By John Ruberry
Every year Freedom House ranks nations on their levels of freedom and countries are classified into three categories. “Free, Partially Free, and Not Free.” The first category includes the United States, most of Europe, and Israel, among others. Not Free includes the usual suspects, Venezuela, Russia, Saudi Arabia, China, and North Korea.
I believe if my home state of Illinois was ranked by Freedom House it would fit into that middle category, Partially Free. Of course we have elections here. But are all of them free and fair elections?
Earlier this month the Chicago Tribune’s first-rate columnist, John Kass, wrote about David Krupa, a 19-year-old DePaul University student who supported Donald Trump two years ago, even though he was too young to vote. He is challenging the incumbent alderman of the 13th Ward. That ward is the epicenter of the political machine, one that reaches down to the Ohio River, of Michael Madigan, the most powerful politician in Illinois. He is the Democratic committeeman of that ward. Madigan has been speaker of the Illinois House for over three decades, he has been chairman of the state Democratic Party for twenty years. She leaves office in a few weeks, but the attorney general of Illinois is Lisa Madigan, Michael’s daughter.
“Boss Madigan has long hand-picked his aldermen,” Kass explained in that column, “he likes them loyal and quiet. The current silent alderman of the 13th Ward is Marty Quinn.”
To make it on the ballot for a Chicago aldermanic race, candidates need 473 valid signatures from registered voters in the ward they are running in. That seems easy, but signers need to be registered voters in that ward, and the way wards are drawn in Chicago–Madigan is a master gerrymanderer, more on that later–many wards, including the 13th, look as if they are jigsaw pieces further contorted by Pablo Picasso. So canvassers understandably get confused as to what ward they are standing in when they are collecting signatures.
Krupa collected over 1,700 petitions, which seems like a safe number for the potential teenaged giant killer.
But then the Madigan machine unleashed its Star Wars Death Star upon the kid, as Kass recounted:
An organized crew of political workers — or maybe just civic-minded individuals who care about reform — went door to door with official legal papers. They asked residents to sign an affidavit revoking their signature on Krupa’s petition.
Revocations are serious legal documents, signed and notarized. Lying on a legal document is a felony and can lead to a charge of perjury. If you’re convicted of perjury, you may not work for a government agency. And I know that there are many in the 13th Ward on the government payroll.
More than 2,700 revocations were turned over to the elections board to cancel the signatures on Krupa’s petitions. Chicago Board of Elections officials had never seen such a massive pile of revocations.
“The board has received a few revocations here and there in very rare electoral board cases over the years,” said election board spokesman Jim Allen.
On Fox 32 Chicago’s Flannery Fired Up this morning, Krupa was a guest.
“They had no way of knowing who signed my petition and who didn’t,” he told Mike Flannery. “So they were basically throwing darts in the dark and hoping that they hit. What they got was thousands of people who they coerced into committing perjury and that’s a really big issue and I’m going to take them to task for it.”
Do Vladimir Putin’s goons employ such tactics?
“This is a huge perversion of democracy,” Krupa lamented to Hill.TV. True, very true.
And does Quinn really fear this 19-year-old Trumpkin? Or is his overkill an apocalyptic warning shot such as the one the Galactic Empire used to obliterate Alderaan in the first Star Wars film? Sure, Krupa is a long shot against the Madigan Empire’s candidate, but let’s say he achieves 40 percent of the vote against Quinn? Will more candidates step forward four years from now? Will others challenge Madigan for ward committeeman in 2020? Will the opposition to the Machine become emboldened?
One Democratic state representative-elect refuses to back down on her vow not to vote for Madigan for speaker next year. She is already feeling pressure from unions and other Democratic officials to submit to the Madigan Force.
There is a long tradition of challenging nominating petitions in Illinois. In 1996 Barack Obama forced an incumbent, Alice Palmer, off of the ballot, which allowed him to run unopposed in his first electoral race, a seat in the Illinois Senate.
Yesterday, likely because of the national attention the Kass column received, Quinn dropped his challenge to the Krupa petitions.
But Illinois is still Partially Free the way I see it. Madigan controls the state legislative and congressional remaps. There are dozens of other contorted jigsaw piece-districts in Illinois. In the Prairie State, voters don’t choose their representatives, Madigan chooses the voters for those representatives. Which is why in the most recent state House elections nearly half of the candidates–both Republican and Democratic–faced no general election opponent. Lou Lang, who nominally represents me in the lower chamber of the General Assembly, has run unopposed in five of the last six general elections. Until recently Lang was a member of Madigan’s leadership team in Springfield.
Do you need more evidence?
Twice this decade Illinoisans supplied hundreds of thousands of signatures to put a Fair Map Amendment before voters to take away redistricting powers away from politicians. Both times a lawyer tied to Madigan sued to prevent allowing voters to have the final say. In 2014 a Democratic judge blocked the amendment. Two years later the Fair Map amendment legal argument made it all the way to the state Supreme Court. In a party line vote–justices are elected in Illinois–the four Democrats voted to quash the amendment, the three Republicans supported it.
“The Illinois Constitution is meant to prevent tyranny, not to enshrine it,” Justice Robert Thomas wrote in his dissent.
Is Illinois a well-run state? No. In my lifetime four Illinois governors have been sentenced to federal prison. Illinois’ bonds are rated at one level above junk. Its unfunded pension debt is among the worst of the fifty states and that debt is generally viewed as unsustainable. Illinois has been losing population every year since 2014. Illinois’ largest city, Chicago, faces similar problems and since 1973 over thirty aldermen have been convicted of crimes. Corruption is a measure Freedom House uses in its rankings.
Sure, there is gerrymandering in other states, some of them are controlled by Republicans. The Illinois GOP has been guilty of gerrymandering too. But in the other 49 states, there is not anyone who approaches the power level of Boss Michael Madigan. None of those states are as dysfunctional as Illinois. Few as are as corrupt.
Yes, Illinois is only Partially Free.
John Ruberry regularly blogs from Illinois at Marathon Pundit.