I was more relieved than surprised when the news hit at the end of last week that ComEd was cooperating with federal prosecutors leading to the longtime House Speaker Michael Madigan being implicated in the corruption investigation. It was common knowledge back in January that the FBI was hot on the Speaker’s trail. Madigan was routinely canceling scheduled session meetings in Springfield. He was greatly concerned which legislators and lobbyists were talking to investigators, so canceling these vital days for our business made it harder to conduct an investigation if the key witnesses are scattered throughout the State.
Then COVID-19 hit and I figured that the virus had given the Speaker a Hail Mary reprieve. With no one in Springfield, I assumed that Madigan had slipped the authorities once again.
I was pleasantly surprised after the announcement last week because it is nigh time to start rooting this corruption out of our state. I do not think this is a surprise to anyone who has followed me during my tenure in office and it absolutely goes without saying that I think the Speaker should resign.
Anyone who has listened to my press conferences, read my weekly roundups or seen my videos knows the root of my frustration with the system that is Illinois State Government. I come from a farm background, where we identify problems and fix them immediately to prevent our business from facing serious long-term consequences. I used this same approach as Vermilion County Board Chairman working with both parties on the county board and elected officials to identify solutions in a productive, collaborative approach. We accomplished a great deal in a short period working together.
My experience in State Government has not been remotely similar to any other successful endeavor in life. Sadly, Illinois under Madigan’s control has turned into a distinct corrupt political machine with the main goal to amass power at the expense of good public policy paid for at the expense of hardworking taxpayers. I have had a front-row seat of this dystopian horror movie for the last two years. It has been bad enough at times that it has shaken my confidence in our system to the core, and I am generally one of the most positive people you can find. It is no mystery that our State’s long descent into insolvency and fiscal purgatory began roughly 40 years ago when Michael Madigan first picked up the Speaker’s gavel.
I am a realist and a conservative Republican who represents a red district in a deeply blue state. I understand that it will always be a fight to push through policies that I think will move our State in the right direction, I will have disagreements with people who reside in Chicago, and I realize that with the City having a greater population than Champaign and Vermilion Counties it will always be challenging. My duty as your Representative is to adequately represent my constituents, work to bring good things to my district and to find common ground with members of the majority for the good of our State.
There are many decent Democrats in the Illinois House of Representatives, and I have come to know and respect many people over the last two years from all over the state with many different perspectives. These are people that I may not always or even ever agree with on policy, but I know that their hearts are in the right spot and they want what is best for this State.
Good Democrats, who want what is best for this State, routinely receive threats and intimidation tactics by the political machine, when they propose their own unique ideas conflicting with the main power.
I know there are many of them in the chamber that have had enough of all of this, too. Illinois needs those good people now more than ever. It is time for all my colleagues in the House Chamber to come together and take a stand against corruption.
I am not expecting my colleagues from Chicago to subscribe to my solutions. All I ever have wanted is a seat at the table to represent my constituent’s views. It is vital to have robust discussions on policy with well-meaning individuals in a setting that is not stacked against our side with a corrupt system of rules that fixes the game. In short, all I am asking for is a fair fight in the arena of ideas, and that is not too much to ask for.
Every start of a new General Assembly the first thing we vote on are the rules of the House. I can effectively sum up all those pages of rules by simply making the statement that one man is in charge. The Speaker is the ultimate authority on what bills get called when they get called, and what notice is given to the rest of the legislature and the public. This is how a 1,500-page budget bill appropriating over 42 billion dollars is placed on your desk two hours before the House vote.
The specified deadline for submitting legislation is subverted using last-minute amendments with no pre-posting requirements and shell bills (legislation filed with no substance as a carrier vehicle for the amendments). This allows a budget full of questionable items like pay raises for legislators to be rushed through and voted on without the public having time to react or weigh in. It is also a way for the Speaker to fill the budget full of wasteful giveaways to needed voting blocs or interest groups that write big campaign checks to the Speaker’s candidates, helping him secure his majority. With this process being in place for the last 40 years, there is little trouble understanding why we are completely broke. What if during that last 40 years, the budget process was open, transparent, and collaborative? What we began at the start of Session in January instead of rushing through at the last minute? What if the citizens of Illinois and the minority party had ample time to debate the merits of the items, we were spending money on? I honestly believe that the State coffers would be in much better shape and the political machine would be significantly weaker if we had these vital transparency procedures in place.
We, also, find ourselves at a crossroads in the Chamber when there is a bill that receives overwhelming support from both parties but opposed by the Speaker. The Speaker will kill the bill by never calling it out of his leadership’s rules committee for debate. A perfect example of this is redistricting reform for Fair Maps. Members of both parties that believe in a healthy democracy support having fair maps and competitive districts where voters pick their representatives, not the process we currently have where politicians, Mike Madigan, draw their own maps to benefit their reelection chances. The Speaker will never let this get voted on because it would remove one of the most effective weapons he has in maintaining his machine, being able to specifically draw districts to benefit his people and hurt his opposition. It matters little that Republicans and Democrats have both pushed for this reform. If 117 out of the 118 members of the House supported redistricting reform, it would never see the light of day because one man, the Speaker, has the power to stop legislation from getting voted on. If he is there, this overwhelmingly supported reform will never see the light of day.
Everything we vote on in Springfield has some design to further the Speaker’s authority and power. This year’s budget was a prime example of that. Certainly, Republicans and Democrats can and should have debates on the merits of programs. Depending on your philosophy of the public sector, one will have a different opinion on the level of Government spending and the level of taxation. This year’s budget was so unrealistic, it was not even possible to debate it on that level.
The budget passed by the General Assembly in May was blatantly dishonest. If you are a person who believes in government funding for a program you hold near and dear, you were lied to. This is not about whether we should fund certain items, this is about the fact that funding promised in this year’s budget will not be there. After three-plus months of the State being completely shut down and the economy being hit hard by COVID-19, it is not realistic to think our tax revenues will even come close to what normally would have come into the Treasury, yet we passed the largest budget in the State’s history.
The shortfall in the budget was made up of phantom revenue and borrowing from the Federal government that is unlikely to ever happen. As a result, at some point this fiscal year, the State will run out of money and the checks that school districts, healthcare providers, and local governments were promised will stop coming. This of course will conveniently not happen until after the election when the Speaker’s people will be safe, just in time for him to draw the new legislative map. Make no mistake, you were lied to and the financial health of the state is sacrificed to perpetuate the Speaker’s political organization.
The last 40-years in Illinois has been nothing short of calamitous and anyone who is honest knows that it cannot continue. Forget our political differences; forget what you think about public employee pensions or social welfare programs. No program is safe when your State is about to fiscally flat line, and a different structure to our income tax is not going to fix the problem.
We can have policy debates and my side will win some, my side will lose some, but now is the time to save the ship.
The Titanic needs to veer hard to starboard and miss the iceberg. We need honesty, transparency, and fairness injected back into Illinois Government.
It is time for good, well-meaning people in the legislature to step up. It is time for a change, and it is up to the Democratic caucus to bring new leadership to the Illinois House of Representatives.
There are some good people on the Democratic side of the aisle, and they want a strong healthy State. It is time for them to leverage their power and to put an end to this. It is time for Governor Pritzker to step up. I know the Governor wants to be successful, but if he wants to better Illinois, it is time for him to demand accountability from the Speaker. The Governor is the only person in this State strong enough to protect the members of the Democratic Caucus willing to buck the Speaker. Our State is waiting for your leadership Governor. We are waiting for you to be different. We are waiting for you to put your money where your mouth has been. We are waiting for a New Illinois under new honest leadership. It has been a rocky few months Governor, but you have the power to turn it all around and to profoundly change this State. I challenge you to support your members who want a change. As you know, all of the House Republican members are there to support you on this issue, too. I challenge you to stand strong and end the reign of Speaker Madigan.