Dan Proft: Thank you for joining us on this edition of Against the Current; coming to you live from atop the Skyline Club, from downtown Chicago, as per usual. Happy to have as our guest this week State Representative Peter Breen, a Republican from suburban Glen Ellyn, who is joining us to talk about the fall of Denny Hastert, and the degradation of our political culture, mostly in Illinois, but nationally as well. Peter, thanks so much for joining us, appreciate it.
Peter Breen: Thank you, Dan.
Dan Proft: So Denny Hastert sentenced to 15 months in prison. Now that doesn’t sound like a lot for someone that a federal judge called a “Serial child molester”, but it was one and a half times the sentence that was actually recommended by federal prosecutors as part of the plea agreement that was struck with Denny Hastert to plead guilty to the bank structure withdrawal charges, which he plead to. The statute of limitation had run on the molestation charges, so he could not be trialed for them. And I wonder, the precipitous fall of someone who is the longest serving House Republican Speaker in the history of our country, I wonder what you think that says about Illinois, Illinois political culture. Is that an isolated event that we’re just to try and relegate to the side, or is it still an indication of the lingering corruption within the Illinois Republican Party and within the Illinois political culture more general?
Peter Breen: Well, I can speak to the republican side, so certainly Speaker Hastert had been a pretty well-light figure within the party. He was an old-line figure, though, so he had come up through the ranks many years ago, so was one of those people having the old-school of the Republican Party; I kind of look at him in that vein.
Dan Proft: The old-school Republican Party meaning the transactional Republican Party, the Republican Party that’s more about the mechanics of politics, rather than the policy oriented.
Peter Breen: I like to think we can be good at mechanics while also being consistent to the proper policy, but if you’re too interested in making the deal and forgetting why you got there in the first place and why you came into the system in the first place, that is what happened to a lot of our guys. We’ve had plenty republicans who went to jail, and plenty republicans that got us into the fiscal mess we’re in today. The point I try to make to folks is, in the last 10 years, the Republican Party’s attempted to clean itself up. This is a black eye for us though, a figure from the past that now’s absolutely been disgraced.
Dan Proft: Does not help the brand.
Peter Breen: Not at all. It’s a real travesty that this was covered up, that this only came out. Obviously the judge had in mind the horrendous things that Speaker Hastert did in sentencing him for the structuring transaction, and to some extent, what do you do about the victims? Speaker Hastert will never serve time for those actual crimes that he committed, but to some extent you see that he will serve time at least for some part of the crimes.
Dan Proft: A couple of other victims spoke, including – this is incredible, just when you think the story can’t get more sick, it does – “Individual D”, an individual who’s been referred to generically as “Individual D” up until the sentencing revealed himself to testify at the sentencing hearing against Denny Hastert to tell the court what happened to him, that Denny Hastert sexually molested him when he was a wrestler at Yorkville High School and Denny Hastert was a wrestling coach; and that individual turned out to be the brother of Tom Cross, the former Illinois House Republican leader for a decade, 2003 to 2013, who was a Denny Hastert protégé, who Denny Hastert was effectively his political sponsor; and now you’re left to speculate this horrific formulation; before I suggest what that formulation what that formulation is, I say this without suggesting Tom Cross had any knowledge of his brother’s molestation, because the reports seemed to indicate that he did not until Denny Hastert was awaiting sentencing. But the idea that Denny Hastert molested his brother and then spent his political capital on the rest of his life paying that back by helping to elevate politically the brother of the individual he sexually molested. I mean, the rings of hell that we are descending to, Dante’s going to need to write a sequel.
Peter Breen: These sorts of disgusting evil crimes, as you’re pointing out, they ripple out from the person and from those who are harmed, and they infect the whole of our society. That revelation, that Tom Cross’ brother, it’s something that everyone has got to be mourning “we’re sorry”, but it’s something you have to meditate on, almost, and we have to absorb the “What in the world have we done to ourselves in our culture where this occurred, where it can be covered up for so many years?” It just makes you profoundly sad. There’s very little to say or do in response, other than throw the guy in jail.
Dan Proft: What about that? You, before you were a state legislator, you were an attorney for a public interest law firm, Thomas More Society. You still do legal work as you’re allowed to do for the Thomas More Society.
Peter Breen: I’ve a day job, which most representatives should have.
Dan Proft: That’s right. And most representatives should only have a day job. They shouldn’t even be state representatives. But the point about culture; Thomas More, this is essentially a conservative catholic public interest law firm. Is that a fair characterization?
Peter Breen: Yeah, sure.
Dan Proft: And you personally are culturally conservative, and you’re not afraid to suggest that you aren’t.
Peter Breen: Right, I’m just a conservative, that’s the way I put it.
Dan Proft: That’s a good way to put it, but the reason I have to say cultural conservative is because conservatives, that brand has been a bit bastardized by people who say, “Well, I’m a fiscal conservative, a social moderate, so that makes me a conservative”. That’s a debatable point, but the larger issue coming from the place that you came before you entered politics and before you entered the legislature, a character. It turns out that just being along for the low taxes – less spendings smaller government paradigm that the Republican Party promulgates at the state level, at the federal level, maybe that’s not enough. Maybe we need to spend a little bit more time talking about character internally as well as externally, and acting in furtherance of considerations of character for our policy agenda, as well as for our policy leaders.
Peter Breen: To some extent, because there are some that will say, “How did you vote on this particular bill?” and the problem is he may say, “He voted with me on it, so I love him. He voted against me, I hate him”. You have to look at it more globally, to say “That guy could have voted with you on it because you pushed, pulled and dragged him to vote with you on that particular measure, not because there’s any sort of strength of character, any sort of consistency to a policy”. Occasionally I might go against the way that you might want me to vote, but you can look at what I’ve done in those cases and say, “He had a good reason to do it, he thought it through and had some reason, a place where folks can disagree”. But digging deep in your political leaders and trying to figure out what is their character is difficult to do. You get a lot of new candidates nowadays. We’ve got a lot of great candidates on our side, many of them are first time in office, and to some extent, you don’t necessarily know how they’re going to react when the lights are bright and people are breathing down their necks and you’ve got folks pointing this way and that. And so there is an issue of character. Someone has regularly said that legislators are merely vehicles for policy. But, at the same time, you do have to look at the vehicle you’re getting into.
Dan Proft: No question.
Peter Breen: Is it a jalopy, is it a sports car, is it more like a ram truck? What exactly are you purchasing? So even though you may point them in the right direction, are they going to be able to make the journey, are they going to be able to do it consistently?
Dan Proft: So how should we vet that? Should we be asking more philosophical questions about worldview, life experience that informs worldview, faith that informs worldview, rather than just “Are you going to vote to cut taxes or are you going to vote to rise spending?”
Peter Breen: That’s a little of both. Every year when you run for office, both primary and the general, you get survey after survey from interest groups, and some of which, I’m with the group almost 100% of the time. I fill that question 1 through 10 as either a yes or a no. What did that really tell you about who I am and what I’m going to be able to do.
Dan Proft: Essay questions, not multiple choice.
Peter Breen: Right. Or, on the bar exam, there’s a multiple choice section and then there’s the essay section. And there’s no reason not to do both.
Dan Proft: Yeah, right, although we do want to elevate the ethical standard higher than the bar. Higher than is required to be admitted to the bar.
Peter Breen: In this state, yes.
Dan Proft: That’s correct. But your experience to the General Assembly - you’re a freshman - what’s your experience been? You’ve lived the life, you’ve been in the legal arena, you’ve been in the political arena as a policy advocate prior to entering the General Assembly in Illinois. So what’s that been like? What did you think it would be as someone who was not a Babe in the woods going in, and what has it turned out to be, on all of these fronts, both in terms of underlying character of your fellow noblemen and magistrates down there in Springfield, as well as policy chops?
Peter Breen: The fact that I’ve been giving talks to groups about how to get political leaders to do what you want them to do and to come along side you on a particular set of issues, I did that well before I ran for office. So then I turned around and said what I would always tell folks, “Politicians are always interested in one thing, and that’s votes. That’s being reelected. They do that by volunteers, money, campaign help, things like that”. They want to know, are you going to be able to get them elected or unelected. Now that I’m on the other side of that, I still like to give talks to people and say look, my tune hasn’t changed because I’m now on the inside, but it has allowed me to look to my colleagues and maybe be a little bit more effective in terms of reaching out to them, helping them achieve. Other than the guys that have term-limited themselves, who are sitting there going “I’ve got one more term, I don’t need to be reelected”, I can help them to say, “Look, this conservative policy will help you get reelected. Here’s how”. So I can help them to reach a better light.
Dan Proft: Do you think that there’s any way to change the incentive structure such that just focusing on reelection and waiting until your last term to be who you really always wanted to be, is there any way to change that dynamic? “I’m in my last term, I’m not running again, so the hell with everybody! I’m finally going to do what I want”. And you weren’t doing what you wanted for the 18 years leading up to your last term? That’s kind of a problem; that’s why they speak well of you.
Peter Breen: Well, that usually doesn’t work for conservatives, because we get the situation. I’m sure the liberals will be complaining about the same thing, that a guy did fill out the 10 questions form correctly for 10-15-20 years. All of a sudden he gets to the end of the term and you’re like, what happened to you? What were you talking about? You’ve got to do both the internal character formation and looking at the folks and check the policies. But they’re human. Unlike the federal government, it’s a lot tougher to lobby a congressman on a hot social topic and get them to flip. In the state legislature there are some folks that are still conflicted, or that will really see an issue and could properly evolve on an issue, and I see that on some conservative issues where folks actually come to our side after they’ve met a legislature. I’ve had colleagues that were moderates when they ran, and all of a sudden they got down there into the viper’s nest and said, “This is crazy”. And they’ve become hard conservatives as a reaction to the corruption and the problems that they see in Springfield.
Dan Proft: What about just the financial benefits that go along with being – I remember the General Assembly, in Illinois, just for population, Illinois State Legislature is the highest paid in the nation.
Peter Breen: As I understood it we’re right along where we should be in terms of size of state, and I know it’s a popular republican position to attack the legislature and their pay. I’m not necessarily going to do it because I hope to actually earn the paycheck.
Dan Proft: But here’s the thing, going back to Denny Hastert.
Peter Breen: If you want me to vote to reduce it, I’d probably reduce it. But at the same time, I think if we find people with proper character we can actually earn those paychecks.
Dan Proft: But doesn’t it incentivize you to be focused on reelections? Because it’s a pretty good gig from a lot of them, and so I don’t want to lose this pretty good gig. It’s just like somebody who strives to keep their head down in a big corporate setting. “I’ve got this gig, I’m kind of low-cueing it, I’ve got 5 more years”
Peter Breen: You’re Dilbert climbing the ladder.
Dan Proft: Correctly, or I’m just riding it out because I’ve got the place in Florida I’m going to buy, I’m parachuting out in 5 years.
Peter Breen: Get your nice tier 1 pension.
Dan Proft: Yeah, I’m not going to mess this up, and I think about Denny Hastert, just going back to that. Why – and we’ve had this with Blagojevich, Ryan, Jesse Jackson Jr., so many politicians that are now convicted felons in Illinois. The pensions, there are so many loopholes for convicted felon politicians to keep their taxpayer funded pensions, it’s absurd. Why should Denny Hastert receive a single cent from taxpayers in his golden years after what he is convicted and admitted to do it? And that goes for former Illinois governors that went to prison and are out, that are still in prison, congressmen, legislators and on down the line. That, to me, seems like an incentive that perverts people’s best angels, or perverts pushing people towards their best angels, as you suggest. Money matters.
Peter Breen: Sure, look, the first thing I did, we all got sworn in over at the University of Illnois, Springfield, we came back to the capital, the first thing I did was went to my desk; found my desk on the floor there, it had a nice little name plate there, I pulled out that sheet of paper they’ve sent me where I can sign away my pension. I did that. For me, that was a way to get out that… not even have that as an incentive; just move that away. And so that’s something you’ve got to do. I know the general assembly retirement fund is very much very low in terms of its funding level. I think it should go to 0, but hopefully we can stop that going forward, in terms of an incentive for folks. What you do on that front, if we shorten up the election cycle… you are constantly running for election in the Illinois general assembly.
Dan Proft: How about shorting up the legislative session? How about taking the Texas model?
Peter Breen: Oh, that’d be great. Okay, do the Texas model, sure.
Dan Proft: Once every 2 years, so you get a stipend.
Peter Breen: It’s kind of a 90 day blitz, and there you go. The problem was, say last year, because Madigan was holding up the budget, we’re in Springfield every single week through the summer into the fall, for many of the weeks, and then we get a little time off, but we’re down there all the time. We’re sitting there, look, you want your legislators to have regular day jobs, which they should, have businesses or what have you. It’s difficult to do when Madigan is constantly requiring you to be down in the legislature. He’s making you beholden to that position.
Dan Proft: Right, but here’s the other thing that happens too. There’re been some stories about this recently that are really interesting. You’re never corrupted in one fell swoop, it’s gradations. You sell your soul a little bit at a time, and so you get per-diems for food.
Peter Breen: We didn’t, but you can pay for it out of your campaign fund in summer-fall.
Dan Proft: Okay, but generally speaking, as customary, you get per-diems for meals and lodging and the like.
Peter Breen: You travel, so you get a reduced mileage per-diem; so federal rate last year was 57.50 cents. We get 39 cents; it’d come down and back. On the federal rate for a hotel is $89/night, we get $70, and then we get the food and drink per-diem from the federal site, $40.
Dan Proft: If you look at lobbyist reports that some reporters have done recently, what you find is lobbyists are taking legislators out for lunch all the time. So you get your per-diem but you’ve got the insurance lobbyists, the banking lobbyists or whatever, it rotates through, who buys your lunch every day. It seems like a small thing, but for people that actually have to work and go buy their own lunch, if they’re not lucky to work in a corporate setting that provides food for their employers. They look at that and say “That’s a real thing. If I’m making 50-60,000 a year, but I never have to buy my own lunch and never have to buy dinner, every time I reach in my pocket money is magically there, I’m getting reimbursed for stuff I’m not paying for”, it just goes to that whole culture of corruption where you guys have this whole thing figured out – I’m not looping you in, but you know what I’m saying.
Peter Breen: No, loop me in.
Dan Proft: You guys have this whole thing figured out where you live a life that I can’t have access to, and the biggest problem is you live a life that I can’t have access to that I’m financing.
Peter Breen: Okay. On the salaries.
Dan Proft: On the per-diems. And the lobbyists aren’t coming into my office and saying “Would you like to go to Potbelly? It’s on me today”. Nobody’s doing that.
Peter Breen: It’s normally dinners they take you out to, breakfast and lunch are on your own for the most part.
Dan Proft: But look at those lobbyist reports.
Peter Breen: Oh, they’re even getting lunch now? I guess I’m missing out.
Dan Proft: Exactly. You need to be hanging around the rail more often, you’ll get free lunches and free dinners.
Peter Breen: I’m trying to work. But yeah.
Dan Proft: But you know what I’m saying about this problem. It’s small things that people can relate to that say, “That is corrupt. It’s stealing millions of dollars, elaborate schemes to defraud the public”, everybody gets that, but it’s the small things that just make you behold into the way things are in a political culture that everyone decries, but persists.
Peter Breen: I hear you there; I would say that I focus more on the big things, not on the small things. I understand that.
Dan Proft: I know. You personally are almost outside of this, as an observer, that’s why I’m interested to talk to you about it, because you’re not participating in it.
Peter Breen: I’m in it, but trying not to be of it.
Dan Proft: Exactly. And so, the question is, as you observe that to stay away from being pulled in by the borg, being assimilated, is that a way to potentially stop other people who may not be so stout of heart?
Peter Breen: It’s a good question. The way I looked at it is, let’s talk fiscal policy; you want to incentivize good people to run for office. So you don’t want just a legislature full of people who are independently wealthy or who are retired. You want folks who are independently wealthy and retired, but you want them and people from all sides of the spectrum. Difficulty comes if you have a very large number of people for whom this is the greatest job they’ve ever had, and that is something – I probably shouldn’t have said that on camera. If you get a lot of folks like that it does change the culture of the place where everyone needs to go out to dinner with a lobbyist every night. I’ve been out to dinner with lobbyists, I’ll admit it. But you can look at the reports and you can see it’s probably folks on both sides of any sort of issue. It is what it is. I can buy my own dinner if I needed to. In the state of Arkansas I think they stopped allowing lobbyists to buy anything for legislators.
Dan Proft: What about not paying legislators or statewide officials during the political campaign for the 6 months leading up to the election? Why should incumbents be allowed to be paid while they’re campaigning, because – for the diversity that you’re talking about – it makes it impossible if you’re not independently wealthy? Who can take 6 months off or a year off to run for public office if they don’t have another source of income? But for incumbent politicians, of course you’re being paid to be on the campaign trail, and that of course levels all up to the President of the United States, and frankly, Donald Trump’s revolt is in part him saying, “These guys all do this thing. I don’t need anybody’s money, I’m not doing it for anybody’s money”. And I’m not a Trump Fan, but I find that a bit compelling, as do a lot of republican primary voters, to say, yeah, you’re right, that’s not fair. Why do you have to be independently wealthy to run for a public office? You say you want people from all walks of life, but most people from most walks of life can’t do what you do because they’re not being subsidized to run for office.
Peter Breen: That’s a valid critique in terms of how you pay the guys, however you want to space it. The issue that it comes down to, though, are you paying folks appropriately for what they’re doing for you. We’ve got 5 weeks off in the House in the month of March so that the speaker and his colleagues and the democratic set can go home and run the primaries. We then proceeded to, in a very short period of time, do essentially all of the work of the house that we needed to do to get all of our bills over the senate. It’s kind of the beginning of the session, so you get all your bills out of committee, move them over to senate. That was a break-neck pace compared to our normal pace. We did actually get everything done, and we did it on a compressed schedule. So when you start talking about maybe could we be in session for a shorter period of time, could we get everything done a little faster? That’s a good thought, and if you get everything done a little faster you don’t have to pay your legislators as much. So send us home at the end of April maybe. We’re not Texas, so we’ve had this tradition where we have a legislature that comes in every year. It doesn’t mean we have to be in session all the way to May 31st, and particularly to put off all the important work until right at the end. These legislators are like a bunch of school kids cramming for exams.
Dan Proft: Yeah, Parkinson’s law, use the time allowed to…
Peter Breen: Yeah, if you had us out of there at the end of April you could pay us less. You could probably get the work done anyway. You could probably get us out of there at the end of March.
Dan Proft: Let’s talk about the work that has gotten done or not gotten done. Of course, the overwriting dialogue is about the lack of a budget 15 months into Rauner’s tenure as governor. Now, of course, we’ve had budgets for the 14 years previous to Governor Rauner becoming Governor Rauner, but those were all unconstitutional unbalanced budgets, so I don’t know what value they provided; not much value. It’s one of the reasons Illinois is the worst run state in the country. So Rauner is trying to change that culture and Madigan doesn’t want to change our culture. And this is being written about by the Chicago and Springfield press core as kind of this mano y mano game of brinkmanship. How do you describe to your constituents what’s actually happening in Springfield and why Rauner’s position is the morally and fiscally appropriate one?
Peter Breen: Well, the way I come at it, I’m around on the Republican side; I agree with the philosophy and principles, so I’m going to be focused more on Madigan. I know, on the other side, they’re relentlessly attacking the governor, but I think what happened last week for us, which was right at the end, before we send all the bills to the senate, they agreed on an emergency higher-education funding bailout. So that was the downstate caucus in the democratic side, and the black caucus in the democratic side; negotiating directly with republicans and apparently, at first, at least, against the will of the speaker. And so they were able to negotiate an agreement. Speaker tried to spike it, at best we could tell. Bedlam ensued, but then we cut the deal, and the governor said it’s funded, so I will support it. That’s been part of his mantra, which is hey, let’s make sure it’s funded. That is revolutionary in the state of Illinois, unfortunately, we have to fund the things we spend for. And so that position, when you explain it to people, they say sure, of course. Everyone knows you have to balance a budget. That’s always been a high priority; in terms of approval rating of things, everyone wants a balanced budget. The other side is saying the governor can just mandatorily veto, or he can just chop the numbers down and only spend how much we have. He actually can’t because of the way our laws are set up he is forced under current law to spend more money than we are going to take in. Even if we cut those numbers down at the other side’s senate, we need actual reforms. And anyone who’s lived in Illinois for any period of time knows that the government needs to be reformed and the business community needs help. So the way I explain to my folks is, “Hey, Rauner is asking for reforms. Everybody knows we need them. We need some signal to the business community that the state is turning around; something is changing here”. The governor said he’s open to more revenue if he gets sufficient reforms. I want to see what they’re talking about in that front. It can’t be a fake reform, obviously. Right now I don’t see how we can put anymore burden on Illinois taxpayers.
Dan Proft: Lou Lang and the democrats do. They want to graduate the state income tax and put that on the ballot. 99.3% of Illinois families will get a tax cut under Lou Lang’s proposal. That’s what he says. That’s the democrats’ mantra.
Peter Breen: That’s a beautiful idea that has no relation to reality. First off, what he’s talking about is almost as the mob, where they take your money to bribe you with your own money. He wants to ostensibly drop the tax rate from 3.75 to 3.5 on lower amounts of income. The problem is, our historic tax rate is closer to 3. Even that was not historically where we were as a state.
Dan Proft: That’s where we were in 2011 with the temporary income tax increase that the democrats passed that they agreed – this was their proposal – that it would be scaled back, it would be sunsetted back to 3%. Now 3.5% is the new 3%.
Peter Breen: Right, everybody’s saying, “Oh, 3.75”. It’s something out of a science fiction movie. The tax rate’s always been 3.75, hasn’t it? No, it hasn’t. Lou’s proposal is to go up something along 3% on higher incomes a million or roughly there. He’s got his numbers, I know others have other proposals.
Dan Proft: It’s the classic soak the rich, class envy.
Peter Breen: And the rich are already moving out of Chicago, they’re already moving out of Illinois. And we’re not talking about wildly wealthy people, who have always had the ability to move to wherever the tax benefits are robust.
Dan Proft: And have.
Peter Breen: Sure, but we’re talking about the senior partners of law firms. We’re talking about owners of your local cleaners, or possibly your local eating establishments or what have you. Those folks may have a good year. They don’t want to pay their extra money to the state of Illinois. It would be irresponsible to give the state of Illinois more money, having shown what we do with it so far. So to me, these proposals are non-starters. I don’t think they’re going to get out of the House, I don’t think you’ll see an amendment to go to this unequal unfair tax. You’re not going to see that amendment on the constitutional docket.
Dan Proft: No, they don’t really believe that they’re going to move that. This is a ballot initiative to drive turnout, isn’t it?
Peter Breen: Yes, and it was interesting. Madigan lead 5 constitutional amendments out of rules that had all been either bottled up or filed and then immediately considered by the House. And he sits there and goes, “Why exactly would Speaker do that?” You know why. It’s exactly what you said, it’s pure politics. In fact, many of them, we have these vigorous floor debates. And we’re not even sure that the senate will take them up. We had a floor debate the other day on proposal to eliminate the lieutenant governor.
Dan Proft: The position, not the actual lieutenant governor. Evelyn Sanguinetti is a big target for elimination.
Peter Breen: No, she will continue to…
Dan Proft: To exist.
Peter Breen: Democrats could. I don’t think they would see that as beyond the power of the Illinois government.
Dan Proft: Right, sure.
Peter Breen: They would eliminate the office, but you sit there and go, “Just a couple of days ago the senate rejected it”. They didn’t barely just miss the 60% requirement, they majority rejected the particular proposal. So why are we debating? And the idea was, it looked like Madigan is trying to do something here, politically. They’ve always said “He’s playing chess while you’re playing checkers”, so you always watch.
Dan Proft: This is like cheap populism. I’m going to eliminate an office and pretend like I’m a fiscal conservative trying to restructure state government.
Peter Breen: So he’s consolidating. There you go.
Dan Proft: Yeah, right. But here’s the bottom line question. Is it better? If this is the case you have to make to your constituents, and the Republican Party has to make to the Illinois electorate read large. Is it better to be ruled by judicial decree in terms of which bills get paid in which order, than it is for Rauner to compromise with the Madigan big government – big spending agenda in the spirit of just compromising to do something, which is what you hear a lot. “Hey, you’re here, you’re here, split the difference and just sign something”, where Rauner is saying “No, I was elected to be an agent of change and restructuring. I’m not just going to burn the House down a little bit at a time and call that bi-partisan compromise. I’m not doing it”, and then the courts step in and say, “Well, you shall pay these vendors that are owed this money in this order”. And that’s how we’ve been governed over the last 15 months.
Peter Breen: That is how we’ve been governed, and I would say, from the governor’s initial position, if it was here, and where the Speaker’s position was, which is here, if we met in the middle, that would mean massive reforms and a better Illinois. The problem is the Speaker’s gone to here and the Governor’s gone to here. He has taken proposals off the table that the other is said are absolutely no goes, but at this point, why would the governor continue to negotiate against himself?
Dan Proft: Do you think the electorate understands that? Do you get the sense from your constituents that people understand that? Rauner has moved considerably over the course of the last 15 months and tried to find areas of intersection where he said, “I need some structural reforms, and then I’m willing to talk about some of the things that you want”; because it doesn’t seem to me that that’s penetrating. What it seems to me is the perception is that Rauner is here and Madigan is here, and neither one of them is willing to move. That seems to be the narrative.
Peter Breen: Right, and the other side has done a great job at driving that narrative. We do need to come back against it. My thought is, what are the core principles? Turnaround agenda has become a dirty word. What exactly were the principles of the turnaround agenda? Those were all very much in play and should be. Who is not in favor of turning the economy around in the state of Illinois? Who is not in favor of reforming the government units from top to bottom, from the smallest government unit to the state itself? Who is not for that? And so things like that should continue to be pushed. If turnaround agenda, those words are toxic, use different words. The principles need to be pushed. We, as conservatives win when we push big ideas, when we do it in a broad based way. The other side wins when they nitpick on things. “Oh, he was going to change this little piece of collective bargaining, or of the prevailing wage”. The point is to save the state of Illinois. When I look at my colleagues in the republican caucus, the guys and gals that have come down lately, their point to being there is to save the state of Illinois. They don’t want to move. They’ve seen their family, their friends, everyone is leaving the state. Children who are now choosing college, all of a sudden, they’re saying, “You know what, I’ve got a better deal at University of Missouri than I do at U of I”, or “Mississippi State actually has a lovely campus and a great engineering program”, so the kids are going there instead of going to Northern or to Southern. We’ve got to take every measure necessary to turn the state around. So that, to me, is the way that we change the narrative. Get refocused on that.
Dan Proft: You characterize this deal that was recently cut, the emergency funding for higher-ed in particularly, 600 million dollars, that was a victory for Rauner and the republicans, but was that a pyrrhic victory? Because it seems to me that is spending on the same track that we’ve been spending, and I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again, higher-ed in Illinois receives twice per capita what their conference peers in neighboring states receive, and yet tuition is 30-40% higher than their conference peers in neighboring states. I’m talking about our public universities and colleges. So why is that a victory? Why not force universities and colleges to reform as well?
Peter Breen: Well, this is one of those you don’t get the full victory at once. Really, the place to look on this particular issue is what happened within the democratic caucus? Is it a victory for Rauner and the republicans? Sure. It’s also a victory for those downstate democrats, for the black caucus members – they were able to save Chicago State. It was going to close in a week. It will not. The downstate members who have universities, community colleges they serve, those will not risk not opening in August and end in September. What it showed, though, was that regular members of the General Assembly can negotiate with regular members on our side - their side and our side – without the leadership of frankly either caucus being able to squash that attempt at actually bringing this budget issue to a conclusion. Were there any turnaround agenda reforms, as they call it, a part of that? No. Other than the fact that we finally passed spending that meets revenues.
Dan Proft: And what about the community college in your district? Because this community college became a national story – college of the page – community college where you had a former president of the college that essentially captured the board of trustees and was having taxpayers, by extension, pay for a membership to a hunting club, having a michelin rated restaurant on campus. This is a community college campus, and you’re having a homeland security building named after him.
Peter Breen: Essentially it’s a wine cellar.
Dan Proft: Wine cellar, all of the largesse of a fortune 100 CEO, and if shareholders want to finance that, that’s fine, but this is something concertedly different. And there was a revolt, there was a new board. The president was thrown out. Is there anything going on at COD in addition to what I’ve described that maybe is the way you change a political culture in a small unit of government that we can scale regionally and statewide?
Peter Breen: Sure, the way that COD was changed, I saw it as an alliance between those folks who were very much interested in reforms. So the activists, as it were, the folks who were really doing foyer request, they were figuring out what went wrong. They then were able to get the new media behind them, then finally the mainstream media came in behind them, they wove a good narrative and then provided a positive alternative. And so that was what was able to be done at COD. And now, they’ve been doing the hard work of governing, but you’ll notice – it’s still rough-and-tumble over there, and I’m in contact with the trustees regularly – you certainly don’t hear about COD in the news, anywhere near as much, because that new board has been taking the tough steps; it’s almost as an offensive wine. When you hear about a member of the offensive wine; that means they’ve messed up. The quarterback got set. I know I’m not supposed to use sports analogies anymore. My wife keeps telling me that. But the COD board has bent that lately, at least the good reform members of it have. And so, if government’s going well, you don’t hear about it.
Dan Proft: And that’s the form that reform takes, absent some kind of true over the top revolt, or coup d'état. It’s a bit of 3 yards in a cloud of dust, and it’s easy to be a spectator and say why aren’t you just flipping the switch and doing a 180 and an institution like COD, or an institution like Illinois state government, but with a number of competing interests, many of whom benefit from the status-quo. It’s not as easy to do once you’re on the inside trying to make it happen, as people would like to believe.
Peter Breen: There’s a lesson there, there’s a lesson in the Trump campaign, the Saunders campaign, nationally; someone, or a group, that was able to come together, grab an idea, really put an idea together that folks can rally around and pound that message home, and really get folks to pay attention to it, because folks finally pay attention to COD. That was a board that I know that when you go to republican township meetings, the two republican COD candidates would come in, and then the democrats had theirs, but no one would pay attention to these races. I couldn’t have told you a name of somebody on the COD board before all of this controversy occurred. There was a lot of steady, difficult work that happened for months and years. All of that lead up. There’s an e-book called “279 days to overnight success”.
Dan Proft: The overnight success that took 15 years.
Peter Breen: Right, and so that is some of the work that we’ve got to do in the General Assembly. The tide of public opinion can move quickly and I still believe that the people of Illinois want what they’re not getting out of the other side. Our problem is, on our side, we’ve got to show them we’re bringing what they want; when it’s all just personality A over personality B, that doesn’t help you. Everyone in America knows that Donald Trump wants to build a wall and have Mexico pay for it, and that he wants to make America great again. I’m not saying I support Mr. Trump in terms of anything, but I’m certainly going to watch his methods and say, “He was able to pound a message home”. Why can’t we, as Illinois republicans take a few principles and say “This is what we stand for” and pound them home?
Dan Proft: Speaking of turning the tide of public opinion, in your professional life, outside of your role as state legislator, you still do a good amount of legal work that you were doing previously, and one of your clients is David Daleiden, who rose to international prominence, fame, infamy, depending on your position on the life issue, with the undercover citizen journalist Planned Parenthood videos he did that exposed Planned Parenthood as a criminal enterprise, illegally trafficking baby body parts. Now, David Daleiden, because of entrenched interests, the system as it is, despite what people saw and cannot unsee, David Daleiden is the target of law enforcement and jurisdictions that are more favorable to the Planned Parenthood position than they are the pro-life position in Houston, in California, and I wonder if you could update people on what’s happening with David Daleiden and frankly his continued work as a citizen journalist, to just lay out the facts of what Planned Parenthood does, in their own words, the amount of money that Planned Parenthood receives, and what the impact of one or a small group of citizen journalists have had on a national discussion about abortion and our understanding of Planned Parenthood.
Peter Breen: I don’t know if I can cover all of that in one quick session, but…
Dan Proft: Well, it’s a lot. I know.
Peter Breen: What David had always talked about, he had seen for many years ago, there was this issue with what do you do with the remains of an abortion, remains of the child that was aborted. And he had seen this practice go on, but he wasn’t quite sure, how was this working? And he had indications that there was money made on this. Even though it’s against federal law, even though it had come to great prominence around 2000, and folks had denounced it and all of it. But then the attention from the public had gone down, and what he was able to do as part of his undercover investigation, was to show that abortion procedures are being changed in order to procure better baby body parts.
Dan Proft: Also illegal.
Peter Breen: Totally illegal. That Planned Parenthood, at the highest levels, knew about this and condoned it, and actually was trying to figure out better ways for their affiliates to do it and make money off it. So when you look at what he then brought forward in these video series, it was an incredible shock to people. Across the spectrum, wherever you stand on the issue of abortion, you certainly don’t want to see this ghoulish trade in body parts. So that was something that he really brought to public conscience, and really showed folks, abortion is not just a blob of tissue being discarded. This is actually a child being dismembered in a really violent way.
Dan Proft: One of Daleiden’s great lines in terms of contemplating this is the idea that the reason why Planned Parenthood is trafficking baby body parts is because they’re valuable, and the reason they’re valuable is because they’re human. That’s the entire value, it’s because they’re human.
Peter Breen: The entire argument for abortion is they’re not human.
Dan Proft: Right, and it is powerful, and those videos are powerful in a way that 40 years of op-eds after Roe v. Wade have not been as powerful. My co-host on the morning show that I host on AM560, she is pro-choice, republican leaning, and after seeing those videos and us talking about those videos from July to the first part of this year, she is one of the most vociferous proponents of defunding Planned Parenthood now. She hasn’t really changed her position, she still thinks that abortion should be safe, legal and rare, to borrow their phraseology, but in terms of why Planned Parenthood is getting half a billion dollars of our money to do what they’re doing, what those videos demonstrated they’re doing, she’s not on board with that. So in terms of, as you suggested before, talking about fiscal issues, or the combination of fiscal and cultural and moral issues, people do move. This is one of the fallacies, “Everybody’s in their camp and you never change any minds when you have these discussions and you present evidence”. Nonsense! You can change minds instantaneously when people gain an understanding of something they thought they understood, but it turns out they didn’t.
Peter Breen: That’s what David has done, his small band of folks who took this project on. I can’t even imagine what it’s like to be 27 years old, and half the country wants to string you up, the other half wants to canonize you. He has handled it with great aplomb, but you look at the impact. Now the congress is having special investigations. They have a select committee, and they’ve used their subpoena power to grab the documents, the invoices, the bills of sale for baby body parts, and shown they’re making a profit off this. Also, totally illegal, and so that is changing hearts and minds, it’s also changing state policy. You are seeing state after state defund Planned Parenthood, disadvantage them, really try to disentangle the state government from the abortion issue and industry altogether. So that is a wonderful practical result, but it is changing the hearts and minds. The folks in David’s generation, the millennials, are pro-life. When you look at polling, the most pro-life group in the country in terms of age range, 65+, understandable; the second most are the millennials. Our generation X is not really… we haven’t caught on yet, we’re getting there. But it’s always been interesting to me that that’s happening.
Dan Proft: Because of those two cohorts you’ve just mentioned, the majority of the country, survey after survey thinks that most abortions should be illegal. They’re much more inclined viscerally to be pro-life, and maybe make an exception in the extreme cases that are uncomfortable, but much more inclined and much more comfortable in the pro-life position because they understand what we all hold to be true, that we’re talking about children; these are lives.
Peter Breen: You put a sonogram on the refrigerator, that’s not a blob of tissue.
Dan Proft: But with Daleiden, this is not without incident. The people that want to string him up are using legal means to do so. His home in California, where he lives, raided.
Peter Breen: I’ve got to tell you. So here’s the thing, I came back from the committee in Springfield, and I got a call from David. So I was in my office, I wasn’t at the committee, so I took the call. He wasn’t able to get one of his California lawyers there, one of our co-councils, and he says to me, “I’ve got 11 California DOG agents in my apartment”. It’s one bedroom apartment serving a search warrant.
Dan Proft: Must have been crowded.
Peter Breen: Yes it was, and then I think some would go on the lawn, and they were treating him like he was a drug dealer or a murderer or something along those lines.
Dan Proft: Somebody that produced a video about Islamic radicals.
Peter Breen: So you sit there and go, the purpose of serving a search warrant like that is to terrify. There’s no valid reason for it. Ostensibly, maybe they want the videos. Some of them are going , the videos are online. If you really had a question about where David was and what he was doing, you can click on Youtube, it’s fine. Everyone knows that. But you’ve got a very pro-Planned Parenthood attorney general in California. She’s received tenths of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands in support from Planned Parenthood directly.
Dan Proft: Kamala Harris is running for US Senate.
Peter Breen: Right, so that is something that we are vigorously fighting, along with lawsuits from Planned Parenthood and National Abortion Federation, StepExpress, which is one of the body part trafficking organizations in Houston, where you have talked about, where they have indicted David for using a fake ID. And here’s the kicker, for intending to purchase baby body parts for profit. They didn’t indict Planned Parenthood for intending to sell them for profit, but they said that the guy that had a website, a Google Voice number and a business card, and no other company there…
Dan Proft: Who was obviously an undercover journalist, as evidence of the dozen videos he’s released over the last year…
Peter Breen: Right, everyone in America knows he was not actually looking to purchase baby body parts. One, he didn’t have the money too. How exactly would that transaction occur without a willing?
Dan Proft: This is one of the things that’s self-concerning, because you start to lose faith in the justice system as an impartial body that’s interested in meeting our justice in the enforcement side or the adjudication side. When you have, for example, in Illinois, Rob Blagojevich is taken out because he was trying to sell a senate seat; they never got the buyer, even though he was under surveillance; David Daleiden is trying to buy body parts, so law enforcement alleges, but who’s he buying it from? Some fictional enterprise? He’s going around openly crying in the public square, please, someone sell me baby body parts? No, he was engaged with an enterprise for the purpose of exposing an enterprise. I’d like to see them indict a 60 minutes undercover journalist, or journalist for any other news organization that do the same kind of investigative stories that Daleiden did undercover for the purpose of exposing, not for the purposes of being a participant.
Peter Breen: That was the thing. I went to Houston for the booking and the fingerprints and the mug shot and all of that. His mug shot looks great, actually. It looks like it could be a political photo, if anything.
Dan Proft: Except for holding up this thing.
Peter Breen: No, he didn’t have to hold it up. It’s modern age, so he really had a lovely nice looking picture.
Dan Proft: I’m glad he enjoyed it.
Peter Breen: It was probably the most pleasant felony booking I’ve ever seen in my life. People were all across the sidewalk, they’re cheering, they’re walking him along. There’s 9-10 news cameras – I was less attorney, more security guy, just trying to get David through the maelstrom. The deputy was actually very friendly. I’m assuming they were probably with him on the issue. So here we are in Texas trying to defend against something that… if an 18 year old brought beer with a fake ID, that’s actually against the law. You can’t drink under 21, can’t purchase alcohol. So they can be charged; they certainly wouldn’t be charged with a felony, and they would be let off with a supervision. David is alleged to have taken a fake ID into a Planned Parenthood, which is not illegal, and he’s being charged with a felony. There was some talk of “We were going to give him a deal”. There’s been no deal forecoming. They’re throwing the book at him. So we follow the motion across the indictment, there’s actually been evidence since then that the grand jury prosecutor was revealing and working with the Planned Parenthood attorneys to design the prosecution of David, even though that grand jury was specifically empanelled to investigate Planned Parenthood, at the request of the lieutenant governor of Texas. So that is something we are going to fight very hard.
Dan Proft: And Daleiden’s taken the position that he sees this as a great opportunity, because when you move from prosecution to persecution, you allow us to continue the dialogue we want to have. You continue to put the issue in the spotlight for national conversation, and that ultimately, medium term – long term is a good thing, even if short term I have to endure some unease, some trials and tribulations associated with this. It’s a very mature heroic posture he’s taking. Not a lot of people would, but perhaps, the encouraging note here is that by overreaching, they sow the seeds of their own destruction.
Peter Breen: Absolutely, that is always how the left will do the business. They always overreach, they always continue, and at those moments of overreach, that’s where they are the most vulnerable, and Lord willing, that is where we’ve got them in the Daleiden series of litigations. Planned Parenthood itself sued David, so that means they are going to have to come to account before the court for their practices. It means all of their practices are on the table now. If they’re suing David for fraud, I’m assuming they’re going, “What did you all do? Really, you guys were innocent as doves and just pure as the driven snow?”
Dan Proft: The discovery portion of that preceding will be illuminating.
Peter Breen: It will, and it’s something that I don’t understand why the other side would want to belabor the point, because they’re not merely trying to win the PR battle; they want to bankrupt David, they want to bankrupt anyone that has ever been associated with David, they want to get an injunction against him doing any further speaking or work. And so, in their fury, and with the largest law firms in the country – Arnold Porter out of Washington DC, Morrison Foerster out of San Francisco and others – they are doing everything possible to try to crush David and to try to prevent anyone else from doing it in the future. I don’t think it’s going to achieve the desired result.
Dan Proft: He is Peter Breen, State Representative from suburban Chicago, also a constitutional attorney affiliated with the Thomas More Society, fighting the good fights at the local level, at the state level, with David Daleiden in particular right now at the national and international level. Peter, thanks so much for joining us, appreciate it.
Peter Breen: Thank you, Dan.