By CARL GREEN
Springfield, Ill. – For 20 years, Jay Hoffman built a prominent position in the Illinois Legislature, starting as a freshman in 1990 representing a Metro-East district and after four years, becoming floor leader for Democrats and later chairman of the Transportation and Motor Vehicles Committee.
That all came to a halt in the difficult election year of 2010, when he was defeated for re-election by Republican Dwight Kay in the 112th District, sending him temporarily back into private law practice. Before serving in the House, he had been a St. Clair County prosecutor and director of Probation and Court Services in the 20th Judicial Circuit.
This year, however, Hoffman is back in the House, representing the 113th District, and with an important new role, as chairman of the House Committee on Labor and Commerce. He easily defeated Republican candidate Melinda Hult in the 2012 election. The district is centered around Belleville and includes Swansea and Madison.
Hoffman, a native of Highland and graduate of the St. Louis University School of Law, now lives in Belleville with his wife, Laurie, and their two daughters.
B. Dean Webb, president of the Greater Madison County Federation of Labor, said he was glad to see Hoffman back in the legislature and serving as the labor committee chairman.
“Jay’s been a great supporter of labor,” Webb said. “We worked our butts off to get him back in office. We’re tickled that Jay got back in.”
In an interview with the Labor-Tribune, Hoffman said he was pleased to see a tentative contract agreement reached between AFSCME and Gov. Pat Quinn, after 15 months of negotiating. “We’re still kind of digesting it,” he said, noting that it has not been ratified yet, although he expects it will. “I’m happy to see it finally getting resolved.”
The next step will be for the Legislature to fit it into the state budget, already under serious pressure from the pensions issue, the slow state economy and health care concerns. “This is just one of those budget pressures we’ll be facing – one of many,” he said.
Hoffman spent two good years away from government. “I was enjoying private practice and enjoying a break,” he said. During his time away, he researched and wrote “Hope from the Heartland: Jobs, Clean Air, Energy Security,” a plan to put people to work developing alternative energy forms using the state’s natural resources. But he also saw the state’s financial problems worsening and decided to seek election again to have a hand in dealing with them.
The House transportation committee was no longer available upon his return, so House Speaker Michael Madigan instead assigned him to lead the labor and commerce committee. In that role, Hoffman hopes to promote measures that will create new jobs. “I’ve always been an advocate for organized labor and the rights of working men and women,” he noted.
He intends to promote a jobs bill that would put Illinoisans to work upgrading the state’s infrastructure, and he is now sponsoring the “We Are One” pensions proposal, developed by a labor coalition, that would increase worker contributions by 2 percent and devote additional state money to closing the pensions gap, while guaranteeing that the state make its share of pension contributions.
Hoffman will remain involved in transportation as vice chairman of the committee handling appropriations for public safety and infrastructure. That includes budgeting for Illinois State Police and the departments of transportation and corrections, among others. His other committee assignments include Judiciary, Mass Transit and Public Utilities.