Whenever a liberal complains to you about gerrymandering, your reply needs to be, “What about Illinois?”

By John Ruberry

A month ago I wrote about Illinois General Assembly Democrats, behind closed doors, redrawing legislative maps. The Dems, thanks to their gerrymandering after the 2010 Census, already enjoy supermajorities in both chambers of the General Assembly.

There was hope, a quite naive one to be sure, that because Illinois’ Democratic governor, J.B. Pritzker, firmly promised, many times, that he would veto any partisan remap proposal, that fair maps could eventually emerge.

Shortly before Election Day in 2018, again as I noted last month, Pritzker had this to say to an NRP reporter, “I will not sign a bill that is gerrymandered, I have been for independent maps for a long time now.”

Well Pritzker isn’t for independent maps anymore even though, as the Wall Street Journal (paid subscription required) reported just two weeks ago, the Chicago billionaire promised to veto “an unfair map.”

Pritzker lied. On Friday he signed into law a hyperpartisan gerrymandered map. And going a step further, for the first time in five decades Illinois’ Supreme Court districts were redrawn. Do I have to tell you which party the new court districts will favor?

From the Wall Street Journal editorial board:

Illinois Democrats hold a statehouse supermajority, every statewide office and a state Supreme Court majority. That sounds like a monopoly on power. But with voters starting to revolt against the state’s fiscal woes and political corruption, Democrats are now working to further entrench their power.

Late last week Democrats jammed through new state legislative maps that combine 14 Republicans in the Illinois House into seven districts. That means seven GOP incumbents are guaranteed to lose in party primaries. Republicans will also lose their incumbent advantage in seven districts. No Democrats were combined in the same House districts.

Illinois’s maps were already heavily gerrymandered to favor Democrats, who control 73 of the 118 seats in the House and 41 of 59 in the Senate. But Democrats are worried a GOP wave in the 2022 midterm elections could defeat Gov. J.B. Pritzker. They want to shore up their supermajority to ensure they can override a new Republican Governor.

Apologists for the Democrats explain that according to the state constitution the General Assembly needs to have new legislative districts approved by June 30. What they leave out is that if no map is passed, again according to the state constitution, an eight-person bipartisan committee is appointed to redraw maps. Republicans would likely end up in a stronger position in such a scenario because don’t believe it’s possible to create an even more unfair map.

What’s worse about these new legislative districts is because of the COVID-19 epidemic, not all of the US Census numbers have been released. Illinois Democrats based their new state House and Senate districts on projections from American Community Survey, not hard numbers. 

When confronted about gerrymandering by Fox Chicago’s Mike Flannery on this weekend’s Flannery Fired Up, Boss Michael Madigan’s slippery successor as state House Speaker, Chris Welch, explained to the host that Oklahoma, a red state, also based their remapping on ACS data. 

True–only that Welch neglected to mention that Oklahoma is committed to redraw its maps once the final Census numbers are in.

Illinois, because of population loss, will have one less congressional seat after the 2022 midterm elections. Federal guidelines on congressional districts are quite strict–so the new congressional maps have not been released as the Illinois Democrats await those hard numbers to crunch and torture. But speculation is that these maps will also punish the GOP. 

One-party Democratic rule has destroyed Illinois. I’ve noted these facts many times at Da Tech Guy. Illinois’ public-worker pension plans are among the worst-funded in the nation. The average percentage in state budgets dedicated to pensions is four percent. In Illinois, because its promises to these liberal public-sector unions were not properly funded, it is 25 percent. The state’s repupation for corruption is well known–in my lifetime four governors, three Democrats and one Republican, have served time in federal prison. Federal authorites have been investigating the inner circle of Boss Madigan for several years. And for the first time in history Illinois lost population between Censuses. 

Every state will be redrawing their maps. Former president Barack Obama and his first attorney general, Eric Holder founded a group, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, that opposes Republican gerrymandering. Look for the two of them to holler and scream when they declare new red state remaps to be unfair. Of course Obama and Holder will be mum on gerrymandering in blue states, such as what occurs every ten years in Obama’s home state. 

What do you do if a liberal moans to you about those red state district maps that they say are gerrymandered? I have a three word reply for you. 

“What about Illinois?”

John Ruberry regularly blogs from Illinois at Marathon Pundit.

Update: (DTG) Welcome Liberty Daily readers. Take a peek around. See Jake Tapper’s Dilemma, read about Russia and the Arctic and find out what happens when people discover what everyone already knows.

Oh and don’t forget this month’s Indulgence Calendar or the latest podcast.

John Lausch needs to stay as US Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois

Blogger with Durbin in Chicago in 2020

By John Ruberry

Last Monday the Justice Department asked 56 U.S. attorneys to resign. There were two exceptions, John Durham, the U.S. Attorney for Connecticut, will stay on as the special counsel for the investigation of the Russian collusion hoax, and David Weiss, the prosecutor for Delaware, who is pursuing the probe into Hunter Biden’s taxes, and presumably, more.

Among the others are John R. Lausch Jr., the US Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, which of course includes that cesspool of corruption, Chicago and suburban Cook County. Appointed in 2017, Lausch has been methodically hacking away at the blighted forest that is Illinois government ever since. Among those indicted under Lausch’s term are a Chicago alderman, two suburban mayors (one of them was also Cook County commissioner), and two members of the Illinois General Assembly. They have one thing in common–all are Democrats. Lausch has chipped away at the political machine of state Representative Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), who until last month had been state House speaker for all but two years since 1983. Lausch uncovered an alleged scam involving Commonwealth Edison, Illinois’ largest electric utility, that has led to the indictment of four senior executives at that company, as well as a longtime lobbyist with decades-long ties to Boss Madigan. 

Madigan is the midwife of the Illinois pension debacle and he is the man who destroyed Illinois. Sadly, those aren’t crimes.

Lausch seems to be closing the ring on Madigan, who remains as chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party, a post he’s held since 1998. Madigan maintains his innocence and he has not been charged with any crimes. But he’s a tough one to investigate–Madigan doesn’t use email and he doesn’t own a cell phone. There’s a lot of smoke surrounding the 78-year-old legislator–but so far no fire has been discovered. 

It took a lot longer than it should have but Illinois’ insipid Republican Party, the Washington Generals to the Democrats’ Harlem Globetrotters, finally pursued tying other Democratic candidates to Madigan, which led to a pretty good, but not great, general election for conservatives last autumn. The best result was the resounding defeat of the so-called Fair Tax Amendent, which would have replaced Illinois’ flat rate income tax with one with graduated rates. As I’ve quipped a few times before, Illinoisans finally figured out that if the Democrats were given an unlimited budget they would exceed it. 

After the general election Illinois’ two Democratic US Senators, Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, called for Madigan’s resignation as party chairman. No, they didn’t suddenly realize that Madigan is toxic to Illinois; Durbin and Duckworth didn’t like the general election results here. 

The state House took care of the speakership problem, the Democrats ousted Madigan last month but replaced him with a longtime ally of the Boss. 

The day after the Justice Department announced those federal prosecutor resignations, in what the Chicago Tribune called “a lame news release,”  those two party-line hack senators called on Biden to keep Lausch on the job. I am very suspicious of their motives. Duckworth is up for reelection next year and if the federal investigation into Chicago area corruption stalls she might get the blunt of the blame for not convincing Biden to keep Lausch in place. 

Durbin is the new Senate Justice Committee chairman and prefers not to be accused of keeping corrupt Dems in power in his home state. Back to gerrymandering and Madigan: Aftet the 2010 census the state congressional map was redrawn to be much more favorable to Democrats. The 8th congressional district was transformed from a competitive one to a layout favoring Democrats. In 2012 Duckworth ousted the Republican incumbent, future never-Trumper Joe Walsh.

Remember, for many Democrats Madigan has been very good to them. His skills at gerrymandering have produced supermajorities in the General Assembly and have bolstered Democratic numbers among the Illinois US House delegation. There may have never been a Senator Duckworth had she not won that House race in 2012. Through government and compliant corporations like Commonwealth Edison, Madigan has been able to hand out contracts, favors, and jobs to those loyal to him–as well as their relatives.

Lausch needs to be kept on the job in Chicago. 

Biden’s nominee for Attorney General is Merrick Garland, a Chicago area native who was nominated by Barack Obama to the US Supreme Court seat that eventually went to Neil Gorsuch. But he hasn’t lived here in decades. Yet my guess is that Garland has kept his eyes on the fetid muck in Illinois. Perhaps he can put in a good word for Lausch to Biden or whoever is making the calls in the White House on federal prosecutors.

Sorry to be repetitive, but I have to keep mentioning this fact. Illinois has lost population every year since 2014. 

People have wised up. But not me. Not yet.

UPDATE February 23: Last night Michael Madigan resigned his post as chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party. Last week Madigan gave up his House seat after 50 years in the General Assembly. Term limits anyone?

This afternoon, according to multiple media reports, Lausch will keep his job as US attorney until a replacement is found and presumably confirmed.

John Ruberry regularly blogs from the Chicago area at Marathon Pundit.

The end of Boss Madigan, the man who destroyed Illinois

Madigan graphic courtesy of the Illinois Policy Institute

By John Ruberry

Had this event not occurred on the same day President Donald J. Trump was impeached a second time, the failure of Michael Madigan to win a 19th term as speaker of the Illinois House would have made national news. The luck of the Irish was somehow with him on his worst day in his 52 years in politics.

There is much to criticize with Madigan. While the one sentence summary of the Chicago Democrat’s career might be “Longest statehouse speaker tenure in American history,” it instead needs to be, “The man who destroyed Illinois.”

Here’s a graph created by the Illinois Policy Institute–which has been on the forefront of exposing Madigan to the masses for a decade–that shows the decline of Illinois’ credit rating. And the rating began its descent early in Madigan’s tenure as speaker. To be fair, it was Gov. Jim Thompson, a Republican, who in 1989 signed into law the annual compounded three-percent cost-of-living public pension raise for retired state employees, but that bill emerged from Madigan’s House. Nearly all state workers are members of public-sector unions, those unions have been an important cog for the Madigan Machine. Other GOP governors share some of the blame for the Illinois pension bomb. But for all but two years since 1983, Madigan was speaker and he had his hands on every budget since then. 

Illlinois’ credit rating now hovers slightly over junk status.

The Prairie State has lost population for seven straight years. People have wised up. After the 2020 reapportionment Illinois will once again lose a congressional district. Perhaps two.

Madigan’s political mentor was the first Mayor Daley, Richard J, the legendary boss of Chicago. Madigan was America’s last machine boss. As mayor Daley was also chairman of Cook County Democratic Party, since 1998 Madigan has been chairman of state party, a post that he, at least for now, retains. Like Daley, Madigan would reward his political supporters and their relatives with jobs, usually public-sector jobs. But recent scandals involving private-sector entities, including the Chicago area’s electrical utility, Commonwealth Edison, betrayed the burden of the pension bomb that is eating away at Illinois government. Allegedly ComEd was handing out jobs, as lowly as meter readers, to Madigan loyalists. The ComEd scandal has produced several indictments, including the company’s former CEO and some Madigan loyalists. A separate scandal centered around red-light cameras has bagged other Madigan cronies. These political brushfires, on top of allegations of sexual harrassment against a member of Madigan’s inner circle, finally made the Madigan name toxic. 

The result in 2020 was better-than expected results for the anemic Illinois Republican Party. Best of all, the so-called Fair Tax Amendment, would have replaced Illinois’ flat income tax with a graduated one, was resoundingly defeated. A majority of Illinoisans finally ascertained, as I quipped at the time, that if Illinois was given an unlimited budget, politicians here would still exceed it. 

Another sin against democracy committed by Madigan is gerrymandered legislative districts, unintended artwork that would make Jackson Pollock or Pablo Picasso proud. “The state’s legislative map looks like a Rorschach test on steroids,” Robert Reed wrote in 2019 for Chicago Magazine, “with districts of all squiggly sizes and shapes.” With a few exceptions, such as university towns, Republicans dominate downstate Illinois in gubernatorial and presidential races, but there are still plenty of central and Illinois Democratic members of the General Assembly. That is the power of Madigan’s gerrymandering. It also discourages challengers to the status quo; according to the Center Square, last year 44 percent of Illinois legislative races were uncontested. Why run? Because in most districts in Illinois the politicians choose their voters, not the other way around.

Illinoisans would have been better served if there was not a Madigan monoculture in power for years in Springfield.

Groups such as the Better Government Association of Illinois and the League of Women Voters have long called for a Fair Map Amendement, taking away the power of decennial legislative remapping away from the General Assembly and putting a non-partisan panel in charge of the task instead. Twice in the prior decade hundreds of thousands of signatures were collected to put such an amendment on the ballot for voters to decide the issue, twice a lawyer with ties to Madigan successfully sued to keep it off. Last year, for the first time ever, a state Supreme Court justice, Democrat Thomas Kilbride, who represented a downstate district, failed to win retention. His vote against the Fair Map Amendment was one of the issues that galvanized opposition from voters.

Illinois’ Democratic governor, J.B. Pritzker, finally the state’s most powerful politician now that Madigan is no longer speaker, has vowed only to sign only a fair map into law. 

Don’t hold your breath on that one.

Madigan’s successor is Chris Welch, a suburban Chicagoan who was once a member of the Madigan Machine. He’ll be the Land of Lincoln’s first black speaker. But there is already a cloud over him. In 2002 he allegedly slammed the head of his girfriend repeatedly on to a kitchen countertop. Eight years later another woman claimed that she lost her job at a high school because Welch, then a school board president, broke up with her. 

Still there is reason to have at least a glimmer for hope in Illinois. But barring a change in federal law that would allow states to declare bankruptcy, Illinois will remain in its financial sewer for many years. A different amendment to the Illinois constitution, one that will allow pension reform and remove the pension guarantee clause, is desperetely needed. 

John Ruberry regularly blogs in Illinois at Marathon Pundit.

Not a bad general election for Illinois conservatives

By John Ruberry

Illinois conservatives have reason to feel pretty good after Election Day. Pretty good but not great. Still that’s a rarity in this state that has been trending blue for decades, much of the reason for that is the tortured gerrymandering practiced by Boss Michael Madigan, the longtime state House speaker and Democratic Party chairman. 

The Land of Lincoln’s feckless GOP, which local radio host Dan Proft calls “Stockholm Syndrome Republicans,” has contributed to the decline, doesn’t deserve much credit for this bit of success. 

The big win for conseratives–really, for all Illinoisans–was the resounding defeat to the so-called Fair Tax Amendment, which would have replaced the state’s flat-rate income tax with graduated rates. Sixty percent of voters neeeded to approve the amendment to the state consitution–of 50 percent of all those voting. Despite big votes for Joe Biden and Dick Durbin, Illinois’ senior Democratic US senator, only 45 percent of voters supported the Fair Tax. 

Credit for the victory for keeping the flat tax goes of course to Prairie State voters, but also for the libertarian think tank, the Illinois Policy Institute, as well as Illinois’ richest resident, Ken Griffin, who funded highly-effective television ads against the amendment. Slow down liberals, if you think a billionaire “bought” the win against the Unfair Tax Amendment. Illinois’ billionaire Democratic governor, J.B. Pritzker, spent $58 million of his own money on the campaign for the amendment. Griffin spent $53 million opposing it. 

Illinois doesn’t tax retirement income–all 32 states with progressive tax rates tax pensions. The anti-Fair Tax ads said that retirement income wouldn’t be untouchable, and an admission, quickly retracted, by state treasurer Michael Frerichs, that the Fair Tax would be a first step to taxing pensions aided the argument of the “antis.”

This summer a federal investigation of rank-and-file Illinois political corruption implicated Boss Madigan. The speaker has not been charged. But the stench from the ongoing investigation served as a potent reminder that Illinois isn’t just mismanaged, it’s crooked. Clearly Illinois kleptocrats don’t need more money to squander and steal, many voters–including some Democrats–reasoned. 

Illinois hasn’t had a balanced budget since 2001, when there was a GOP majority in the state Senate and a Republican in the governor’s mansion, despite a constitutional requirment for a balanced budget. The current budget has a $7.4 billion deficit. That GOP governor in ’01, by the way, was George Ryan, who later served time in federal prison for corruption. 

For many good reasons Illinoisans don’t trust state government. 

Illinois is still counting ballots. I can mail a letter from Illinois that is addressed to someone in Los Angeles and it will probably arrive there in three business days. But my state is allowing mail-in ballots to be counted if they arrive at one of Illinois 102 county clerk offices by November 17. So a few races are yet to be called. While it appears the Democrats will pick up a seat in the state Senate, the Republicans will probably gain two seats in the state House of Representatives. The Dems will maintain supermajorites in both chambers of the General Assembly. But there is a budding revolt by Democrats in the House against Madigan because of the election results. Pritzker and Durbin have called for Madigan to resign his chairmanship of the state Democratic Party. A few brave Democrats in the House have called on this term as speaker for Madigan, who has held the gavel since 1983 except for two years, to be his last. Illinois’ other US senator, Tammy Duckworth, also a Democrat, has called for Madigan to resign his speakership as well as the party chairmanship.

A weaker Madigan–and a specially a Democratic Party without him in leadership posts–means a weaker Democratic Party, which is why the Boss still has support. That’s good news for Illinois conservatives. But the state Republican Party still might find a way to squander this gift.

Other pretty good news for Illinois conservatives is that Donald Trump bettered his performance over his 2016 effort by two percentage points. Two Republican candidates nearly ousted two Democratic incumbents. One of those close calls was in Illinois’ 17th Congressional District. Despite being heavily outspent by Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair Cheri Bustos, GOP challenger Esther Joy King came within three points of upsetting the incumbent, whose role as DCCC chair is to elect more Democrats to Congress. 

On the other hand, Illinois will lose at least one congressional seat in the 2020 reapportionment. A downstate rural district, the 15th, that is currently represented by a Republican, is expected to be sacrificed. During the 2018 gubernatorial campaign, Pritzker vowed to support fair legislative maps rather than a gerrymandered ones. 

Don’t hold your breath for Pritzker to fulfill that campaign promise.

Illinois conservatives need to get firmly and publicly behind two new constitutional amendments, the first one to eliminate the pension guarantee clause, so that reasonable and financially responsible pension reform can occur. The biggest challenge for Illinois is its worst-in-the-nation $230 billion in unfunded pension debt. Illinois cannot tax itself out of this mess, an insight not lost on voters when they voted “No” on the Fair Tax. Pension reform will be painful–but even moreso if state politicians continue the decades-long policy of kicking the can down the road. 

Meanwhile of course the Illinois Exodus continues. The Prairie State has lost population every year since 2015.

Oh, I almost forgot. There was another victory of note for conservatives on Election Day. Voters chose not to retain Illinois Supreme Court justice Thomas Kilbride, a downstate Democrat. One of the reasons for Kilbride’s defeat was his being in the party-line 4-3 majority that prevented a redistricting reform amendment from appearing before voters in 2016. The suit against the Fair Map Amdendment was filed by a long-time Madigan ally. Kilbride is the first Illinois Supreme Court justice to fail to be retained. But the victory was short-lived. Kilbride’s interim replacement, chosen unaminously by the remaining justices, is a Democrat. Ken Griffin also funded much of the anti-Kilbride effot.

The second amendment conservatives need to rally around is another attempt at an Illinois Fair Map Amendment.

UPDATE December 6: After lots of counting, in the end the GOP caucus will increase by one seat, not two, in the state House.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

Questions the mainstream media needs to be asking Biden

By John Ruberry

Last week CNN hosted a town hall for Joe Biden where he was given softball questions. No, on second thought they were T-ball questions. 

The demands on whoever is president are brutal. If CNN believes that Biden can’t handle challenging queries then that in my opinion disqualifies him to be leader of the most powerful nation on the planet. And if CNN is just shilling for the Democrats, then no one should take them seriously as a news outlet. Based on their poor ratings, most people already do not. 

Here are some questions that responsible reporters should be asking Biden. The wonderful thing about the questions I’ve devised is that most of them can be posed to President Trump. Yes, a few of these queries have been given to Biden, but generally only once and with dismissive answers from the Democratic nominee.

Here we go:

  • Will you be releasing the names of your potential Supreme Court nominees, as President Trump did as a candidate in 2016 and did earlier this month?
  • Do you support “packing the Supreme Court,” that is, nominating additional justices to the court to go beyond nine members?
  • Where’s Hunter?
  • Do you unconditionally oppose Antifa?
  • Will a Biden administration investigate plots by Antifa and other groups to incite riots in cities such as Portland?
  • You favor a nationwide mask mandate to fight COVID-19. What is your legal basis for instituting one?
  • Do you support statehood for the District of Columbia? And for Puerto Rico?
  • Many states, such as Illinois, Kentucky, and New Jersey, have public-sector worker pension plans that are essentially bankrupt. Do you support a federal bailout of these and other state worker pension plans?
  • Numerous cities also have similarly under-funded pension plans. Will you back a bailout of those plans?
  • What is your position on bailing out states whose tax revenues have plummeted because of COVID-19 lockdowns?
  • Do you favor allowing states to declare bankruptcy?
  • Speaking of Illinois, in 2008 the US Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, Patrick Fitzgerald, was in the midst of a corruption investigation of Rod Blagojevich, the governor of the state, and Tony Rezko, a member of Blago’s inner circle who donated large sums to the campaigns of Barack Obama. Your ticket mate kept Fitzgerald in his post after becoming president. This year John Lausch, the current US Attorney in Chicago, is in the thick of investigating more public corruption. The center of this scandal appears to be longtime Illinois state House speaker Michael Madigan who is also the chairman of the state Democratic Party. If elected will you keep Lausch in his post?
  • Where’s Hunter?
  • If elected you will be older than Ronald Reagan, the oldest person to serve as president, was when he left office after two terms. Are you physically and mentally up to the office? If you are now what will happen if you one day are not?
  • Do you support the Green New Deal?
  • Do you support fracking?
  • Do you support nuclear power?
  • Do you support coal power?
  • Do you back amnesty for illegal immigrants?
  • Do you utilize teleprompters during interviews and question-and-answer sessions?
  • Where’s Hunter?

I’m sure there are many more questions readers can come up with.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

Update on the continuing Illinois Exodus

By John Ruberry

I’ve been writing here about the Illinois Exodus for several years. The COVID-19 outbreak, as it has many other societal trends, is accelerating the people drain. But two rounds of riots and looting, one after the homicide of George Floyd, and the second last month, after false rumors that Chicago Police had killed a man now charged with murder, are gut punches that the city will not quickly recover from. 

In my DTG post-second riot post about the decline and fall of the city, Welcome to Detroit, Chicago, I wrote, “But when Chicago’s downtown area is dominated by boarded up store-fronts with signs declaring ‘Move in now–lease rates reduced again–first month free!’ you’ll know the downtown descent is well under way.” The vacancy rate for luxury units in downtown Chicago are at their highest level ever recorded according to Mike Flannery (more on him in a bit).

I haven’t been downtown since that “Detroit” entry, but on my own blog, Marathon Pundit, an automated Google Ads banner from a downtown Chicago apartment building offered this promo, “First two months rent free.”

Decline and fall.

And keep in mind that over seventy percent of Chicago’s economic activity comes from the downtown area. And Chicago is of course Illinois’ largest and most important city.

Downstate things aren’t much better. AP is reporting on three towns in St. Clair County, which is across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, that are considering merging because of “severe population decline.” St. Clair County, like Chicago and Cook County, are Democratic strongholds where corruption is widespread.

Large swaths of downstate Illinois have been facing population losses for decades, for instance Iroquois County, an agricultural powerhouse that is just 55 miles from Chicago’s city limits, saw its population peak in 1900. Universities have allowed other downstate counties to buck that trend, but enrollment was struggling at many of these colleges before COVID-19 hit. Business Insider last week compiled a list of the “30 college towns that could face economic ruin if schools don’t reopen or have to close again this fall.” Two of them are in Illinois.

The Prairie State has lost population for six straight years. It’s a safe bet that when the counting is over for 2020 it will be seven.

On the usually-worth watching–Fox Chicago’s Flannery Fired Up, three cheerleaders for the city and one moderate skeptic talked about its descent and for the most part, it’s quick bounce back. But this weekend’s episode was an aberration. The show sucked. It was up to the host, Mike Flannery, to bring up the two 800-pound gorillas in Chicago’s otherwise looted basement: rampant corruption and the worst-funded municipal pensions in the nation. 

Since 1973 over thirty members of Chicago City Council have been sentenced to prison. At one time he was the city’s most powerful alderman, but now Ed Burke is under indictment for allegedly shaking down a fast food franchisee. Do you want to bring your business to Chicago? You may have to endure having your pockets picked by a pol. Or by several of them.

Where do I sign up?

Burke has been an alderman since 1969. Chicago needs term limits. And so does Illinois. Boss Michael Madigan, who is from the same part of the city as Burke, has been speaker of the state House since 1983 except for two years in the 1990s when the Republicans had a majority in the lower chamber. Madigan is also a Chicago ward committeeman. He’s been chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party since 1997. Illinois’ most powerful Dem is also currently under investigation as part of an evolving federal corruption probe that has already ended the careers of several Chicago and suburban politicians

There is no way out of Chicago’s pension bomb other than a municipal bankruptcy, one that may also force many city vendors to go under, or a federal bailout. Even if the the Democrats capture the Senate and the White House in November, such a rescue for irresponsible spending, a backhanded reward really, faces tall odds in Washington. But under current Illinois law, government bodies are prevented from declaring bankruptcy.

The “moderate skeptic” on Flannery Fired Up mentioned transportation as a city selling point. While O’Hare is one of the world’s busiest airports–it used to be ranked first in traffic–and Chicago is a rail hub and it has many miles of interstate highways, that “expert” needs to drive on Chicago’s streets. They are falling apart. 

And if you don’t own a car and you use your feet to get around? Watch out, walking on crumbling sidewalks often requires strong ankles and a steady balance. 

Violence in Chicago was declining over the last few years but shootings are way up since the pandemic was declared.

As I’ve mentioned before, like an alcoholic, Chicago’s cure won’t begin until it admits complete and utter defeat. 

That point has not been reached. But it’s probably coming soon.

As it is for the rest of Illinois. The state’s pension programs are almost as poorly funded as Chicago’s.

Decline and fall. 

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

Feds strike at Democratic corruption in Illinois on two fronts

By John Ruberry

As WIND-AM radio host Dan Proft says, “Illinois isn’t broken, it’s fixed.”

And the biggest fixer of all in Illinois is Boss Michael Madigan, the chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party since 1997, speaker of the Illinois House, except for two years, since 1983, and Democratic committeman of the 13th Ward since 1969.

As I’ve mentioned many times before in this space, Madigan, among many other things, is a walking advertisement for term limits. I didn’t call him a walking-and-talking advertisement for term limits, because Illinois’ most powerful politician infrequently speaks to the media.

On Friday Boss Madigan was implicated in a bribery scheme involving Illinois’ largest utility, Commonwealth Edison, part of the Exelon Corporation. ComEd, in a deferred prosecution agreement, is charged with one count of bribery. ComEd, according to the filing, admitted that it gained $150 million in rate structuring over the last eight years. Which means that Illinoisans like me have to pay more for electricity.

ComEd has to pay a $200 million fine. If the utility behaves over the next three years the bribery charge will be dropped.

The bribe scheme involves the utility rewarding contracts and jobs–some of them allegedly little-or-no-work—to Madigan cronies. Madigan is not named by the feds but he is widely believed to be the person labeled Public Official A in their paperwork.

Illinois’ weaselly Democratic governor, JB Pritzker, the state’s second-most powerful pol, had this to say later on Friday about the man whose political machine arguably gained him the Democratic nomination in 2018, and hence the governor’s office in the general election, “If these allegations of wrongdoing by the speaker are true, there is no question that he will have betrayed the public trust and he must resign therefore.”

But Pritzker has his own legal problem. The aggressive U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, John Lausch, in an investigation involving the former Cook County assessor, Joseph Berrios, is believed to be looking at Pritzker. Berrios is the former chairman of the Cook County Regular Democratic Organization, better known as the Chicago Machine. Berrios has long ties to Madigan and it’s generally believed that Madigan was the impetus for Berrios’ unanimous election as chairman of the Cook County Dems in 2007.

A billionaire, Pritzker and his wife, MK, had the toilets removed from a Chicago Gold Coast mansion that he owns and that is adjacent to the one he lives in. Allegedly the commodes were removed so JB’s residence could receive a $330,000 property tax break because the mansion next door was “uninhabitable.” Also on Friday, news broke about the investigation of the Cook County assessor’s office involving other 100 properties. Many of the tax appeals filed were handled by a small law firm where Boss Madigan is a name partner. A law firm where Chicago alderman Ed Burke is a partner–he is under indictment for racketeering–handled some of the other appeals.

The Pritzkers later paid the county back the $330,000 he saved. JB and MK deny any wrongdoing. However, the Cook County inspector general called the toilet removal appeal a “scheme to defraud” taxpayers such as myself.

Back to Madigan.

The jobs Madigan allegedly pressured ComEd to hand out allegedly include a real plum, a board of directors seat at ComEd. That person, not named by the feds, got the seat but he is no longer on the board. Some students who live in Madigan’s Chicago ward received internships from ComEd. While internships may not involve a paycheck, job offers can follow. Madigan’s office even directed the utility to hire meter readers for ComEd.

According to someone prosecutors named Individual A, “We hire these guys because [Madigan] came to us. It’s just that simple.”

Boss Madigan is widely considered to the man behind the fiscal crisis that has destroyed Illinois. The Prairie State is burdened unsustainable public-worker pension debt. Public-sector unions have been a loyal cog for Democrats in Illinois for decades. Madigan’s fingerprints are on every Illinois budget since the early 1980s. Yet Madigan somehow finds the time to tell which meter readers ComEd should hire.

Illinois has $4.8 billion in unpaid bills, the lowest amount since 2015. But a $1.2 billion federal loan designed for COVID-19 relief deserved the credit. Loans, by the way, are supposed to be paid back.

Illinois has been annually losing population since 2014.

As for alleged Madigan strong-arming, the feds aren’t just looking at Commonwealth Edison. Madigan’s state office was subpoenaed on Friday, allegedly authorities were seeking records involving AT&T (disclosure, I worked for them for 11 years), Walgreens, Rush University–and a whole lot more.

Through a spokesperson Madigan denies any wrongdoing.

While Donald Trump’s chances of winning Illinois this fall are miniscule–part of that reason is the Illinois conservatives are demoralized because of Madigan’s obscene gerrymandering of state legislative and congressional districts–reelecting Trump may be the best way to ensure a thorough prosecution of Democratic corruption in Illinois. Americans, we’re all in the same boat. A Joe Biden pick for the Chicago area’s chief federal prosecutor might be less enthusiastic about going after Madigan and the Illinois culture of corruption.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

Illinois corruption investigation breaks wide open with guilty plea of state senator for bribery over red-light cameras and more

By John Ruberry

Last Sunday in this space I wrote about the need to ban red-light cameras in Illinois–and nationwide. One of the reasons I gave was that the easy cash collected from these “safety devices” fosters corruption. Oh, as far as safety, I mentioned in that post that the record on safety involving red-light cameras is at best mixed. They may even cause automobile accidents.

On Tuesday former Illinois state senator Martin Sandoval (D-Chicago), who has close ties to longtime state House speaker Michael Madigan–who also is the chairman of the state Democratic Party–pleaded guilty to bribery, tax evasion, and extortion charges in federal court. Sandoval is now cooperating with the feds.

Sandoval is the former chairman of the senate Transportation Committee. Using the clout from that post, he promised to “go balls to the walls for anything you ask me” to a representative of the red-light camera firm referred to as “Company A” in the plea agreement.

So far that company has not been officially named but perhaps in a verbal misstep, told a judge, “I accepted money in exchange for the use of my office as a state senator to help SafeSpeed, or Company A.”

SafeSpeed denies wrongdoing and in a statement says it is cooperating with federal authorities. 

Politicians are nervous. This weekend on his Fox Chicago show Flannery Fired Up, host Mike Flannery said, “This red light camera company–suddenly candidates, Republicans and Democrats in Springfield and elsewhere are racing to get rid of this money as if it was infected with the coronavirus. ”

Prosecutors say that Sandoval accepted $250,000 in bribes, including $70,000 in bribes to benefit the red-light camera industry. 

It hardly seems that the industry needs the help. According to the Illinois Policy Institute, Illinois drivers have handed over $1.1 billion to municipalities in fines involving red-light camera infractions. Illinois’ largest city of course is Chicago so it won’t shock you that it has more red-light cameras than any American municipality. Chicago, as I also mentioned in last week’s DTG entry, has already endured its own red-light camera scandal. The central figure in that scandal worked his way up the ranks in Boss Madigan’s Chicago ward organization.

Part of the federal investigation involves lobbying done on the behalf of Commonwealth Edison, the local electrical utility.

As far as public interest, the jaded residents of Illinois will have reasons to keep their attention focused on these scandals. Why?

  • Because people hate utilities.
  • They hate red-light cameras.
  • They hate politicians.

Yes, people keep re-electing the latter, but Boss Michael Madigan, the Michelangelo of gerrymanderers, mocks the electoral system by creating legislative districts that all but ensures Democratic super-majorities in the Illinois General Assembly. 

And increasingly, people hate Illinois. The Prairie State has lost population for six straight years. And no, cold winters aren’t the reason. The states that border Illinois, as well as nearby Michigan, are gaining residents. 

As nauseum pols and media figures are calling–again–for “meaningful reform” in Illinois. Here are my suggestions: Amend the state constitution to ban gerrymandering, and bring term limits to the General Assembly–four terms in the House and two in the Senate. Majority leaders, minority leaders, House speakers and Senate president should be limited to four-year terms. And while we are amending the constitution, the pension guarantee clause needs to dropped, but while protecting those recipients on the lower and of the pension scale. 

Did you know that state legislators can be paid lobbyists? Ban that too.

Also, the state needs a strong inspector general with the power investigate General Assembly members. 

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

Illinois red-light camera probe provides convincing evidence why they should be banned

Chicago’s Northwest Side

By John Ruberry

There is a lot of red-light camera news in Illinois. As part of an overall corruption investigation in the state, federal authorities are into looking into the activities of Chicago firm, SafeSpeed, LLC, which installs red-light cameras in some Chicago suburbs.

Last week the mayor of west suburban Oakbrook Terrace, Tony Ragucci, resigned. He is part of that SafeSpeed probe. Federal agents have also have raided the municipal offices of the villages of McCook, Summit, and Lyons in conjunction with this investigation. A state senator who is part of the red-light camera probe, Martin Sandoval (D-Chicago) has since resigned.

Last year federal authorities seized $60,000 from Ragucci’s home, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, and $51,000 from a safe from Cook County Commissioner Jeffrey Tobolski’s residence. Tobolski is also the mayor of McCook.

SafeSpeed’s CEO denies any wrongdoing and no charges have been filed regarding the firm.

In 2017, the Forest Park Review called SafeSpeed a “clouted company.”

Something stinks in Illinois. Actually, something new stinks in the state.

Red-light cameras are a cruel cash cow. At best their record in preventing accidents, the prima facie for them, is mixed as evidence shows out of fear of a $100 ticket–the charge in Illinois–motorists often abruptly slam on the brakes but then end up getting rear-ended.

As the nation’s most corrupt city, it shouldn’t be surprising that Chicago has more red-light cameras than any other municipality. Nor should it be surprising that it has endured a bribery scandal involving red-light cameras. John Bills, a former precinct captain in Michael Madigan’s political organization, is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence for accepting $2 million in bribes and gifts from a different red-light camera company, Redflex.

Madigan has been speaker of the Illinois House for thirty-five of the last thirty-seven years and he’s been the chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party since 1998.

Three paragraphs ago I called red light cameras a cruel cash cow. How much cash? From 2008 through 2018, drivers forked over $1 billion to municipalities. Not a major reason, but I suspect the proliferation of red-light cameras, most of which are concentrated in the Chicago area, as among the causes of Illinois’ six-years-and-counting population decline.

Here’s a personal take on red-light cameras. Thursday night Mrs. Marathon Pundit, who is a limousine driver, called me. “You have to pick me up at O’Hare Airport.” I replied, “Why?” She answered, “There is a boot on my limo.” Yes, one of those wheel boots. When I picked her up at O’Hare she supplied more details. “The city says there are four unpaid red-light tickets, two of them are from 2018, but the office says they were never told about them.”

Okay, you may answer that one of her co-workers could be covering up inaction at the office. But in order for her employer to receive a city vehicle sticker for the limo she drives, all red-light camera tickets must be paid off. But the limo she drives has the latest Chicago vehicle sticker.

Those four tickets cost her employer $988, which included late charges and sending someone out to the car to remove the boot. Not knowing what was coming next, Mrs. Marathon Pundit parked her limo in a short-term lot, so her fee–which we have to pay–was a staggering $77. As it took all day Friday to sort out this debacle, my wife missed a day of work. She’s not on salary.

I’m certain hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans have similar stories.

There is some good news regarding red-light cameras. Last year Texas became the eighth state to abolish them. And in a rare bipartisan push, there is a movement in Illinois to ban them. And Illinois drivers now have a new friend, Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza. The Chicago Democrat says she’ll no longer assist municipalities in collecting red-light camera tickets. “As a matter of public policy, this system is clearly broken,” Mendoza said in a statement, “I am exercising the moral authority to prevent state resources from being used to assist a shady process that victimizes taxpayers.”

Good for her. 

Red-light cameras should be banned. 

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

Feds have their net out for Illinois’ kraken monster, Boss Michael Madigan

Photograph courtesy of Wikipedia

By John Ruberry

The new year isn’t here yet but 2020 is shaping up to be the Year of Many Political Indictments in Illinois.

Three months and a day ago I posted this story at Da Tech Guy: Feds setting up a massive corruption net in Chicago area. In that entry I gave a summery of the recent raids on offices of several politicians, all with ties to Boss Michael Madigan, the kraken monster of Illinois. As I’ve explained numerous times in this space, Madigan is the most powerful pol in the Prairie State. He has been speaker of the state House for all but two years since 1983. He’s served as chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party since 1998. He’s been committeeman of Chicago’s 13th Ward since 1969. It was from that perch in 2007 that Madigan nominated Joseph Berrios to be the chairman of the Cook County Regular Democratic Organization, better known as “the Chicago Machine.” Three years later Madigan greatly assisted Berrios in his election of the seemingly obscure post of Cook County Assessor. That office determines how much your property is worth in Crook County–and therefore how much it will be taxed–and it’s a position that has long been associated with graft.

Like the legendary kraken, Madigan has very long tentacles and of course a large reach.

Among the updates I have for you today is that Berrios, who was–gasp!–ousted by a reformer last year in the Democratic primary for assessor, is now under federal investigation. With his power base gone, Berrios stepped down as party chairman shortly after his well -deserved defeat.

Madigan is the senior party in the tiny law firm Madigan and Getzendanner, which specializes in corporate property tax appeals.

Hmmm.

Also in that September DTG post I reported on the indictment of Ald. Ed Burke of Chicago. He represents a ward that borders Madigan’s. Burke has been an alderman since 1969 and is the longest serving Chicago alderman in history. Burke’s a lawyer too. His specialty? Property tax appeals. 

In May, federal authorities raided the home former Commonwealth Edison lobbyist Michael McClain. ComEd is the electrical utility for northern Illinois and the utility, which is owned by Exelon, seems to be a major focus of the corruption probe. And that’s a big problem for Madigan and other Illinois politicians. Exelon is a public corporation and it’s difficult for it to hide its dirty laundry. And ComEd is subject to local government regulation, which of course is why the utility cozied up to Madigan and other big shots. And customers, such as myself, have to pay a ComEd bill every month. And every ComEd user believes they are paying to much for electricity. Now they have another reason to hate ComEd.

Clearly the feds are in the midst of a far reaching corruption investigation in Illinois, its target appears to be our kraken, Madigan. But Madigan has been under federal investigation before and the tangible results of those probes were as elusive as those efforts by photographers trying to get a clear photograph of Bigfoot, or a real kraken. 

Madigan infrequently speaks to the media and he never uses email.

Let’s take a look at where one of those tentacles reached. The City Club of Chicago is a tweedy, or seemingly so, good government group, dismissed as “goo-goos” by the cynics. It’s known for its weekly luncheons featuring prominent public officials. For years its president was Jay Doherty, a lobbyist for ComEd. He resigned earlier as head of the group after the feds raided the City Club offices and he no longer lobbys for Commonwealth Edison. Among the speakers at the City Club during Doherty’s tenure were ComEd reps–and Lisa Madigan, Michael’s daughter, who spoke to them in 2009. At the time Lisa was the Illinois attorney general and her office was investigating Doherty and the City Club.

The focus of this part of federal probe appears to be handing out of ComEd jobs for the politically connected in exchange for state actions favorable to the utility.

Last year a study by the University of Illinois at Chicago named Illinois the second most corrupt state. Louisiana was tops. 

Man oh man, Louisiana must be horrible. Illinois surely is. 

Here at Da Tech Guy Pat Austin regularly reports on Louisiana.

John Ruberry blogs at Marathon Pundit from Illinois, where is not under federal investigation.