Illi­nois Democrats now have it all, ex­cept ex­cuses

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - CHANGE OF SUBJECT - By Eric Zorn er­ic­[email protected] Twit­ter @Er­ic­Zorn

Here y’go, Democrats! Illi­nois and its stag­ger­ing ar­ray of prob­lems are all yours start­ing Mon­day.

In Novem­ber, you asked vot­ers for their sup­port, their en­dorse­ment of your gen­eral phi­los­o­phy of gov­er­nance, and they gave it to you, good and hard.

They gave you back the gov­er­nor­ship, re­turned Democrats to ev­ery other statewide con­sti­tu­tional of­fice and in­creased Demo­cratic ma­jori­ties in both cham­bers of the Gen­eral Assem­bly to near-record, ul­tra-su­per­ma­jor­ity lev­els. But in the process they took away some­thing of con­sid­er­able po­lit­i­cal value: an ex­cuse for fail­ure.

Why are we more than $7 bil­lion be­hind in pay­ing our bills? Why is the state bud­get al­ways in the red? Why do we have the worst credit rat­ing and the high­est pen­sion debt in the na­tion? Why are our un­em­ploy­ment rate and prop­erty tax bills con­sis­tently higher than the na­tional av­er­age?

Why are we one of the few states with a re­gres­sive flat in­come tax? Why is our pub­lic school fund­ing for­mula so out of whack, and why is our in­fra­struc­ture crum­bling? Why do over­whelm­ingly pop­u­lar pro­pos­als to in­crease the min­i­mum wage and change the way po­lit­i­cal maps are drawn lan­guish in Spring­field? Why are we suf­fer­ing a steady pop­u­la­tion drain?

In the past, the party has pointed the finger of shared blame for in­ac­tion at Repub­li­can gover­nors, Down­state con­ser­va­tives, frag­ile coali­tions re­quir­ing bi­par­ti­san­ship and at grand­stand­ing “out­sider” Demo­cratic gover­nors such as Rod Blago­je­vich and Pat Quinn. That ac­cu­sa­tion often had some merit. And vot­ers seemed to buy it, see­ing that 58.8 per­cent of them cast votes for Demo­cratic state House can­di­dates in Novem­ber and 54.5 per­cent for Demo­cratic gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­date J.B. Pritzker, who will be sworn into of­fice Mon­day.

Now that Democrats have the most com­pre­hen­sive grip on power in mod­ern mem­ory — with a 4-3 ma­jor­ity on the Illi­nois Supreme Court as a back­stop — the finger of blame (or credit) for the state of the state will point squarely and ex­clu­sively at them.

Yes, wran­gling ma­jor­ity cau­cuses from di­verse parts of the state can be a prob­lem, but with 74 seats in the House (14 more than is needed to pass a rou­tine bill) and 40 in the Se­nate (10 more), along with a gov­er­nor who has sig­naled a de­sire to co­op­er­ate with lead­er­ship, the Democrats have plenty of room to ma­neu­ver leg­isla­tively.

And a na­tional eco­nomic re­ces­sion could thwart even the best­laid plans to pull Illi­nois out of its down­ward glide.

Repub­li­cans will dis­agree often with the paths Pritzker, House Speaker Michael Madi­gan and Se­nate Pres­i­dent John Culler­ton de­cide to fol­low, with the ini­tia­tives they take up and the ones they ta­ble. It’s no se­cret that I lean left, and I’ll cer­tainly dis­agree at times my­self.

But we should all agree that Democrats will suc­ceed or fail based on a set of key met­rics: The pen­sion debt, the state’s credit rat­ings, job and wage growth com­pared with sim­i­lar states, pop­u­la­tion growth com­pared with sim­i­lar states, the bud­get bot­tom line, and poverty and crime rates all come to mind.

Many of these vari­ables are de­pen­dent on one an­other, of course — sound bud­get­ing leads to bet­ter credit rat­ings leads to more jobs and higher wages, which leads to a smaller pop­u­la­tion ex­o­dus, just for in­stance — and tweak­ing them up­ward is bound to cause at least tem­po­rary pain in some quar­ters.

But as of Mon­day, Democrats, you own the vari­ables as well as the pain. You alone didn’t break the state, but you own it now.

You told us you had the an­swers. Let’s hope you do.

Walls, bor­ders and moral­ity

Bet­ter late than never, I am tak­ing Demo­cratic U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to task for con­fus­ing a fraught po­lit­i­cal is­sue by re­fer­ring to a wall on our Mex­i­can bor­der as im­moral.

On Dec. 6, she said that ad­di­tional bar­rier con­struc­tion as de­manded by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump would be “im­moral still,” even if the Mex­i­can gov­ern­ment paid for it. On Jan. 3, then, re­spond­ing to re­porters’ ques­tions about the par­ti­san stand­off over wall fund­ing that has re­sulted in a shut­down of roughly 25 per­cent of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, Pelosi said, “A wall is an im­moral­ity. It’s not who we are as a na­tion.”

She hasn’t elab­o­rated, but it’s an in­ter­est­ing philo­soph­i­cal as­ser­tion. Now, though, it’s one best suited for late nights in the dorm room rather than the halls of Congress.

“Free­dom of move­ment is a basic hu­man right,” ar­gued Ge­orge Ma­son Univer­sity econ­o­mist Alex Tabar­rock in an At­lantic es­say in 2015. “What moral the­ory jus­ti­fies us­ing wire, wall, and weapon to pre­vent peo­ple from mov­ing to op­por­tu­nity? What moral the­ory jus­ti­fies us­ing tools of ex­clu­sion to pre­vent peo­ple from ex­er­cis­ing their right to vote with their feet?”

He wrote, “No stan­dard moral frame­work … regards peo­ple from for­eign lands as less en­ti­tled to ex­er­cise their rights — or as in­her­ently pos­sess­ing less moral worth — than peo­ple lucky to have been born in the right place at the right time.”

Trump and many of his al­lies have thrown Pelosi’s provoca­tive dec­la­ra­tion back in Democrats’ faces — “The only thing that is im­moral is the politi­cians to do noth­ing and con­tinue to al­low more in­no­cent peo­ple to be so hor­ri­bly vic­tim­ized,’’ Trump said dur­ing his prime-time speech to the na­tion Tues­day — and thus it’s only served to con­fuse the highly sym­bolic, dis­may­ingly dis­rup­tive fight over Trump’s ex­tor­tion­ate de­mand.

Bet­ter now to fo­cus on the im­moral­ity of Trump put­ting hun­dreds of thou­sands of fed­eral em­ploy­ees and their fam­i­lies through the pain and uncer­tainty of a par­tial shut­down in an at­tempt to pay for a du­bi­ous so­lu­tion to a shrink­ing prob­lem.

Bet­ter to talk about the im­moral­ity of de­rid­ing as crim­i­nals and thieves des­per­ate fam­i­lies seek­ing safety.

Re: Tweets

The win­ner of this week’s on­line reader poll for fun­ni­est tweet is “I’m amazed by peo­ple who lose weight (with) ex­er­cise. When I ex­er­cise, noth­ing hap­pens (be­cause) my DNA still thinks I’m a Euro­pean peas­ant. So it’s like ‘Oh! Are we run­ning from the English again, lass? Din­nae ye worry: we’ll keep ye plump as a par­tridge to out­last the mur­der­ous bas­tards!’” from @LaComtesseJamie. To re­ceive an email alert af­ter each new poll is posted, go to chicagotri­bune.com/ news­let­ters and sign up un­der Change of Sub­ject.

NANCY STONE/CHICAGO TRI­BUNE

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