By Rich Miller
“How do they sleep at night?”
It’s a question I’m asked a lot these days. The inquirers always wonder how Gov. Bruce Rauner, House Speaker Michael Madigan and their more full-throated enablers on both sides can live with themselves as they watch big chunks of the state government’s responsibilities crumble before their very eyes during the months-long governmental impasse.
As far as I can tell, they’re sleeping pretty well. And both sides appear to be using almost the exact same coping strategies.
Rauner and his crew say they’re horribly upset that Illinois doesn’t yet have a budget, but it’s all being stopped by one man, Madigan. Until Madigan and the legislators he controls decide to compromise, there’s nothing Rauner can do, they say. Simple. Move along.
Speaker Madigan and his crew have been saying for months that Rauner is operating in the extreme by demanding non-budgetary items that go against core Democratic principles. Until Rauner changes course, they say, there’s nothing Madigan can do. Simple. Move along.
Both men also see the key to a solution in the rank and file membership of the other party. Rauner repeatedly insists, without offering evidence, that several rank-and-file legislative Democrats are ready to stand against Madigan. The governor seems to truly believe that he’s not far away from breaking this thing wide open, despite the shunning of Rep. Ken Dunkin by his fellow House Democrats for openly siding with Rauner and the fortune being spent in a primary to tar and feather Dunkin, who dared stand up to Madigan and the unions.
Madigan, for his part, believes that a big key to solving this crisis is to continue putting pressure on House Republicans — forcing them to take the worst votes possible, like standing against college MAP grants for impoverished students. He did it again last week by forcing an override motion on a vetoed MAP grant appropriations bill. Madigan rightly notes that the Republicans have cracked before and forced Rauner to relent on funding for child care, local governments, etc. All he has to do is wait them out, even though there’s that little problem of Sen. Sam McCann being shunned by his fellow Senate Republicans and the fortune being spent in the primary to tar and feather McCann, who dared to stand with the unions and against the governor.
Rauner and Madigan are also portraying each other as almost the embodiment of evil in their respective proxy campaigns. The imagery is ugly on both sides.
Both men are also employing anti-Chicago rhetoric, with Rauner demanding a state takeover of the city’s schools and swearing off a bailout. For their part, Madigan and his suburban and Democratic members claim Rauner’s proposed school takeover idea is actually a state bailout, and they strongly oppose sending money to the big, bad city at the expense of their own districts.
In the meantime, Chicago’s school system was forced last month to borrow hundreds of millions of dollars at usurious interest rates just to keep its doors open during the impasse. Chicago State University accelerated its spring semester in order to limp through the academic year and has sent layoff notices to every one of its 900 employees.
Western Illinois University just announced layoffs and cuts. Eastern Illinois University’s bond rating was just downgraded to junk status. Northern and Northeastern Illinois Universities were both downgraded to one notch above junk.
Rape crisis centers are closing, homeless teens can’t get help and drug treatment programs are going out of business.
And yet, there’s no end in sight. Senate President John Cullerton has tried to play mediator, but that’s going nowhere as long as Madigan is dealing with his own Democratic primary opponent who’s funded mainly by Rauner’s supporters, and as long as Rauner is fully engaged in GOP primaries around the state.
Primary day is March 15. Both sides are seemingly trying to demonstrate to the other that their actions can have real electoral consequences. So, on March 16 we may know whether or not a truce can be called long enough to fix at least some of these problems.
But Madigan doesn’t easily forget attacks like these, nor does he cotton to outsiders meddling in his and his members’ primaries. And the governor seems committed to win at all costs.
Plus, I’ve learned over the years to always bet on nothing when it comes to getting something done in Illinois. It’s the historically smart play and you’re only wrong once.