By Mark Fitton
Illinois News Network
SPRINGFIELD — The debate that few to none expected to happen won’t.
In a recent breakfast meeting between the governor and a group of downstate legislators, Rep. Mike Smiddy (D-Hillsdale) and Gov. Bruce Rauner got into what Smiddy calls a spirited exchange.
The governor reportedly said perhaps the two ought to get together and hash it out in public.
Said Smiddy, “I just happened to disagree with some of things he is proposing, and one thing led to another, and he thought that he and I should sit down in a public setting and debate the issues.”
Smiddy said he was a bit taken aback at first but thought little more of the exchange until he read a blurb on a capital city blog favored by state government insiders and statehouse media.
“I felt at this time I probably needed to respond formally, and that’s what I did,” he said.
Smiddy sent the governor a letter Thursday:
“Your so-called ‘Turnaround Illinois’ proposals are a blatant assault on organized labor, which you have openly disparaged,” Smiddy wrote.
“Many families in Illinois, including my own, are able to provide for our children and achieve a middle-class lifestyle because organized labor provides working people the opportunity to earn a decent living with adequate wages, benefits and protections,” he said.
Friday, the governor’s office rejected Smiddy’s offer to rhetorically rumble – but with its own flourishes.
“There will be no debate, but Gov. Rauner looks forward to continuing to have spirited interchanges with Rep. Smiddy and other legislators in small and large groups about how to make Illinois more competitive and compassionate and get the most value for taxpayers,” said a statement from the governor’s press office.
“We appreciate Rep. Smiddy’s hunt for publicity and headlines. Hopefully, he will soon begin to show as much enthusiasm for saving taxpayer’s money and getting Illinois out of the worst fiscal crisis in the country.”
Smiddy answered that the debate wasn’t his idea, but since he’d been called out, the two men might as well air it out in public.
“I didn’t go looking for this. I was invited and asked to give my views, and I did,” he said.
Smiddy said it’s not all about labor issues, adding he’s concerned about proposed cuts to human services.
A debate might have been interesting. The two men are distant on the political spectrum, especially when it comes to organized labor.
Smiddy, formerly a state correctional department employee, says he’s proud to be a union man. His father was a United Auto Workers member. Once an aide to the late Democratic U.S. Rep. Lane Evans, Smiddy has been elected to his statehouse seat with hearty union support.
Rauner is a venture capitalist and free market advocate. He frequently argues public sector unions are one of the special interests that have bloated Illinois government and made it a game rigged for insiders.
Smiddy said he can live without the debate, but he wishes it were a go.
“I don’t want this to take away from the issues our state has and what we need to do to go forward, but at the same time I think its very important that both sides have a chance to talk about where they differ,” he said.