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36 years later, Susan Catania hopeful about ERA

State Journal Register

Monday, April 16, 2018  |  Column  |  Bernard Schoenburg

Former GOP state Rep. SUSAN CATANIA, who was House sponsor of ratification of the federal Equal Rights Amendment during the apparent deadline year of 1982, was heartened when the Illinois Senate voted 43-12 last week to back the cause again.

“It’s very long overdue,” Catania told me by telephone, “but it’s definitely time for Illinois to not be aligned with the confederate states which opposed the Equal Rights Amendment.”

The summer of 1982 was wild in Springfield, as the June 30 deadline for ratification approached. Women dressed in red, led by the late PHYLLIS SCHLAFLY, brought their stop ERA message to the Statehouse on session days, as pro-ERA forces, often dressed in green, advocated for their side.

A small group of women, led by activist SONIA JOHNSON, went on a 37-day water-only fast for the ERA — sitting in the rotunda each day. And members of the Champaign-based pro-ERA “Grass-Roots Group of Second Class Citizens” got arrested after chaining themselves to the brass railing at the Senate’s main entrance. They came back another day and sprayed animal blood in front the House and Senate chambers and the governor’s office, leading to more chaos.

I was interviewing Catania just outside the Senate chamber when the blood-spraying began.

Catania served in the House from 1973-83. She was a Republican from Chicago when there were three-member House districts. She ran for the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor in 1982, coming in second in a three-way primary won by GEORGE RYAN. She later worked for the Department of Children and Family Services, and then the Department of Human Services, overseeing the statewide sexual assault and prevention response program.

Catania, 76, who says she still leans Republican and now calls Buffalo Grove home, says 36 years later that one anti-ERA message, about women’s role in the military, has been rebuffed.

“We have a United States senator who clearly has demonstrated that women can serve with complete distinction in the U.S. military. And we have her fighting the good fight now in Washington.”

She was talking about U.S. Sen. TAMMY DUCKWORTH, D-Illinois, the Hoffman Estates resident who lost both legs when her helicopter was shot down over Iraq.

Catania said she voted for Duckworth in 2016.

“She’s carrying the torch for women,” she said, and is “speaking out for the military and for women, for working families.”

Catania also voted for Democrat HILLARY CLINTON over GOP President DONALD TRUMP, saying he stands only for himself, and not “anything that the Republican Party ever has stood for.”

By 1982, ERA was ratified by 35 of the required 38 states. Advocates passed a ratification measure in Nevada last year, and they believe the amendment can still take effect if two more states give approval.

Opposition to ratification of ERA has been building with the new action in Springfield, with groups including the Illinois Family Institute against the measure.

Catania said three of her seven daughters were born during her years in the House. She and husband ANTHONY have six grandsons and seven granddaughters.

Her simple advice to House members when ERA comes up: “Vote yes.”

Border war

The Illinois Senate voted 33-22 on a resolution last week urging Gov. BRUCE RAUNER not to send Illinois National Guard troops to the Mexican border if so requested by President Trump.

No such request was made to Illinois, but Rauner had told reporters he believed such a request would be honored.

SETH McMILLAN of Taylorville, who is running against state Sen. ANDY MANAR, D-Bunker Hill, in the 48th Senate, said Manar’s vote for the resolution “sided with liberal Chicago Democrats and put illegal immigrants over the people of central Illinois.” He also said it would lead to “more illegal immigration and more dangerous drugs like opioids flowing across the border.”

“As state senator, I would support President Trump’s request to send the Illinois National Guard to secure our borders,” he added.

Manar noted that the resolution “does not carry the weight of law,” but also said he agrees with language in the resolution that the safety and security of Illinois citizens and National Guard members “must take precedence over the political aspirations of our executive branch. ...”

And, Manar said, if McMillan is concerned about opioids, he should “pick up the phone and call his friend Bruce Rauner,” and not let money intended to help with addiction problems downstate lapse, which he said was revealed “stunningly” in testimony before an appropriations committee last week.

The Department of Human Services responded that some appropriation authority was not fully utilized due to an influx of federal dollars. Manar said that shouldn’t keep the Rauner administration from spending the state appropriated funds.

McMillan said tens of millions in state dollars have gone to things like health insurance for people who are not legal residents. PolitiFact Illinois in 2016 reported that from fiscal 2009-2014, the state spent between $42 million and $59 millon a year on health care associated with undocumented children.

“We should completely eliminate welfare for illegal immigrants and use those resources for opioid prevention and intervention,” McMillan said.

Manar, a senator since 2013 who was earlier chief of staff to the Senate president, called bringing those health-care costs to the discussion “gotcha politics.”

“I’m a serious legislator,” Manar said. “Some would probably say maybe I’m too serious, but I reject gotcha politics.”

McMillan, Manar said, “has a struggling campaign and he’s going to do and say all kinds of things over the next few months.”

Democratic governor candidate J.B. PRITZKER called the president’s National Guard order — so far only affecting other states — “blatant racism and political pandering.”

RACHEL BOLD, spokeswoman for Rauner, said if the president calls for the guard, the governor’s options are to work with the president and maintain control over the guard, or refuse and lose command — meaning he may not be able to call members home in an emergency. She also said Govs. Rauner and PAT QUINN sent Guard members to the southern border in the past at the request of then-President BARACK OBAMA.

— Contact Bernard Schoenburg: bernard.schoenburg@sj-r.com, 788-1540, twitter.com/bschoenburg.