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National Editorial & Columnists

STATEHOUSE SPOTLIGHT: Former Rauner aide does ad for Pritzker

Tom Hughes of Petersburg, executive director of the Springfield-based Illinois Public Health Association and a former top aide to GOP statewide officeholders, was on Gov. Bruce Rauner’s transition team but now appears in a commercial for Democrat J.B. Pritzker.

Hughes, 65, says in the ad that he really thought being on the transition team would allow him to advocate for people – particularly in downstate Illinois.

“I wanted to have that impact, but unfortunately I don’t think I did,” he says in the ad. “Bruce Rauner was determined that it was going to be no budget unless ‘I get exactly what I want,’ not recognizing that that affected so many people in Illinois. Thirty years from now, I think there’ll be a spot in the timeline that just reads ‘disaster.’”

Hughes retired from the state in 2008. His service there included working on House Republican staff, as legislative liaison for the employment security department under then-director Lolleta Didrickson; as deputy comptroller when Didrickson was comptroller; as legislative director for Judy Baar Topinka when she was state treasurer; as chief of staff to Lt. Gov. Corrine Wood; and as deputy director of the Illinois Department of Public Health – first appointed by GOP Gov. George Ryan and reappointed by Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich. He said he did the ad as a private citizen.

He joined his current organization in 2009, and it represents a variety of disciplines, including nurses and public health administrators.

He said more than a year ago, Pritzker came to his organization’s office to talk with public health department people from various areas about “what they were going through during the budget crisis and how they had maintained their services.” He said Pritzker “basically listened” in the meeting lasting about 90 minutes.

Hughes said people were hurt by the impasse, as some programs, including family case management and immunizations, were cut by local health departments.

Hughes doesn’t say the impasse is all Rauner’s fault, but added, “that’s where the leadership lies ... in the governor’s office.”

He said he’s a Republican because he has always “wanted government to operate in a smarter and efficient manner.” But he said with the impasse, “all of that just went out the window.”

Hughes, along with four or five other health advocates, said he got to meet with Rauner after the 2014 election.

“I told him at that time that this was a situation in which he could not cut his way out of it in one year, and you couldn’t tax your way out of it in one year,” Hughes recalled. “There was going to have to be something that took some time, and you had to be methodical about it.

“Apparently, my advice didn’t go anywhere. ... I never envisioned that we would have this 2-year debacle.”

Hughes, a Mattoon native, is a graduate of Eastern Illinois University. He said damage done to universities during the impasse is another reason he thinks it’s time for a change in Illinois.

“I had high hopes,” he said of seeing Rauner elected. “I really wanted to see a change after Blagojevich and [Gov. Pat] Quinn. ... But I never thought it would be this.”

Rauner has said he wants a second term because he’s learned that he needs to accept incremental change.

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