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Illinois State Sen. Michael Hastings set to lose important committee chairman's post

 Michael Hastings speaks
BlueRoomStream.com
State Sen. Michael Hastings, D-Frankfort, speaks on the Senate floor in support of an energy regulation overhaul bill. The measure, which aims to put Illinois on a path to 100 percent carbon-free energy by 2050, passed the chamber and will head to the governor.

Senate President Don Harmon will not re-appoint the south suburban Democrat to head a legislative panel after domestic violence accusations.

Embattled Illinois State Sen. Michael Hastings, D-Frankfort, is set to lose his powerful legislative committee chairmanship in the new session of the General Assembly next year, Senate President Don Harmon told WBEZ.

Harmon’s move comes after Hastings was accused of physical abuse by his ex-wife, according to police and divorce-court records.

Hastings has denied the accusations, which became public last summer, and went on to win a narrow reelection race in his south suburban district earlier this month.

But Harmon said he would not re-appoint Hastings as chairman of the influential Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee or choose him to lead any other legislative committee when the new session starts in January.

“I do not expect Sen. Hastings to be wielding a committee gavel anytime soon,” Harmon, a Democrat from Oak Park, told WBEZ last week.

Hastings and his spokesman, Ray Hanania, did not return messages.

Harmon said Senate Democrats are divided over how to deal with Hastings after he won another term in an unexpectedly close general-election race.

“The voters are one thing – the Senate and the Senate Democratic Caucus is something else,” Harmon said. “I think that Sen. Hastings’s road to rehabilitation within the caucus is likely to be long and rocky. I think he’s lost the trust of a significant number of members of the caucus.”

One veteran Democratic state senator, Mattie Hunter of Chicago, expressed support for Hastings, saying the voters’ will must be respected.

“If they didn’t want him to remain, they wouldn’t have re-elected him,” Hunter said last week.

Hastings, who was first elected in 2012, defeated Republican Patrick Sheehan with 50.6% of the vote to Sheehan’s 49.4% in the Nov. 8 election, according to results from Cook and Will counties.

But losing the Energy and Public Utilities chairmanship will cost Hastings. The position pays $11,098 on top of the senator’s base annual salary of $72,906.

Hastings was one of the most powerful Democrats in the Illinois Senate when the abuse accusations against him became public this summer.

In a police report filed by his then-wife in June 2021, she accused Hastings of assaulting her at their home in Frankfort. After reports about that incident in the summer, Harmon forced Hastings to step down as majority whip, and Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker called for Hastings to quit the Senate in September.

A second accusation of domestic violence was unearthed in the weeks before the election. Hastings filed for divorce last year, but his lawyers convinced a judge in Will County to seal the case file. In September, WBEZ went to court to get the divorce file unsealed.

In the court documents, which were made public Oct. 25, Kathleen Hastings’s lawyer alleged that “Michael cannot control his anger in front of the children,” had “elbowed Kate in the face in front of the children” and called her profane, misogynistic terms in the children’s presence many times in the months after he filed for divorce in April 2021.

The newly unsealed divorce court records also provided further details regarding that alleged incident at the Hastings home in 2020. His ex-wife’s lawyer wrote that Michael Hastings “slammed Kate’s head against the door leading to the garage multiple times and put her in a choke hold — all because she asked Mike where he was working that day.”

Kathleen Hastings alleged the assault took place at about 7 a.m. on Nov. 9, 2020, “in front of” one of their children and woke up their other child, according to the filing.

Sen. Hastings also has denied separate accusations from former chief of staff Cassandra Matz and veteran Springfield lobbyist Jen Walling.

State records show taxpayers shelled out nearly $150,000 in settlement payments and to cover the bills from an outside attorney who represented Hastings in a civil discrimination case brought by Matz.

And Walling told WBEZ in September that Hastings yelled at her, pounded his hands on a table in a meeting and approached her in a menacing manner during policy disagreements in Springfield in the past five years. Hastings’s spokesman has denied Walling’s allegations.

But asked about Walling, Harmon said last week, “Those sorts of matters are very concerning, and should be taken up by the Legislative inspector general. We have a process in place in the General Assembly for people who are aggrieved, and if anyone feels that they have been harmed, they should file a complaint with the Legislative Inspector General.”

But in a statement, Walling told WBEZ she would not file a complaint with the Legislative Inspector General because she doubted that authority could conduct a fair probe into her complaints.

“I value the President’s perspective and advice, but I feel strongly that the LIG is not sufficiently empowered to deal with situations like mine,” Walling said. “I hope to work with the President and other legislators to change that.”

Harmon said he had spoken with Hastings after his reelection win but declined to comment on those conversations: “I’m going to keep private conversations private.”

Harmon also said he had known earlier this year that Hastings was going through a divorce with “unpleasant” aspects – but he did not know the full extent of the accusations against the senator until the release of the divorce records.

The accusations were “very disturbing and very disappointing,” the Senate president said.

“I don’t wish a difficult divorce on anyone,” Harmon said. “But when you’re in the public eye, you need to be prepared for those items to become a part of the public conversation.”

Dan Mihalopoulos is an investigative reporter on WBEZ’s Government & Politics Team. Follow him on Twitter @dmihalopoulos.