You might not hear her name or see her face, but when there’s news out of Springfield, it’s very possible that Belleville native Kristin Richards had a hand in it, behind the scenes.
Richards, a 1998 graduate of Althoff High School, serves as chief of staff for one of the top power brokers in state government, Senate President John Cullerton. She was named to the post on Tuesday.
She previously served as Cullerton’s director of policy and budget, holding that position since he became Senate president in 2009.
With the Democrat-controlled legislature locked in a budget impasse with a Republican governor, these are interesting times at the Illinois Capitol.
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“It’s a trying time for the constituents that the members of our caucus serve,” Richards said. “There’s a feeling of uncertainty, but there’s also, I think, a feeling of opportunity. It’s given us a chance to really spend more time as a staff and as a caucus to focus on what it is the state does.”
Richards, 35, majored in political science at Millikin University in Decatur. In her junior year, she ended up working for a member of Parliament in London.
“That was just a terrific experience, and I found it really satisfying to work with constituents,” she said.
She sent out applications to go to law school after graduation, but instead won a fellowship to work in the governor’s office. She continued working in the governor’s office until she joined Cullerton’s staff.
On the Senate president’s staff, she’s involved in drafting legislation, researching legislation, formulating budgets and negotiating on behalf of the Senate Democratic caucus.
“That tends to keep us very, very busy, particularly when the legislature is in session,” Richards said.
She doesn’t consider herself to be much of a political junkie.
“I wouldn’t describe myself that way, no. I think I’m more of a public-policy wonk than anything,” she said.
I like to be the person who is a little more behind the scenes. It’s a little more comfortable there.
Kristin Richards, chief of staff for Illinois Senate President John Cullerton
She is, however, keeping a close eye on all of the presidential primary news.
“Aren’t we all?” she said.
Richards said she has no interest in someday running for public office.
“I like to be the person who is a little more behind the scenes. It’s a little more comfortable there,” she said.
Richards said she comes from a family that has had a lot of community involvement, such as serving on a parish council, but no real political involvement. Her parents are Tim and Mary Ann Richards, retired public school teachers who now reside in Swansea.
Richards encourages citizens to be informed about government.
“I do think it’s difficult to keep track of what’s going on. There are so many opportunities to get involved and come to Springfield and visit on a session day and engage. I think that’s super-cool, and I get really excited when I get any chance to meet any groups from the metro-east,” she said. “Please, come see us and watch what it is that we’re doing.”
There is no one in this operation whose insights I trust more than Kristin’s.
Sen. John Cullerton, D-Chicago, Illinois Senate president
Cullerton, in announcing the appoint of Richards as his chief of staff, gave her high praise.
“There is no one in this operation whose insights I trust more than Kristin’s. She’s been invaluable to my office and to the Senate Democratic Caucus from Day 1. She’ll provide the leadership we need going forward,” Cullerton said.
Richards’ salary is $144,000.
“I’m really honored to be given the opportunity. I’m so appreciative of the Senate president’s and the caucus’ confidence in me,” she said.