Everyone loves a circus … and U.S. politics in 2016 are giving one heck of an entertaining show. The Republicans are producing a version of Armageddon, trying to convince everyone that the world is ending (not because of any climate catastrophe, of course), but that the era of the WASEPs running the show may be ending, and what a disaster that will be for civilization. They have trotted out an A-list cast who are entertaining in their own way. Hillary Clinton stars in The Revenant … as a figure returned from the dead seeking a return to glory. Then there is The Bernie Sanders Show … about a passionate man who has some very passionate followers who somehow is still managing to scare the hell out of a large number of Americans because of that nasty ol’ “socialism” that he is talking about.
Illinois has its own sideshow going on, and it is very much a lot of scary clowns in sad face makeup. After the grossly incompetent governorships of Rod Blagojevich and his lieutenant Pat Quinn, the state had little choice but to elect anyone else … and they elected noted Scott Walker acolyte Bruce Rauner. Bruce has been in office a little over a year and very little has been done. He’s tried, but most of his executive orders were illegal or unconstitutional, and his subordinates refused to carry them out, and those that were carried out where shot down quickly by the courts. As far as we know, Bruce is sitting in that decaying governor’s mansion in Springfield, holding his breath until the state legislature gives in to his Scott Walker/Bobby Jindal plans of slashing union rights and pushing for a charter school on every corner.
Rauner was not running in any race today, but there was a bit of a referendum on the governor today. While the Illinois House and Senate are overwhelmingly Democratic, their ability to automatically override vetoes is tenuous. In the House, one Democrat (Ken Dunkin) was swayed over to Rauner’s side, and has been refusing to override vetoes, thus making Springfield look like the U.S. Congress of two years ago (with the roles somewhat reversed). The governor refuses to file a budget until the General Assembly gives in on his stripping union members of rights, and the General Assembly passes bills, they get vetoed, and the veto can’t be overridden.
Over time, Rauner has seen his position grow more and more tenuous. Bobby Jindal got rode out of Louisiana on a rail after decimating the economy down there, Scott Walker appears very vulnerable in Wisconsin, and Rick Snyder will be very lucky if he isn’t impeached or recalled over the Flint water crisis in Michigan. Today, a minor primary challenge for a House seat in Illinois’ General Assembly became a referendum on the governor.
A few weeks ago, President Obama made an unprecedented stop in Springfield to address the General Assembly over the mounting crisis in the state. At one point, Ken Dunkin stood to applaud the President, to wit, President Obama told him to sit down, and that they would talk later. I’m not sure if they ever talked, but Obama sent a clear message, not only endorsing Dunkin’s opponent, but actually recording radio ads for her. Rauner and his supporters spent a lot of money trying to support Dunkin, and to support people running against the current Illinois Speaker of the House.
This evening, the dust settled, and Governor Rauner must be feeling very, very alone. Not only did the Speaker survive, but his ally Ken Dunkin was crushed. Much like the state he is presiding over: a lot of money and time wasted, and nothing to show.
Another race that got significantly less attention was in the race for Cook County State’s Attorney. Anita Alvarez was the incumbent, and she had a history of going after kids with a vengeance … she had wracked up a huge number of convictions against school aged kids, and seemed very unwilling to give kids second chances for relatively minor offenses. Thus, it may have come as a shock when the Chicago Teachers’ Union, for the first time ever, endorsed a candidate in this race, and chose against her. It seems odd … you would think that in a world of stereotypes that teachers would want troublemakers as far out of the classroom as possible. But maybe there is something to teachers really wanting to help kids. Alvarez went down hard. Somewhere, there was a loud thud in the mayor’s home … if someone can mount a popular candidacy against Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel in a few years, his days, too, may be numbered.
The days of our governor chirping about a mandate that no one else saw must be very far away now … he was elected based on the “we have no choice” philosophy, and now it must finally be sinking in that there is no outside help coming to rescue him, and that the people have told him that the make up of the General Assembly is not going to change much, except for the removal of his allies. The time has come for the governor to come to the negotiating table and negotiate. Illinois does not generally tolerate extremism, and the dog and pony show that the Congress ran by refusing to negotiate wore thin almost immediately. The governor needs to start creating some change by negotiation, lest he end up simply wasting four years as the state’s financial future turns more bleak.