By John Ruberry

Last Monday I had a errand to run for work–which brought me to Milwaukee’s suburbs. And for the first time in five years I drove on Interstate 94 north of the Illinois-Wisconsin state line–on what is known as the Milwaukee to Kenosha I-94 Corridor.

A lot has changed since 2012. As I left a toll road south of the border and entered a true freeway–okay, to be fair, the toll road has been there for decades–I noticed a lot.

Businesses–with huge facilities–that weren’t there five years ago leap out at you. Most obvious is the massive Uline warehouse in Pleasant Prairie. The headquarters office of the industrial supplier moved a few miles north from Waukegan, Illinois into Pleasant Prairie in Kenosha County in 2010. Its “Chicago warehouse” followed four years later.

In the 1980s Wisconsin’s tourism slogan was “Escape to Wisconsin.” Illinois businesses are now heeding the call.

Yes, the Chicago area has a couple of Amazon fulfilment centers, but farther north on my drive I saw a massive one in Kenosha–it opened in 2015. The Milwaukee Business Journal calls it “the largest in the recent Kenosha County industrial boom.” There is a “Hiring Now” sign out front.

Sears Holdings, an Illinois loser

South of Kenosha County is Lake County in ILL-inois. There is no Lake County industrial boom. There is no Illinois industrial boom.

Why is that? Sure, tax incentives from Wisconsin’s Republican governor, Scott Walker have helped greatly. Illinois, when inept Democrat Pat Quinn was governor, offered tax breaks to Sears Holdings, which operates the Sears and Kmart brands, and Mitsubishi Motors, to encourage them to stay. This was a few months after a huge income tax hike was enacted. What about attracting new business? By all accounts Sears and Kmart are on life-support and Mitsubishi closed its Bloomington plant in 2015.

Corporate taxes might be slightly higher in Wisconsin–no place is perfect. But Illinois has the nation’s highest median property tax rate. And Illinois’ expensive workers compensation laws frighten business owners.

In 2015 Wisconsin became a right-to-work state. All the states that border Illinois except for Missouri are right-to-work states and Show Me State voters will be asked next year if they want to join the trend. Nearby Michigan has been right-to-work since 2012. Job creators don’t like unions and based on recent workplace votes, neither do workers.

Illinois has its 800-pound odious gorilla in its basement, a woefully underfunded public-worker pension system. Wisconsin’s state pensions are by most accounts fully funded. Businesses don’t like uncertainty and Illinois’ pension bomb, despite a massive personal and corporate tax hike put in place this summer, has not been defused. Not even close. Ka-boom is coming.

Blogger in Pleasant Prairie

This summer Wisconsin and the Milwaukee to Kenosha I-94 Corridor snagged its biggest prize, the Foxconn factory. The Taiwanese manufacturer will hire anywhere from 3,000 to 13,000 employees for its facility in Mount Pleasant in Racine County. Yes, Illinois had also bid on the Foxconn plant.

Indiana is also enjoying great success poaching Illinois firms for the similar reasons.

And when the jobs leave the people leave. And Illinois is one of only three states with negative population growth.

John Ruberry regularly blogs from Illinois at Marathon Pundit.

IDOT facility, Northfield, IL

By John Ruberry

You’ve heard of “Deep State,” right? If you haven’t, it’s the powerful yet anonymous cadre of senior bureaucrats within the federal government who are toiling to undermine President Donald J. Trump. They are “the swamp” Trump wants to drain.

In Illinois, where I live, we have Deep Corruption.

Last week in my own blog I reported on Deep Corruption when former Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett received a 4 ½ year prison sentence for wire fraud for her role in a bribery scheme with a former employer, a contractor. Her old boss there likely engineered her hiring as the boss of CPS.

In 2014 as Illinois’ financial situation was clearly dire–it has gotten worse since then–a political hiring scandal broke at the Illinois Department of Transportation. Over 200 unqualified people were hired as “staff assistants.” The title sounds innocent enough, but staff assistants in Illinois government are supposed to be policy-making posts, which makes those positions exempt from anti-patronage rules. Most of these so-called policy makers were hired during the six-year term of so-called reformer Pat Quinn, then the Democratic governor of Illinois. But candidates with backgrounds such as managing an ice cream store, laying bricks, and working for the Democratic Party were hired as staff assistants at IDOT. Well, these hires were diverse that’s for sure. Once on the state payroll, naturally these unqualified employees were given duties that matched their modest skill set. Many of them now hold new titles and are exempt from being discharged–except for extreme indiscretions–because of union rules.

Meanwhile, Illinois has the worst credit rating and the worst-funded public pension system of the fifty states. It currently has $11 billion in unpaid bills.

But under Quinn money was available to place political cronies on the state payroll.

Last week a court-ordered monitor issued her report on the political hiring scandal, or what should be called the Hack Pol Job Fair. The unqualified candidates of course had one thing in common: connections, often family ties, to a Democratic politician.

Rauner: Shake Up Springfield, Bring Back Illinois

Fed up Illinois voters threw Quinn, out of office in 2014, replacing him with Republican Bruce Rauner, who eliminated the staff assistant job classification but has been largely stymied in his attempt to “Bring Back Illinois” and “Shake Up Springfield” by state House Speaker Michael Madigan, who is also chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party.

Seven staff assistants with Madigan ties were hired by IDOT.

Chicago talk radio host and onetime gubernatorial candidate Dan Proft likes to say “Illinois isn’t broken–it’s fixed.” True, very true.

Quinn’s office was the clearing house for the IDOT job scandal and this episode should finally destroy his undeserved reputation as a reformer. In 1996 a prominent Illinois Democratic politician accused Quinn of being a ghost payroller for the Dan Walker administration. You probably never heard of Walker, but he’s one of those Illinois governors who later served time in federal prison. Public pensioner Quinn now says he’s working on ending gerrymandering in Illinois, yet he approved the current disgraceful gerrymandered map that created supermajorities for the Democrats in the General Assembly.

Who was that politician who called Quinn a ghost-payroller? It was US Sen. Dick Durbin. And the senior senator from Illinois’ office tried to get “Candidate 5” a job “with various state agencies.” And after pressure from Durbin’s office, “Staff Assistant 47” was hired at IDOT.

There is some good news in regards to this scandal, besides its exposure. Honest Illinois state employees alerted authorities of these abuses.

John “Lee” Ruberry of the Magnificent Seven

And those were illegal abuses, I’d like to add. Who will be indicted for these crimes?

On personal note, my mother passed away three weeks ago. As is natural for someone going through a parental loss, my thoughts have veered to the past of late. Years ago my mother told me about a conversation she had with my father–he’s gone now too. My dad declared to my mom that his goal was to enter politics, which of course meant Illinois politics as they lived in Chicago. “That will never work out,” she explained to him. “You’re honest.”

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

Illinois signBy John Ruberry

In its first political endorsement in three years–and the only one it will make in 2014–the Chicago Sun-Times says of this year’s Illinois governor’s race, “It may well be the most important election in our state’s modern history.”

I’ll one-up the Sun-Times here and declare it’s the most important Illinois election ever.

But some stubborn conservative-minded Illinoisans can’t see beyond the edge of their noses and insist on voting for the Libertarian candidate for governor, Chad Grimm, a thirty-three year-old who manages his family-owned gym in Peoria.

The other candidates are Chicago Democrat Pat Quinn, who inherited a mess when he succeeded his two-time running mate Rod Blagojevich. But until Blago was arrested in late 2008, Quinn was silent about the sins of the current inmate at the Englewood Federal Correctional Institution.  The Republican nominee is Chicago North Shore businessman Bruce Rauner, who vows to phase out Quinn’s “temporary” income tax hike–which the incumbent now wants to make permanent.

Quinn, largely because of that tax increase, has made a bad situation worse. Illinois’ recovery from the Great Recession has been at best anemic. The Prairie State has the lowest credit rating of the 50 states and it has the nation’s worst-funded public-worker pension system.

In its endorsement of Rauner, the downstate paper News-Gazette opined, “One of the definitions of insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and over again with the expectation of different results.” That is why Quinn’s support is stuck among his base of left-wing ideologues and the uninformed, which in Illinois amounts to a shockingly high 40 percent of the electorate.

John "Lee" Ruberry
John “Lee” Ruberry

Even in President Obama’s home state, this should be Rauner’s race to lose. But in recent polls, Grimm has been collecting about five percent support. Grimm and his supporters know that it would be a fairy tale if he bested Rauner and Quinn. But the Libertarians see the 2014 governor’s race as a chess game. “If we break 5 percent,” Grimm said earlier this month, “we make ballot access easier in future elections.” It would. Minor party candidates need five times more signatures to gain ballot access than the Republicans and Democrats need. Is that fair? Probably not. However, there is too much at stake in Illinois this year for right-leaning voters, even it’s only a few of them, to throw away their vote  just to make a statement.

One deep-pocketed Rauner opponent, Operating Engineers Local 150, is playing chess too. It contributed $30,000 to the Grimm campaign earlier this month, even though the union has already endorsed Quinn.

Yes, a vote for Grimm is a vote for Quinn.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

Illinois flag on right
Illinois flag on right

By John Ruberry

Illinois, or at least its major newspapers, is finally waking up.

Nearly 12 years of Democratic rule in Illinois has brought debt, continued corruption, the nation’s worst-funded state pension system, and high unemployment.

Most polls show the race between incumbent Pat Quinn and Republican newcomer Bruce Rauner to be a dead heat, although the latest poll on the race shows Quinn with only 40 percent support–which is a terrible position for ant incumbent to be in.

Quinn of course does not have a decent record to run on, so he is taking a page from Obama 2012 playbook by attacking Rauner for being a successful rich businessman.  The Chicago Democrat, who twice was Rod Blagojevich’s running mate, narrowly defeated his Republican challenger in 2010, Bill Brady, who ran a awful campaign. Back then Quinn stumped for a slight increase in the state income tax, but in a lame duck session, the Democrat-controlled General Assembly passed a “temporary” 67 percent hike in the personal income tax rate and a 45 percent hump in the corporate rate.Rauner sign

Quinn now claims that he never said that his tax hikes, which are stifling Illinois’ economy, were temporary–but videotape, unlike Quinn, does not lie. The tax increases expire at the end of the year–but Quinn plans another lame duck assault on Prairie State wallets.

Rauner instead envisions tax reform, a loosening of Illinois’ onerous workers compensation system, and extensive pension reform  as part of his rescue plan for the state’s 12.8 million residents. He looks to Indiana’s successful former governor Mitch Daniels as a role model for a Rauner administration.

As for Quinn, he’s not fooling the editorial boards of Illinois’ major newspapers. So far Rauner has earned endorsements from the Chicago Tribune, Crain’s Chicago Business, the Daily Herald, the Belleville News-Democrat, the Champaign News-Gazette, and the Peoria Journal Star.

Chicago sunrise
Chicago sunrise

Three years ago the Chicago Sun-Times said they would stop endorsing candidates, but yesterday the paper all but said they were getting back into the game only so it could declare its support for Rauner. The paper is making no other endorsements this fall.

I held my nose and visited Quinn’s campaign site and clicked on the endorsements link. It’s dominated by unions and other predictably liberal groups. But according to my research and Quinn’s site, as of this writing, not a single Illinois newspaper has endorsed the Chicago Democrat for another term.

It’s time for the rest of the Land of Lincoln to wake up for Morning in Illinois and throw Quinn out of office.

John Ruberry, a fifth generation Illinoisan, regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

Illinois BlagoBy John Ruberry

In his 35-year public career, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has carefully developed a persona as one of the few honest politicians in a state that has seen four of its last eight elected governors serve time in federal prison.

When he faced the voters four years ago, Quinn, who twice was the running mate of jailbird Rod Blagojevich, encountered daunting odds as he sought to earn a full term as governor. He utilized that persona to deflect the Blago stench. But the Great Recession hit Illinois harder than most of the other states–as it does now, the Prairie State had billions in unpaid bills.

Quinn’s 2010 GOP opponent, downstate state senator Bill Brady, ran a weak campaign and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory–losing by 30,000 votes, even though otherwise it was a fabulous year for the Illinois Republican Party, flipping four congressional seats and snatching Barack Obama’s former Senate seat.

Gov. Pat Quinn,  (D) Illinois
Gov. Pat Quinn,
(D) Illinois

But “Mr. Clean” Quinn had a couple of jokers in his 2010 deck of cards. The Chicago Democrat lied about the rate of the income tax increase he favored, and as I explained in a prior post on this blog, one month before the election, Quinn commenced the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, an anti-violence program that turned out to be nothing more than a political slush fund to drive up the November vote for Quinn in heavily Democratic areas such Chicago and parts of its Cook County suburbs. Cook was one of four counties that Quinn won in 2010, Brady prevailed in the other 98.

The NRI is now the subject of a federal criminal investigation.

And not only did Quinn lie about the rate of the income tax jump he sought to pay off the old bills that I mentioned earlier, but he said the hike enacted would only be temporary–now the phony-reformer now wants to make that increase permanent. The Democratic supermajorities in the General Assembly, which exist only because of the grotesquely gerrymandered 2011 remap signed into law by Quinn, balked at Quinn’s expensive request this spring.

John "Lee" Ruberry
John “Lee” Ruberry

As for the 2014 race, Quinn has managed to find a couple of more joker cards. He signed into law an Election Day registration bill that applies only to the November general election. The same legislation dispenses with the need for a photo ID for early voting. Illinois has a long history of vote fraud, most of it involves Democratic politicians. And playing to the White House’s imaginary War on Women by conservatives, Quinn approved an advisory referendum asking voters if they believe employers should cover birth control in their employee health insurance plans, which is nothing more than a fawning attempt to drive liberal activists to the polls.

Yet there is one card that Quinn can’t use with voters this time around–an honest reputation.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

Gov. Pat Quinn,  (D) Illinois
Gov. Pat Quinn,
(D) Illinois

By John Ruberry

Governor Pat Quinn, a Chicago Democrat, has been mostly on the fringes of Illinois politics since the early 1970s. For most of that time he was a minor-league version of Ralph Nader, part consumer advocate, part self-appointed government reformer. Although Nader never held public office, Quinn was state treasurer for a term in the 1990s, and of course twice he was Rod Blagojevich’s running mate. Quinn succeeded Blago after the hair-brained pol was removed from office five years ago by the state Senate.

Last week was arguably Quinn’s worst as governor. An autumn 2010 anti-violence program, the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, was unveiled by Quinn as he faced a tough battle to win a full term as governor, is now being investigated by federal authorities and the Cook County State’s Attorney Office. The $54.5 million program has been exposed by the local media as a massive political slush fund to drive up the African American vote in Chicago and its inner suburbs so Quinn could win his election, which he did, barely. The Chicago Sun-Times revealed that the felon husband of Dorothy Brown, another Chicago Democrat, was paid nearly $150,000 in salary and benefits to oversee $2.1 million in NRI grants.

Quinn faces another scandal. A long time patronage-hiring foe, Michael Shakman, asked the federal government in a court motion to investigate hiring decisions at the Illinois Department of Transportation. He claims that Quinn is loading up IDOT with political hires.

Durbin said Quinn was a  ghost payroller
Durbin said Quinn was a ghost payroller

Speaking of political hires, Quinn was the patronage chief of early-1970s governor Dan Walker, who later went to prison for looting a savings and loan. And an authority no less than Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) accused Quinn of being a ghost-payroller under Walker.

Quinn’s former chief-of-staff, Jack Lavin, was once chief financial officer for Tony Rezko, one of Rod Blagojevich’s enablers who is best known in Illinois for being Barack Obama’s first political sponsor. Rezko is serving a prison sentence now.

Lavin also served under Blago.

Pat Quinn is as much of a reformer as I am an astronaut.

Disclosures: I knew Lavin quite well years ago while we were classmates at the University of Illinois. And the husband of Anita Alvarez, the Cook County State’s Attorney, is a friend of mine.

John Ruberry blogs regularly at Marathon Pundit.

Rauner

By John Ruberry

Pity the Land of Lincoln–four of its last eight elected governors have been convicted of federal crimes–one of them, Rod Blagojevich, is still in prison. He’s inmate 40892-424. Blago’s successor and two-time running mate, fellow Chicago Democrat Pat Quinn, is running for a second full term.

The Republican nominee is Bruce Rauner, a multi-millionaire venture capitalist who survived a surprisingly tough primary battle last week over state Sen. Kirk Dillard, who is best known outside of Illinois for his appearance in a 2007 Barack Obama campaign commercial.

Running against “corrupt union bosses” has been a theme of Rauner’s campaign. Public-sector unions have destroyed Illinois, which once enjoyed a rare American economic trifecta–it was an industrial, financial, and agricultural powerhouse. The Prairie State now suffers from America’s second highest unemployment rate, nearly $6 billion in unpaid bills, and over $100 billion in public employee pension debt.

Quinn’s “temporary” 67 percent income tax hike was supposed to fix all three problems–but it failed, failed, failed.

Since he has no record to run on, Quinn unleashed an Obama-style class warfare attack on Rauner immediately after the primary, focusing on the GOPer’s muddled stance on raising the state’s minimum wage and businessman’s immense wealth. Last week in a rare press conference, state House Speaker and party boss Michael Madigan, yet another Chicago Democrat, proposed a millionaire income tax.

Four years ago, off-topic attacks on the anti-abortion stance of his Republican opponent Bill Brady served Quinn well, he eked out a win over the downstate state senator who ran a sloppy campaign and who was largely AWOL in the key battlefield in all Illinois elections–Chicago’s suburbs.  Rauner is pro-choice and a moderate on gay issues.

And this year’s Republican nominee lives in the suburbs and as he proved in the primary election, Rauner won’t let attacks on him go answered–and he’s willing to spend his own money to do so.

Cutting taxes and attacking what former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg identified as the toxic “labor-electoral complex” will be the heart of the Rauner general election campaign.

AFSCME anti-Quinn poster
AFSCME anti-Quinn poster

What will Big Labor do? Line up behind Quinn? The surprising answer is ‘maybe.’ Quinn can count on the support of trade unions such as the United Auto Workers, but the public-sector unions, who contributed over $5 million to his campaign for the 2010 race, might ignore Quinn this time. Government unions donated over $1 million to the Dillard campaign, and the public-sector unions are angry with Quinn for signing a pension fix bill late last year, one that Rauner says does not go far enough. Those unions are suing Quinn to have the new pension funding law overturned– they claim it is unconstitutional.

But the public-sector unions will probably continue to run anti-Rauner ads. The Illinois Freedom PAC, largely funded by government labor groups, spent over $3 million on ads attacking Rauner during the run-up to the primary. Democratic crossover votes for Dillard almost succeeded in Big Labor’s goal of stopping Rauner.

In November Quinn faces the threat of Democratic crossover votes ending his political career. Newton N. Minow, John F. Kennedy’s FCC chairman who famously dubbed television “a vast wasteland,” quoted his old boss when declaring his support for Rauner on Thursday, “Sometimes party loyalty asks too much.”

Illinois’ 2014 gubernatorial race: it will be one for the ages.

John Ruberry blogs at Marathon Pundit.