It’s unlikely that President Obama will return to Illinois after he finishes his tenure in the White House, but he obviously has no qualms about ruining the state for the rest of us.
If you haven’t noticed, Illinois has been locked in a budget stranglehold since last July, with the Republican governor, Bruce Rauner, and Democratic party leaders at each others throats over the state’s insane spending problems and multi-billion dollar shortfall. Speaker of the Illinois House Michael Madigan is the Governor’s main opponent, wielding massive union- and crony-backed influence built from decades in power, against any of the governor’s efforts at reform – pension or otherwise.
Thus far, though, Madigan has been prevented from simply overriding the governor and instituting his plan to do business in Illinois the way its always been done – at a huge deficit and with massive kickbacks to public sector employee unions – because of one man, Rep. Ken Dunkin, a Democrat who has broken ranks with Madigan, declaring that he works for the people of Illinois and not his overbearing party leadership. Dunkin’s defection has left the Speaker short of the votes he would need to run roughshod over Rauner’s reform efforts.
Dunkin’s absence from Springfield—Dunkin never has offered a full explanation, but loudly declared afterwords,”I don’t work for Mike Madigan”—left the speaker without the votes to override a veto of a bill designed to limit Rauner’s control of collective bargaining with state employee unions. Two other Democrats also failed to support the override, but that was only after Dunkin was absent from Springfield on the day of the vote, reportedly on a family trip.
Dunkin’s absence also left Madigan short of the votes needed to override Rauner vetoes of spending measures covering social services and other areas.
He’s also voted explicitly with the GOP elsewhere. And Mike Madigan doesn’t tolerate rebellion.
Now, there are other defectors, but Dunkin, whose gerrymandered district is 4-to-1 Democratic, is the easiest to pick off, and Illinois Democrats immediately pushed in a primary challenger. But Dunkin’s independent thinking has paid off: he’s gotten more than a million from groups across Illinois and beyond, backing his effort to upturn Madigan’s reign. If he succeeds, winning re-election over Madigan’s considerable force, he will, ostensibly, break the stranglehold, encouraging others to challenge the powerful speaker.
But he won’t get away with it that easily. Today, we get the news that, although the President isn’t weighing in on many races, he’s weighing in on Dunkins. In favor of the challenger.
In a rare political move, President Barack Obama has inserted himself in a Democratic state legislative primary race in his home state, backing challenger Juliana Stratton over Rep. Ken Dunkin of Chicago.
In a TV and radio ad, Obama says he learned from his days in Chicago that “follow-through is everything.”
“The people of Chicago deserve leaders who follow through. Juliana Stratton has spent her career serving our community, improving the juvenile justice system and protecting public safety,” Obama says in the TV ad.
“Juliana will fight to get guns off our streets and fight for tougher penalties for violent offenders. I’m Barack Obama. I’m asking you to vote for Democrat Juliana Stratton for state representative,” the ad says.
Stratton is the union-backed opponent challenging Dunkin, who has been getting campaign help from allies of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. Dunkin has broken ranks with Democrats on several Illinois House votes, denying House Speaker Michael Madigan a 71-vote veto-proof majority.
In terms of policy, there’s no real difference between Stratton and Dunkin. I mean, it’s not as though Dunkin is some sort of conservative Republican with a social agenda, or who doesn’t support greater regulations on guns or would somehow challenge the state’s liberal schemes anywhere but on budget. But Stratton is aligned with Madigan, and with the public sector employee unions who both support Madigan, and understand their gravy train will come to an end once the process of budget reform in Illinois begins.
And so, enter Barack Obama on Stratton’s side, paying back favors, no doubt, to Michael Madigan and the Democratic machine that promoted him routinely. The sitting American President is now meddling in a state legislative primary race – an absolutely unheard of action – just to keep a petty Illinois Democratic dictator in power and to prevent the state from getting some much needed fiscal relief. It’s patently absurd.
But so is Illinois, I suppose.