SYCAMORE – In keeping with one of his campaign promises, state Rep. Jeff Keicher already is working on an amendment that would accompany an expected bill for recreational marijuana legalization in Illinois.
Keicher, R-Sycamore, had said he was against legalizing recreational marijuana because of auto deaths doubling in Colorado and issues in related police enforcement on the road, but he also had said he thought punishments needed to be lessened for softer drug-related crimes.
Despite his opposition to the legalization, Keicher had said he was aware of the real possibility of the bill’s consideration, and that he only would vote for the bill if a few revenue conditions could be met. He said Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker made it clear the matter was at the top of his list, and Keicher anticipates the bill will come up quickly in the new session.
“So I’m working on reaching out to community organizations that are involved in that, so I can have an amendment ready, so we can have revenues that are derived from that to help support drug courts, law enforcement and opioid abuse prevention programs,” Keicher said.
Keicher said drug addiction problems hold a special significance with him, since he lost a cousin to a drug overdose two years ago.
“It’s a very important part of who I am, to make sure that those who come after that, if they do get in over their head, they have an opportunity to get the help that they need without stigma, and without needing to make bad choices,” Keicher said.
Keicher won the race to be the Illinois 70th District representative against Democratic candidate Paul Stoddard of DeKalb on Nov. 6, a few months after he was appointed to the position in July. He replaced former state Rep. Bob Pritchard, the Republican from Hinckley who left his seat earlier that month to join the Northern Illinois University Board of Trustees.
Keicher said he also has begun investigating and drafting a term limits bill, which he said during his campaign that he was in favor of across the board – not only for legislative leaders. He said he’s also working on a fair maps bill based on the model in Iowa to help eliminate gerrymandering. He said he hopes to be listed as a primary sponsor for those pieces of legislation, including the amendment for recreational marijuana legalization.
Keicher said he also is considering signing onto a bill to research how the state historically has spent its money and resources to ensure the state better allocates resources in the future.
“It kind of seeks to fulfill that mission that I talked about on efficient and effective spending of government revenues,” Keicher said.
Keicher said he also signed onto a resolution that gives a push to educational bodies in the state to help increase graduation rates for minority groups. He said he also is working on reaching out to 600 to 700 surveyors to clarify their comments and further address their concerns, which include property tax reform.
Tim Bagby, chairman of the DeKalb County Republican Party, said Keicher “hit the ground running” as soon as he was appointed to his seat. Bagby said he’s noticed Keicher also kept another campaign promise by opposing a bill that would create a graduated income tax instead of the current flat tax rate of 4.95 percent.
Bagby said Keicher also already has voted against Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto on a bill that would create urban agricultural zones in Illinois – not bad for a freshman legislator, Bagby said.
“I think you’ll see that he’ll continue to be as responsive and responsible as a representative as his predecessor was,” Bagby said.
Jim Luebke, chairman of the DeKalb County Democratic Party, said that Keicher has done a few things that are OK, such as voting in favor of urban agriculture and providing the same legal protection for emergency medical service workers that firefighters currently receive. Luebke said he’s not thrilled Keicher voted against a graduated income tax, but he’ll reserve any judgment and see how he will continue to represent not only his voters, but the voters in DeKalb County who wanted Stoddard for the seat.
“I’m interested to see how well he listens,” Luebke said. “It’s always a test.”
Keicher said he has been amazed at the welcoming nature of his now-peers on both sides of the aisle, and that he has met a lot of wonderful Democrats and Republicans so far.
“To be in that atmosphere and witness that collaboration firsthand and how the expression of your ideas and values are welcomed is very heartening,” Keicher said. “Because that’s not always what we see in our living rooms on our televisions.”