Illinois bicentennial flag on bottom

By John Ruberry

“We are a nation that has a government—not the other way around. And this makes us special among the nations of the Earth.”
First presidential inaugural address from Ronald Reagan, who was born in Illinois.

“As a result, Illinois government is a massive retirement system that, during work hours, also offers some services.”
Chicago Tribune on Illinois’ pension system.

Last summer the Democratic-dominated Illinois General Assembly, overriding a veto from Republican governor Bruce Rauner, slugged Illinoisans with a 32 percent hike in the state income tax.

The Democratic nominee for governor, billionaire JB Pritzker, favors another tax increase. This phony, in a successful ploy to decrease property taxes on his Chicago mansion, purchased a neighboring mansion, disconnected its toilets, then in an assessment appeal, received his tax cut because the palace next door was “uninhabitable.”

Welcome to ILL-inios.

Rauner barely won the Republican nomination in last month’s primary over a little-known and little-funded insurgent conservative, Jeanne Ives, in a thoroughly dishonest campaign. I backed Ives. As for Prtizker, he comes with additional baggage, including embarrassing recordings of FBI-wiretapped phone conversations with now-imprisoned former governor Rod Blagojevich, which is the only reason why he is not the prohibitive favorite to wipe the floor with Rauner in November. Still, it’s likely that a Governor JB is in the future for the Prairie State.

Illinois is broken and broke. It might not have the worst-funded public pension system among the states, but it’s so close to the bottom it doesn’t really matter. Illinois House speaker–“speaker for life”–Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), with some Republican help, transformed Illinois’ pension system into a generous political reward in exchange for support from public-sector unions. Illinois’ budget dedicates 25 percent of spending on state worker pensions. In Wisconsin that amount is 16 percent. Okay, that doesn’t seem like much, but Wisconsin’s pension plan is 100 percent funded, Illinois is at a paltry 35 percent.

Bad times have arrived in Illinois–with worse times coming. For the last three years Illinois has suffered from negative population growth.

It’s hard to see how Illinois won’t be able to avoid some sort of default.

Pritzker favors a “temporary” income tax increase until a graduated tax rate is put in place. But for that to get enacted the state constitution must be amended. That requires three-fifths of both houses of the General Assembly to approve it and a majority of Illinois voters to go along. Even in blue Illinois those are tall hurdles, especially since a “Prtizker amendment” will be viewed, rightly, by voters as a pension bailout amendment.

Of course Pritzker is vague about rates  for both that “temporary” tax plan and the graduated one. Of course with the latter one, only “the rich” will pay more.

We’ve heard that lie before.

In regards to local government, some pension plans, especially in Chicago, are in even worse shape.

The Illinois exodus will continue.

John Ruberry is a fifth-generation Illinoisan who is eyeing the exit ramp while blogging at Marathon Pundit.

By John Ruberry

Unless you live in Illinois’ 22nd state House district, Michael Madigan’s name will not be on your ballot when you vote in the March 20 primary in the Land of Lincoln.

Not directly, that is.

But his foul spirit will be there.

Even when there is a Democratic governor in Illinois, the most powerful Democrat in the state is Madigan, the state House speaker for 33 of the last 35 years. Since 1998 Madigan has been chairman of the state Democratic Party. He’s the committeeman of Chicago’s 13th Ward–that post allowed him to nominate Joseph Berrios as chairman of the Cook Party Democratic Party, better known as the Chicago Machine eleven years ago. The message was clear–the boss had spoken. Two other candidates withdrew and Berrios was unanimously elected. Berrios is also the Cook County assessor, it’s his office that determines what the county residents such as myself, as well as businesses, pay in property taxes. The assessor’s office has long been a cash cow for the Democrats.

Illinois Policy Institute caricature of Madigan

Berrios faces a tough primary challenge because of charges that his office favors the wealthy, those fortunate rich folks often include clients of the Madigan & Getzendanner law firm. Hmm…Madigan, where have I heard that name before?

The major Democratic candidates for governor, with the exception apparent frontrunner, JB Pritzker, accuse each other of not being independent of Madigan. Pritzker’s main challengers, Chris Kennedy and Daniel Biss, have called for Madigan to resign his state party post over sexual harassment scandals involving staff members (but not Madigan himself).

Why aren’t they calling for Madigan to quit the speakership? Fear is my guess.

On the Republican side, the incumbent governor, Bruce Rauner, with “amusing and unconvincing effect,” Crain’s Chicago Business says, accuses his conservative challenger, Jeanne Ives, of being a Madigan ally.

Ah, but where are the Madigan allies? Sure, when it was time, again, to reelect the speaker-for-life last year, he prevailed. There was only one “nay” vote from Democrats. And that dissident was punished.

Madigan controls not only the remap of state legistlative districts but also those of Illinois’ congressional districts. He’s the Pablo Picasso of gerrymandering.

What about state legislators?

Whenever David Giuliani of The Times of Ottawa, Illinois asks Democratic legislative candidates about their opinion of Madigan, he never receives a straight answer.

That’s because they know the truth. Boss Madigan is what ails the Prairie State. Last year Reuters declared Madigan “the man behind the fiscal fiasco in Illinois.”

I have many friends who live in this blue state who tell me that they detest Madigan–yet they vote for every Democrat on the ballot.

Is the state attorney general able to fight Madigan? Maybe in year. Lisa Madigan, daughter of, well, you know, has been holding that job since 2003. But she’s not running for reelection. Her dad holds considerable sway over Illinois judges too.

Even Barack Obama does Madigan’s bidding. After a Chicago Democrat missed a key House override vote of a Rauner veto, a hand-picked Madigan ally, Juliana Stratton, was endorsed by the then-president and Obama even appeared in a TV ad for the challenger in the next primary election. Madigan and Obama’s candidate won. Stratton is now Pritzker’s running mate.

The Democratic Party of Illinois is Michael Madigan and Michael Madigan is the Democratic Party of Illinois.

Cognitive dissonance is widespread in this state.

While the official state animal of Illinois is the white-tailed deer, in reality it’s an octopus named Mike Madigan. His tentacles are everywhere.

John Ruberry regularly blogs from Illinois at Marathon Pundit.


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Chris Kennedy

By John Ruberry

Almost a year ago here at Da Tech Guy I wrote this about Chris Kennedy entering the race for the Democratic nomination for Illinois governor.

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.

Chris, a son of Robert F. Kennedy, has lived on Chicago’s North Shore for many years, for much of that time he ran Chicago’s Merchandise Mart, which his family used to own.

Kennedy still can’t cook in front of an audience.

Last year entered the fray of Democratic politics after years of begging from prominent pols.

As I noted in my that Kennedy post, a disastrous elevator interview at a 2016 Democratic National Convention event when he as still weighing his gubernatorial run betrayed Kennedy as a hothead. He is one. A trusted reader of my own blog told me that many years ago he witnessed Kennedy throw a drink in the face of a woman at a chamber of commerce event.

Kennedy’s campaign hasn’t caught fire, unless you include his self-immolation in recent weeks. JB Pritzker, who is part of another Democratic political family that so far hasn’t produced an electoral office holder, has sucked most of the oxygen in the room. He’s gathered most of the endorsements from Democratic politicians and from labor unions. By all accounts he is the frontrunner in the race. While the Pritzker name isn’t as politically magical as the Kennedy name, JB is worth over $3 billion and he’s self-funding his campaign. Chris Kennedy is wealthy enough to live in a huge mansion in one of Illinois’ wealthiest communities, but he is only a meager millionaire who can’t afford the Pritzker approach to campaign finance.

Illinois’ gubernatorial primary will take place on March 20.

Let’s look at Kennedy’s recent stumbles.

Early this month Kennedy accused Chicago’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel, of purposely driving blacks out of the city to expedite gentrification.

Jeanne Ives, the conservative legislator who is challenging incumbent Bruce Rauner in the Republican Primary, said that “fathers in the home” is the solution to gun violence in Chicago. A bit simplistic? Perhaps. But single-parent homes–which almost always means that there is no father there–by all accounts is a root cause of inner city violence.

Disclosure: I am supporting Ives over Rauner.

Kennedy’s response was, “Well, I wish I could agree with you. I didn’t have a father in my life. Somebody shot him.” RFK’s death of course was a tragedy but his assassination was not a symptom of inner city violence.

Kennedy then stormed out of the forum.

Rauner is ignoring Ives’ challenge and has been running TV ads across the state and online playing excerpts of FBI wiretaps of Pritzker speaking with then-Governor Rod Blagojevich over a possible appointment to be Illinois treasurer, which have been effective.

Kennedy’s response when asked the Rauner attack ads was odd, for a Democrat:

I think Bruce Rauner is trying to do what he thinks is best for the state of Illinois. And we may disagree on what that is, but his willingness to speak truth to power, to take on the powers that have been strangling our economy for decades in this state is something that I think he should be applauded for.

Rauner has been consistently defeated in his attacks on “the powers,” which are centered upon longtime Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, who is also the chairman of the state Democratic Party.

Democrats of course pounced on Kennedy’s pro-Rauner comments.

Last week at a televised candidate forum moderator Carol Marin asked participants to say something nice about an opponent, just as Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were invited to do at one of their debates.

Pritzker lauded Kennedy’s charitable work with Special Olympics. Kennedy couldn’t return the favor, calling Pritzker “the poster child of all that’s wrong with the corrupt system in our state – it’s difficult for me to heap praise on him.”

Realizing his mistake, after the forum Kennedy cited Pritzer’s efforts for children’s charities.

It’s gotten so bad for Kennedy that the little-known Daniel Biss, a leftist state senator who represents a district near my home, is seen by some as the best-positioned challenger to Pritzker. In his latest ad, Biss attacks Rauner, Trump, Prtizker, and Kennedy.

Last year Pritzker was caught scamming the complicated and esoteric property tax system in Cook County, where Chicago is. Kennedy blew the whistle on Pritzker, but forgot his own shady history on tax appeals.

So goes the attempt to plant a seed of the Kennedy dynasty in Illinois.

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

Illinois bicentennial flag on the bottom

By John Ruberry

Illinois will have one of the most-closely watched gubernatorial contests this year. Republican incumbent Bruce Rauner has been a tremendous disappointment to me and just about every conservative voter I know. I enthusiastically backed the then-political newcomer in 2014, but this time around, as I explained here at Da Tech Guy, I’m supporting Rauner’s Republican challenger, state representative Jeanne Ives in the March primary election.

Ives is attacking Rauner, and to be fair, the Dems are too. Rauner has much to answer for. Actually he has little to answer for–as Rauner has not accomplished much of anything. For her part Ives is promoting common sense reforms that only public-sector union bosses and their enablers oppose, such as amending the state constitution so pension benefits can be changed, that is, so payment increases can be lowered, and having new state employees enroll in 401(k) plans.

Meanwhile Democrats are battling scapegoats, used here in the classical sense, that is, using something else to accept the sins of a people.

Deals with the Democrats’ state worker wing, the public-sector unions, that some Republican governors signed off on–but not Rauner–have burdened the Prairie State with $250 billion in pension debt. Retiring at 50 with full benefits is nice–except for chumps like me who have to pay for it. Illinois’ current budget is $36 billion and a whopping one-quarter of it goes to government worker pension payments. Illinois has suffered from the worst credit rating among the states for years, currently that rating is just one level above junk.

Illinoisans are responding sensibly and predictably–for four straight years Illinois has had negative population growth.

There is little to celebrate during Illinois’ bicentennial year.

Two candidates on the Democratic side are getting most of the attention from the media and presumably it’s a race between them, as there is currently no polling data on gubernatorial race. Billionaire investor JB Pritzker, a scion of the family that own the Hyatt Hotel chain, has collected the lion’s share of endorsements from prominent Democrats and the party’s union allies. He the only Democratic candidate regularly running ads on radio, television, and on the internet. The other prominent contender is Chris Kennedy, the son of Robert F. Kennedy who used to run Chicago’s Merchandise Mart.

Neither have much to say about Illinois’ long-running fiscal crisis and solutions for it, other than “taxing the rich.” But they don’t even talk much about that.

Pritzker on the left protesting Trump

Pritzker’s web advertisements are a daily presence on my Facebook and Pandora pages–in these Pritzker almost always attacks Donald Trump, as he does for instance in this YouTube ad. Trump has not visited Illinois since he was elected president.  Last year, in front of Chicago’s Trump Tower, Pritzker released his five-point plant to resist the president. And when the inevitable spring tornado tears through Illinois bringing death and destruction, who will Governor Pritzker call for help?

Since Trump has been monopolized as a scapegoat by Pritzker, Kennedy is left with smaller prey. One of his targets is a worthy one, at least for scorn. That one is Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios, who is also the chairman of the Cook County Regular Democratic Organization, better known as the Chicago Machine.  Pritzker owns a mansion on Chicago’s Gold Coast. He purchased a smaller mansion that sits next to his. The billionaire didn’t maintain it–and then he successfully appealed his property tax assessment with Berrios’ office because the other mansion was “vacant and uninhabitable,” saving Pritzker a bundle of cash. Berrios has been under attack by the Chicago Tribune for his assessing practices, which the Chicago Tribune says favors the rich over the poor. Kennedy is calling for Berrios to resign as assessor, but the tiny yet powerful law firm where the longtime state House Speaker and state Democratic Party chairman, Michael Madigan, is a partner was hired to lower the property taxes of a company owned by Kennedy’s Merchandise Mart.

Oops.

Last week Kennedy moved  on to another unpopular target, Chicago’s embattled mayor, Rahm Emanuel.

“I believe that black people are being pushed out of Chicago intentionally by a strategy that involves disinvestment in communities being implemented by the city administration,” Kennedy said at a press conference held in a predominately African-American neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side. “I believe Rahm Emanuel is the head of the city administration and therefore needs to be held responsible for those outcomes,” he added.

Phrased succinctly, Rahm, according to Kennedy, is driving blacks out of Chicago.

Oops again.

For a variety of reasons, including most notably high crime and execrable unionized schools, in sheer numbers and by percentage, the black population of many large cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and even Detroit has been falling, as I stated in my own blog when I reported on this story. Kennedy’s claim is tin-foil hat stuff.

Blogger at Chicago’s Trump Tower

And what does Trump and Emanuel have to do with Illinois’ pension debacle? Nothing with the former and a just a little bit in regards to the latter, since Rahm, a longtime prominent Illinois Democrat, was silent about the festering fiscal disease that is devouring ILL-inois. As for Berrios, I’ll place the party boss somewhere in the middle.

But the role of scapegoats, using the term in the modern sense, is to defer attention away from larger problems. And Kennedy and Pritzker don’t have solutions–or if they do they don’t care to share them with voters.

Boss Michael Madigan’s use of “Illinois math” to kick the pension problem down the road isn’t an option anymore. Illinois has reached the cliff.

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