The 21st Show

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin; Medicaid Backlog; ‘Ms. Blakk For President’ At Steppenwolf


Representative Jim Durkin, far left, speaks with Niala Boodhoo, far right, at the state capitol on Feb. 20. Bobbi McSwine/Illinois Public Media

State lawmakers have just two weeks to decide how they’ll move forward with several pieces of legislation. House Republican Leader Jim Durkin joins us to share his priorities. Plus, a southern Illinois mother faced thousands of dollars in hospital bills for her newborn because of Medicaid enrollment delays. She’s one of more than 100,000 who are facing problems with the program in Illinois. A new play at Steppenwolf explores the story of Ms. Joan Jett Blakk- a Chicago drag queen who ran for president in 1992.

The legislative session ends next Friday and there's a lot to do before then. Especially for Democrats, who swept into power with a new governor and supermajorities in both chambers. There’s an infrastructure bill, sports betting, legalizing cannabis and of course, passing a budget.

But what are Republicans prioritizing in this home stretch? And how much bipartisanship are we really going to see, both in these next couple of weeks and beyond?

Representative Jim Durkin is the House Minority Leader. He’s a Republican from Illinois’ 82nd district which includes some of Chicago’s west and southwest suburbs, including La Grange, Willowbrook, and Burr Ridge.


About one-in-five Americans have health insurance through Medicaid. It’s one of the biggest federal programs in the country, but it’s also run a little differently in each state.

Here in Illinois, there’s currently a big problem in how our system is run. Under federal law, if you apply for Medicaid, the state needs to decide whether you’re eligible within 45 days.

Many Illinois residents have waited longer than that and as a result, are going without health insurance. How many? The most recent numbers have it at more than 112,000.

Becky Dernbach is a freelance journalist and a graduate student at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. She reported on this issue for the Chicago Sun-Times. Carrie Chapman is director of advocacy with the Legal Council for Health Justice. Claudia Lehnhoff is executive director of Champaign County Health Care Consumers.


In 1992, the AIDS epidemic was still claiming many lives in Chicago. But this was a time when people didn’t often speak words like “gay” or “AIDS” in public. So, when Chicago drag queen Ms. Joan Jett Blakk started a bid for the presidency, it certainly made headlines.

The improbable true story of Ms. Joan Jett Blakk is the subject of a new play that premieres at Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago this week. It’s by the Oscar-award winning writer behind Moonlight, Steppenwolf ensemble member Tarrell Alvin McCraney, and one of his longtime collaborators, the director Tina Landau.

Tina’s also an award-winning ensemble member who may be best known as the creator of SpongeBob SquarePants the Musical, which ended its Broadway run last year.

Now, both of them have teamed up to write this play which will run through July 14 at Steppenwolf.

We had a chance to catch up with Tina last week at Steppenwolf in Chicago.

Story source: WILL