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.

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.