John Feehery: Speaking Engagements

Road Trip and the Midwestern Economy

Posted on August 5, 2017


It’s hard to write the Feehery Theory when you are driving cross country.

I have been on quite the road trip.  I drove my son to the University of Notre Dame with a friend of his to drop them off at basketball camp.

Forty years ago, my parents dropped my brothers and I off at the same camp.  It’s confounding how things change after four decades.  The kids stay in a different dorm, they play at different basketball courts, they have different coaches (Mike Brey is a lot nicer than Digger Phelps).

I think I was more excited for the camp than Jack was.  My wife thinks I am crazy, and she might be right.

I left the kids at camp on Tuesday nostalgic for the past.  To be honest with you, I wanted to play, but I had no interest in staying in those dorm rooms.  No air conditioning.

I drove to visit my mom in Elmhurst, right outside of Chicago.

Entering Illinois from the Indiana border is like entering America from Tijuana.  The traffic jam backs up for miles.  The roads are terrible.  There are no border agents, which makes the disaster that is I-80 even more frustrating.   This is why we need more infrastructure spending in this country.

The Land of Lincoln is a disaster.  It’s on the precipice of bankruptcy.  The roads resemble a third world country.

It’s always fun to visit with my mother.  She has a good sense of political awareness.

Elmhurst as a suburb is on the upswing, despite the problems with the State of Illinois.  Property values are climbing steadily upward.

My mom is not a big fan of Donald Trump, but she likes what he is doing on the economy.  Mom is a radical libertarian.  She has a dim view of most politicians, and looking at what is happening in Illinois, she has ample reason for her cynicism.

She feels sorry for Bruce Rauner, the embattled governor who has no feel for public relations.  He is constantly attacked in campaign advertisements by Jay Pritzker.  The son of the hotel magnate, Pritzker is portraying himself as a champion of the little guy and the union worker as he attacks the governor.  The election is not this year, by the way, but next year.  Talk about an early start.

I have no idea how the Hyatt hotels treat their union employees, but if I were in one of the unions, I would use the leverage of those campaign commercials to get the most out of the Pritzker family now.

Watching those commercials reminds you that the only way to truly make it in politics today is to have a couple billion dollars of family wealth at your disposal.

I drove up to Wisconsin on a mini-golf trip the next day (mini because I played only one round).

But that round was at Erin Hills, where they played the US Open earlier this year.

As I was entered the Cheese Head State, I listened to local talk radio.  The conservative radio host was talking about two issues:  Foxconn and crime in Milwaukee.

Foxconn and Scott Walker reached a deal to open a huge new manufacturing plant in Paul Ryan’s district outside of Kenosha.

Crime in Milwaukee, like crime in other big cities across the country, is out of control, especially in African-American communities.

Before getting to Erin Hills, I stopped at a bed and breakfast in Hartford, Wisconsin where I was going to stay for the night.

I had a chance to talk to the proprietors before and after I golfed.  The Open left a lot of smiles for many small business owners in and around that dot on the map in central Wisconsin, including Garrett and his wife.

But that wasn’t the only reason for the smiles.

Because of the economic policies of Governor Walker and perhaps because of some of the efforts of the Trump Administration, small manufacturing was booming in this part of the Badger State.

The only thing holding it back was getting enough qualified employees.  And by that, I mean employees who could pass a drug test.

One of the reasons employers look to hire immigrants rather than native born Americans is that the immigrants work harder and usually pass their drug tests, which are an essential part of any manufacturing job.  And they typically only test for heavy drugs like heroin or cocaine.

But for folks like Garrett, whose primary job is working for a small manufacturer, steady employment is no problem.

Garrett was enough of savvy businessman to not directly engage on politics when talking to me.  But he let slip that he liked what Donald Trump was doing on the economy.

One of the great things about playing golf by yourself at a really nice course is that you are usually paired up with some interesting folks.

I got paired up with three successful businessmen from San Diego, who were vacationing with their wives and kids and staying at one of my favorite places in the world, Lake Geneva.

One of the businessmen, Chuck, also had a house in the suburbs of Chicago, and was the owner of a company that made a variety of soft drinks.

He was very unhappy about a new soda tax just passed by those tax-hungry politicians who have successfully run Cook County into the ground.

The soda tax would cost add about 20 cents to a twenty-ounce bottle of pop (they call it pop in Chicago and soda in Wisconsin).

That’s a lot of money for folks who are struggling to get by, especially those who live in the most desperate parts of Cook County, and who like to have a Coke every now and then.

For Chuck, who makes healthy soft drink alternatives to the Coke/Pepsi behemoths, his products would get hit by the tax too, hence his frustration.

We had a chance to talk a bit about Trump and Washington’s antics.  While not necessarily a Trump person, he appreciated many of his efforts to grow the economy.  If only he would stop Tweeting.

After my short visit to Hartford, Wisconsin, I drove to Milwaukee to visit some friends of mine from Grad School days.  Kevin Abing, my roommate at Marquette, just published a book called “A Crowded Hour” about the tumult surrounding Milwaukee in 1917 and 1918.

I went to a well-attended talk that Kevin gave about the book.  One of the attendees was a woman who used to work with Kevin and Laura (Kevin’s wife) at Marquette University.  She was excited that Robert Mueller had empaneled a Grand Jury.  She was clearly part of the resistance.

Milwaukee was the most German of cities in the days leading up to the Great War (German was taught in the elementary schools there) and the German-Americans who lived here were suspected of being spies for the Fatherland as America entered the war on behalf of the Allied Powers.

It was an interesting reminder of how America has always had a rocky road when it comes to integrating its immigrants.  But somehow it has all worked out.

As a side note, my Uber driver who picked me up from my hotel to take me to the talk, was a recent immigrant from Iraq.  He is happy to be here and has no interest in returning to his home in Baghdad.  His three children are thriving in elementary school, he has a job (actually two when you include the Uber gig) and he is well on his way to living the American dream.

He laments that fact that Iraq is now more of a protectorate for the Iranians and that Iraq doesn’t protect religious minorities.  And that is why he and most of his family will stay and become Americans (he is now a naturalized American citizen).

As I left Milwaukee to drive to pick up my son and his friend at Notre Dame, I listened again to talk radio.  The host, who was based in Illinois, was lamenting what happened to his state and how they were left begging for the crumbs of Wisconsin’s economic boom.

The Foxcomm deal would likely employ some Illinois residents especially those who live in the counties bordering Wisconsin.

I remember when my home state was the economic powerhouse and the states that bordered us were happy to get our crumbs.

Those days are done, and that’s mostly because of Illinois’s dysfunctional political leadership.

Sad, as President Trump might tweet.