A View From the Cheap Seats

March 16, 2010

Corruption Squared


By Rich Trzupek

It’s hard to believe that anyone could pick worse candidates than the party that gave Illinois gubernatorial candidates like ex-governor/current convict George Ryan and the unbearably bland Judy Barr-Topinka, but Illinois Democrats are giving the GOP a run for their money this year. First they gave us disgraced former lieutenant governor candidate Scott Lee Cohen and now comes troubling revelations about their Senatorial candidate, state treasurer Alexi Giannoulias. One has to wonder: does anybody check a candidate’s background these days?

Giannoulias is a protégé of the current president, which should have set off an alarm bell or two. When you’re tied into the Obama/Axelrod crowd, the chances of having a few skeletons hanging out in your closet rise exponentially. In 2006, Obama had this to say about Giannoulias:

“He’s one of the most outstanding young men that I could ever hope to meet. He’s somebody who cares deeply about people.”

When somebody tells you that an Illinois Democrat “cares deeply about people,” you are well-advised to check to make sure that you still have your wallet. Giannoulis is no exception. According to Crain’s Chicago Business, Giannoulis stands to make $10 million off his role as owner of Broadway Bank, even though that bank is almost certainly about to go under.



Fixing Illinois


By Rich Trzupek

The “Party of NoTM” unveiled a few badly-needed common sense solutions to fix what ails one of the worst state economies in the nation, which, given the state of the nation’s economy in 2010, is saying a lot.

House Republicans, in conjunction with the Illinois Policy Institute, announced a proposed program that, while it can’t fix everything that ails the state, is at least a good start. Among the features of the plan:

– Holding the line on spending, which has increased by more than thirty nine per cent over the last decade (adjusted for inflation) while Illinois population has increased by less than seven per cent. Clearly, the days of the big-spenders in Springfield are drawing to a close. We can’t afford their largesse any longer.

– Reforming the state’s regulatory structure. Once one of the most business-friendly states in the union, Illinois has become one of the most difficult places to start up and maintain a business, owing to all of the regulatory impediments introduced during the Blagojevich years.

– Requiring a supermajority before any tax and fee increases can be passed in the General Assembly. Past history has shown that Illinois citizens can not trust either party if that party has been comfortably in power for too long. This measure would ensure that the loyal opposition has the ability to rein in the entrenched power structure.


July 2, 2008

The Guv That Shoulda Been


By Rich Trzupek

It is popular, among voters of every ilk, to disparage the American electorate. There are good reasons for this, for we have surely voted our fair share of Bozos into office. Yet, I still have faith in the voters. In good times, they often, but not always, make silly choices. But, more often than not, they get it right when we face an actual crisis.

It is not a coincidence that we elect a Lincoln when the nation faces insurrection, or that a Reagan comes to power when the Cold War reaches its zenith. Great events force great choices into the forefront of the collective consciousness and, in when people examine these sorts of issues closely, they usually get it right.

Electoral foolishness, in other words, is not a matter of ignorance so much as it is a matter of indifference. In a perverse way, one may take heart that we are about to elect a non-entity like Barack Obama, so devoid of meaningful opinions and ideas. Voters only elect “high-minded” empty suits when the majority of them are fairly comfortable with their own lives, no matter how they perceive the state of the state.

Two things seem clear to me, politically speaking: the nation will elect a Democrat as President in 2008, and the next Governor of Illinois will be a Republican. Both of these results are natural consequences of the principals described above.

In the Prairie State, we can measure just how bad Governor Blagojevich’s administration has been by this: at a time when Republicans brace for a nation-wide butt-kicking, at a time when dwindling red states are hunkering down in political bomb shelters; in this extraordinary time, you would need a very powerful microscope to find anyone – in either party – who supports this two-term Governor, who was, by the way, elected by a wide majority in each election.

He is despised not only by the opposition, but by those who ought to be (and once were) his friends. He’s the purported target of multiple criminal investigations, he’s been beaten mercilessly by editorial writers across the state and he has been even considered for recall. It’s a simply remarkable state of affairs, for a man who was, not so long ago, the rising star among Illinois politicians.

We might reflect about how we got here and what we lost in making this journey. There are many fine candidates, or at least better candidates, in both parties whom we might have chosen. I had the chance to sit down with one of them for an interview a couple of week’s ago: former State Senator Steve Rauschenberger.

The interview, which you can listen to or download via The Examiner’s website (“Examiner Radio”), reveals the kind of mind that we should have in the Governor’s Mansion: agile, creative and decisive, mixed with just the right amount of pragmatism. This is not news, of course. Rauschenberger was always the darling of the editorial boards across the state when he made his aborted runs for Governor. How could he not be? I have never spoken to anyone who knows more about the way government actually works, and how it ought to work.

But, sadly, his candidacy never had traction with either of the two groups that counted most: the (in my opinion, bloated) Illinois Republican establishment, or the voters who might have overruled the party elite. Rauschenberger was never quite sexy enough, in the political sense. Yeah, he might be smart, but what’s his “Q rating”? These are the things that matter today.

So, instead, we elect guys like Blago; nice hair, good looking, but bereft of new ideas and full of arrogance.

Good Lord – we elected Ted Danson!

When you listen to Rauschenberger talk about health care, it’s hard not to wonder why his ideas don’t get more play. He understands the real roots of the problem: that the entire reimbursement system, public and private, rests on price structures set by Medicaid and Medicare, and these structures are terribly outdated and – worse – they encourage rampant inefficiencies in the system. And, since so much of the high-cost of health care may be traced to inefficiencies created by a single-payer, government-run system, does it make any sense to expand this system, as so many Democrats – and even some Republicans – propose?

Why not reform what we have instead, before we ask taxpayers and beleaguered employers to dig deeper in their pockets to reinforce failure? But then, let’s not use quite that strong of a word. “Failure” implies that some of us have no access to health care. This is an unfortunate, and incorrect, perception. The uninsured do have access to health care, they simply do not have the many choices of health care providers that the insured do. Is the answer to this problem, Rauschenberger reasonably asks, to limit choice even more through a single-payer system?

We know what the uninsured would answer, or at least how a great many of them would answer, by observing the abject failure of the Governor’s “All Kids” program. As has been widely reported, Illinois families are avoiding using the program in droves – as many as 50% of eligible families don’t use it, according to published reports – because it suffers from the very kinds of deficiencies that Rauschenberger points out.

This interview is fascinating stuff, and health care is only one part of the discussion. Rauschenberger not only lays out the problems, but he presents creative, provocative ideas to fix them. It’s not “sound bite” material, but then real, reasoned analysis has never been the stuff of slogans. And we can plainly see where electing the candidate with the best PR firm, instead of the best ideas, has gotten us in Illinois. Hopefully, we’ll do better in the future.

We missed out on a Steve Rauschenberger twice. Hopefully, we’ll find another one out there, next time around.

January 30, 2008

There’s No Such Thing As A Free Ride

Filed under: Politics,State — trzupek @ 9:15 pm
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By Rich Trzupek

There are, to be sure, some things in the state’s mass transit bill that suburban taxpayers can be happy about. It breaks the log jam on funding transit projects and, hopefully, we’ll see an improvement in state roads in these parts as a result. It also institutes some badly-needed reforms, particularly in the way that the CTA manages its pensions and insurance.

On the down side, of course, there is the sales tax hike. A tax hike was inevitable, since “more money” is government’s preferred answer to every question. And, of all the taxes that could be raised, the sales tax is probably the most palatable, and equitable.

So, all and all, not a bad job. We say that, not to disprove the false notion that you can never, ever read anything good about a Democrat in the Cheap Seats (and I do recall writing something complimentary about James K. Polk at some point), but in an attempt to put the criticism to follow in proper perspective.

For the goofiest part of this bill is the Guv’s “free ride for seniors” plan. It’s silly, it’s stupid and it’s about as blatant a job of grandstanding as any politician has ever attempted – and that’s saying a lot.

There was a lot of criticism, on both sides of the aisle, for Rod’s last minute, free ride bombshell. In some cases, that criticism was laced with disgust. “Today democracy is dead in Illinois,” State Representative Martin Sandoval, a Democrat, said. “There is no give and take. There is no compromise.”

That may be a little extreme, especially since my more liberal friends assure me that President Bush abolished democracy on a nationwide basis five or six years ago, but you get the point.

It’s a frequent complaint among legislators who deal with the Guv on a regular basis. If you don’t have the votes to over-ride a veto, you have as good a chance negotiating with the statue of Stephen A. Douglas standing outside of the capital building as you do negotiating with the Governor inside it.

And that’s a shame, in a lot of ways. In today’s political environment, a savvy Democrat can accomplish a lot, if he’s willing to give and take a little.

Bill Clinton, for example, managed to do something that a Republican President could never have accomplished: he reformed the welfare system. Had someone from the GOP done the same (and Republican Presidents did try), the press and the opposition would have ripped him to shreds with visions of starving babies.

For all of his faults, Clinton could compromise. Being a cynic, your humble correspondent would attribute that to political savvy rather than idealistic vision, but the motivation really doesn’t matter. The result does, and the cigar man understood that sometimes you have to compromise to get a result.

For Blagojevich, the art of compromise is about as appealing as an adult-film festival is at a convent. And though they probably wouldn’t use that particular analogy, you’ll find many reps and senators from both parties complaining about the same thing, over and over again.

Most of them shrug their shoulders these days, essentially saying that “Blago will be Blago”, before they get back to the business of government. There’s a bunker mentality that appears to have taken over the Executive Mansion, or wherever the Guv is calling home now.

That’s inevitable I guess. When you are elected as a populist, there’s no where to go when things go bad except back to the masses. Two thousand years ago, Rod would have probably been recruiting gladiators to keep the people entertained. It being modern times, he did the modern thing: he pandered to a large voting bloc.

Unfortunately, for him, this particular voting bloc has been around the block a few times and is least likely to be fooled by a bribe. Many of them, one suspects, are downright insulted by it.

Not that suburban seniors will see any benefit from the Guv’s free ride anyway. A four-fingered pressman could count the number of seniors who use PACE in the burbs on a regular basis, and strong township transportation services for seniors make the freebie superfluous in these parts in any case.

The Guv summed his case by saying: “I think the wait was well worth it because the result is very, I think, significant for the people in the Chicagoland area as well as for our senior citizens all across Illinois who are going to see an improvement in their quality of life.”

Uh-huh. It’s really hard to offer the usual sarcasm, because that statement is so jaw-droppingly cynical that it’s just plain depressing. It’s sad that the leader of the state is so isolated that all he’s left with is snake oil to sell, in an attempt to salvage his reputation, and it’s sadder still for the taxpayers who have to endure such leadership.

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