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Legislators Could Learn the Wrong Lessons from Brutal Campaign PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Illinois Politics
Written by Rich Miller   
Sunday, 24 October 2010 05:06

I joked to a Democrat last week that I seriously doubted state Representative Kevin McCarthy (D-Orland Park) would ever vote for a legislative pay raise again after getting whacked so hard by the Republicans this fall for his previous pay-hike votes. McCarthy has been brutalized for those votes, and he’s had to work harder on this campaign than he has in over a decade.

“I don’t think Kevin will vote for anything” came the reply.

He could very well be right, and not just about McCarthy. There are a whole lot of extremely frightened Democratic legislative incumbents out there right now, including those who don’t have serious opponents. And even if individuals survive November 2, they will surely watch in horror as many of their colleagues go down in flames.

One would hope that this brutal campaign season would be a wake-up call for all state legislators, and that election day will be a Jeffersonian “refresh” of the “tree of liberty,” albeit with symbolic blood.

But legislators are human beings, and humans often learn the absolute wrong lessons. And the lesson this year could easily be: No matter how you vote, you’re still gonna get zapped harder than you could have ever imagined, so don’t take any chances at all.

For instance, if you vote against every legislative pay raise, but then vote for appropriations bills that pay for those raises, you’re slammed for raising your own and (for good measure) Rod Blagojevich’s pay. McCarthy actually voted to raise his pay, but several others who are being pummeled on this issue did not.

Now there are always these sorts of worries right before an election when the negativity is at its peak.

“We talked about this two years ago,” said one Republican pal last week.

“Yeah,” I responded, “and look what’s happened since. A whole lot of bad.”

I’ve talked to some who firmly believe that the Republican game-playing in Michael Madigan’s own district could mean big trouble after the election as the House speaker seeks revenge for the humiliation, regardless whether he holds on to his majority. The Republicans have publicly taunted Madigan in the media for allegedly recruiting his own opponent, and Madigan is spending more money on his own campaign now than he has in memory.

The fears about a Madigan retaliation could very well be justified. Just look at how House Republican Leader Tom Cross responded after Madigan started funding his own unknown and no-chance Democratic opponent late in the 2008 campaign. Except for the capital-construction bill (which everybody desperately wanted), we’ve had more House gridlock since that election than ever before, and that’s really saying something. Republican state Representative Bill Black didn’t get tossed out of GOP leadership last summer because he was one of three Republicans to vote for the Democrats’ pension-bond bill; he got the boot because he consorted with a mortal enemy.

The situation is better in the Senate, but it ain’t all roses. The Senate president’s decision, since abandoned, to go after Republican incumbent John Millner was widely seen as a harbinger of doom. Millner was one of the only Republicans who was regularly willing to work with the other side of the aisle. The Democrats will almost surely wind up with a far smaller majority after November 2. They’ll need to work with the Republicans to get anything done no matter who wins the governor’s race. But why would any Republicans trust them after what they did to Millner?

Then there’s the legislative-district remap. If Governor Pat Quinn loses to Bill Brady and/or Speaker Madigan loses his majority, nobody will know who will control the remap process until late next summer or early fall, unless they can cut a deal – which hasn’t happened in a very long time. With the map in doubt, there’s even less incentive to work together.

All of this couldn’t come at a worse possible time, of course. The state’s budget deficit is practically insurmountable. Unemployment remains stubbornly and scarily high. People are angry and frightened because nobody can point to any light at the end of this tunnel.

Somehow, some way, the people who lead this state are going to have to find it in them to pull everyone together and address these issues after this bloody fall campaign. But right now all of them are doing everything possible to undermine any sort of resolution.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax (a daily political newsletter) and TheCapitolFaxBlog.com.

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