KANKAKEE — Both of Patrick Joyce’s parents served as state senator, but the Kankakee County farmer has practically no experience in politics.
Joyce, a Democrat who also runs a composting business, is the new Democratic senator for the 40th Senate District after being appointed Friday. He replaces Sen. Toi Hutchinson, D-Olympia Fields, who resigned a week earlier to take a top job in Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration.
With Joyce’s ascension, power in the 40th District transferred from the more urban northern part of the district to the more rural southern portion.
He will likely face competition in the Democratic primary in March.
In an interview Monday, Joyce said he had no formal political experience, other than his involvement with his parents’ efforts.
“You don’t have to be involved in politics to get in politics. You can be a farmer, an entrepreneur or a factory worker to get a feel for an entire district,” Joyce said. “Everyone starts somewhere.”
The five-member committee that appointed Joyce as state senator Friday night included his cousin, Richard Joyce, chairman of the Grundy County Democratic Party.
The decision was made after the committee deliberated behind closed doors for 40 minutes at Kankakee Community College.
Each member had a weighted vote, depending on the 2016 vote totals for Hutchinson in each member’s jurisdiction. Kankakee County Democratic Party Chairman John Willard’s vote was weighted 40 percent. Will County’s vote was 25 percent and Grundy County’s 4 percent.
Cook County’s two townships had a combined 31 percent.
Willard, who ran the meeting, declined to say afterward how each member voted. In an interview Monday, Richard Joyce, the new senator’s cousin, also would not say who received his vote.
Joyce and three other candidates spoke and took questions from the committee before the closed-door session. The others were Chicago Heights City Clerk Lori Wilcox, Momence’s Marta Perales, a former legislative affairs director for Metra; and Monica Gordon, executive director of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus Foundation.
Wilcox was on the committee, representing Cook County’s Bloom Township.
Gordon indicated the Democratic committee in Cook County’s Rich Township endorsed her candidacy last week. If this was true, then the two Cook County townships were divided going into the meeting.
Joyce, who lives in Essex, is the third person in his family to serve in the state Senate. His father, Jerry Joyce, served from January 1975 to April 1992. When he retired in 1992, he was replaced by his wife, Janet, who served the remainder of his Springfield term.
Throughout much of his tenure, Joyce was the only farmer in the Illinois Senate.
In his speech to the committee, Patrick Joyce did not mention his parents’ service, but indirectly referred to that experience.
“I have a good network of people I’ve known my whole life that were part of what I grew up with,” Joyce said. “Some of them are older and they have canes, but they are still connected. I need to make new partnerships in the northern part of the district.”
As he did in an interview a week earlier, Joyce praised Hutchinson’s decade of Senate service.
“I want to expand on Toi Hutchinson’s work,” he said.
He talked about reducing class sizes in early grades and finding more resources to rid the Kankakee River of growing sedimentation. He also called for the state to help combat global warming, accusing President Donald Trump of ignoring the problem.
In response to questions during the meeting, both Perales and Gordon vowed to run in the March primary, no matter what the committee decided. Asked afterward, Wilcox said she must consult with her political committee first.
Joyce told the committee that his biggest hurdle in running in next year’s general election was fundraising.
On the surface, the other three applicants for the position seemed more prepared Friday for the race ahead. All three distributed campaign flyers at the event; Joyce did not. Wilcox has already retained the services of a downtown Chicago political consultant who has helped Democrats win recent races for attorney general and treasurer.
Hutchinson did not make a public endorsement in the race and did not attend the meeting.
Hutchinson is now coordinating the state’s efforts to legalize recreational marijuana.
A judge swore in Joyce at the end of the meeting.