Thursday, June 21, 2007

Former Attorney General Jim Ryan and Ralph Martire: Strange Bedfellows?

Jeff Berkowitz: Implicitly, you support the notion of a 5.5 billion dollar net increase in taxes, right?

Former Republican Attorney General Jim Ryan: Right. In principle, I support HB 750, right.
Jeff Berkowitz: Have you looked at the CTBA Board and would you say it is a balanced board.

Jim Ryan: Well, I would say it is certainly a more liberal and Democratic leaning board, yeah.

Martire's CTBA, Balanced and Bi-Partisan?

Ralph Martire, Executive Director of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability (“CTBA”), often portrays his organization as balanced and bi-partisan. However, this past Sunday night, when Martire was a guest on Tom Roeser’s Political Shootout radio program [WLS, 890 AM Radio, 8:00 pm], Tom Roeser argued that despite a few token Republicans [RINOs?] on the CTBA Board, CTBA is a organization dominated by liberals. Tom supported that assertion by stating that the Board included the Presidents of the Illinois AFL-CIO and the Illinois Federation of Teachers, as well as the Legislative Director of SEIU, Local 1 and the Director of Research and Employee Benefits for AFSCME council 31. See here [Martire,Topinka and Tax Swaps] and also, here.

Martire himself almost won a seat on the Cook County Board, running as the darling of the Lake Front liberals, e.g., Tax Swapper Dawn Clark Netsch, and coming in second in his 1998 Democratic Primary against the winner and candidate of the Regular Democratic Organization, Mike Quigley, as well as three other candidates. Martire, over the years, has supported and worked for a long list of Democrat, liberal candidates.

Martire's CTBA, a shill for Unions?

Roeser argued further that Martire’s group is a “Pro-Union, Pro-Teachers’ Union, special interest group in the same way that the Illinois State Chamber of Commerce and the Illinois Manufacturers Association are pro-business special interest groups. Indeed, Martire brags about being the architect of the Tax Swap HB 750 legislation for Senator Meeks, legislation which is sponsored and supported by many others, including the teachers unions.

GRT and HB 750: Big differences for unions and Martire?

Martire, sounding a bit indignant, fired back that the CTBA took a stand against the Gross Receipts Tax ("GRT"), which he said the unions supported. Of course, that argument is a bit weak as the state house voted 107-0, in a non binding vote, against the GRT. Would Martire argue that, based on that vote, we could infer that none of those 107 state reps. are aligned with teachers’ unions or unions, more generally.

Martire, Political Shoot-out and Full Disclosure

Further, Martire failed to disclose to the Roeser radio audience that the CTBA’s website previously cited, with apparent approval, a proposal to modify the GRT by lowering the tax rate for transactions and supplementing the GRT with an income tax increase. One imagines the unions, in general, would not be terribly opposed to that type of a modified GRT.

Indeed, it appears that union opposition to the GRT was more about whether the GRT could be passed than any great philosophical dispute with CTBA. In other words, the CTBA and unions were, in this instance, similar to siblings in the same family who all wanted a massive tax increase and simply differed in their opinion as to which kind of tax was politically feasible. Does Martire contend that the unions really care if Martire’s HB750 brought six billion dollars into the state’s coffers, as opposed to the GRT bringing in six billion dollars. Doubtful. If that is all Martire has, it would appear Roeser wins his argument that Martire is as much a shill for unions as the Chamber and IMA are for business.

Martire trots out his prize catch: former Attorney General Jim Ryan

But, Martire had more ammo and he used it. During the next show break on Political Shoot-out, Martire told Roeser that Jim Ryan is on the CTBA Board and Tom disclosed that for Ralph when the show resumed. Roeser said that Jim Ryan was “a good Republican,” and that “Ralph wanted to point out …that it is not a left wing commie organization when you have a guy like that on your Board,” and the show moved on.

Jim Ryan's decision to support Martire, CBTA and HB 750

However, Ryan’s decision to join CTBA does seem puzzling. Unlike the one or two other clearly identifiable Republicans on the CTBA board [a CTBA staffer advised Public Affairs that CTBA is not aware of the party affiliation of its board members], Jim Ryan has generally been thought to be a conservative. And, conservatives are not generally known for supporting massive tax increases. [As an aside, since Jim Ryan joined the CTBA board months ago, why isn’t Ryan listed as a board member on the CTBA web site? A CTBA staffer advised Public Affairs that the omission is simply a matter of insufficient staff time to make the change during the last few months that Ryan has been on the board.]

Jim Ryan's 2002 Run for Governor

Yet, Jim Ryan has his critics and doubters. When he ran in 2002 in the Republican Gubernatorial Primary, Jim Ryan drew vigorous opposition from the right [Senator Pat O’Malley] as well as from the left [Lt. Gov. Corinne Wood], winning that race with 44% of the vote, with the remainder being split fairly evenly between his competitors, perhaps putting Jim in the position as a centrist.

When Jim Ryan ran for Governor in the general election against Rod Blagojevich, perhaps the greatest negative Jim had was that he had the misfortune to have the same last name as then Governor George Ryan, who had the stench of corruption all around him and perhaps on him during Jim Ryan’s campaign. George Ryan, of course, was indicted and convicted of public corruption charges after leaving office.

On economic matters, there were not many who labeled Jim Ryan as a tax increaser and he states, below, that he had taken the same pledge, in 2002, as Rod not to raise the income or sales tax.

Jim Ryan, Ralph Martire and School Choice

Moreover, Jim Ryan was quite positive about Charter Schools in 2002, while Martire seems, at best, lukewarm on that bit of reform [although he may claim otherwise]. Further, Martire is almost “a man possessed,” in his opposition to school vouchers-school choice. This is in sharp contrast to his new board member, Jim Ryan, who speaks favorably about the concept of school vouchers, below.

So, what gives? Why would Jim Ryan sign up with Ralph Martire and CTBA? It is certainly not for political reasons as he said he is “out of politics now.” Former Illinois Attorney General and DuPage County State’s Attorney Jim Ryan is now a Distinguished Fellow with Benedictine University, spending his time teaching classes, organizing and running symposia and variety of other tasks devoted to promoting and stimulating discussion of public policy issues and getting students involved in government, politics and public policy.

Jim Ryan to Rod Blagojevich, "Have you no Shame?"

Both in and out of politics, Jim Ryan has always been known for his measured speech, civility and integrity. Yet, he can be as tough, as anyone, when warranted. The most memorable exchange from the 2002 Gubernatorial campaign was when Jim Ryan turned to then Democratic candidate Rod Blagojevich at the WTTW debate and said, with the two candidates literally inches from each other and in response to what Jim Ryan thought were baseless assertions by Blagojevich, “Have you no shame, Rod.” For a moment, Rod seemed stunned and speechless. For a moment, it seemed as if Jim Ryan , might follow-up by punching Rod in the face. He didn’t and, as they say, the rest is history.

Jim Ryan signs up with Ralph Martire and CTBA. Why?

So, again, why would Jim Ryan sign up with Ralph Martire and CTBA?
We discuss, you decide. Take a listen to excerpts of Berkowitz’s phone interview with Jim Ryan on Tuesday.

Martire woos Jim Ryan:

Jim Ryan: I am on the Board. Ralph asked me a few months ago and I had had Ralph out to the University [Benedictine] a couple of times—I hosted a forum on Education Finance Reform, a year ago, or so, and the bill he talked about was the bill he wrote for Senator Meeks. Then, I had him speak for one of my classes at the University and he asked me to join the Board and I said I would.

Jim Ryan (Cont): “I did support HB750, [although] I think it is a moot issue…” “I think the idea of some permanent revenue stream for education and ultimately for health care is very important for our state and I do think we have a revenue problem…” “We still have…probably over a three billion dollar budget deficit again in the State…”

Jim Ryan: Someone has to bite the bullet

Jim Ryan(cont): I am out of politics…but the Governor should…do everything in his power to reduce waste and unnecessary spending but even if he did that… I still think that it is ultimately not going to be enough money; we have, we at least did have, about 1.6 million people in the state without health insurance. I think that is a big problem. I did make the same pledge that he [Blagojevich] made during the campaign, which was not to raise general taxes, but it was also with the idea that you have to go in and ferret out waste and his administration has been criticized by the Auditor General for a lot of things so I just think we keep deferring, we keep putting off and borrowing and borrowing and never addressing the real needs of our state and I think someone has got to bite the bullet and do that.

Jim Ryan supports a 5.5 billion dollar tax increase

Jeff Berkowitz: As a member of the CTBA Board and I realize you are saying that legislation doesn’t generally go thru exactly as proposed, if somebody says to you that Board is supporting HB 750

Jim Ryan: I am comfortable saying I support it.

Jeff Berkowitz: Implicitly, you support the notion of a 5.5 billion dollar net increase in taxes, right?

Jim Ryan: Right. In principle, I support HB 750, right.

Jim Ryan and Charter Schools:

Jeff Berkowitz: Some say if you are going to spend more on education, you should have true reform-

Jim Ryan: I agree with that.

Jeff Berkowitz: And, one type of reform would be lifting the cap on the number of charter schools, right now they are capped at 30 in Chicago and 60 across the State. Some would like to remove the caps completely and that might be one part of a trade for more spending. Would you agree with that?

Jim Ryan: Yes.

Jeff Berkowitz: Unlimited? Cities and other areas in Illinois could have as many charter schools as they wanted?

Jim Ryan I don’t know about lifting it and having no cap but I certainly think education reform should be part and parcel of giving education more money. And, I think charter schools appear to be working so I think that’s a good idea.

Jim Ryan and School Vouchers:

Jeff Berkowitz: What about school vouchers, school. Let people in Chicago take their total tax expenditures of about $12,000 per kid per year…would you be in favor of a school voucher that allowed parents to take that $12,000 and [spend it at the school of their choice].

Jim Ryan: I think school vouchers make sense but whether or not this State, this legislature, being realistic—I don’t know that it is ever going to happen but I am not philosophically against it.

Jeff Berkowitz: But, Ralph Martire, is he the Executive Director of the CTBA?

Jim Ryan: Yes.

Martire, Jim Ryan and School Vouchers, an uneasy Marriage? :

Jeff Berkowitz: You know, he is unequivocally opposed to school vouchers. I think it would be fair to say Martire is virulently opposed

Jim Ryan: Yes.

Jeff Berkowitz: He argued vigorously against school vouchers on my show. So, does that give you some discomfort about going on the CTBA board?

Jim Ryan: No, I admire and respect Ralph a lot…That doesn’t mean we are going to agree on every issue…Whether he is or isn’t for vouchers, the idea of giving parents choices is a good idea—whether or not it will ever happen—when I was running, I just concluded that with the unions and the number of Democrats we have in this state, it is unlikely.

Jim Ryan and the Heartland Institute Board?

Jeff Berkowitz: Well, would you go on the Board, say, of the Heartland Institute, which actively promotes school vouchers and school choice? If they wanted you, would you go on that Board to show that you are balanced?

Jim Ryan: I think being on the Board, Ralph knows this, doesn’t mean that I sign off on everything Ralph agrees on—I mean that would be silly. I am 61 years old. He knows that is not going to happen.

Jim Ryan's decision to join CTBA Board :

Jeff Berkowitz: What does it mean being on that Board. What are your obligations?

Jim Ryan: Attend the meetings. Voice my opinion when they want it or when I think I need to say something, but I have only been to a couple of meetings. I hope to be active and to be able to make a contribution.

Jeff Berkowitz: What’s the primary criteria when you make the choice to be on a Board like that, or not?

Jim Ryan: Well, first of all I think Ralph is a smart guy, I think he is honest and I was impressed with him [when he was] at the University. He asked if I would do this, participate and I said I would and I think it is important for the Board to have some balance.

Martire's CTBA, liberal and Democratic leaning

Jeff Berkowitz: Have you looked at the CTBA Board and would you say it is a balanced board.

Jim Ryan: Well, I would say it is certainly a more liberal and Democratic leaning board, yeah.

Jeff Berkowitz: So, do you think you are providing balance by putting yourself on the Board?

Jim Ryan: Only time will tell. I hope so.

Jeff Berkowitz: Is that your effort? To provide some balance?

Jim Ryan: I am just going to say what I believe. And, whether Republicans like it, that’s fine. And, if they don’t, they don’t. But, the Republican Party doesn’t agree on a lot of issues. People in the Republican Party [that is].
Jeff Berkowitz phone interview with former Attorney General Jim Ryan, June 19, 2007
Jeff Berkowitz, Show Host/Producer of "Public Affairs," and Executive Legal Recruiter doing legal search can be reached at You may watch "Public Affairs," shows with Presidential Candidates Obama, McCain, Giuliani and Cox and many other pols at