John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


The Illinois Primaries From Afar

Posted on February 3, 2010
I don’t live in Illinois anymore, although all of my extended family does.  So, I keep an eye on what happens there on a daily basis.

The New York Times had an interesting item in its op-ed pages this morning.  It had the credit ratings of the most of the nations in this world and all of the states.  America’s credit rating is still at AAA, the highest you can get.  Amazing but true.

California has the lowest credit rating of any of the states at A-.  The second lowest credit rating, interestingly, is Illinois, at A+.   I am astounded that Illinois has a worse credit rating than Michigan, Mississippi, Alabama, West Virginia and New York.

We all know about California’s problems.  They have an insane budget process, an unworkable political process, and a variety of natural disasters that afflict it on a yearly basis.

What is not as well-known is the complete collapse of Illinois' fiscal integrity.  Sure, unemployment is high, but Illinois has so many natural advantages, from the greatest city in the world (Chicago), to an abundance of natural resources like coal, rich farm country, and great companies like Caterpillar, All-State Insurance, Boeing, and a host of other top corporate leaders.

Illinois also has a diverse and talented workforce, a bunch of top-notch universities (Northwestern, the University of Illinois, the University of Chicago etc), and a beautiful Great Lake.

And yet, Illinois is completely broke, despite suffering from high taxes.  Why?

Because politicians have run the state into the ground.   Giving the Democrats complete control has turned out to be a big mistake. One-party Democratic rule in Illinois is a disaster.   Corruption has become so engrained in the soul of the political class that it is hard to know who is on the take and who isn’t.  The former governor, Rod Blagojevich, is trying to negotiate a reality television deal as he tries to avoid spending time in the slammer.  There are so many federal investigations going on in Springfield and Chicago, the wiretaps cross in the night.

But this isn’t just about corruption.  The first Mayor Daley, who coined the term “the city that works,” as a nickname for Chicago, was no stranger to corruption, but at least he made the trains run on time.

The problem is that corruption is now having a serious impact on basic services.  There is no reason that Illinois has the worst bond rating of any state other than California, except, for, well, the politicians.

The Illinois primaries can only be seen through the prism of this desperate situation.

Mark Kirk has a squeaky clean reputation, despite having a less than stellar conservative voting record.  Some right-wingers may have wanted to have taken him out, but the rank and file Republican voter is so fed-up with politics as usual that they didn’t want to give the Democrats a chance to win the seat.  So they coalesced around Kirk, who has the best chance to keep the seat away from Alexi Giannoulias, a close confidant of President Obama and his friend Tony Rezko, who is currently spending some quality time in the slammer.

One further example of disgust with the status quo is the performance of Cook County Board President Todd Stroger.  The incumbent came in a distant last place in a crowded Democratic primary.   Stroger is best known for making Cook County the most taxed county in America.  When even Democrats say, “enough is enough,” you know you have a situation.

On the Republican side, in a surprise (at least a surprise to me) Ethan Hastert lost a tough race to Randy Hultgren.   Hastert, like Martha Coakley, had all the disadvantages of being an incumbent and none of the advantages.   While his father is still beloved by many in Illinois, the fact of the matter is that Ethan couldn’t run away from his dad, but couldn’t really run with him either.  So, anybody who didn’t like the retired Speaker found a reason vote against Ethan.  But many who did like Denny Hastert liked the fact that Hultgren had more experience as a State Senator, and some of those folks also voted against Ethan.   The snow didn’t help, and the low-turnout doomed the first time political candidate’s effort.

The races for governor in both primaries are still close, reflecting an ambivalence towards the political class and the lack of consensus in the state of how to move forward.

Illinois is broken and broke.  The President, the favorite son from the Land of Lincoln, hasn’t done much to help turn it around.  It appears that only the voters can do that.  And they took the first step yesterday.