About a dozen Illinois lawmakers have announced they are quitting or not running for re-election. That includes Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, State Sen. Tim Bivins of Dixon, and State Rep. Bob Pritchard, who has represented the DeKalb area for 14 years. For this week’s Friday Forum, WNIJ’s Susan Stephens caught up with Pritchard while he was doing what he calls the best part of his job: hanging around with his constituents.
If you want to set up an interview with Bob Pritchard, be prepared to hear something like, “Meet me at my table at the fair.” Or, “I’m on my way to a meeting on campus, I’ll call you afterward.” Or “I have a few minutes, but I’m about to cut a ribbon.”
On a recent hot summer afternoon, the place to be was the steamy Target parking lot in DeKalb for the annual National Night Out event. Pritchard had a booth, but wanted to get out and circulate.
First stop: Boy Scout Troop 33’s brat stand. Pritchard caught up with longtime Scout leader Cliff Golden, learned about the latest Eagle Scout projects, and met Houston Bai, who travels from China every year to attend their Boy Scout Camp. Golden told Pritchard he hated to hear he wasn’t running again: Pritchard joked that it was fine because now he has more time for Scouts.
This is what Pritchard says he’ll miss most about the job. “Too often we get so engaged in issues we forget about the basics,” he said, “and that’s having fun with our friends and neighbors.”
The 72-year-old Republican from Hinckley is up for election next year and decided he’s not going to run again.
“It’s been fun in Springfield over the years, but lately it has not been as fun,” Pritchard confessed. “We’ve got gridlock and people just so diametrically opposed and they won’t compromise. You know, that’s what government is all about. It’s supposed to be the art of compromise. We seems to have lost that, both in Washington and Illinois. And we need to try to reclaim that. And certainly, we need legislators that respect that tradition, that we try to get the best for all the people.”
But it can’t be easy to leave, after 14 years. Pritchard was appointed to the 70th district seat in 2003 when fellow Republican Dave Wirsing died in office. Before that, he served as DeKalb County Board Chair, was on the Hinckley-Big Rock school board, and was in agriculture-related broadcasting and public relations. As a lawmaker, he’s known for his work on education issues, particularly higher education and funding reform.
He says he enjoys trying to keep the average citizen informed about the state’s most important issues. But it’s become more difficult to get anything done.
“Just look at all of the special sessions from last year,” Pritchard said, “and the Speaker calls a session, then cancels and reschedules. You have no personal time. It’s only supposed to be a half-time position, even though I say it’s full-time. But it’s frustrating to miss local parades, you miss community events, family events. That’s when I say it’s just becoming too onerous, and it’s time for someone else to come and share the pain of creating public policy.”
And it’s been, well, a pain for him this year. Pritchard has worked on bipartisan efforts for school funding reform. In July, he was one of 15 Republicans to vote for an income tax hike. His attempts at compromise have led to a backlash by many in his party, especially on social media. He says to the critics of his votes, “Did you really know the issue? Do you really know what the bill does, who it would help, and why it was important to consider it now? It’s too easy to say, ‘The other side sponsored it’ or, ‘It’s just bailing out Chicago,’ which is not the case at all.”
In his 14 years as a state representative, Pritchard has served under two Democratic governors – Rod Blagojevich and Pat Quinn – and one Republican, Bruce Rauner. Things have changed in Springfield, and the change that really bothers him is in the attitudes of lawmakers. He says it’s important to reflect all segments of their communities because everyone deserves a voice.
So who would he vote for for 70th District representative? Pritchard says it’s too early to say. He knows he wants a representative who has a passion for interacting with people. He says the worst thing is for someone to come in with the unrealistic expectation that they can change the world, “while Mr. Madigan still controls the House.” A strong core of supporters and good organizational skills are important, and he’s ready to coach the next candidate for his seat.
Pritchard says he always felt being a state lawmaker wasn’t a permanent position: People need to get in there, do the work, get pretty good at it, then go back to their pre-capitol lives. For him, it’s the family grain farm in Hinckley, where he plans to drive and run errands for his son. It’s also an opportunity to share more time with his grandchildren.
With just a few months left in his term, Pritchard doesn’t plan to act like a lame duck lawmaker. His schedule’s pretty packed.
There was one more stop for Pritchard, however, at National Night Out. He spotted a Wonder Woman impersonator and wanted to ask if he could borrow her Lasso of Truth. The gold rope is supposed to compel people to tell the truth. That’s something he thinks would come in handy in Springfield.