsels may accelerate or mistakes delay it, but sooner or later the victory is sure to come.

Thank you.