Illinois Policy Institute caricature of Michael Madigan

By John Ruberry

“I can’t stop the revolution, but until it comes, let’s have some fun.” Prince Felix Yusupov to Rasputin in the film Nicholas and Alexandra.

And with the revolution of course came the collapse of Czarist Russia.

The beleaguered state of Illinois set a couple of futility records last week. It became the first state since at least the Great Depression to go two straight years without passing a budget. In response, Standard & Poors and Moody’s dropped Illinois’ bond rating to one level above junk–the lowest ever recorded for a state. And both agencies alluded that a junk rating may be coming very soon.

The 2017 Illinois General Assembly session ended on Wednesday. It can still pass a budget, but it will require a three-fifths majority to do so. To be fair, the state Senate, which has a supermajority of Democrats, did pass a budget that included a huge income tax release–with no Republican votes. But the real legislative power in Illinois lies with House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), who has held that job for an unprecedented 32 of the last 34 years. Madigan is also the chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party–and if you are a Democrat in office in the Prairie State you almost certainly owe multiple favors to Madigan, who is also a prodigious fundraiser and jobs provider, and of course those jobs include seats on the General Assembly and the state attorney general’s office, which his daughter holds. Madigan, an adept gerrymanderer, draws Illinois’ legislative districts, which is why Democrats have that supermajority in the state Senate and until this year had one in the House.

Nothing gets passed, heck, nothing even gets onto the floor of the Illinois House of Representatives without Madigan’s approval. And if a bill can’t make it out of the House it can’t move on to the Senate, let alone to the governor’s desk.

Illinois’ governor is Bruce Rauner, a Republican who is a first-time public office holder. Rauner is willing to sign a budget bill that includes an income tax increase, but only as part of a grand bargain that also contains reforms such as term limits, a property tax freeze, workers compensation law changes, and tort laws that are more business-friendly. Is Rauner completely blameless? Of course not. Perhaps he should bolster his negotiating chops or remove an item or two from his Bring Back Illinois agenda. But Rauner, who three years ago became the first Illinois governor to win a majority of the vote since 2002, was dispatched to Springfield to battle the status quo of failure.

Madigan of course has the votes to pass a budget in the House. But he is only interested in maintaining his speakership and of course his power–even though Illinois is circling the drain. It currently has over $14 billion in unpaid bills and at least $130 billion in unfunded pension obligations. The Boss doesn’t want his minions in the House to face voters next year after voting for a tax increase. Madigan would rather rule a collapsing Illinois than share power in a prosperous one, which is the same governing philosophy Russia’s last Czar used.

That’s not to say that the General Assembly hasn’t accomplished anything this year. It passed a $15 minimum wage bill that is seen as a jobs killer by businesses. Why do I say that? Because Cook County, where I live, recently passed a $13 minimum wage bill that suburb after suburb–and it’s important to note that suburban Cook is heavily Democratic–is opting out of because of fierce opposition from small business owners. Rauner is expected to the veto minimum wage bill. The GA also passed a bill allowing for an elected Chicago school board. While I normally support more direct democracy, an elected Chicago board of education will quickly, if not immediately, become beholden to the well-organized and hyper-leftist Chicago Teachers Union, which refuses to compromise on issues such as having teachers pay more into their woefully underfunded pension funds. And the General Assembly passed legislation that will make it easier for Illinoisans to change their birth certificate gender if they have not undergone gender re-assignment surgery.

Meanwhile the 800-pound gorilla in the room–Illinois’ dire financial situation–is growing bigger and becoming more malodorous every day.

Illinois has become 1916 Russia. The collapse is coming. Perhaps it has arrived.

John Ruberry, a fifth-generation Illinois resident, regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

John “Lee” Ruberry of the Magnificent Seven

By John Ruberry

Ann Richards, the last Democratic governor of Texas to date, is wrongly credited with a famous statement about George H.W. Bush, that he was “born on third base and thought he hit a triple.”

But you can say the same thing about former US Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL), the son of the famed civil rights leader; or if you dislike him, you may see the elder Jackson as a prominent shakedown practitioner who is in the racism business.

Last week the Chicago Tribune reported that Jackson, who served 22 months in prison for looting his campaign fund to purchase luxury goods and celebrity memorabilia, including items related to Bruce Lee and Michael Jackson, is collecting $138,000 in government benefits, including $100,000 in workers compensation for suffering from bipolar disorder and depression, which he is only entitled to if Junior’s job caused those ailments. And that is what his lawyer claims. The $100K is not taxable while the remainder of his government cache, which comes from Social Security disability payments, is taxable.

Jackson’s wife, Sandi, who was a participant in the scheme, also served a prison term–not concurrently with Junior–which allowed a parent to stay at home to care for their children. The former Chicago alderman–she served in that office while residing in Washington–was released from prison last October. She filed for divorce two months later. Presumably Sandi received the fur coats purchased from her husband’s campaign fund. It is from the couple’s divorce proceedings that Jesse Jr’s benefits largesse were discovered.

Jesse Jackson Sr’s Chicago-based Rainbow/Push operation provided the foot soldiers to place the younger Jackson in Congress in an open seat election in Illinois’ 2nd congressional district after Mel Reynolds resigned his office after being convicted for having sex with a minor and related charges. Reynolds’ predecessor was “Goofy Gus” Savage, a black racist and another sexual predator.

That makes three scumbags in a row in Illinois’ 2nd. So far Jackson’s successor, Robyn Kelley, a reliable vote for the Democratic caucus, hasn’t embarrassed the voters of Chicago’s South Side and southern suburbs.

Illinois’ 2nd congressional district, Chicago

The 2nd is a very safe gerrymandered Democratic district that was created to obscure the truth that the black population of Chicago is rapidly declining. Like everyone else, African-Americans don’t like crime, rotten services, and failing public schools. To keep his seat in Congress all Junior had to do was behave.

Craig Holman, of the watchdog group Public Citizen, called Jackson’s disability boon “breathtaking.”

“I can’t imagine in any way that his bipolar disorder would have been caused in any way by his congressional duties,” Holman told the Chicago Tribune. “It’s really troubling to see someone who goes to prison for corruption coming out of prison (and collecting that money).”

But Holman is not from Chicago so it’s easy to understand why Jackson’s hubris is unimaginable to him.

The Tribune’s estimable columnist John Kass remarked a few days ago, with Jackson partially in mind, “Forget everything your parents told you about crime. Crime does pay. Especially in Chicago.”

It pays in sickness and in health, before prison, and after prison.

John Ruberry regularly blogs from Marathon Pundit.

By John Ruberry

The Democratic gubernatorial primary in Illinois is more than a year away but the field of candidates to challenge Republican incumbent Bruce Rauner is taking shape. On Thursday Christopher G. Kennedy, a son of Robert F. Kennedy, announced on YouTube that he’ll be running for the Democratic nomination for governor of America’s fifth-most populous state, after several abandoned flirtations with running for public office.

Kennedy is by no means a carpet-bagger, he’s lived in the Chicago area for three decades; he moved to Illinois to work at Chicago’s Merchandise Mart, which was once the jewel in the crown of the Kennedy family empire. The Mart was sold in 1998, but Kennedy still was the president of Merchandise Mart Properties from 2000-2012. He also served as chairman of the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau and the University of Illinois Board of Trustees; in the latter post Kennedy famously and correctly prevented Barack Obama’s terrorist pal, Bill Ayers, from receiving emeritus professor status after retiring from the University of Illinois at Chicago. A book by Ayers’ Weather Underground group was dedicated to a slew of creeps they described as political prisoners, including Sirhan Sirhan, the assassin of RFK.

As for the YouTube announcement, such a move on the surface appears to establish Kennedy’s credentials as a 21st-century candidate, but that tactic betrays his biggest flaw as a politician. He’s not a people person. I can’t remember who said it, but a wiser scribe than me said something along these lines about Hillary Clinton, “Some chefs can’t cook in front of an audience. And Hillary can’t do politics in front of people.”

And that’s Kennedy too.

Mark Brown of the Chicago Sun-Times alone of mainstream media mouthpieces noted the significance of the YouTube announcement. Kennedy prefers the safer climes of one-on-one and telephone interviews. And controlled environments such as YouTube.

At a gathering of Illinois delegates during the Democratic National Convention last year Kennedy gave a speech, after meeting with Illinois House speaker and Democratic boss Michael Madigan of Chicago, where he strongly criticized Rauner. The Republican reformer’s “turnaround agenda,” which includes such needed items as term limits, a ban on gerrymandering, and tort reform, has been blocked by Madigan, who until last month, enjoyed supermajorities in both chambers of the General Assembly.

After their DNC meeting, Madigan said that Kennedy would make “a very good candidate” for governor.

In his speech, Kennedy bemoaned the changing media landscape. “With the decline of daily newspapers and other media,” he said, “there is [sic] simply fewer reporters than there used to be to tell the rest of us the truth.”

As you’ll see here, a deer-in-the headlights Kennedy refused to answer questions from some of those remaining reporters, including a basic one from Fox 32 Chicago’s Mike Flannery, “Are you running for governor or not?”

Kennedy’s reply to that reporter? “Please, I don’t need to address you,” concluding with, “What have you become?” All he had to say was that he was still considering his options for the future.

Illinoisans–meet your snowflake candidate for governor, Generation X-er Chris Kennedy.

Since last week’s announcement Kennedy has been asked about Madigan–and in his replies he has either dodged the queries or countered with criticisms of Rauner, who three years ago became the first candidate for governor to win a majority of the vote since 2002.

Madigan is a one-man advertisement for term limits. He’s been a member of the General Assembly for 46 years and he’s been speaker of the state House since 1983, except for the two years in the 1990s when the Illinois Republican Party rode Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America campaign into power. Later this year Madigan will become the longest-serving state House speaker in American history. He’s also chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party. Members of the House or the state Senate who cross Madigan will find that campaign funding from the party will evaporate and they’ll be removed from meaningful committee assignments. If those rebels somehow survive, their political careers will be gerrymandered out of existence. Yes, Madigan controls redistricting.

And now for the exclamation point: Madigan’s daughter has been Illinois’ attorney general since 2003.

Illinois Policy Institute caricature of Madigan

Let’s put things another way. Imagine Illinois as a hockey game–with Mike Madigan as the puck and the goaltender on both ends of the rink. And in Madigan’s Illinois, which is not a fantasy version of the state, the players don’t move the puck around, the puck moves the players around. Watching the matchup is a declining base of fans–Illinois is one of the few states that is losing residents. With Madigan–the most powerful politician in Illinois even when there is a Democratic governor–in charge of the state, Illinois has the worst-funded public-public pension system and the lowest credit rating of the fifty states. And it has accumulated $11 billion in unpaid bills, despite the state constitutional requirements that all Illinois budgets be balanced.

But as Kennedy likes to remind people, Illinois hasn’t had a budget passed in two years–which he blames solely on Rauner—Kennedy just can’t find a way to criticize Madigan or even comment on him. In one of those telephone interviews, this one was a Quad Cities NPR affiliate, when he was asked about Madigan, Kennedy replied, “I have a good relationship with much of the leadership in the state–and I think it’s important to be able to work with others.”

Blogger outside of the Merchandise Mart a few years ago.

Snowflake Kennedy offers no solid answers as to how he’ll balance Illinois’ budget, fix the pension bomb, or stem the state’s population exodus.

But he’s a Kennedy. And he thinks it’s important to be able work with others.

Why is Chris Kennedy running for governor?

John Ruberry, a fifth-generation Illinoisan, regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit. Both of his parents voted for John F. Kennedy for president in 1960.

Illinois LotteryBy John Ruberry

For over four months Illinois has operated without a budget. But the Prairie State continues function, not particularly well, as was the case when Illinois had a budget. Despite those budgets, the state’s pension fund is the worst-funded one in the nation. Illinois has the lowest credit rating of the 50 states–so it shouldn’t be shocking that Illinois, with a few exceptions here and there, continues to stumble along.

One of those exceptions is the Illinois Lottery. Payouts are limited to $600 until the budget impasse is resolved–if you win more you are the proud owner of an IOU, which is suitable for framing assuming that your artistic tastes are modest.

Ticket sales are way down, which is not surprising since Illinois’ two largest population centers, Chicago and Metro East, are near state borders. Who gets excited about an IOU? Wisconsin, Indiana, and Missouri pay out immediately.

Illinois Lottery officials are responding in they only way they know–they’re spending money that they shouldn’t. On Friday the Lottery took out a full-page Chicago Tribune ad apologizing for the IOUs and thanking those who still play its games in Illinois.

You can’t make this stuff up. Well, Jonathan Swift could, but I’m not him.

Fed up with years of fiscal insanity, Illinois voters elected Republican businessman and political newcomer Bruce Rauner as governor, sending hapless Chicago Democrat Pat Quinn into retirement. Rauner was the first gubernatorial candidate to win a majority of the Prairie State vote in twelve years, but because of the tyranny of legislative gerrymandering, no seats changed hand in the General Assembly, which have Democratic supermajorities.

Illinois has a backlog of $8.5 billion in unpaid bills. The state is sending IOUs to many of its lottery winners. Perhaps instead of the Land of Lincoln we should be calling Illinois the Land of the IOU.

John Ruberry regularly blogs from Illinois at Marathon Pundit.

Illinois signBy John Ruberry

It’s been four months since Illinois operated with a budget.

But the story goes back a year when Land of Lincoln voters tossed out Democratic incumbent Pat Quinn, Rod Blagojevich’s two-time running mate, and chose Republican businessman Bruce Rauner to, as his proclaimed in his campaign slogans, “Bring back Illinois” and “Shake up Springfield.” Rauner has certainly achieved the latter.

But the Chicago Democrats who run the gerrymandered-empowered General Assembly, House speaker Michael Madigan and Senate president John Cullerton, had a trap awaiting Rauner when he arrived in Illinois’ capital city. No, it wasn’t the dilapidated governor’s mansion, but a fiscal 2015 budget that assumed the supermajority of Democrats would make permanent a 2011 “temporary” tax increase pushed through in a lame duck session by Quinn. Yet Rauner and the General Assembly resolved that shortfall that spring, but the two sides are deadlocked over the fiscal 2016 budget.

Meanwhile Illinois lowest credit rating of the 50 states and the worst-funded state pension system. These millstones predate Rauner’s election.

For the first time in three decades Illinois is losing population.

Rauner signWho is willing to compromise? Well, Rauner is. Although he campaigned against a tax hike, Rauner says he will sign a budget that includes one–as long as it the General Assembly agrees to changes to the state’s expensive-to-employers workers’ compensation laws, tort reform, term limits, and taking the decennial legislative redistricting powers out of the hand of the General Assembly. The Democrats oppose all of these items, well, except the tax increase. It is they who are the stubborn ones.

Amazingly, Illinois government continues to function, sort of, as ninety percent of state funding continues, although the state’s backlog of unpaid bills, which also predates Rauner’s inauguration, is growing. But it is business-as-usual for most Illinoisans, including myself, as I no longer have a child in the public school system. Even if I did. I probably notice anything different. However, my license plates are up for renewal, and I won’t receive a reminder in the mail to purchase a new annual sticker because of the budget standoff.

Meanwhile, Saul Alinsky-style demonization attacks on Rauner are stepping up. On Friday Karen Lewis, the hardened leftist who is the president of the Chicago Teachers Union, called Rauner a sociopath in a speech while Madigan and Cullerton mutely sat in the audience.

Rauner has been governor for just nine months. Illinois’ fiscal failings go back nearly thirty years.

Slow and steady wins the race.

John Ruberry, a fifth-generation Illinois resident, regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

31st Street Beach
Lake Michigan in Chicago

By John Ruberry

As the tenth anniversary of the devastating Hurricane Katrina approaches we will come across many retrospectives of the storm that killed over 1,800 people and destroyed large swaths of the Gulf of Mexico coastal area–particularly in New Orleans.

But we won’t see too many like this one from the Chicago Tribune’s Kristen McQueary, whose Thursday column, originally titled, “In Chicago, wishing for a Hurricane Katrina,” was created an uproar along the Gulf Coast and beyond.

And yes, she does wish for one, although in quick follow-up column she backed off a bit–and the headline of her original piece was changed to the milder “Chicago, New Orleans, and rebirth.”

From that column:

But with Aug. 29 fast approaching and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu making media rounds, including at the Tribune Editorial Board, I find myself wishing for a storm in Chicago — an unpredictable, haughty, devastating swirl of fury. A dramatic levee break. Geysers bursting through manhole covers. A sleeping city, forced onto the rooftops.

That’s what it took to hit the reset button in New Orleans. Chaos. Tragedy. Heartbreak.

Residents overthrew a corrupt government. A new mayor slashed the city budget, forced unpaid furloughs, cut positions, detonated labor contracts. New Orleans’ City Hall got leaner and more efficient. Dilapidated buildings were torn down. Public housing got rebuilt. Governments were consolidated.

An underperforming public school system saw a complete makeover. A new schools chief, Paul Vallas, designed a school system with the flexibility of an entrepreneur. No restrictive mandates from the city or the state. No demands from teacher unions to abide. Instead, he created the nation’s first free-market education system.

While McQueary does mention the despair of 2005 NOLA, somehow those 1,800 deaths and the tens of thousands of homes and businesses destroyed were overlooked, as was the carnage Katrina brought to Florida and Mississippi.

The following day in her explanation of her editorial debacle, McQueary left out three words: I am sorry.

Worse, like a spoiled Hollywood celebrity, she blamed her audience for misinterpreting her words:

Many readers thought my premise — through my use of metaphor and hyperbole — was out of line. I certainly hear you. I am reading your tweets and emails. And I am horrified and sickened at how that column was read to mean [emphasis mine] I would be gunning for actual death and destruction.

Chicago’s problems are human-caused. One party rule has destroyed the city. Chicago hasn’t had a Republican mayor since 1931. It hasn’t had a Republican alderman since 2011. Only one GOP member in the state general assembly is from Chicago. Too many residents vote Democratic for no other reason other than the candidate is a Democrat. For instance, in last fall’s gubernatorial when Republican newcomer Bruce Rauner ousted weak incumbent Pat Quinn–a Chicago Democrat–96 percent of the voters in the 34th Ward stuck with Quinn. Interestingly enough, Quinn’s running mate was the aforementioned Vallas. Louisiana Sign

Rauner and the General Assembly–which is controlled by two Chicago Democrats who created supermajorities with obscenely gerrymandered legislative maps–are locked in a six-week long budget stalemate. In a potential grand bargain that can end the deadlock, Rauner is proposing many reforms that will improve Illinois and Chicago–including removing the power of legislative reapportionment away from the General Assembly so the politicians are unable to create permanent majorities. Unlike his hapless predecessor, who only nibbled at pension reform–Rauner wants to confront Illinois’ unfunded pension debacle head on. But Illinois’ public-sector unions, who are major campaign contributors to Democratic pols–are balking. Pensions are a statewide problem, but the millstone is hitting Chicago the hardest. Moody’s rates Chicago’s bonds as junk.

America’s third largest city, Ms. McQueary, doesn’t need your Lake Michigan Katrina. It needs more new leaders. Human-caused problems can be fixed by humans, after all.

Yes, even you.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

Illinois signBy John Ruberry

In case you were hiding in a hole for the last week, you undoubtedly heard that there was a wave election on Tuesday–and the Republican Party was on top of that wave, even in Illinois, President Obama’s home state.

Political newcomer Bruce Rauner ousted Democratic governor Pat Quinn by a surprisingly comfortable five percentage points. He won every county in the state except Cook, where Chicago is–101 of 102 counties.

Surely that wave worked its way down to the Land of Lincoln’s legislature, the General Assembly, right?

It did not.

In 2011 the Democrats, led by House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, created a monstrosity of a gerrymandered remap that shamed all but the most hyper-partisan Dems. It paved the way for the Democrats to enjoy veto-proof majorities in both chambers after the 2012 election.

Two years later the Democrats still have veto-proof majorities thanks to that redistricting assault on the people of Illinois. In the House, the Democrats did not lose a single seat.

On of the effects of the Madigan-Cullerton remap was that 70 of the 118 House races were uncontested–nearly 60 percent of them.Rauner sign

In the state Senate, 19 of the 59 seats were up for election this year, and only seven of them were contested. The Republicans managed to oust one Democratic incumbent.

Possible cures for the exercise in disgraceful democracy were proposed this year, which Rauner enthusiastically supported: term-limit and fair-map amendments. While both proposals enjoyed widespread support and gained far more than the required number of signatures to be put before Illinois voters this fall, a state appellate court ruled that both amendments were constitutional overreaches. Of course the General Assembly could also propose these amendments, but that is as likely as an outbreak of skinny-dipping in the Arctic Ocean in January.

While Illinois voters clearly signaled on Tuesday that they want change, the General Assembly may not feel compelled to listen.

I’ll leave the last words for a Democrat.

“We choose our constituents, not the other way around,” state Representative Jack D. Franks (D-Woodstock) said four years ago, “I don’t think it’s good for democracy.”

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

John "Lee" Ruberry
John “Lee” Ruberry

By John Ruberry

President Obama’s point man on “comprehensive immigration reform,” which is nothing more than a pseudonym for amnesty for illegal aliens, is fellow Chicagoan Luis Gutierrez, a Democrat who represents Illinois’ gerrymandered fourth congressional district.

Last week Gutierrez, while speaking at a convention of the far-left La Raza (The Race) last week, said Hispanic voters need to head to the ballot box to “punish” Americans such as myself who don’t believe in open borders and who, in his words, want to
“criminalize children who come to our border.”

Well, when these kids, regardless of their circumstances, cross our border they are breaking the law.

It was a busy week for Gutierrez. After his La Raza outburst, he said on MSNBC that through executive orders, President Obama could legalize “three or four, maybe even five million people.”

Gutierrez views himself as an Hispanic congressman, not as a congressman who is Hispanic. Stick with me on this one–who can blame him?

After the 1990 decennial remap, an Hispanic majority district was drawn that was centered mostly in Chicago. But creating  the district was problematic. Hispanics in Chicago were concentrated in two pockets–one on the northwest side of the city, at the other on the southwest side. Between those areas was–and still is–Chicago’s predominantly-black West Side. So the cartographers created what Roll Call dubs “the Latin earmuffs,” which has only been represented by Gutierrez. Only minor changes have been made in the following remaps to the shape of the district.

The Latin Earmuffs

So of course Gutierrez looks into his mirror each morning sees an Hispanic congressman.

But if districts in Illinois were drawn as they are in neighboring Iowa–by a computer that only takes population into account–the fourth might instead be, to swipe a phrase from Jesse Jackson, a rainbow coalition district. Perhaps Gutierrez would still be its representative. But rather than bowing to identity politics, Gutierrez would serve Illinois as a congressman who is Hispanic.

And that is as it should be.

 John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

Bob Schieffer just asked Clyburn if he goes higher in the leadership with Pelosi will it make the Democratic Party in the house more liberal.

Clyburn said he defied labels pointing out that he campaigned in more bluedog districts than progressive ones and said people are calling him liberal based on the color of his skin.

I guess no fact and no election will allow some people to drop the race card, let me educate the congressman (who knows these things but is spinning)

1. He was invited to more blue dog districts because those were the seats in danger.

2. He was invited to those seats to energize the black vote that is totally de-energized, so if anyone was basing their judgment of him based on skin color it was his fellow blue dogs.

3. To say in one breath that he is not liberal and then defend health coverage as a fundamental right can only be done when you have a safe seat and an interviewer who will not challenge him.

Let’s be blunt, he owes his election to the fact the district is majority minority (Whites only make up 40% of the electorate) and has the largest percentage of blacks, who vote monolithic democrat, in the state.

No wonder he plays the race card even here. Without that card ironically played by the Republicans in the statehouse to concentrate the black vote as much as possible, he likely doesn’t have the power he holds today.

What a joke.