Pat Hughes: Welcome to Illinois Rising. I'm Pat Hughes of the Illinois Opportunity Project filling in this week for the great Dan Proft and joining me is Austin Berg. Austin is a writer, and a great writer, and we'll talk about this as we get through with the show today at the Illinois Policy Institute, and a columnist for the Illinois News Network; awesome, thanks so much for being on the show this week.
Austin Berg: Thanks for having me, Pat.
Pat Hughes: So AFSCME, which is the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, it does not have a new contract in the state of Illinois. The first thing they tried to do was get the Democratic legislature to pass a law that would take Governor Runner out from negotiating that contract. That failed two different times; they didn't want to negotiate with the governor, they wanted to negotiate with some, you know, Mike Madigan appointed hack guy that would just roll over. And so that hasn't happened and the contract hasn't been met yet and there are specific reasons why they wanted someone else to negotiate and specific reasons why the contract demands haven't been met. Take the folks through the breathtaking circumstances of the demands that the folks at AFSCME are looking for in this next contract.
Austin Berg: Totally. So we went and did a deep dive into what the now expired AFSCME contract granted workers and what they're still operating under currently. And I wrote a column on this and sort of made up a hypothetical guy - I will call him George, he's a clerical worker for the state - and if you go through the work week it slowly becomes clear - not slowly - very quickly becomes clear that this contract operates in a different reality. So let's take last week, for example. July 4th was a Monday. George volunteered to work on the holiday. He got work. He works his normal seven and a half hour shift on the 4th of July and earns double pay in cash; so not bad. Tuesday comes around, he was up late watching fireworks; doesn't feel like going to work; he's not sick just doesn't feel like going. This is only the eighth time that George has taken an unauthorized absence from work in the last month, so he gets a warning. The ninth time he will get another warning. The tenth time he will get another warning and on the eleventh time he will get a five day suspension. So he stays on the Tuesday. Wednesday he comes into work late, comes in almost an hour late. State contract says you can't dock his pay for coming in at a later time. So he falls behind on his work obviously because the world didn’t stop moving when George wasn't at work in the morning, and he works an extra hour. He works until 5:30 today, instead of 4:30. It turns out George gets overtime pay for that extra hour because it falls outside of his regular work schedule; so Wednesday, another great day. Thursday George takes a paid sick day. He is a pretty healthy guy in general; he’s worked for the state for 10 years. He only takes 6 of his 12 paid sick days every year. Those remaining six add up, so George now has a bank of 60 paid sick days that he can use whenever. So he cashes one of those in on Thursday; down to 59, next month will be back up to 60. Thursday’s gone, Friday he takes a paid personal day; he gets three of those every year. That's the end of the week. So I talk to people my age for working 60 to 70-hour weeks to pay off student loans or working minimum wage jobs and you tell them that story and then it becomes very real.
Pat Hughes: Sure, and if you tell folks that are even much older, maybe my age, who, you know, went through a really bad economy, lost the original job, had to go out and find work - maybe work that is below their qualification level - and they’ve got, you know, two kids and a wife and a mortgage and property taxes going up and they are trying to figure out how to bang out the mortgage or the rent and how to get their kids to school. It's breathtaking and these unions, AFSCME in particular, they just want more and more and more of the same and I just had the sense that if the folks recognize the disparity there would be outrage. And the hope is that there’s going to start to be outrage. Joining us to talk a little bit about these disparities is Vinnie Vernuccio. He's the director of Labor Policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Vinnie, thank you so much for joining us!
Vinnie Vernuccio: Hey, well, thanks for having me on!
Pat Hughes: What gives unions like AFSCME the - what's the polite term – confidence?
Vinnie Vernuccio: I think you mean the term chutzpah.
Pat Hughes: Yeah. Exactly.
Vinnie Vernuccio: Chutzpah is really what we’re coming down to here. These guys, with their stature and benefits, are making over 40% more than the counterparts in the private sector that are paying taxes to pay their salaries. And they have the, let’s be polite and say, chutzpah to ask for these massive wage increases; as Austin was talking about, the 25 day holiday pay, double time and a half. And once again, you know, we're talking about holidays; everybody thinks, “Man, I would hate it to work Christmas or Thanksgiving and be away from my family”. That’s not what we’re talking about. Those are in the contract, but they’re considered superholidays, so they get paid even more. We're talking about Labor Day, Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, the upkeep federal holidays, plus a couple extras added in for good measure, like Election Day is considered a holiday, because obviously, the AFSCME employees have to be able to go around and elect politicians that are going to ratify contracts such as the one that Governor Rauner is trying to oppose with all of these extravagant benefits that are in the request.
Austin Berg: Right. Just to throw some contacts for the listeners, currently state workers in Illinois are the highest paid state workers in the nation adjusted for cost of living. AFSCME workers receive platinum level health care coverage at bronze-level prices. They also get free health insurance after they retire, many of them. So I think Vinnie is totally right to point out the chutzpa to ask for… they’re at the bargaining table right now asking for more. How do they expect people, normal average Illinoisans who are struggling under stagnant wages, stagnant economy, people leaving their neighborhoods, employers leaving their neighborhoods, how do they have the gall to ask them for more? I think it's useful to do a comparison across States - like we said, the highest paid state workers in the nation – Vinnie, can you give some insight beyond Illinois in these sorts of negotiations, what is different about those negotiations? Here we have Governor Bruce Rauner; it’s basically the only guy standing in the way of them getting another contract with these sweeteners and those perks of the result of weak Governors year after year after year, just kowtowing to demands. Is that unusual in Illinois, is this happening in other states?
Vinnie Vernuccio: I wouldn’t say it’s unusual. This is one of the main problems that there are with government unions in general. Essentially, they get to elect who is on the other side of the bargaining table with them. So there’s really not that market check that you see in the private sector, where you have a company that
has to worry about out of line. Most politicians that kick the can down the road realize, “Well, we could either just raise taxes or make promises that aren't going to come due for another generation so we can just give away the store to the union and not have to worry about the immediate consequences”, because, like all of these pension benefits, they aren’t going to come due until later on. Now in comparison to other states though, I’d say Illinois has one of the roughest track records as far as these giveaways that these circular type of bargaining, with the unions being able to support and then get elected, politicians that are extremely sympathetic to them. It is a big problem in many other states across the country, but I think Illinois is probably one of the worst, or the number one offender in these kind of give-back schemes. And you see it with Speaker Madigan, and you see it with some of the entrenched politicians that have been there for year, that get so much support from the Union that seem to be putting their interest ahead of the taxpayers, unlike Governor Rauner, which is trying to look at the bottom line and do what’s best for the businesses of taxpayers of Illinois.
Pat Hughes: Hey, Vinnie, in about less than a minute, tell me, obviously we know what the problems are, how do we message to the electorate, people are going to make decisions in our state in November, who might want to put someone in who's not tied to the union into the Illinois legislature. What do we say, what do folks say to them to convince them that this is what's going on and it's got to stop?
Vinnie Vernuccio: I mean, you have to look at the bottom line, and you have to look at the businesses that are leaving Illinois, the population, the people that are leaving Illinois. We have to make Illinois home again, and we have to make it an attractive place for job creators to come bringing employment, bring the tax base back, plus if you keep raising taxes, unfortunately, you're not going back more money at the end of the day, you're going to get rest because the higher taxes are in the drive away businesses that would be supporting services. So it's not just that you are paying these employees more, these public employees more, but that money has to come from somewhere and it's either today, from the tax base which will be continually does diminishing or it'll come from other services that are going to have to be decreased to pay for these lavish demands that unions like AFSCME are demanding. And further, if you're talking directly to union members, you have these politicians that keep making these promises, like these pension promises, where you look at Illinois’ credit rating, or you look at the finances, there just isn’t the money there. So they think they have this gold plated pension plan but eventually if there isn't that tax base to support it, a lot of these public employees, unfortunately, are going to have a rude awakening, where the state simply can’t pay them. So if you’re messaging towards the public employees themselves, if you have to say, “Listen, you have to be reasonable or else your retirement may be in jeopardy, despite what the politicians and your union leaders are telling you”.
Pat Hughes: Vinnie Vernuccio, the director of Labor Policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Thank you so much for joining us!
Vinnie Vernuccio: Hey, thanks for having me on!
Pat Hughes: Welcome back to Illinois Rising. I’m Pat Hughes of the Illinois Opportunity Project; joining me today is Austin Berg. Austin is a writer at the Illinois Policy Institute, and a columnist for the Illinois News Network. Austin, the legislators in Springfield and then the governor passed what is being termed a stopgap budget, which is not the full budget that everybody's been thinking about and arguing about over all this time but they didn't pass a budget that's going to last another six months. Some highlights from that budget: it gives the city of Chicago, which has not been popular in the rest of the state, the ability to raise property taxes by another 250 million dollars and to do what? To fund teacher pensions, and it will cover 215 million of those pensions in 2017, but the package does not provide full bailout that the city officials initially thought and sought that they could get. And it does ensure some funding for some critical Human Services, road construction, prison operations, etcetera. This is not the full budget, this is not the ultimate answer at something I think the folks in Springfield and the governor felt they needed to do. What are your thoughts?
Austin Berg: So I think this budget does three things; it's a bit like kissing your sister; it's not the long-term solution and Rauner has said that correctly; the first thing is that it's not the seven billion dollar out of balance budget that Madigan tried to shove through the legislature at the eleventh hour. It's not that. It also doesn't provide the massive bailout to CPS that was being discussed; that's number 2; and the number three opens the door for a lot of, we’ll say transformative reforms at the tail end of the year and looking into early 2017. I think that's the most interesting part about this.
Pat Hughes: Yeah, I agree with you. I think, really, what this says is it’s a signal what's going to happen over the next 6 months and what structural reforms – you know, the governor has been seeking specific structural reforms on property tax reform, on workers compensation reform, on pension reform, to make our state more attractive to people and businesses and up until this point he hasn't been able to get any traction with the entrenched Democrats and Mike Madigan on those fronts, and it's going to be interesting to see what happens over the next 6 months. Obviously, we have an election during that time. My view of it is it's going to take a different legislators in different seats of the House in order for that to happen and perhaps in the Senate as well, so that the governor can see some of these reforms. It’s going to be interesting to see what’s going to happen between now and November until something like that can happen. Luckily for us we have someone who does this every day joining us on the program. He's a state representative and a friend of program, a friend of mine, a friend of Dan Proft; Representative Randy Frese, he's a Republican representative from Paloma and he's joining us on the show today to talk about the stopgap budget and sort of what the next 6 months portend in the legislature and generally for the state of Illinois. Randy, thank you so much for joining us!
Randy Frese: Hey, great to be with you. Thanks for having me today. Appreciate it!
Pat Hughes: Tell us a little bit about how the stopgap budget came to be, what you experienced during that time, and then we’ll get to what we think the next 6 months hold.
Randy Frese: Yes, the stopgap budget was actually a budget that was initially introduced at the end of this session period in May by our leader Durkin, and several others who have been working on it. And it was, again, just that, a stopgap measure in case the working groups couldn’t come through and deliver a complete comprehensive budget, as you were just alluding to earlier. Since we didn’t have the comprehensive budget, it was a minimum amount that we needed to get done in order to relieve a lot of pressures for making sure schools opened on time in the Fall, making sure that universities had the funding to at least operate and open through the first semester, and that those students going to the university knew that they had the funding in place to be there as well. So we relieved a lot of those pains, as well as some of the things you mentioned, the Human Services and some other areas where the state has dropped the ball in the past and will maybe continue to drop the ball since we don't have continued a comprehensive budget. But, again, a stopgap budget gets us through to January 2.
Austin Berg: Representative Frese, this is Austin here. I was wondering, are you confident in what's going to happen in the next 6 months? Are you optimistic, and if so what's the source of that optimism? I think a lot of people are confused about what this means for them.
Randy Frese: Exactly. I tend to be an optimistic person, so I guess the answer to that is I am always optimistic. However, there’s plenty to be pessimistic about. I don’t know how we’re going to negotiate, come November, December, for a comprehensive budget, when it looks like there’s going to be a demand, or at least and ask for a substantial tax increase. And I have never been a proponent of that; nations don’t tax themselves into prosperity. The state of Illinois will not tax itself into any kind of prosperity. We need to have the reforms that you were also talking about earlier. That the governor has espoused ever since he’s been campaigning for the job, so… We need to get busy with actually sitting down at the table and actually getting to discuss those reforms, and get them in bill form to come to us for a vote.
Pat Hughes: Hey, Randy, it’s Pat again. What are the electoral prospects in November, given what you just said with respect to Governor Rauner? Obviously, Governor Rauner won over Pat Quinn by five points, touting the same reforms he’s trying to get past through the General Assembly and he’s not able to do it because of the obstreperous nature of Mike Madigan and his caucus, and of course John Cullerton is no friend to the governor on these, but a little bit better than Madigan. The folks wanted these reforms, at least that’s what they said when they voted Governor Rauner into office. Now there are a bunch of state legislative races that are taking place this November, a bunch of tight races where the democrats won barely in districts where Governor Rauner won handedly. What’s your view of the electoral landscape, number one, and then number two, is that the only way, by changing the nature of the caucus, breaking a little bit of Madigan’s power, getting him out of the supermajority, that we can potentially get the balanced budget that we need and the structural reforms that we need to get this state going.
Randy Frese: I won’t say that that’s the only way, but that would surely be a good way and a good first step, to change the balance of the power. There’s basically been a one party control from since 2002, and right now we’re still seeing that bit of an imbalance, and maybe because of that trustworthiness between the two maybe has not grown and developed the way you would like to see it. As for how the elections are going to go, you’ve heard the term so many times probably. I don’t have the crystal ball, I don’t know. I can’t read the electorate to tell you how it’s going to turn out, come November. But we’re going to run some competitive races in some areas where maybe we haven’t won in the past, and perhaps, from the Republicans perspective, we can pull out some victories. And perhaps get it away from the super majority control of the Democrats in the House of Representatives.
Pat Hughes: And if we're not able to that – I think we’re going to be able to do that. As you know, I spend a lot of time in my private time on sort of that election stuff, but if we’re not able to do that, what are the reforms that maybe current Democrats are more attracted to, that the governor's proposing versus others? Is there anything that there's common ground on in the governor's turnaround agenda that we think we can get through?
Randy Frese: Well, as you’ve mentioned, there’re pensions reforms that need to happen, and there’s money on the table; there’s skin in the game with the stopgap measure. Something needs to be done with pension reforms. I could talk to you all day about this, whether or not Illinois has… probably not met its responsibility in making those pension payments in the past, delaying them, non-payments to pension programs has got us in a rears, but whatever we’ve done in the past, where we find ourselves currently is in a very, very bad situation. There’s no way we’re going to find ourselves favorable in the bond market with the continued problem that we have with our pensions and the amount of… the billions of dollars that we’re in a rear for that. So we’ve got to get that straightened out. There’s got to be reform there. I think that we will come to the table on that. I think the two other things that the governor has pointed out is property taxes and workers’ comp reform, so I think there’s continued work we can do in both of those measures. Again, the governor’s pointed out that businesses, not only don’t want to come to Illinois because of those two things, but we’re driving businesses that are currently here out of Illinois because of those two particular reforms that we need – workers’ comp and property tax.
Pat Hughes: Well, great. Randy, I appreciate your insights today, thank you for joining us today on Illinois Rising. We’re looking forward to what’s going to happen over the 6 months and to the forms we hope will help change the nature of the state. Representative Randy Frese, thank you so much!
Randy Frese: Yep, thank you for having me. I hope we can make it happen.
Pat Hughes: Austin, just following up really quick, we’ve got about 40 seconds, what are your thoughts on what the representative said and what do you think this might be able to go?
Austin Berg: I think it’s absolutely really right to focus on those three reforms, because they’re three big pain points within Illinois, especially the property tax issue which we’ll soon talk about. I think it’s very interesting what we’re going to see at the end of this year looking into early next year, what democrats are going to be willing to come to the table on and hopefully this stopgap has given them the cover that they need to actually take some action on these big issues.
Pat Hughes: Welcome back to Illinois Rising. I’m Pat Hughes of the Illinois Opportunity Project filling in for the great Dan Proft. This week joining me today is Austin Berg. Austin is a writer for the Illinois Policy Institute, a great writer for the Illinois Policy Institute, and a columnist for the Illinois News Network, and Austin, this week Democratic state representative Kimberly Lightford said something that was extremely controversial and to my taste distasteful, and it has to do with whether or not legislators, who frankly, purely on the democratic side, aren’t really doing much of anything productive for the state of Illinois, should or should not be paid, given the budget crisis and circumstances that are going on in the state. Let's take a listen.
Kimberly Lightford: Final words for the Comptroller: I know this is something that many of us think is taboo, we shouldn’t say. But as legislators we should get paid for the work that we do. And I think it’s wrong for our income to be held for months, and months, and months, which is another game that’s being played. So I hope the work that we’re doing today would allow us an opportunity to continue to take care of our own homes. And I’m hoping the comptroller would decide and recognize that we’re not vendors, that we’re actually employees of this body, and we deserve to be paid.
Pat Hughes: We have 240 billion dollars in debt, and about 35 billion dollars in assets. That number’s upside down, Austin, and State Representative Lightford wants to get paid. What are your thoughts?
Austin Berg: Context is key, you’re right there. So, you have vendors going out of business, you have employers going out of business in drowse because of the refusal of legislators to pass pro-growth reforms. You have people leaving the state by the thousands and what Representative Lightford has to say to that is where’s mine?
Pat Hughes: Right, where’s mine. And let me tell you where hers is, if you can get your head wrapped around this. She makes $70,000 a year, plus a pension. They work part-time. I think last week they worked one day a week, and I’m telling you, every person in the state of Illinois will take that gig. They’re the 5th highest paid legislators in the country for doing part-time work, and they can’t get the job done; they’re not doing their job, Austin. If you didn’t do your job as well as you do it, or you do it as poorly as representative Lightford does her job, you wouldn’t get paid, I wouldn’t get paid, the folks at home who are going to work every day, doing whatever they’re doing to keep their family afloat, to keep their lives afloat, they’re not getting paid if they don’t do their job, but Representative Lightford, who’s doing nothing. Let me just be clear about this. She’s done nothing positive in the time she’s been in the legislature, obviously, because we have 240 billion dollars in debt and 35 billion dollars in assets. She wants to get paid, and she’s blaming the comptroller, who’s trying to be disciplined about how to spend money that we don’t have to make sure that people who need it in the order of priority get it, and Lightford is saying the things that she’s saying.
Austin Berg: I think perhaps the most important thing about this story, Pat, that representatives, state law makers across Illinois need to keep in mind, is that people are watching. We posted this video on Illinois Policy’s Facebook page; it has over 1 million views now. And it’s not just this. People were watching when reps Smithey and Clunen were playing Candy Crush on the House Floor during an education debate; they were watching when Barbara Barbara Flynn Currie kept saying “ditto ditto ditto” when someone was pressing her line items in state budget. This total disregard for common sense, for respect for taxpayers, is being seen and millions of people are seeing it in Illinois. And you better believe that they the people who have said and done these ridiculous things are being punished for it.
Pat Hughes: The other thing that struck me about that audio, and this is a little bit different, is how nervous she sounds. I speak publicly all the time, I know you do that as well, and state legislators, it’s part of her job, the job that she gets paid 70 grand a year for, is to get up in front of that body and argue on behalf of things, and she sounds so nervous. She sounds like someone who is the chosen one, the one who is put up to make this argument on behalf of someone, I don’t know who. But the point of the matter is, the people in the state of Illinois are getting ready to be taxed again to death. Their property taxes are primed to go up, and are going up, and what’s being said by Representative Lightford is simply this: “I want you to pay more money in property tax, so that I can mismanage that money and then pay myself”. And in the private sector, in anywhere but government, and particularly Illinois State Government, that would be an outrage, and the fact that the folks on the Illinois Policy Facebook page have done what they've done or said what they said and are viewing that that stuff is heartening to me, because it may mean a signal to the electorate that says, “Look, enough is enough! We’ve got to stop this and get people in office who aren't like Representative Lightford and her cronies on the Democratic side”.
Austin Berg: I think the final important aspect of this is that you saw in 2014… this is not something that Democrats in the House wanted to happen and you saw Madigan and Cullerton push through a bill in 2014 to ensure that lawmaker pay and expenses were continuing appropriation. So they thought that they were still going to get paid when they did nothing and made efforts to do that. They rammed that through, Quinn signed it. But now you're seeing someone nervously speaking on the House Floor saying “But now I'm not getting paid” and obviously, the stammering in her voice comes from the agony of not being paid as a state legislator, I suppose.
Pat Hughes: Yeah, and it used to be that state senators like Representative Lightford cared about the body politic and the people they represented and it sounds like those days are in our rear-view mirror.
Pat Hughes: Welcome back to Illinois Rising. I'm Pat Hughes of Illinois Opportunity Project filling in for the great Dan Proft. Joining me this week is Austin Berg, who's a great writer for the Illinois Policy Institute and a columnist for the Illinois News Network and I want to talk about the work that Austin has done on some very important topics, specifically following up on our last segment when we we're talking about Senator Lightford and her desire to get paid. All of that, I think, Austin, comes from this mentality of entitlement and power and control that is really housed not on Senator Lightford’s side, but on the side of the Illinois House, which is Speaker Mike Madigan, and most of our listeners know, and anyone who doesn't, has been in power for just about 40 years and we've seen what that power results in. But Austin, you’ve done some extremely interesting work and written some columns about how Mike Madigan came to be in power and sort of, a structure that people might not recognize as much. You talk a little bit about that circumstance.
Austin Berg: Sure. So at the Illinois Policy Institute we do a lot of work in a lot of different topics, and the most common question we get day after day after day after day is what can I do about Mike Madigan. And that speaks to the amount of power that he has in Illinois that no one's asking as many questions about actual policy issues; they're asking about the power of one person. S o I decided to go out and dig through the archives of some local newspapers in Chicago and sort of track the rise of Mike Madigan through the ranks and see what that says about his leadership, and spoiler alert, it's not really about policies up there at the state, it's more about political power. So he was able to rise to the speakership in the early 1980s, after the 1980 census came out. And those numbers were a disaster for Illinois Democrats because you saw Chicago hemorrhaging people and you saw the suburbs gaining a lot of people and obviously Chicago as a Democrat power base. So right after the census every 10 years you see lawmakers go through the process of remapping the legislative districts of the state, and that's done with a panel of 8 people. There're four Democrats, four Republicans. Now if they can't come to an agreement on how map should be drawn - surprised they do not ever come to an agreement on how map should be drawn – they draw a name out of a hat, and that is the tiebreaking member of the panel and in that year, in 1981, they drew a name out of the hat and the name was a former Democrat Governor Shapiro. Now Madigan, at that time, was the House leader. He was not Speaker yet, but at that point he also became mapmaker-in-chief, and Madigan drew Maps like nobody's business. So Chicago, due to those declining population numbers, was entitled to about 15 Senate Seats and 31 House Seats. Under Madigan’s map they got a 19 Senate Seats, 37 House Seats. Now doubling down on that, the year before Pat Quinn actually lead an effort to cut down on the number of legislators in the House - so you had 59 House Reps without being cut back, 43 of those 59 seats lost due to Madigan's map blown to the GOP. So Madigan became King on that day when he made that map and the Tribune heralded the arrival of the biggest political mastermind in Illinois history.
Pat Hughes: And here is a little anecdote – first of all, that story is incredible, how happenstance sort of plays into history - but also, you said they pulled names out of a hat, who’s hat was it?
Austin Berg: Well, Pat, it was Abe Lincoln’s hat. As if the state is sometimes perceived as a parody of itself, but that story is almost mythical.
Pat Hughes: So our greatest political figure basically birthed our most notorious political figure through his hat, all these years later. The other thing I find interesting about this story is the timeframe of it and the players. You’re talking about Mike Madigan and Pat Quinn in 1980. I was 11 years old. It was like I don’t know how long until you were going to be born. I don’t think people have a fundamental understanding of just how long this has been going on. Think about 1980, that’s like the hostage crisis. Ronald Reagan was elected for the first time. The Olympic hockey team won. When you see old videos of any of those, it looks like it’s literally from another place in time, but this is where this all started and the continuum of that to this day.
Austin Berg: Absolutely. I mean, yeah, 1983, people were playing Thriller on an 8-track. And we have 8-track Speaker of the House now. You had Fraggle Rock and the He-Man, and all these things that seem so out of place if you see them today, just as you said. But because there aren’t term limits, because Madigan has consolidated his power so much that those won’t pass in Illinois until he's gone. If he's been able to maintain that power regardless of how times have changed, I mean the guy doesn't have a cell phone. The guy doesn't use email. How has that person been able to maintain power for that long? And that's the second piece that we started researching at the Illinois Policy, it was the way in which he is able to control the rulemaking process. So when people ask us, what can I do about Mike Madigan? Well the first thing is that, if you live in a Democrat District, your representative is voting for him for speaker every two years. That is the vote that he needs most, and if you look back into the 80s, 90s, 2000s, you see articles written again and again and again where people on the inside said the most important vote to Madigan, beyond his own district, which he wins every time, is “Will you vote for me for speaker”, and he's happy to make it as easy as possible for House Reps to vote for him to lead them into battle.
Pat Hughes: Yeah, I think there’s just a disconnect amongst the electorate. I think if the electorate fully understood and embraced what you just discussed in the segment and how it's got a notice to this place as they understood, and hopefully they're paying attention and they will understand, that would be the time with this could finally end.
Pat Hughes: Welcome back to
Illinois Rising. I’m Pat Hughes of the Illinois Opportunity Project filling in
for the great Dan Proft. Joining me this week is Austin Berg of the Illinois Policy
Institute. Austin, as we talked about on a prior segment, is writer for IPI and
also a great columnist for the Illinois News Network. Austin, big news this
week, and I mean big-big news; FBI director Comey - is that who it is? –
decided that he was not going to press forward with an indictment of Hillary
Clinton, and I'm not going to get into the legalities of this, but what I do
want to talk about is what this means politically for Donald Trump and the
Republicans, and then the Democrats. It seems to me, you look at the rise of Trump,
you look at the rise of Bernie Sanders within the Democratic Party, you look at
what happened in Great Britain with BREXIT; this notion that there's a
political class both in Washington DC or, if it's the state, in Springfield,
and if that political class can do anything it wants for its own benefit and
the rest of us just have to live with it, I think that that sort of feeling is
what is moving the electorate this time around; I think that's was fueling
Trump right now. And this circumstance with Clinton getting off, although that
helps her legally, politically can be very damaging because it's feeding a
narrative that already exists that Trump can take advantage of it. What do you
say about that?
Austin Berg: I think you're
totally right. So the court of law is one thing, and is quite powerful, but the
court of public opinion is also quite powerful and regardless of whether
criminal charges were pressed you saw Comey say she was extremely careless,
first of all, and second of all she's been on the campaign trail for months and
months saying I didn't receive or send classified material from this server and
she did. So what does that say about the stain for the public? It's a violation
of the public trust and you're exactly right, it plays into this notion that I
play by a different set of rules and I don't think that's going to fly with the
American public, especially in this political environment.
Pat Hughes: Yeah, and I
think there's going to be some opportunity for the Republicans and for Trump to
go back to the late 1990s where Hillary was involved in the Bill Clinton
presidency and, of course, the Lewinsky scandal. We’re forgetting about the
tawdry nature of it. Her willingness to blame, her willingness to point fingers,
you know, the vast right-wing conspiracy, and then Bill Clinton's willingness
to parse language to get himself out of some serious trouble is something that
people are going to remember and I think she's going to be anchored by a little
bit in this context. It's this sort of sense of I can always do and we can
always do whatever we want to do. We’re up not just above the law in the sense
of being about the law, although, certainly, in this circumstance they might be,
but that they're better than the rest of us; they’re more entitled than the
rest of us. And the one thing, in my understanding of the last 40 years of
American politics is, the electorate, that's something that's very off-putting
to them, right, they want to be lead, they want someone to represent their
interests, but they ultimately want that those folks to value them as Americans,
right, as independent free liberty-loving Americans - at least in most part. And
what Clinton has done in the circumstance, what she said, as you’ve just
indicated, is a giant slap in the face to that emotion, to that mentality, to
the thing that moves, you know, a hundred million people on Election Day. And
so that's where I think, if Trump can be skilled about it, he can make some big in roads.
Austin Berg: I think you're
right. Also the parallels between this and in Illinois where we had four of our
last seven Governors in prison are quite interesting. And especially in the segment
we talked about earlier, where you see State Senator Lightford saying, “Line, what
line? I don't need to wait in line. Don't you know who I am? I'm not a vendor.
I'm a politician, I play by different rules than everybody else and I should
get what I want”. And then you see it the same disdain and people playing video
games and that House Floor, and you see the same disdain, and people giving one
word answers to legitimate questions about the budget. And I think that's
breeding a real anger and feeding into that anti-establishment mentality that
you're talking about.
Pat Hughes: Yeah, and Dan, if
he were here today on the show, he would talk about how all of this seems like
it's an inevitable power, right, that Hillary Clinton has inevitable power,
that Mike Madigan has inevitable power, but the reality of it is it's getting
ready to be toppled; it's getting ready to crumble. They're showing themselves
to the point where if the right people are in place at the right policies are
in place it can all come tumbling down for the benefit of the state and for the