Illinois Editorial Roundup:

Here are excerpts of editorials that appeared in newspapers around Illinois.

September 4, 2020

Chicago Tribune

Illinois after Michael Madigan

We can’t say when it will happen or how. Maybe more Democratic officeholders — why, hello, Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot — will work up the courage to call for the speaker of the Illinois House to step down. Maybe state party officials humiliated by the relentless percussion of FBI raids, subpoenas, wiretaps and indictments will admit they need a fresh face as state chair. Or maybe it’ll be a simpler scenario, in which Michael Madigan, master of his own timeline, abruptly quits or announces his retirement.

Whatever the means or the timing, we do know Madigan won’t wield his clout forever. His stature as Illinois’ most influential political figure is imperiled during this, his 50th year in the Illinois General Assembly. House Republican Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs last week initiated the formation of a special committee, using Madigan’s own House rules, to investigate the speaker and allegations of bribery involving ComEd.

That’s pretty rich. The 129 pages of House Rules — culled during Madigan’s long tenure and designed to stifle opposition and streamline his power — bit him this time.

Madigan called the committee formation “a political stunt,” defended his tenure as speaker and dared Durkin to a transparency duel on patronage hires. Madigan’s umbrage, however, was misplaced. He’s the one linked to a federal corruption investigation, not Durkin or House Republicans.

Somewhere, a clock ticks.

We recently wrote that between now and Nov. 3, Illinois Democrats will be performing Olympics-quality gymnastics. They’ll profess to be disgusted by corruption while remaining silent on Madigan — and while spending campaign money and resources he has given them, even as he stands identified in federal court records as the alleged recipient of favors in exchange for his help in the legislature.

Madigan has denied wrongdoing and has not been been charged with any crime. But the drumbeat of Democratic scandals from Chicago to Springfield is a drag on other elected members of his party, especially suburban Democrats considered vulnerable in the November election. Will suburban voters reelect — or reject — incumbents who play two-faced games? Incumbents who pretend to be independent but rely on the speaker for staff and resources? Who reelected him speaker in 2019, despite a sexual harassment probe among his ranks and an unfolding corruption investigation?

Remember, only one Democrat out of 74 in the last election for speaker voted “present,” and she was Rep. Anne Stava-Murray of Naperville, who also refused his help on the campaign trail. Every other Democrat sat on his or her hands. So spare us, and voters, the fake outrage at what is now a full-blown federal bribery investigation aimed at the speaker’s operations.

What’s perplexing is that Democrats should want to liberate the party from Madigan. Many ambitious Democrats long have chafed at the sclerosis: Madigan and his loyalists cling so tightly to the arteries of power that a next generation of Democrats has trouble advancing. They get stuck, over and over, trying to defend his power to frustrated constituents in grocery aisles and at block parties and on doorsteps. It’s got to be exhausting.

As the gatekeeper of legislation, Madigan dictates most of what happens in the General Assembly. He makes the day-to-day decisions that govern which bills escape from committee, get called for debate and are passed or rejected. Not only does he pick committee chairs, he swaps Democratic members in and out like pawns so he can manipulate committee votes.

We’d wager that every member of his caucus is now caught up in a chatty parlor game: Who would succeed Madigan as House speaker? And if he goes, would legislators extract some ethics, transparency and fairness commitments from the next speaker? They better.

Rank-and-file Democrats know these decades of boss rule have been lousy for the people of Illinois. (Keep reading.) But Madigan’s sovereignty also has been lousy for them and for statehouse workers who have to run this government from underneath his thumb. During Madigan’s tenure, the Illinois Capitol has played host to indefensible episodes of sexual harassment, bullying of state employees, public corruption and sharp partisan gamesmanship, not to mention poorly managed state finances.

Stripping Madigan’s bossism out of the statehouse would be like opening the windows to a dusty attic. His departure would let Democratic legislators give less attention to a speaker’s agenda, and more attention to the constituents they serve.

More than three years ago we urged Madigan and then-Senate President John Cullerton to step down. Cullerton has done so. But with Madigan still around, Illinois’ crises endure.

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September 5, 2020

The (Champaign) News-Gazette

Hard times getting a bit easier

Things are getting better on the fiscal front, according to an analysis of revenue trends conducted by the University of Illinois. But the state is still underwater, and it’s apparently going to take a while to recover from the economic devastation caused by the coronavirus and subsequent economic lockdown.

The latest UI Flash Index — one analyzing trends in July — shows a slight improvement — from 93.1 in June to 93.9. Both figures are better than the 92.8 rating in May.

Those numbers probably won’t mean much to the average citizen. But J. Fred Giertz of the UI’s Institute of Government and Public Affairs explained.

“Despite some recovery in the last two months, the index is still below the 100 dividing line between economic growth and decline,” he said.

The Flash Index, according to Giertz, is a “weighted average of Illinois growth rates in corporate earnings, consumer spending and personal income as estimated from receipts for corporate income, individual income and retail sales taxes.”

Additional numbers reveal the extent of the collateral damage caused by the economic lock down put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

In July 2019, Illinois’ unemployment rate hovered around 5 percent and was dropping. In July 2020, it stood at

14.6 percent, a horrific number but slightly better than the June 2020 rate of 15.3 percent.

Those numbers represent the lives of many thousands of Illinoisans whose way of life has been turned down. They further represent a serious decline in the number of people who pay taxes that keep the government running and spend their disposable income in ways that keep businesses afloat.

The impact of taxes not paid and income not spent has been catastrophic.

Just this week, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced that her city budget is $3 billion-plus in the hole. At the same time, the state of Illinois faces similar financial shortfalls.

Both the mayor and the governor are hoping for a financial bailout from the federal government, which also has been devastated by the coronavirus fallout.

Unfortunately, there’s no end in sight to the economic, social and public-health fallout. As government restrictions have eased, so have the rules surrounding the economic lockdown. But not only has the virus not gone away, it has also resurged in some areas — to the point that public officials have tightened the restrictions they previously had loosened.

Where this all goes is impossible to say. But serious problems persist, even if they are only slightly less serious than they were a few months ago.

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September 1, 2020

The (LaSalle) News-Tribune

Lack of movement by Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform unacceptable

It shouldn’t be difficult.

Amid calls to convene a meeting of the Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform, is there another conceivable answer?

The commission last met in March, before coronavirus shutdowns. Members didn’t finalize the report due at at the end of that month, so the work stalled like most everything else in the state.

What’s happened since? Nothing, really, on the ethics front, except for the various elected officials implicated and charged in state and federal investigations. But in terms of reform, it’s been a giant goose egg. No more meetings. No report. No recommended legislation.

No excuse.

On July 23, the commission’s four Republicans wrote to the Democratic chairmen asking for a meeting. On Aug. 24 they had a video conference to demand the group reconvene and finish its work. It’s now September and there still seems to be no movement in what seems an obvious, uncontroversial direction.

Way back on June 12 — a dozen weeks ago — the governor signed an Open Meetings Act amendment allowing telephone or video conference meetings without a majority of members attending in person.

In late May the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules convened in person. Forgive the alphabet soup, but if the JCAR can meet, why can’t the JCELR?

It’s not like the rules committee is overly friendly to the administration. Its meeting in May forced Gov. JB Pritzker to withdraw controversial public health emergency rules. Regardless of that outcome, the simple fact a dozen lawmakers could safely meet to do their jobs forces us to ask why 16 folks on the ethics commission can’t.

Democrats on the commission responded to the Republicans’ conference with canned statements that served only to disappoint.

“The Commission will meet to submit the final report to the General Assembly in the coming weeks.”

When? Put a time and a date on that promise or it’s empty rhetoric.

“It’s unfortunate that our Republican colleagues have chosen to politicize this issue.”

Are we truly at a point where asking to meet and finish late work is political?

“While our state is still hurting from the effects of the pandemic and cases continue to rise, we’re all trying to help our constituents the best we can, now is not the time to work against each other.”

Was it wrong for the commission’s Republicans to point out the arrests and investigations of recent months? Is it those members’ fault the latest developments have implicated high profile Democrats?

“We remain dedicated to finding meaningful ethics reform that restores the people’s trust in government and look forward to continuing the discussion in the coming weeks.”

Prove it. Schedule a meeting. Online, in person, whatever. Get to the table and finalize the report so constituents can analyze the recommendations and see if there is a legitimate commitment to restoring trust. Hiding under cover of pandemic isn’t restoring anything, and taxpayers are beyond smart enough to see through the attempted obfuscation.

It shouldn’t be difficult.

Amid calls to convene a meeting of the Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform, is there another conceivable answer?

The commission last met in March, before coronavirus shutdowns. Members didn’t finalize the report due at at the end of that month, so the work stalled like most everything else in the state.

What’s happened since? Nothing, really, on the ethics front, except for the various elected officials implicated and charged in state and federal investigations. But in terms of reform, it’s been a giant goose egg. No more meetings. No report. No recommended legislation.

No excuse.

On July 23, the commission’s four Republicans wrote to the Democratic chairmen asking for a meeting. On Aug. 24 they had a video conference to demand the group reconvene and finish its work. It’s now September and there still seems to be no movement in what seems an obvious, uncontroversial direction.

Way back on June 12 — a dozen weeks ago — the governor signed an Open Meetings Act amendment allowing telephone or video conference meetings without a majority of members attending in person.

In late May the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules convened in person. Forgive the alphabet soup, but if the JCAR can meet, why can’t the JCELR?

It’s not like the rules committee is overly friendly to the administration. Its meeting in May forced Gov. J.B. Pritzker to withdraw controversial public health emergency rules. Regardless of that outcome, the simple fact a dozen lawmakers could safely meet to do their jobs forces us to ask why 16 folks on the ethics commission can’t.

Democrats on the commission responded to the Republicans’ conference with canned statements that served only to disappoint.

“The Commission will meet to submit the final report to the General Assembly in the coming weeks.”

When? Put a time and a date on that promise or it’s empty rhetoric.

“It’s unfortunate that our Republican colleagues have chosen to politicize this issue.”

Are we truly at a point where asking to meet and finish late work is political?