Mask melee in Illinois House sparks profanity, protests, penalties — and an apology

Tensions over COVID-19 mask mandates festered in the Illinois House on Tuesday as a northwest suburban Republican publicly apologized for confronting a Democratic colleague last week after a heated debate — a finger-pointing profane encounter that the Democrat said left her fearing for her safety.

"When I was being confronted by my colleague and what my colleague said to me, in that moment I was triggered," state Rep. Lakesia Collins, D-Chicago, told legislators on Tuesday. "I was scared. I felt unprotected. And I was shocked that this even transpired."

The episode last Thursday came after Collins sponsored a resolution that resulted in nine Republicans being voted off the House floor for flouting chamber rules that require face coverings.

The Near North Side Democrat initially named state Rep. Steven Reick, R-Woodstock, apparently believing he was not wearing a mask, although she corrected her mistake before the resolution came to a vote, according to Politico, which first reported the incident.


Regardless, Reick confronted Collins after the vote, saying he took "umbrage" at being mistakenly singled out.

The Woodstock Republican pointed his finger in Collins’ face and told her, "Keep my f—— name out of your mouth," Collins told Politico.

On Tuesday, Reick told his colleagues that he was shaped by an upbringing that taught him "you don’t take an insult, you don’t take something that is wrong lightly."

"Because I’m also a rules guy," Reick said, arguing that although he disagrees with the mask rule "completely," he wouldn’t ignore it. "I’m not that kind of guy. I’m just not. I’m big, I’m loud, sometimes I’m profane — but I’m not that kind of guy.

"So, when I went over to the representative and had words with her, it came from an anger of the fact that I was being somehow taken and made into something I was not."

Speaking from the House floor on Tuesday, Collins also traced her feelings about the encounter to her childhood, telling of losing her mother when Collins was 5.

"And the people who were supposed to love me and protect me did not do that," she said. "I experienced physical, verbal and sexual abuse until I became a teenager and found my voice to say ‘No more.’"

About 10 minutes after the episode last week, Reick went over to apologize to Collins, but Democratic lawmakers told him it was not the right time.

"In that moment, it wasn’t the right time," Collins said on Tuesday "Especially when I stated I felt unsafe."

Following the episode, state Democratic House Speaker Emanuel "Chris" Welch and state Rep. Kam Buckner, D-Chicago, chair of the House Legislative Black Caucus, sent letters to Reick and GOP leaders demanding a public apology. And Reick, Collins, Welch and House Republican Leader Jim Durkin met to discuss the matter earlier Tuesday.

"I will say again, I’m sorry for what I said," Reick said. "I’m offering up an apology, but it’s no different than the apology I would have offered up had she been willing to listen to me ten minutes after this happened, and that this never would have had to occur.

"That’s how you do these things in my world. You’re honest, you take care of business, you clean up your own mess — and you move on. It’s what I intend to do with this."

Collins also expressed an interest to move on.

"As a Black woman, we are told to be strong, but at the same time to be quiet, to tone down, don’t be too aggressive. And our concerns oftentimes go unheard."

"We’re all imperfect people. We may not always see eye to eye but we can always be civil and respectful of one another. This is not political for me. This is me speaking my truth and how I felt in that moment. I’m speaking for the little girl who was told she wasn’t good enough, who wasn’t worth it.

"I’m speaking for the woman, the man, the children who had the same experience as me in foster care or had worse experience but was unable — or able — to overcome that."

Durkin and Welch expressed optimism after their meeting.

"Let’s move forward and make a commitment towards civility, respecting everyone’s positions, their life story, for constituents and we’ll be a better place for that," Durkin said following Reick’s remarks.

Welch said the meeting left him "feeling very optimistic about where we’re headed."

But soon, the chamber appeared headed in a familiar direction.

Three Republicans — Adam Niemerg of Dieterich, Blaine Wilhour of Beecher City and Dan Caulkins of Decatur were voted out of the chamber for not following the House rules on face coverings. It was an encore for Niemerg and Wilhour, who were among the nine ousted last week.

State Rep. Andrew Chesney, R-Freeport, who was among the Republicans booted from the chamber last week for not wearing masks, called for all rules to be enforced, not just ones he said Democrats "pick and choose to follow."

"If we’re going to look like idiots, we’ve got to debate like idiots," he said after his three GOP colleagues were vote out Tuesday. "We’ve got do it with our masks on."