I’ve lived in Illinois my whole life. I spent my first 28 years growing up, living and working in Chicago. Since then I’ve lived in what are referred to the ‘Collar Counties’ – those surrounding Cook County which includes the City itself.
To begin with, Illinois is and has been for as long as I’ve lived here a Blue State. With the exception of brief periods the legislature in the past 60 years has been controlled by Democrats. In other times, Republicans have exercised Executive ‘Power’ through winning the Governorship. (I put ‘Power’ in quotes insofar as a Republican Governor facing a Legislature completely controlled by the opposite Party is politically hamstrung and must either bend to the will of the Legislature one way or another or risk the likelihood of becoming a do nothing Leader. The consequences of the latter are unlikely to portend either a long or successful Political career.)
Since the 1990’s the Illinois Legislature has been under Democratic control. And by control I’m talking about the virtual dictatorship of two men – Mike Madigan (Speaker of the House) and John Cullerton (President of the Senate).
While you might think that a solid and continuous Democratic legislature is a true reflection of the ‘will of the people’ of the State, the fact is that the residents of Cook County are the actual voters who maintain the status quo.
Why is that? Well, for one, Chicago and Cook County from a population standpoint represent a majority of the eligible voters in the State. As Chicago/Cook County vote, so go elections in this State – at least insofar as the Legislature is concerned. The result of this is to effectively disenfranchise voters outside of Chicago/Cook County. Who cares how they vote? It really doesn’t matter as long as Chicago/Cook County vote Democrat.
So, you say, that’s the way our Government works and too bad that the rest of the voters in this State largely vote Republican but are unable to change how Illinois does business or treats its citizens.
And therein lies the basis for the enormous problems facing this State, the most egregious of which is our virtual bankruptcy – a situation which is sidestepped on an annual basis through Accounting trickery, adding on unaffordable debt, and kicking the can down the road.
Well, the piper can no longer be stiffed and this year, this month, this week we are facing the undeniable reality that the Democrat Legislature and its Cullerton/Madigan manipulation of State affairs MUST change the way business is done in this State.
Of course, these words are nothing new and have been the mantras of our inept and corrupt Governors for years. However, as much as lip service has been paid to them, the Legislature has been content to follow their leaders regardless of the obvious, predictable and totally evident negative and financially unsustainable results of such leadership.
Which brings me to the subject of the new Sheriff in Town, Republican Governor Bruce Rauner.
Rauner’s great personal wealth is a matter of record and need not be rehashed here. He ran on the promise and profile of a one percenter office seeker not interested in making a career of Politics. His objectives are to clean up the town, set the State on a path to financial stability, reestablish our spending priorities, improve education, reduce property taxes (highest or very near highest in the land) and make Illinois once again a desirable place to do business.
Quite an agenda considering the ‘Usual Suspects’ whom he will have to deal with to achieve his objectives.
So, the question is: How will he accomplish this?
A couple of thoughts and scenarios we may see come into play in the next several months:
1) Rauner is able to leverage his close personal relationship with Rahm Emmanuel (Mayor of Chicago) to swing Democratic votes in the Legislature to implement solutions to problems shared by Chicago and the rest of the State which would otherwise be blocked by Madigan/Cullerton (driven by ego, political debts to lobbyists and unions, whatever).
There are plenty of shared problems impacting Chicago and Illinois at large which could be addressed if these two formed even an arms length coalition to do the right thing.
Based on recent history (and perhaps a large measure of Hope), many solutions to our problems which would be the right thing to do have been discussed to death and agreed upon. However, the power exercised by Madigan/Cullerton have precluded movement forward to implement these.
2) Rauner is able to convince enough of the electorate to motivate even the Democrat majority in Chicago and Cook County that the changes we MUST make are Political Party Agnostic and that these voters must be willing to make their voices heard loud and clear on an ongoing basis, and not just at election time.
To do this, Rauner is going to have to convince enough urban voters that the ‘dole’ on which they’ve become reliant in Illinois will no longer be there but can be replaced by opportunities enabling them to take control of their own destinies. This implies changes (i.e., reductions) in social programs, streamlining of State Government operation (i.e., reductions in the work force, elimination of redundancy or just plain uselessness, etc.) changes in retiree benefits (i.e., work longer, fewer perks, etc., etc..) and numerous other actions which Rauner has thus far alluded to but not yet packaged. (His State of the State speech will no doubt be a doozy!)
3) Rauner is able to and makes the effort to work effectively with the Madigan/Cullerton cabal to actually move ahead meaningful legislative changes which really do improve Illinois’ position as the laughing stock of the United States.
This will probably be the most difficult approach to achieve his objectives, but it’s worth a try. Rauner makes much of his business expertise which his lifetime achievements underline. Cullerton’s sarcastic remark that Rauner “Needs to learn a lot about how State Government works’ could backfire on him seriously if Rauner acts in a CEO manner and is able to show Cullerton et al that it is THEY who need to learn how State Government SHOULD work.
The next few months will tell us all which way the wind is going to blow in Illinois for years to come. Whatever happens, we’ll no doubt see controversy, mud slinging, and, as Rauner has promised, we’ll all be asked to sacrifice something. It’s going to be a rough ride. All we can say with certainty at this moment is that it isn’t going to be a free one.