When roaming the halls of the Illinois State Capitol, there is a certain gentleman who seems to be everywhere at the same time. As Senior Advisor to Governor Pat Quinn, he knows the interplay between the lobbyists and community interest groups, and understands the inner-workings of both chambers.
His name is John Kamis and he is one of the most dedicated and down-to-earth people I have met. He has a surprisingly calm temperament considering his aggressive policy advancement and forward organizational development. John is a pragmatist- he is always available to offer real-time solutions to any problem.
He is definitely someone you should know.
John grew up in Palatine, Illinois, a northwest suburb of Chicago. Interestingly enough, his father immigrated to the United States from the former Czechoslovakia with only a suitcase and $20.
During high school, his best friend’s mother was running for State Representative and he helped coordinate volunteers for her campaign. That campaign, combined with an excellent AP Government teacher, is what ultimately piqued John’s interested in government. This would not end up being his only campaign in his governmental career. Besides working on Al Gore’s presidential campaign, Judge Thomas Lipscomb’s judicial race, and Richard Daley’s mayoral race, John was the campaign manager for Pat Quinn’s gubernatorial primary campaign. His success and well-known credibility from this role propelled him into the position he has with the Governor today.
As Senior Advisor to the Governor, John splits his time between the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield and the Thompson Center in Chicago. His three primary areas of focus are economic development, legislative affairs, and performance management. He is responsible for overseeing the Governor’s “jobs agenda” in Springfield, negotiating legislation, and developing legislative strategy. He also oversees the Governor’s budget reform and performance management initiative, “Budgeting for Results.” Additionally, he was the lead staffer for the Governor’s Economic Recovery Commission.
John supervises and coordinates the legislative liaisons for the State’s economic development agencies. He is also responsible for supervising and coordinating economic development agency staff on particular projects, which include the Department of Transportation, Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Department of Revenue, and Illinois Toll Highway Authority.
You will also often see John mentoring the Governor’s Dunn Fellows, college graduates spending a year on the Governor’s staff learning the operations of State government. It is John’s personal mission to teach and help guide other people interested in government work. He has said, “I’m very grateful for the terrific mentors I’ve had, especially at the beginning of my career in government. I try my best to provide guidance and support to new attorneys because I remember how difficult the legislative process was to grasp when I first started. I like to bring staff with me to interesting meetings or negotiations, and then spend some time with them afterwards walking them through what took place.”
His advice for other government lawyers is to never let a person’s negative opinions of government influence you. John believes that the work government lawyers do is important and the opportunities for making an impact can be much greater than in the private sector.
When asked about the positives about his job, John will tell you that the great thing about working in the Governor’s Office is that each day you know that you will work on something interesting and impactful. He said, “The wide array of issues that come your way can be daunting, but it is probably the one thing about my work that I enjoy most. I can’t imagine another job where you get to work on so many issues that have a direct effect on people’s lives.” His long term goals are to continue to work on issues that improve that the economic climate in Illinois and address unequal opportunity. ■
Tiffany Elking is Assistant Counsel to Speaker Michael J. Madigan of the Illinois House of Representatives. She is a member of the ISBA Standing Committee on Government Lawyers. The opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author and not those of the Illinois House of Representatives.