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Defending the indefensible

Monday, Sep 30, 2013

* OK, you’re about to see something that you’ve probably never seen here before. I’m gonna defend Rep. Bill Mitchell and Reboot Illinois.

First, Kass

The Quad City Times reported that state Rep. Bill Mitchell, R-Forsyth, said he was having lunch with a friend when Cohen’s ruling [striking down Quinn’s veto of legislative salaries[ was issued:

“His first thought was, ‘When do we get paid?’”

That was Mitchell’s first thought? When does he get paid?

Nice.

I called Springfield to speak with Rep. Mitchell about his first thoughts of getting paid, but he wasn’t available.

“His assistant is not in today,” said a lady on the phone. “She’s out. You try his district office?”

I called his district office. No answer. I left a message, then called again and again and again. Still nothing.

* The missing context from the original story

Mitchell is a full-time lawmaker, meaning he had to dig into savings to make ends meet during the impasse.

“It was a bad three months,” he said.

Unless you’re independently wealthy, if your entire income is based on one job and you aren’t getting paid for that job, then no paychecks can cause real hardships. I see no reason to pick on the guy for being honest.

* Let’s move on to a story about Reboot Illinois’ new legislative contact app

Here’s how Reboot describes itself on its website, rebootillinois.com. “Reboot Illinois aims to encourage citizens to retake ownership of our governments. Through non-partisan digital and social media, Reboot Illinois intends to engage citizens giving them the information and tools they need to act on improving the jobs climate, schools, taxes and state debt.”

One of those things is a new feature allowing people to contact their public officials via email on certain issues. This includes their local lawmakers, legislative leaders like Madigan and Cullerton, and the governor. More importantly, it also allows a person to find out just who represents them in the General Assembly simply by typing their home address into the site.

So far, so good. The trickier part comes from the suggested messages to send public officials. The site has a series of issues listed covering such things as raising the minimum wage or pension reform or the progressive income tax along with a sample letter that can be sent to lawmakers. For example, you can send a message that you do not want the state to raise the minimum wage. Or you can send a message saying that the 3 percent compounded COLAs for pension benefits must end, along with raising the retirement age for workers.

Now, if you want to say you like the idea of a higher minimum wage or that the state shouldn’t change COLAs for retirees, well, you’ll have to compose your own thoughts on that. The site doesn’t provide that option. Also, it doesn’t provide the email addresses of the public officials, so if you want to send your own thoughts, you’ll have to add a step.

Actually, you can compose your own message and it’s pretty easy. You just select all, delete what Reboot wrote and write whatever you want. The group will then send your message for you. I tried it today by sending a test message to Rep. Poe’s office and it worked fine.

Now, maybe you aren’t literate enough to write your own message, but if that’s the case, then why bother at all? Or maybe you’re not computer literate enough to know you can delete Reboot’s message and replace it with your own. So, what the heck are you doing on the Web then?

However, Reboot might wanna just add a simple message saying you can write whatever you want, just to be clear.

Click here and see for yourself.

* I tried to get in the spirit of things by finding a recent state-related Tribune editorial I could praise, but had no luck.

Sigh.

- Posted by Rich Miller   29 Comments      


Question of the day

Monday, Sep 30, 2013

* Gov. Pat Quinn got a flu shot on Friday, the same day he failed to convince two judges for a stay during appeal of the previous day’s legislator pay ruling…

* The Question: Caption?

Funniest commenter wins a new Statehouse mobile app that I’ll be launching soon.

Our most recent winner was Old Shepherd

“As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly!”

- Posted by Rich Miller   109 Comments      


We should all probably calm down and wait

Monday, Sep 30, 2013

* You may have noticed that I’ve completely avoided the Illinois Obamacare implementation story. That’s by design. There’s been just way too much propaganda from both sides to easily sift through.

For instance, a few days ago Gov. Pat Quinn announced that health insurance exchange rates were lower than expected. That doesn’t really mean anything because we don’t know how much more the exchange health insurance policies will cost than what people already have, which doesn’t really mean much because the new insurance policies will cover more than many bare-bones policies currently do, which doesn’t mean much if you can’t afford the new rates, which doesn’t mean much if you qualify for subsidies, etc., etc., etc. Not to mention all the people who don’t have insurance now because they can’t afford it and may be able to with the new program.

* There’s no doubt that the rollout has been bungled. For instance

Only a fraction of the expected army of outreach workers will be certified and ready Tuesday to help Illinois residents sign up for insurance under President Barack Obama’s health care law, state officials told The Associated Press late Friday.

That will leave most people on their own to figure out the complicated enrollment process — at least during the first week of a six-month enrollment period.

Only around 100 workers will be certified by Saturday, said Kelly Sullivan, a spokeswoman for the new Illinois insurance marketplace where people will be able to comparison shop for health plans starting Tuesday. Sullivan said Illinois officials would work to certify “hundreds more” by Tuesday’s launch.

Officials have said 1,200 temporary outreach workers, hired with federal grant money, would ultimately be trained and certified. About 1.8 million Illinois residents are uninsured, about 15 percent of the population.

The outreach workers are important because the enrollment process is complicated and many consumers will need assistance. They will help walk people through the new health insurance options available to them through the online marketplace. Health care marketplaces, a key component of the Affordable Care Act, will operate in every state.

That’s just ridiculous.

* Then there was the goofy, focus-grouped logo the administration touted in a press release…

The orange color palette is decidedly optimistic, representing the colors of sunrise – tied to focus group feedback that October 1 felt like the “dawn” of a new day for those uninsured.

Really?

* But does any of this mean that the whole program is not worthwhile? The most informed take I’ve read so far is from the guy who implemented former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s health insurance program, on which Obamacare is closely based. Money quotes

“Up here in Massachusetts, the biggest opponent of the individual mandate was John Sweeney of the AFL-CIO. He said it was going to be the end of employer-based health-care here. Well, that certainly wasn’t the case.

“The analogy I like to use is a building that’s burning down. The number of people covered by employer-based health-care plans is dropping by a percentage point a year. The system is falling apart. So you put in a new safety net. That means a few more people are going to come in. If you’re not willing to risk making some things worse, you’re never going to make anything better.

“My estimate is that 80 percent of the people are not going to feel any change at all, and that 17 percent or so are going to find that things are better, and that about two or three percent will be worse off, and those are the people who benefit from the discriminatory nature of health-insurance at the present time.

“If health-insurance companies can’t discriminate any more, those people will have to pay a little more. When we decided that people couldn’t discriminate in what they paid black people or women any more, people had to pay more because employers couldn’t discriminate in what they paid black people and women. Was that a bad thing?”

* And since Obamacare has been tied in with the government shutdown/debt ceiling circus, I’ve been even more loathe to go there. As far as I can tell, this is the smartest take I’ve yet seen on what to expect with that mess

But while it’s certainly the case that Boehner thinks a shutdown would be terrible for the party, and that he’d prefer to avoid one, it’s not at all clear it’s in his interest to do so. Why? Because there are two things Boehner presumably cares about more than avoiding a shutdown: not being ousted as Speaker, and raising the debt ceiling by mid-to-late October so as to avoid a debt default. The latter would be far more damaging to the economy than a shutdown, and therefore more devastating to the Republican brand. Unfortunately for Boehner, the only plausible way to both keep his job and avoid a debt default is … to shut down the government when the fiscal year ends next week.

Here’s why: Tea Party conservatives in the House, following the lead the distinguished non-filibusterer from Texas, are all keyed up for a confrontation with Obama in which they refuse to fund the government unless they can simultaneously defund (or rather, “defund”) Obmacare. This is why Boehner and Cantor, after initially hoping to keep the two initiatives separate, reluctantly agreed to make defunding Obamacare a condition for funding the government in the bill they passed last Friday. The Democratic Senate and the president obviously aren’t going along with this. So the only way to avoid a shutdown is for Boehner to walk it back, which conservatives will regard as a humiliating retreat. […]

(O)ne of two things is probably going to happen if we avoid a shutdown: Either John Boehner is going to turn around and appease irate conservatives by insisting on delaying Obamacare in exchange for raising the debt limit, thereby sending the government into default (since Obama isn’t negotiating). Or he’s going to back down and allow the debt ceiling to be raised with a minority of House Republicans and a majority of House Democrats, thereby further infuriating conservatives and almost certainly costing himself his job. (Recall that conservatives got more than halfway to the number of defections they needed to oust Boehner back in January, after he’d merely allowed a vote on a small tax increase when a much bigger one was kicking in automatically.) That is, either Boehner gets it or the global economy gets it, both of which Boehner would like to avoid even more than he’d like to avoid a shutdown.

If Boehner resigns himself to a shutdown, on the other hand, suddenly the future looks manageable. After a few days of punishing political abuse, Boehner will be able to appear before his caucus, shrug his shoulders in his distinctive Boehnerian way, and bleat that he executed the strategy conservatives demanded, but that the country is overwhelmingly opposed to it, as are most Senate Republicans and almost every semi-legitimate right-wing pundit and media outlet. Most of these people have already said that shutting down the government would be a mistake; they would presumably only grow more vocal in as Republicans’ poll numbers collapsed and they hemorrhaged blood all over Washington. Boehner will be able to point to the party’s extreme political isolation as a reason for calling off this round of jihad, in the same way he did during the payroll tax cut debate in late 2011 and the fiscal cliff debate in late 2012. The demoralized conservatives will realize they’re out of moves—at least in this particular battle—allowing Boehner to raise the debt limit a few weeks later with little drama. There will be no debt default, and no conservative coup in the House.

Try very hard to avoid a national political throwdown in comments, please. Thanks.

- Posted by Rich Miller   41 Comments      


Answer the question, please

Monday, Sep 30, 2013

* Rick Pearson asked Gov. Pat Quinn late Friday about the implications of the governor’s veto of legislative salaries. Quinn essentially dodged it

Asked by reporters if his veto would set a precedent for governors to withhold pay from lawmakers over other issues, as critics have alleged, Quinn said the unfunded pension liability was a “crucial, crying issue in our state.”

“It’s urgent. It’s an emergency. It’s been going on for decades. That’s why I acted as I did,” he said.

Asked if he also considered legalizing same-sex marriage, which he supports, an emergency, Quinn said: “I think it’s a very important issue, but on the issue of pensions, that deals directly with state finances, where the legislature has had much time to act, they have failed to put a bill on my desk that’s necessary for the common good.”

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the governor has exploited a very dangerous loophole. Whatever happens in the court case, going forward the Legislature ought to pass a continuing appropriations bill on their salaries so nobody can pull this stunt again.

Also, many kudos to Rick for trying to pin the governor down. More like this, please.

- Posted by Rich Miller   24 Comments      


Still some sticking points

Monday, Sep 30, 2013

* So, while Gov. Pat Quinn has been running all over the state cutting ribbons on capital projects approved by the General Assembly while, ironically, defending his veto of legislative salaries because those same legislators hadn’t finished their jobs, was he actually working on pension reform? Not according to Rep. Elaine Nekritz, the House Democratic point person on pensions

[Nekritz] said she had not spoken to anyone from Quinn’s office since July on the progress of pension negotiations.

* Despite Quinn’s non-involvement, or maybe because of it, Nekritz believes a pension plan could be voted on during the veto session later this month

“We’re close enough where I think that there’s a definite possibility we could take action in veto session,” Nekritz said of the scheduled Oct. 22 return of the General Assembly.

“We have a few, what I would call, details to work out, but as in any negotiation, when you get to the end, the things that were not so significant in the beginning become big,” she said in a WGN-AM 720 interview. “So, I’m not saying that the whole thing can’t fall apart, and we’ll be back to square one, but it’s also very likely we could come to an agreement and be done in a couple of weeks.”

* More

She acknowledged that the move for a 1 percentage point reduction in employee contributions to their pensions was aimed at meeting a state constitutional prohibition against diminishing or impairing public employee pension benefits.

Still, she said, “I don’t think there’s any way we can avoid being sued by the public employees — whether it be actives (current employees) or retirees.”

The House Republicans are pushing hard to eliminate that 1-point reduction, among other things.

* Sen. Kwame Raoul, who chairs the pension reform conference committee, has pushed back

“The charge of the (pension) conference committee is to come up with a proposal that we think (can) solve the pension problem … and that can pass a constitutional challenge,” Raoul said.

But, in the end, Raoul still wants a bill. So, we’ll see.

…Adding… Sun-Times editorial board

The big snag, we understand, is a new list of demands unveiled by committee Republicans two weeks ago and a new total savings target — $150 billion, up from an agreed-upon $140 billion. We want more savings, too, but what’s maddening is that most of the Republican demands don’t amount to much.

They’re pressing for things like raising the retirement age, raising the employee contribution and creating a 401(k) option. Those sound good but would barely move the cost-savings needle.

I really think this bill should not be tanked over a 30-year savings of $10 billion. But they may try to blow up the process anyway.

- Posted by Rich Miller   101 Comments      


*** UPDATED x1 *** Has the running mate game changed?

Monday, Sep 30, 2013

* The Sun-Times has a story called “Kwame Raoul would run for lt. gov., but Quinn’s not asking.” I asked Sen. Raoul about the rumors I’d been hearing last week, and I came away with a different impression than the Sun-Times

Lately, it’s a question that state Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) gets all the time: Would he run as Gov. Pat Quinn’s lieutenant governor?

The answer is basically yes.

* Here’s what he told the Sun-Times

“A lot of people have been calling me,” said Raoul, who told the Chicago Sun-Times he would be open to running as Quinn’s lieutenant governor for the 2014 race. “A lot of people — not the governor — have called and inquired, hearing rumors.” […]

Raoul said he would consider the job with a major caveat — that it would come with responsibilities.

“The state Senate hasn’t been an awful place for me, I’ve been able to engage in a lot of things. It’s not the worst place in the world. I don’t have to run for higher office this time around,” Raoul said.

* And here’s what he told me via text…

Obviously, Raoul doesn’t want to just sit around his office for four years doing nothing as Quinn’s lieutenant governor. He would want some real responsibilities. Whether Quinn would give those to him is anybody’s guess. As I’ve already pointed out today, Quinn has been trying to increase the power of the governor’s office, not dilute them.

* And then there’s the fact that Quinn is now essentially unopposed in the primary. His running mate choice can now be aimed at the general election.

So, does Quinn really need an African-American running mate now? It could help boost turnout, at least some. First black lieutenant governor, etc. But how much? I dunno.

Your thoughts?

*** UPDATE *** A valid point from Matt Dietrich

Should they win in 2014, Raoul could be an effective envoy for Quinn in the General Assembly. That’s something Quinn has sorely lacked throughout his time in office. Quinn’s inability to shepherd legislation through the legislature via floor leaders has been a big weakness for his administration and is among the major reasons why his pension reform efforts led to the current stalemate.

…Adding… As some have already pointed out in comments, Quinn doesn’t listen much to Gary Hannig as it is, and the former Deputy House Majority Leader Hannig was a very good choice to run the legislative shop. If he won’t listen to Gary, would he listen to Kwame? Maybe not.

- Posted by Rich Miller   40 Comments      


Why Quinn is appealing

Monday, Sep 30, 2013

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

A bipartisan chorus seemed to rise as one last week to urge Gov. Pat Quinn not to appeal a ruling by a Cook County judge. The judge ruled that the governor had violated the state Constitution when he vetoed lawmaker salaries last summer. Quinn said he vetoed the appropriations because he was tired of waiting for legislators to finish a pension reform plan.

Despite urgings by both Democrats and Republicans to drop the whole thing, Quinn forged ahead, issuing a defiant statement in which he vowed to pursue an appeal of Judge Neil Cohen’s decision voiding the veto and ordering lawmaker paychecks to be processed “immediately.”

Judge Cohen agreed with Quinn on one issue about veto process, but then went on to declare Quinn’s veto wasn’t valid from the moment it was issued. Cohen did so by relying on the meaning of a single word: “Changes.”

Quinn had argued that transcripts from the 1970 Illinois Constitutional Convention clearly showed that delegates hoped to stop legislators from increasing their salaries when they agreed on language that prevented “changes in the salary of a member” from taking effect during their term of office following their most recent election.

Cohen relied on two dictionary definitions to declare that the common meaning of “changes” included both increases and decreases. Therefore, Quinn’s veto violated the Constitution and was declared null and void.

It’s actually a pretty well reasoned and informed decision, especially considering the fact that Judge Cohen seemed more than a little out of his element during a previous hearing. He didn’t appear to understand the briefs that had already been presented, and appeared confused at times about the Constitution and general procedure. He even agreed to put off his decision by a week so that Madigan and Cullerton could file another brief, but then went ahead without them and gave them what they asked for.

OK, back to the appeal, which is no surprise, to say the least. Even setting aside the overwhelming popularity of the governor’s veto and Quinn’s natural stubbornness, there should have never been any doubt that Quinn would attempt to appeal this ruling.

Quinn has jealously guarded his powers and attempted - often bungling - to expand the powers of his office ever since he was elevated in 2009. One of the ways he’s done this is by issuing presidential-like “signing statements.” His latest, issued in July, promised that he would not allow a bill he’d signed to undermine the state’s compliance with a class action consent decree. Quinn is the first to use such statements, which are normally reserved for vetoes.

He has also constantly meddled in the affairs of various boards and commissions, demanding resignations of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees after a political influence scandal and recently calling for the ouster of the director of the state’s torture commission. He attempted to pack Southern Illinois University’s board this year in order to get his way at that university, but was solidly rebuked when the Senate unanimously rejected his appointees.

Quinn called for the “fumigation” of state government when he was first elevated to the office, but then resisted several legislative efforts designed to get rid of Blagojevich holdovers, saying it was his job to fire them.

An appeal, therefore, would be right in line with Quinn’s history of protecting and expanding his powers. He clearly believes he had the absolute right to veto those salaries and that the judge was wrong to stop him. This is more than just a political game to Quinn, even though the game is most definitely part of it.

He acts like such a goofball at times that it’s often difficult to take what he says and does at face value, but this is obviously very serious business to the governor. Make no mistake, Quinn wants the right to do this again. And he wants his successors to have this right in order to bring the General Assembly to heel.

Most people don’t know that Chicago mayors are legally quite weak. They compensate by building strong political organizations.

Illinois governors are constitutionally strong, so state legislative leaders have compensated for their comparative weakness by building huge political fiefdoms and devising innumerable rules to stymie the governor’s powers. Quinn appears to be trying to inject some balance into the government with this veto.

Discuss.

- Posted by Rich Miller   37 Comments      


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