Commentary Magazine


Topic: Pat Quinn

Battle for Fiscal Sanity Moves to Illinois

In the past few years, public-sector unions have faced severe challenges to their ability to dictate pension and benefit packages to states and municipalities that are sinking the country in a sea of debt. In Indiana, Ohio, New Jersey, and especially Wisconsin, Republican governors took on the unions with varying degrees of success. But after the victory of Bruce Rauner in the Illinois GOP primary on Tuesday, the prospect of another such confrontation in President Obama’s home base has turned the governor’s race in that very blue state into one of the most interesting elections of 2014.

Rauner is a millionaire businessman who has made reform of the state’s out-of-control spending policies the centerpiece of his campaign to unseat incumbent Democrat Pat Quinn. In order to win the Republican nomination, Rauner had to fend off a tough challenge from a veteran state senator who was the beneficiary of a strategic decision by the unions to try and nip the challenge to their state gravy train in the bud. But unlike other examples in which liberal Democrats have been able to pick their GOP opponents by helping weak Republicans knock off strong general-election candidates (i.e. Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill’s clever gambit in which she helped the hapless Todd Akin become her opponent in 2012), this time the trick didn’t work.

As a result of Rauner’s primary win, Illinois will provide the country with a test case in which we will see whether the Democrats’ effort to make income inequality the central issue of the election can prevail over Rauner’s attempt to clean up a corrupt system in which unions have been able to raid the state treasury at will. At stake is the question of whether the cause of restoring fiscal sanity is one that is powerful enough to overturn the political balance of power in Illinois.

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In the past few years, public-sector unions have faced severe challenges to their ability to dictate pension and benefit packages to states and municipalities that are sinking the country in a sea of debt. In Indiana, Ohio, New Jersey, and especially Wisconsin, Republican governors took on the unions with varying degrees of success. But after the victory of Bruce Rauner in the Illinois GOP primary on Tuesday, the prospect of another such confrontation in President Obama’s home base has turned the governor’s race in that very blue state into one of the most interesting elections of 2014.

Rauner is a millionaire businessman who has made reform of the state’s out-of-control spending policies the centerpiece of his campaign to unseat incumbent Democrat Pat Quinn. In order to win the Republican nomination, Rauner had to fend off a tough challenge from a veteran state senator who was the beneficiary of a strategic decision by the unions to try and nip the challenge to their state gravy train in the bud. But unlike other examples in which liberal Democrats have been able to pick their GOP opponents by helping weak Republicans knock off strong general-election candidates (i.e. Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill’s clever gambit in which she helped the hapless Todd Akin become her opponent in 2012), this time the trick didn’t work.

As a result of Rauner’s primary win, Illinois will provide the country with a test case in which we will see whether the Democrats’ effort to make income inequality the central issue of the election can prevail over Rauner’s attempt to clean up a corrupt system in which unions have been able to raid the state treasury at will. At stake is the question of whether the cause of restoring fiscal sanity is one that is powerful enough to overturn the political balance of power in Illinois.

Rauner’s task in this race is a daunting one. Democrats have an overwhelming registration advantage in Illinois and the GOP has lost the last three gubernatorial elections. Moreover, Rauner poses a direct challenge to the state’s political establishment that will provoke a strong response not only from the unions but a Democratic machine that knows it has a lot to lose if the GOP nominee prevails.

His problems are further compounded by the fact that unlike other successful Republican governors like Mitch Daniels in Indiana, Scott Walker in Wisconsin, John Kasich in Ohio, and Chris Christie in New Jersey, Rauner is a political novice. While he cultivates an ordinary guy persona, as a wealthy businessman rather than a middle-class politician he must also face comparisons with Mitt Romney. As with President Obama’s reelection effort in 2012, Rauner’s wealth plays right into the Democratic playbook in which the GOP can be portrayed as insensitive to the needs of the middle class and the poor. Quinn’s primary night invocation of the minimum wage—Obama’s issue of the moment—indicates that this is exactly how the Democrats intend to take down Rauner.

But in a state whose political class is far more corrupt than most of the counterparts elsewhere, Rauner’s outsider status may prove impervious to the sort of class warfare tactics that have destroyed other Republicans. Moreover, by seizing the issue of taming the public-sector unions and championing lower taxes, Rauner may have found a political sweet spot that will enable him to appeal to middle and working class Democrats and independents. In a year in which big government boondoggles like ObamaCare will be front and center and Obama’s popularity has plummeted, it may be the ideal moment for a candidate who is promising to sweep Springfield clean.

While we are always rightly cautioned about over-interpreting midterm elections, a Rauner win would be a significant and perhaps final defeat for a union movement that has seen its power decline nationwide. Having failed to exact revenge on Scott Walker for demolishing union power in Wisconsin in the 2012 recall vote and with him a favorite for reelection this year, the union movement’s focus will be on stopping Rauner even if means helping a Democrat like Quinn who has not always done their bidding. If they fail, it will not only be a sign that Republicans can win on the issue of clipping back the power of unions even in a state where they have always been powerful, but a significant win for the cause of fiscal reform.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

The latest Rasmussen poll provides a warning for incumbent Democratic lawmakers: “Eighty-three percent (83%) of Americans say the size of the federal budget deficit is due more to the unwillingness of politicians to cut government spending than to the reluctance of taxpayers to pay more in taxes. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that just nine percent (9%) of adults put more blame on the unwillingness of taxpayers to pay more in taxes.”

Sen. Ben Nelson may wind up as the only Democrat without a special deal on health care: “With the exception of Nebraska Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson’s ‘Cornhusker Kickback,’ which alienated independent voters and came to symbolize an out-of-touch Washington, none of the other narrow provisions that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid inserted into the bill appear to be in any kind of danger as Democrats try to figure out the way ahead.”  But then ObamaCare isn’t likely to go anywhere, and that will spare Nelson further embarrassment.

I suppose she’s nervous: “Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) defended her role in the $300 million ‘Louisiana Purchase’ Thursday, saying she attached it to the healthcare bill at Gov. Bobby Jindal’s (R-La.) request and that it was not a condition of her support for the bill. Landrieu used a floor speech, press conference and private e-mails from Jindal to fire back against critics of the $300 million-plus in Medicaid funds that became known as the ‘Louisiana Purchase.’” I think when reporters repeat “Louisiana Purchase” three times in a short news account, Landrieu’s got an uphill battle.

From the Cook Political Report: “Charlie Cook agrees with House Editor David Wasserman’s assessment of a 25-35 seat pickup for the GOP in the House, but sets his personal line for the Senate at a 5-7 seat switch for Republicans. For the first time this cycle, he sees a mathematical, although still highly unlikely possibility, of a ten-seat gain and majority change in the Senate.”

Steven Calabresi: “I think the Tea Party movement is going to be and deserves to be a big factor in the 2010 midterm elections because it rejects both the socialism of the Obama Administration and the Big Government conservatism of many Republican officeholders between 2000 and 2008.”

Obama is down to 46 percent favorable/47 percent unfavorable in the latest Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll. Voters have an equally favorable view of the Democratic and Republican parties (both 42 percent approval). More people have a favorable opinion of the Tea Party movement (35 percent) than of Nancy Pelosi (24 percent).

Nathan Diament of the Orthodox Union explains one reason why Orthodox Jews dislike Obama so: “In the context of the Orthodox where the majority in the community identify with the settlement movement in Israel, there’s a great deal of tension, let alone opposition, to the president’s efforts last year to push Israel to undertake a settlement freeze.” (h/t Ben Smith)

I don’t think the Obami are going to win this fight: “The ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., dismissed the White House’s call for him to apologize for alleging that the administration leaked information about Umar Farouk Abdulmutalab for political reasons. ‘After telling me to keep my mouth shut, the White House discloses sensitive information in an effort to defend a dangerous and unpopular decision to Mirandize Abdulmutallab and I’m supposed to apologize?’ Sen. Bond said in a paper statement today.

Oops. Fellas, always check the rap sheet: “On the same day Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn officially claimed the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, he found out that his newly-minted running mate has a rap sheet that includes alleged domestic battery and tax evasion. The revelation has shocked Democrats, leading to worries that his presence could taint the entire statewide ticket.”

The latest Rasmussen poll provides a warning for incumbent Democratic lawmakers: “Eighty-three percent (83%) of Americans say the size of the federal budget deficit is due more to the unwillingness of politicians to cut government spending than to the reluctance of taxpayers to pay more in taxes. A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that just nine percent (9%) of adults put more blame on the unwillingness of taxpayers to pay more in taxes.”

Sen. Ben Nelson may wind up as the only Democrat without a special deal on health care: “With the exception of Nebraska Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson’s ‘Cornhusker Kickback,’ which alienated independent voters and came to symbolize an out-of-touch Washington, none of the other narrow provisions that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid inserted into the bill appear to be in any kind of danger as Democrats try to figure out the way ahead.”  But then ObamaCare isn’t likely to go anywhere, and that will spare Nelson further embarrassment.

I suppose she’s nervous: “Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) defended her role in the $300 million ‘Louisiana Purchase’ Thursday, saying she attached it to the healthcare bill at Gov. Bobby Jindal’s (R-La.) request and that it was not a condition of her support for the bill. Landrieu used a floor speech, press conference and private e-mails from Jindal to fire back against critics of the $300 million-plus in Medicaid funds that became known as the ‘Louisiana Purchase.’” I think when reporters repeat “Louisiana Purchase” three times in a short news account, Landrieu’s got an uphill battle.

From the Cook Political Report: “Charlie Cook agrees with House Editor David Wasserman’s assessment of a 25-35 seat pickup for the GOP in the House, but sets his personal line for the Senate at a 5-7 seat switch for Republicans. For the first time this cycle, he sees a mathematical, although still highly unlikely possibility, of a ten-seat gain and majority change in the Senate.”

Steven Calabresi: “I think the Tea Party movement is going to be and deserves to be a big factor in the 2010 midterm elections because it rejects both the socialism of the Obama Administration and the Big Government conservatism of many Republican officeholders between 2000 and 2008.”

Obama is down to 46 percent favorable/47 percent unfavorable in the latest Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll. Voters have an equally favorable view of the Democratic and Republican parties (both 42 percent approval). More people have a favorable opinion of the Tea Party movement (35 percent) than of Nancy Pelosi (24 percent).

Nathan Diament of the Orthodox Union explains one reason why Orthodox Jews dislike Obama so: “In the context of the Orthodox where the majority in the community identify with the settlement movement in Israel, there’s a great deal of tension, let alone opposition, to the president’s efforts last year to push Israel to undertake a settlement freeze.” (h/t Ben Smith)

I don’t think the Obami are going to win this fight: “The ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., dismissed the White House’s call for him to apologize for alleging that the administration leaked information about Umar Farouk Abdulmutalab for political reasons. ‘After telling me to keep my mouth shut, the White House discloses sensitive information in an effort to defend a dangerous and unpopular decision to Mirandize Abdulmutallab and I’m supposed to apologize?’ Sen. Bond said in a paper statement today.

Oops. Fellas, always check the rap sheet: “On the same day Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn officially claimed the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, he found out that his newly-minted running mate has a rap sheet that includes alleged domestic battery and tax evasion. The revelation has shocked Democrats, leading to worries that his presence could taint the entire statewide ticket.”

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Maybe Obama Shouldn’t Go Home

Illinois politics is nothing if not entertaining. Both the Democratic and Republican gubernatorial primary races are up in the air, with a few hundred votes separating the top GOP finishers and Democratic Governor Pat Quinn declaring victory, though his opponent had not conceded when the president called both yesterday. Then there is the Democratic Lieut. Governor nominee:

The newly minted Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor said Wednesday he doesn’t think a 2005 domestic battery arrest should hurt him in the fall general election, although records in the case raise questions about his version of events. Scott Lee Cohen, a pawn broker who was the surprise winner in the little-publicized contest among half a dozen candidates, had previously disclosed the arrest. He described it Wednesday as an argument with his drunken girlfriend and said he didn’t lay a hand on her, though she called the police and had him taken into custody.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate race is off with a bang. At a unity breakfast Wednesday, this Sun-Times report tells us, the GOP state party chair got things off to a flying start when he cheered nominee Mark Kirk and “derided Kirk’s Democratic opponent Alexi Giannoulias as ‘a 33-year-old with less than one term in office, whose only life experience is serving as an officer in his family’s bank, which is on the verge of financial collapse. As treasurer, he lost $150 million of our children’s college savings.’” There is, he explained, quite a lot of material for Kirk to work with:

“With that record, even Tony Rezko is going to stop doing his business in the bank.”

Republicans wasted no time in putting up an attack ad which savages Giannoulias about loans he made from his family’s bank to people linked with organized crime — loans he has since told the Sun-Times, that in hindsight, knowing what he knows now, he would not have made. Kirk criticized Giannoulias for dodging questions about those loans on Wednesday morning news shows.

“I think David Hoffman was right in everything he said about the bank,” Kirk said today, referring to Giannoulias primary opponent David Hoffman.

No wonder the New York Times confesses to its readers that the Giannoulias-Kirk matchup is “setting off a new round of worrying among Democrats that the reliably Democratic seat might be picked off by Republicans in November.”

Given all that, I suspect that this is one state Obama might want to steer clear of, even though his former seat is at stake. And with Obama’s track record in New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts, there is no guarantee that the president would prove much help to Giannoulias. Indeed, his appearance in those states seemed only to gin up the Republican base and highlight the connection between the Democratic candidates and the increasingly unpopular national Democratic agenda. With a polished opponent, the upcoming trial of former governor Rod Blogojevich, a load of Tony Soprano–type oppo ads waiting to be launched against him, and a “challenging” atmosphere for Democrats, Giannoulias probably has his hands full without a presidential visit.

Illinois politics is nothing if not entertaining. Both the Democratic and Republican gubernatorial primary races are up in the air, with a few hundred votes separating the top GOP finishers and Democratic Governor Pat Quinn declaring victory, though his opponent had not conceded when the president called both yesterday. Then there is the Democratic Lieut. Governor nominee:

The newly minted Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor said Wednesday he doesn’t think a 2005 domestic battery arrest should hurt him in the fall general election, although records in the case raise questions about his version of events. Scott Lee Cohen, a pawn broker who was the surprise winner in the little-publicized contest among half a dozen candidates, had previously disclosed the arrest. He described it Wednesday as an argument with his drunken girlfriend and said he didn’t lay a hand on her, though she called the police and had him taken into custody.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate race is off with a bang. At a unity breakfast Wednesday, this Sun-Times report tells us, the GOP state party chair got things off to a flying start when he cheered nominee Mark Kirk and “derided Kirk’s Democratic opponent Alexi Giannoulias as ‘a 33-year-old with less than one term in office, whose only life experience is serving as an officer in his family’s bank, which is on the verge of financial collapse. As treasurer, he lost $150 million of our children’s college savings.’” There is, he explained, quite a lot of material for Kirk to work with:

“With that record, even Tony Rezko is going to stop doing his business in the bank.”

Republicans wasted no time in putting up an attack ad which savages Giannoulias about loans he made from his family’s bank to people linked with organized crime — loans he has since told the Sun-Times, that in hindsight, knowing what he knows now, he would not have made. Kirk criticized Giannoulias for dodging questions about those loans on Wednesday morning news shows.

“I think David Hoffman was right in everything he said about the bank,” Kirk said today, referring to Giannoulias primary opponent David Hoffman.

No wonder the New York Times confesses to its readers that the Giannoulias-Kirk matchup is “setting off a new round of worrying among Democrats that the reliably Democratic seat might be picked off by Republicans in November.”

Given all that, I suspect that this is one state Obama might want to steer clear of, even though his former seat is at stake. And with Obama’s track record in New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts, there is no guarantee that the president would prove much help to Giannoulias. Indeed, his appearance in those states seemed only to gin up the Republican base and highlight the connection between the Democratic candidates and the increasingly unpopular national Democratic agenda. With a polished opponent, the upcoming trial of former governor Rod Blogojevich, a load of Tony Soprano–type oppo ads waiting to be launched against him, and a “challenging” atmosphere for Democrats, Giannoulias probably has his hands full without a presidential visit.

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So Much for Home State Favors

The Obami have a holiday surprise for the president’s home state. Lynn Sweet reports:

Barring a last minute glitch, the Obama White House has settled on an Illinois prison to house detainees now at the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba, sources close to the decision told the Chicago Sun-Times. An announcement is expected shortly from the Obama administration to start the process to acquire the nearly vacant Thomson Correctional Center in northwestern Illinois.A leaked memo prepared by administration officials prompted speculation that the decision was finalized. An administration official said that memo was a draft and not to read anything into its existence because paperwork is readied just in case.

The memo declares that Guantanamo detainees will be transferred “as expeditiously as possible” to Illinois’ s Thomson Correction Center.

Sen. Dick Durbin and Gov. Pat Quinn say they are delighted, suggesting it will bring more jobs to the state. I suspect this will be a top issue in next year’s Illinois senate race. After all, Senate Democrats declined to block funding for this move. We’ll see how enthusiastic the good people of Illinois are when they learn about their new residents.

But more importantly, the question one must ask on the merits of this move is why? With whom are we supposed to be garnering “credit” for moving detainees from the relatively cushy environs of Guantanamo to the isolation cells of a Supermax prison? How long before the ACLU starts demanding that the terrorists enjoy computer access, letter writing, and visits from outsiders? The security concerns, the expense, and the risk of Islamic propaganda spreading among the general prison population should, one would think, weigh heavily against this move. But the lefty lawyers in the Justice Department have other ideas and will be setting a legal precedent which will burden other administrations.

Congress can still stop this recklessness. There are votes coming up in the Senate on the omnibus spending bill and the Defense Department appropriations bill. Both might be good vehicles to test whether senators really do want to enable another inexplicable move by the Obama administration, which seems insistent on returning to a judicial model for terrorism.

The Obami have a holiday surprise for the president’s home state. Lynn Sweet reports:

Barring a last minute glitch, the Obama White House has settled on an Illinois prison to house detainees now at the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba, sources close to the decision told the Chicago Sun-Times. An announcement is expected shortly from the Obama administration to start the process to acquire the nearly vacant Thomson Correctional Center in northwestern Illinois.A leaked memo prepared by administration officials prompted speculation that the decision was finalized. An administration official said that memo was a draft and not to read anything into its existence because paperwork is readied just in case.

The memo declares that Guantanamo detainees will be transferred “as expeditiously as possible” to Illinois’ s Thomson Correction Center.

Sen. Dick Durbin and Gov. Pat Quinn say they are delighted, suggesting it will bring more jobs to the state. I suspect this will be a top issue in next year’s Illinois senate race. After all, Senate Democrats declined to block funding for this move. We’ll see how enthusiastic the good people of Illinois are when they learn about their new residents.

But more importantly, the question one must ask on the merits of this move is why? With whom are we supposed to be garnering “credit” for moving detainees from the relatively cushy environs of Guantanamo to the isolation cells of a Supermax prison? How long before the ACLU starts demanding that the terrorists enjoy computer access, letter writing, and visits from outsiders? The security concerns, the expense, and the risk of Islamic propaganda spreading among the general prison population should, one would think, weigh heavily against this move. But the lefty lawyers in the Justice Department have other ideas and will be setting a legal precedent which will burden other administrations.

Congress can still stop this recklessness. There are votes coming up in the Senate on the omnibus spending bill and the Defense Department appropriations bill. Both might be good vehicles to test whether senators really do want to enable another inexplicable move by the Obama administration, which seems insistent on returning to a judicial model for terrorism.

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