After getting off to a wobbly start, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner has begun to speak truth to power. While a nervous media has attempted to portray the governor and state legislature as equally responsible for the State’s impoverished condition, he has rightly insisted that the budget is the bailiwick of the legislature. (Click here for his latest on the budget impasse.)
After years of overspending, mismanagement, and corruption, Illinois government is in the throes of an all-out economic crisis. Yet the Democratic-controlled legislature continues shilly-shallying. That body, whose lack of prudence over decades has created this disaster, is still evading responsibility. Rather than face the music, the legislature’s top priority is shifting blame.
Meanwhile, legislators have failed to kick into emergency mode and make the painful decisions necessary to keep the government running and avoid defaulting on its obligations. The state can no longer pay its bills and has been without a budget for weeks, with penalties accruing. Do members of the Illinois House and Senate, whatever their party affiliation, really want to be associated with a bankruptcy? Do they want to be remembered as the individuals who did nothing, who failed to be heroic, as the public sector’s finances tanked?
To say that the situation reflects poorly on the long-dominant Democratic party is putting it mildly. Though the self-interested rule of House Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton has been unbreakable, some cracks in their monolithic organizational control have begun appearing. As the crisis builds, some legislators see that, when the state goes down, their careers and reputations will be destroyed too. Some may begin to buck the status quo. If only they would break rank, the power of Mike Madigan would at last be destroyed.
Governor Rauner has begun to work these fault lines. He has wisely refused to be drawn in to the budget crisis (it isn’t his job), thereby exposing the legislature’s ineptitude and lack of resolve. Mike Madigan has begun looking like a silly befuddled wizard, with an inadequate inventory of smoke and mirrors. On September 2, he failed to secure enough votes to override the Governor’s veto of a labor bill that would have excluded the governor from negotiations with unions.
The override failed by one vote, and the public has now heard from the brave Democratic legislator who chose to absent himself rather than act as Speaker Madigan’s lackey. Ken Dunkin, a Chicago-area representative and former chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, said afterward that his action was a refusal to ‘wear the jacket.’ Despite being widely criticized by fellow legislators and publicly chastised by Speaker Madigan (!), Dunkin told reporter Charles Thomas afterward that his duty is to work for the economic empowerment of struggling African-Americans in Chicago, a crusade that might involve finding common ground with Governor Rauner.
These developments are sweet to every Illinoisan longing for public integrity and economy, and for an end to Mike Madigan’s iniquitous reign.