Friday, June 24, 2005

Month in Review, Explanations

Welcome to my regular readers and a special welcome to newcomers from Chicago Tribune and readers of Eric Zorn's notebook. Eric Zorn has recruited, or should I say drafted [Zorn being first and foremost of the liberal persuasion] me to participate in his online Month in Review panel.

Zorn’s blog tells you my choices [from Illinois public policy and political news items], including national issues rooted in Illinois, e.g., Senator Durbin's troubles]for Most Important news item, Winner, Loser, Over and Underreported and Next Month predictions, so my reasons, facts, arguments and rants in support of my assertions are included, below. The explanations for the six categories are included, below. The runner-up awards will follow in a separate posting, to appear on Friday afternoon, or before. After all, there is only so much genius that the human mind can absorb in one sitting. Moreover, runner-ups are only so important since as the cliché goes, “close,” only counts in horseshoes, and this surely ain’t that.
Explanations for Month in Review selections:
Most Important Story: Senator Durbin and Nazis, Gulags and Pol Pot:

Anybody who says this was not a big story has to be a doper, on the order of Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters. For Starters, Durbin is one of the few pols who can say he was both “above and below the fold,” of the Chicago Tribune, as happened this last week. See here for some critics' comments re the Durbin episode and here for Durbin's quasi apology.Durbin is essentially the Leader of the Democratic Party in the Free World’s supposedly most deliberative body, the U. S. Senate. Of course, it is a deliberative, thoughtful body for debating great ideas. Democrats just spent the last few months telling us that is why we need a filibuster and especially a judicial filibuster, notwithstanding the filibuster’s historic abuses to prevent the emergence of true civil rights for racial minorities in the United States [Yes, Senator Obama, to his credit, did note this slight problem with the historical use of the filibuster, but I did not hear any other Democrats do so].

Along comes Senator Durbin and it is not enough for him to argue there are some allegations of abuse, if not torture, at Guantanamo Bay. To make his point, to get a headline, to be worshiped by the Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party, he says, effectively, the U. S. is kind of like Nazi Germany, Pol Pot’s Cambodia and the Soviet Gulags, all wrapped up into one.

Yes, if there is torture by the U. S., that probably won’t help us win the war against terrorism. Stipulated. But, does anyone really think Durbin’s Nazi spin won’t be spun by Al Jazzera--. Headline: No 2 Democrat in U. S. concedes the U. S. Government is a Nazi led Gulag, looking to slaughter two million Muslims, just as Pol Pot slaughtered two million Cambodians. I think Al Jazzera could do that. Don’t you? Why give them that?

Durbin’s defenders argue: (1) his words were only one paragraph out of seven pages--Great, that will be an effective antidote to the Al Jazzera headline; (2) Lots of Republicans misuse the Nazi word, too, in other contexts-- Sure, say re Teri Schiavo, or something. And,.the consequences of that for terrorism would be? Yes, zero. Folks, we have to stay focused. There really is a war on terrorism. (3) Poor Dick Durbin was misunderstood. He didn’t know when he said the U. S. was like Nazi Germany anybody would take him literally—this one I love. Nobody really takes Dick seriously, so why should we blame him when they do.
Winner of the month- Rod Blagojevich, closes the deal with Speaker Mike and Emil, on time, and no new income or sales tax for year three of his four-year pledge.

You really have to admire Rod. Really, you gotta love the guy. Just when it appeared that overtime was certain and the Republicans would then beat up on him and exact their pound of flesh, with Emil and Speaker Mike joining in, Hot Rod wins. No overtime. No increase in income or sales taxes. Several hundred million new dollars for education [if you don’t count the pension stuff, which most in the population do not]. Conservative icon Tom Roeser is praising Hot Rod for expanding kidcare, or something. Big Time union SEIU makes robo calls supporting his education bill, even though the union supports a quite different bill. Rod, with a little help from his friends--in the legislature, gets the gun show loophole closed, without the destruction of the gun owner database that he doesn’t want and Senator Peter Roskam does.

The Republicans are left to whine about shorting the pensions. As Jack Conity effectively argued on Fox Chicago Perspectives a few weeks ago, so what! Most people think state government retirees had cushy jobs and now or soon will have cushy pensions, as did and do suburban and downstate teachers and school administrators [CTU is not affected by this]. The Sun-times and Chicago Tribune have been talking forever about the way teachers/administrators/and school boards scammed the system and the state by jacking up salaries artificially in the last four years of the teacher’s or administrator’s career to skew the pensions [state pensions are based on the four years for which the employees had the highest salaries], and finance that cost by state tax revenue, not local property taxes.

A lot of people say, these pensions aren’t ever going to be paid. The courts won’t enforce them, no matter what the State Constitution says. Does anybody really think the courts will force the legislators to raise taxes to pay these ridiculous pensions. Well, State Rep. Julie Hamos [D- Evanston, 18th Dist.] told me she does. Maybe State Rep. Kevin Joyce does. Democrats Joyce and Hamos and the Republicans voted against shorting the pensions. Politics does indeed make for strange bedfellows.

True, Blago didn’t make the above argument. He said his pension reforms would save enough money to warrant the reduction of pension payments this year by the state. Okay, so he was right for the wrong reason. And, his poll numbers are down a bit. Give him and Giangreco some time, and they will be back up.

The people would say Blago won this month. And, you know what, they would be right. Blago might even eventually steal my pension argument, above. That’s okay, I give it to Giangreco and him. I owe it to Pistol Pete, he has come on my show numerous times and taken substantial abuse. Of course, he throws a little my way, too. Indeed, even Blago came on my show once. He’s really not a bad guy. Okay, so he can't stand being in Springfield. Who could? Sure, some of my best friends live there. That doesn't mean I would.

And, then the Republicans whine they didn’t get any pork and the Ds did. Oh, my gosh, that will be effective with the voters. If only they had dispersed the pork more equally, then it would have been Okay?

Indeed, the Rs sounds like the Ds on the national stage. They bitch and bitch about Rod, but offer up little in terms of a plan. I have heard Rauschenberger suggest the state might save 1.8 billion dollars by a managed care plan for Medicaid. Well, if so, let’s see the plan. That is a good start, Steve, but you have to show us the plan.

I have heard Oberweis say he not only won’t raise taxes, but he will cut them. Good, Jim. That’s why God put Republicans on this earth—to cut taxes. But, to be convincing, you must state specifically where you will cut spending to match the revenue decreases. This is not the Federal arena. You are not running for the U. S. Senate again. You can’t run a deficit. Just like Oberweis Dairy and Oberweis Asset Fund, or whatever your multiple enterprises are called.

Jim, are you making the “strong supply side argument,” [as Art Laffer would put it] that if the state cuts the state income tax, the state sales tax and the Blago fee increases, the total state revenue will increase. If so, let’s see the plan. Show me the money! Indeed, show it to me this Sunday when you will be taping my show. But, please-- don’t try to bribe me-- We tape in Skokie, not in Chicago.

Don’t get me wrong, Oberweis, Rauschenberger or even Judy, not to mention the lesser lights, might beat Hot Rod, but this was his month, clear and away, notwithstanding his poll numbers. The guy has 16 months and at least 15 million dollars to raise his numbers- I don’t think he is breaking a sweat. Hell, even Pistol Pete Giangreco is taking a week or two, off. Not away from his Blackberry, of course, but he will be on another continent. How is that for confidence. Yes, Blago still has to deal with his administration's ethical "lapses," and pay to play. But, all in all, Blago is a winner this month. Big Time.
Loser- Mayor Daley, forced to acknowledge and act on his administration's systemic corruption problem-- no more just a few bad apples in the barrel.

Bob Crawford, Political Editor Emeritus at WBBM-780 AM radio and frequent guest on Chicago Tonight [including again last night]—and deservedly so, has been emphasizing, almost since I was a little boy, that Mayor Daley would not face up to the corruption all around and within the Daley Administration and acknowledge that he had and has “a systemic problem.”

You only solve such a problem by bringing in a New Chief of Staff, e.g., Huberman, who must look at each department and fire either the department heads who look corrupt, who are tolerating it and/or who don’t know how to deal with it. So, out went Rice in Water, Sanchez in Streets and Sans, Miguel d’Escoto at Transportation, City Inspector General Alexander Vroustouris and many lesser lights, including John Daley’s brother in law in ghost payrolling, others for selling heroin on the taxpayer’s dime on taxpayer property, and many, many others.

Importantly, when Rice in the Water Department was shown the door, Huberman said Rice, himself, was not doing anything wrong or corrupt, just wasn’t managing his department so as to avoid corruption by others. All right, boys and girls, who else do we know in the Daley administration who fits that description? Egads, the Mayor would argue he does. He is not involved in corruption, he says. He does not know about any corruption that swirls around him. He just put the people, or kept the people in place, who do.

For example, Mayor Daley says he kept the now criminally charged Don Tomczak in place because he did want to appear vindictive and fire someone who had not supported him for Mayor. So, Daley says, he kept Tomczak there for 16 years and Daley knew nothing about the illegal political and patronage operation Tomczak is alleged to have been running for years, and which benefited Daley, his brother-- Cook County Finance Committee Chairman John Daley, their 11th Ward operation, Daley’s favorite congressman and former fund raiser, Rahm Emanuel.

So, Daley knew nada. But, apparently Rice knew nada and yet Daley fired him. So, by the logic I learned at the University of Chicago, as did Daley’s [and Obama’s] political guru David Axerlod, and Daley’s CTA guru Frank Kruesi, Mayor Daley should fire Richard M. Daley.

As my guest, State Rep. candidate Judith-Rae Ross [D- Evanston, 17th Dist.] said in a different context, when I asked her that kind of question on my TV show, “it could be said.” [I love that phrase; it alone could win Judith Rae 1000 votes] Yes, and I am sure Cong. Jesse Jackson, Jr. might agree with that. It could be said: Daley should fire Daley. Or, maybe Jesse, Jr., should fire Mayor Daley.

So, yes, big time loser this month, Mayor Richard M. Daley. Another month or two, like this, and Jesse Jr. will be licking his chops, notwithstanding his new, svelte, slimmed down, getting ready for a fight appearance. When you lose that much weight, you should be able to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. [Just like Muhammed Ali] Will Jesse be able to sting Richie? We shall see.
Most Over-Reported Story- CTA Doomsday scenario.

Do you remember how many news stories there were near the end of May with reporters sobbing about those poor low income people who needed to get to their jobs and wouldn’t be able to if the CTA cut back on service, or raised their fares because the State would not bail out Frank Kruesi and his CTA? I don’t mean to minimize the disruption that such route reductions and fare increases might have. However, I would argue that the 54 million dollar CTA bail-out by the state was never in doubt.

Mayor Daley may not have the power, now, to get a casino which he can own and manage, and from which he can skim tax revenue off the top, a sort of Chicago, modern day Mo Green. The Mayor may not have the power to get his friend and fellow language abuser, “W”, to find another vocation, far, far away from Chicago for U. S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.

But, the one thing you can count on, Daley can beat up on large number of legislators, both within and outside of Chicago to get his share of mass transit subsidies. Also, Blago may fight Daley on a Daley owned or run casino. But, Blago is not going to fight on a CTA bail-out. Nor will Emil Jones. Nor will Speaker Mike. So who is not going to give Mayor Daley his annual tribute for the CTA? No one, that’s who. So, next time, spare us the sobbing bus riders. Sadly, that kind of a bailout always happens, minus reforms.
Most Under-Reported Story- The emerging Hot Republican Gubernatorial Primary between Rauschenberger, Oberweis and Topinka. Other Republican candidates likely to drop out or have little impact.

The Chicago mainstream media, when discussing state politics, will usually reserve about five percent of the time for Republicans. This is especially true for WTTW’s Chicago Week in Review. Joel and most of his guests are not Rs, don’t know many Rs and don’t think those who watch public TV care much about Rs. So why discuss Rs? And they don’t, unless they have to. Fox Chicago Perspectives is kind of the same way, as are Kay and Marin on 5. Flannery on 2 and Shaw on 7 are much fairer and balanced, but they don’t get much time, except for when the political season is intense. And the rest of the folks on 2 and 7, who dabble in politics, are pretty similar in bias and outlook to WTTW, 5 and Fox.

When Chicago Week’s panel discusses the Republican Guv Primary, collectively, they can’t, for the life of them, identify the eight actual or potential R Guv candidates. Here is a hint, folks, there are two moderates: Topinka and Gidwitz. Two downstate pretty much conservatives: Sen. Brady and Cong. LaHood. Four upstate conservatives: Sen. Rauschenberger, Jim Oberweis, Former State Sen. Pat O’Malley and DuPage County State’s Attorney Joe Birkett.

Yes, Gidwitz, who just announced his formal candidacy, will likely drop out after giving it a good shot. Even with what Ron will spend of his own and raise on his own, Gidwitz just CANNOT buy enough statewide name recognition. His message is unlikely to resonate with the majority of the Republican primary base, especially on social issues and on his reluctance to take a tax pledge. Similar statewide name recognition problems exist with downstaters LaHood and Brady, although both have their own local geographic bases. Birkett was a good AG candidate, but he is not ready to run in GUV race. O’Malley’s base has splintered away from him since his 2002 29% Guv race, and his failure to endorse Jim Ryan is remembered by many active in the Republican primary. He can’t put it together in the next five months.

So, by process of elimination, that leaves you Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, Senator Steve Rauschenberger and businessman Jim Oberweis. This could be an interesting race. Topinka has both name recognition and a reputation has a good campaigner. However, she is extremely moderate, if you know what I mean. She may also be dogged by the reputation of having been way too close to George Ryan, if you go back some years.

Topinka also upset a lot of people by the way she handled the Jack Ryan/Alan Keyes mess as State GOP Chairman. However, with at least two conservatives splitting the heavily conservative Republican Primary base, Topinka has a shot, but not a great one. Her own polls, released in large part through the sympathetic eyes of Rich Miller and Lynn Sweet, are not reliable, and they apparently have not been fully disclosed to those two and certainly not to the press at large. At this point, the polls reflect Topinka’s relatively high name recognition and Blago’s low numbers. As the campaign rolls on, Topinka’s name recognition advantage relative to her Republican primary competitors will decline.

Judy might not run, making the race a very interesting Oberweis- Rauschenberger match-up. Oberweis has had a propensity to put his foot in his mouth, first by likening in some respect the Taliban and Pro-Lifers. Second, by overstating the illegal immigration issues. On the other hand, Oberweis has gotten much more focused on tax cuts, jobs, and economic growth as the way to lift all boats. Rauschenberger said he would focus more, at this stage of the game, on the big, priority, strategic issues. He does need to bring his issues together into a strategic, focused, campaign style approach. And, the edit boards love Rauschenberger and always will.

Oberweis currently projects more charisma, energy and message discipline; Rauschenberger has the experience, breadth of knowledge on the issues and budget, gravitas and the apparent ability to reach across to Democrats and Independents. Indeed, some in the conservative primary base think Rauschenberger is thinking too much about reaching out in the general election to independents and not enough about the wishes of the Republican base.

An Oberweis, Rauschenberger and Topinka battle is an interesting race and by August, that may be what we have.
Story to Watch next month—State’s Attorney Dick Devine takes a serious look at a run for Governor.

The buzz over the last few months was that Daley told Devine he would not be willing to stick his neck out for Dick, if he took on Blago. However, all Devine will say is that he will be discussing with his family a possible run against Blago and decide that in the Labor Day time period. In short, Devine is far from closing the door on a run for Guv. Devine is not up for State's Attorney in 2006, so he has a free bite at the apple.

Devine brings a lot of gravitas to the race, which Hot Rod clearly lacks, what with his testicular virility, etc. The liberal Democratic base may not warm up to Dick Devine because of his views of favoring lifting the capital punishment moratorium and also, his alleged involvement in wrongful convictions, going back to his days as Cook County States Attorney Daley’s First Assistant.

On the other hand, Devine has a seriousness of purpose that Blago seems to lack and that attribute should be quite attractive to the Democratic Primary base- especially those who want to see good programs developed, not pledges that promise not to raise taxes.

If Devine gets in, he could give Blago a run for his money-- if Devine can assemble some money, too.
Jeff Berkowitz, Host and Producer of Public Affairs and an Executive Recruiter doing Legal Search, can be reached at .