With over three decades of experience in the General Assembly, Illinois Senate President John Cullerton has earned a reputation for being one of the state’s most effective legislators. His proven track record for negotiating reasoned solutions to difficult and complicated problems is a skill Cullerton has relied upon throughout his first year as leader of the State Senate and the Democratic Caucus.
A 1970 graduate of Loyola University, Cullerton went on to study law at the university’s prestigious law school, graduating in 1974. Following law school, Cullerton spent five years as an Assistant Public Defender for the City of Chicago, where he worked to protect the constitutional right of the accused who could not afford legal representation.
In 1976 Cullerton won his first election to join the Illinois Delegation to the Democratic National Convention in New York. Three years later marked the beginning of a 30-year long career in the Illinois General Assembly. It was then, in 1979, that Cullerton was first elected and inaugurated as a member of the House of Representatives, a position he would maintain for 12 years.
During his six-term tenure in the House, Cullerton was known for his skill of bringing opponents together to resolve problems. As a result, he served the House Democratic Caucus as Floor Leader and as Speaker Pro Tempore.
In 1991, Cullerton was appointed to fill the State Senate vacancy left by Dawn Clark Netsch who was elected Illinois Comptroller. He was elected to the post the following year. Over the years, he served as the Democrats’ Chairman of the Criminal and Civil Law Committees as well as a member of the Revenue and Insurance Committees.
While he is not known as a lawmaker with an interest in gaining media attention, Cullerton has been a key leader on a myriad of critical issues facing Illinois. When United States President Barack Obama served in the State Senate, Cullerton was a key legislative partner in reforming the state’s criminal justice system. He helped negotiate changes to Illinois’ medical malpractice procedures and has been a driving force to move forward significant tax and education spending reforms for the state. The fact that he sponsored more bills than any other Illinois legislators and had the most bills signed by the Governor between 2003 and 2006 is proof of Cullerton’s ability to make an idea become a law.
Although he has shown a dedication to work on a variety of public policy initiatives, Cullerton is most passionate about public safety and, in particular, transportation safety. He was the primary author of Illinois’ mandatory seatbelt law. Since the law was enacted in the 1980s, he has passed additional requirements including ensuring that passengers 16 and under must always wear a seat belt and a recent change to the law allowing public safety professionals with an increased ability to enforce the seatbelt laws.
Cullerton is nationally recognized as for his landmark Child Passenger Safety Act which mandated that children be placed in car safety seats. His efforts earned him the “Buckle Up America Award” from the National Highway Safety Administration. Only one recipient throughout the United States earns this coveted annual award.
In 2009, Cullerton showed again his expertise at bringing diversity together by winning the support of a majority of the 37-members of the Illinois Senate Democratic Caucus. His victory came at a time when the Illinois Senate was challenged with historic problems, including an impeached Democratic Governor and a multi-billion dollar state budget deficit.
Minutes after his inauguration, Cullerton convened the Illinois Senate into a tribunal to weigh the evidence of the case against the Governor that had cause the Illinois House of Representatives to vote for impeachment. For days, the Illinois Senate spent countless hours hearing the case against Rod Blagojevich and, ultimately, unanimously voted to remove him from office. As the new Senate President, Cullerton earned praise for conducting the unprecedented proceedings in a fair, bipartisan and remarkable fashion.
Throughout the first half of the 96th General Assembly, Illinois Senate President John Cullerton has partnered with the Illinois Senate Democratic Caucus to pass a $30 billion job-creating construction investment package – a substantial achievement considering the fact that no such plan has become law in over a decade. In addition, Cullerton led the General Assembly’s negotiations to pass groundbreaking ethics reforms to crack down on corruption in state government. And, to address the significant loss of revenue facing the state, Cullerton and Senate Democrats were the only group of legislators to pass a tax reform measure that would modernize Illinois’ revenue system, eliminate much of the budget deficit while requiring over $2 billion in spending cuts and providing over $700 million in local property tax relief.
In addition to serving as President of the Illinois Senate, Cullerton is also considered the “Dean” of the legislative chamber, a designation given to the one legislator who has served there for the longest time.
Since 1988, Cullerton has served as an attorney with the law firm now known as Thompson Coburn, LLC. He is now a partner with the company.
President Cullerton lives in Chicago with his wife, Pam. They are the parents of five children.
President of the Senate
Years served: 1979 - 1991 (House); 1991 - Present (Senate)
Committee assignments: Committee of the Whole; Executive; Joint Comm. on Government Reform (Co-Chairperson).
Biography: Attorney; born Oct. 28, 1948, in Chicago; B.A., political science, Loyola University; J.D., Loyola University Law School; served in Illinois National Guard, 1970-76; former Assistant Public Defender and instructor at the National Institute for Trial Advocacy; married (wife, Pamela), has five children.