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Exelon Nuclear Closure Announcement Opens Energy Policy Debate

Jason Barickman speaks
State Senator Jason Barickman said both parties missed opportunities during their national conventions.

Some political observers think the announcement last week by Exelon that it will close two northern Illinois nuclear reactors is an opening bid for legislative help.

State Sen. Jason Barickman said even though he believes that may be true, he takes the threat seriously.

"Obviously it could have a tremendous impact on the economy. It could displace many jobs. Another important component is the impact it could have on the state's energy policy and the availability of different types of energy," said Barickman.

The Bloomington Republican said a diverse energy portfolio is a strength of the state.

"We've (had) just in recent weeks some tremendous weather that has caused some very short-term outages, but nothing compared to what you have seen in some other states where they don't have the stability in the energy grid as we do in Illinois," said Barickman.

Barickman, who sits on one of the energy policy committees in Springfield, said expects Gov. JB Pritzker to push for green job initiatives to balance whatever help Exelon and its subsiariary Commonwealth Edison would get. Barickman said he does not want legislation that produces unintended consequences.

Barickman said he's not sure what a new energy bill will look like, but expects the governor to push for green jobs measures to offset whatever help ComEd gets.

Political season

On another topic, Barickman said neither major political party maximized the possible benefit from their recent national conventions. Barickman said it was difficult to reach beyond the party cores this year because of the pandemic, and because the timing caused many to be preoccupied with getting kids ready for school online. He said both failed to reach beyond their bases.

"I happen to think there is a wide swath of voters who do not identify themselves as ideologically pure as Republicans or Democrats. It's a missed opportunity for both parties to leave those voters on the sideline," said Barickman.

Many political scientists have said there is a big difference between those who say they are uncommitted and those who really might be swing voters, that most people have established voting records of philosophical allegiances to one party or another. The percentage of true uncommitted swing voters, they have argued, is quite small.

Barickman pushed back at that contention saying a big portion of the people he interacts with in public are in the unheard middle who want government to address problems and not ideology. Barickman said he believes those voters perceive both parties are nestled at the edges of the spectrum. He acknowledged the last two decades have moved away from centrism but Barickman said he hopes the pendulum will swing back to the middle.

Barickman said it will be a tough year for his party in Illinois. He said the battleground will be in the north.

"Especially in Chicago and the suburbs. Trump is the obvious underdog in those areas. Those areas Republicans need to do well. We have a total uphill battle in those areas," said Barickman.

Barickman said the issues will be the effectiveness of the Trump administration's handling of the pandemic, the unfortunate police violence against young Black men, and the lack of law and order of some of the protests against police violence.

Hear Charlie Schlenker's interview with State Senator Jason Barickman analyzing the recent party national conventions.

Editor's note: This story has been changed to reflect Exelon issued the closure announcement and not its subsidiary Commonwealth Edison.

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.