By TIM ALEXANDER
CHICAGO, Ill. — Illinois Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker has named former 47th District state Sen. John Sullivan as his director of the state Department of Agriculture (IDOA). Sullivan, of Rushville, served from 2003-16 and is also a former chair of the Senate Agriculture and Conservation Committee.
Pritzker’s camp noted that during his tenure in the Senate, Sullivan was a strong advocate for the state’s agriculture industry and pioneered new agricultural and renewable fuel programs. He also championed legislation to create jobs, improve industry and infrastructure and grow the economy.
Before his public service career, Sullivan managed his family-owned auction business and farmed. He earned a bachelor of arts degree in history at Quincy College.
Outgoing IDOA Director Raymond Poe, who served three years in the post under Gov. Bruce Rauner, praised Pritzker’s selection of Sullivan during an interview.
“With John’s strong background in the Illinois legislature and his knowledge of how to make things happen in the legislature, he will be a great asset to the state’s agriculture department,” said Poe, who spoke by phone while vacationing in Florida. “John can call me anytime he wants.”
The two worked together in a bipartisan manner to pass legislation in the Illinois General Assembly during Poe’s 21 years as a state representative, Poe said, adding he expects Sullivan to be able to get things accomplished in a similar manner in his new job.
He also praised Sullivan’s decision to keep on board Warren Goesch, who served as Poe’s assistant director. “Warren keeps the wheels on the bus,” he explained.
“Governor-elect Pritzker made a solid choice in his nomination of John Sullivan to lead the state ag department,” agreed Ted Mottaz, president of the Illinois Corn Growers Assoc. “ICGA has depended on Mr. Sullivan’s leadership in the state Senate on several occasions, most recently when Senator Sullivan sponsored legislation that would incentivize the inclusion of higher ethanol blends as a cost-saving choice at the gas pump.
“We’re confident that Mr. Sullivan’s firsthand knowledge of farming will bring an effective, no-nonsense approach to managing the Department of Agriculture.”
Poe reflected on his three years at IDOA and the many accomplishments of his staff. “We really streamlined the department of agriculture,” said Poe, who took over for Philip Nelson in 2015 after Nelson – who was Rauner’s original pick for ag director – reportedly had a falling-out with the Governor over matters associated with the Illinois State Fair.
“One thing I am really proud of is the fact that the IDOA trained 111,000 applicators last year alone. We have greatly advanced the state’s solar panel program and legislation, made great strides in the medicinal marijuana field and helped pass legislation that has repealed some 20-or-so regulations and laws that were antiquated or detrimental to today’s production practices,” Poe said.
“Also, the Illinois State Fair Foundation was resurrected, led by a $1 million donation by the Rauner family, leading to the repair of around 185 roofs at the Springfield and Du Quoin (state) fairgrounds. And for the first time in a long time, the Du Quoin fair is out of the red and into the black.”
Filling out his agricultural advisory team, Pritzker gathered members of the newly-dubbed Growing Our Agricultural Economy Committee in Chicago for an initial meeting in early December. The get-together was described as a “great success” by Colleen Callahan, called on by Pritzker to lead the ag transition committee.
“The Pritzker transition team has assembled a very broad group with expertise that spans so many different areas,” she told media following the meeting.
One of the topics of the committee was funding for the IDOA. “One participant said we need to fully fund the IDOA, and we need to have a fully functioning organization in the state that is not only representing agriculture but has the capacity to do what its challenges and charges are,” said Callahan.
In addition to her, other members of the committee include Illinois Farm Bureau (IFB) President Rich Guebert Jr. and Grundy County Farm Bureau President Scott Halpin. The committee also met on Dec. 10 in Peoria and are planning on meeting again in January, according to the IFB.
Callahan served as Illinois rural director for the USDA under former President Obama from 2009-16. She resides in rural Peoria County and in recent years has been active in promoting community and rural solar energy projects.