SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WLS) -- One day after making history by being the first Black person elected as Speaker of the Illinois House, Emanuel "Chris" Welch sat down for a one-on-one interview with ABC 7.
While the Hillside Democrat said he may be ready to work with Republicans, he said he is also putting them on notice about who is in charge.
It is a new day in the Speaker's office and a new representative occupying that powerful position.
Craig: "You woke up [Thursday] morning for the first time as Speaker of the Illinois House. How does that feel?"
Welch: "You know, it just gave me chills right now just listening to you ask the question, and truly as a proud moment."
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Welch is succeeding Mike Madigan, who has held the post for decades. Madigan has served in that role for all but two years, since 1983.
"You have to understand what it means for Black boys and Black girls out there right now who are told that they're not going to achieve things in life. You know, and they don't believe that they can achieve things in life. And now not only can they believe it, but they can see it," Welch added.
Craig: "How do you plan to distinguish yourself from Mike Madigan."
Welch: "Well, my name is Emmanuel Chris Welch, and I got here because of what people believe in me. My colleagues asked me to step up and do this job."
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Welch said Madigan will not have any leadership role going forward, but he still plans to tap Madigan's expertise as someone with 50 years in the legislature.
"He is an elected state representative, number one in seniority in the House with a whole lot of knowledge about this institution, anyone who doesn't wouldn't want to tap into that knowledge, would be crazy," Welch said.
Welch has extended an olive branch to Republicans but there has been friction with Leader Jim Durkin stemming from the special committee that investigated the ComEd corruption case that implicated Madigan. Welch chaired that committee which took no action against the former Speaker.
"I want to work with Jim Durkin to the best of my ability, but I'm not gonna let Jim Durkin bully me and destroy my good name," Welch said.
Welch, as Speaker with a supermajority in the House, with a shot across the bow to Durkin and his caucus.
"If he continues to punch, we're gonna punch back," Welch said. "And what I'm telling him is that's not good. That's not good for our state. It's not good for our country."
Speaker Welch said he has no illusions this new role will be easy but he believes he is ready for the job. He credits Madigan for leaving him with a supermajority of Democrats in the House and added that it is now up to him to fine-tune how things work and then get things done.