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Obama library money is a very unpopular idea

Monday, May 12, 2014

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

It’s been assumed all along that Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan’s proposal to spend $100 million to help build Barack Obama’s presidential library was designed to put the Republicans on the spot and perhaps provoke an over the top, maybe even racial response, which would help gin up Democratic turnout a bit this November.

President Obama has put the library’s location out to bid, so Madigan’s proposal is ostensibly designed to help Chicago attract what will likely be a pretty big tourist destination.

But politics is just about everything in Springfield. Democrats are hoping to crowd the November ballot with enough measures to help gin up their party base and get them out to vote. A constitutional amendment to forbid any voter discrimination along racial, ethnic, gender, etc. grounds was already approved for the ballot. A non-binding referendum on whether voters want to increase the minimum wage to $10 an hour is being prepared.

So, this was mainly seen as just another in a series of ploys to fire up the base.

But the Republicans have so far played it quite well, publicly pledging their own support for the library and focusing on the cost. No Republican legislator has yet crossed the line. President Obama may not be all that popular elsewhere, but polling has consistently shown he remains popular here. There’s no sense attacking him and risk a backlash.

Plus, the Republicans make a good point. Obama has proved to be an incredible fundraiser. He still has a lot of very wealthy supporters and he just doesn’t need any help raising money. The government doesn’t really need to be involved.

Illinoisans overwhelmingly agree with the GOP.

“As you may know,” 1,029 likely voters were told May 7th in a Capitol Fax/We Ask America poll, “some lawmakers in Springfield want the state to commit $100 million to help pay for the construction of the future Presidential Library for Barack Obama, if it is located in Illinois. We’d like to know whether or not you generally approve or disapprove of that $100 million proposal?”

Just a scant 29 percent approved, while an overwhelming 67 percent disapproved. A mere 4 percent were unsure.

The only demographic support for the project wasn’t even majority support. A plurality of Chicagoans supported the idea 48-43, as well as a slim plurality of African-Americans, 45-44.

But a plurality of Democrats actually was against the plan, 48-44. And the idea is hugely unpopular with everybody else. A whopping 68 percent of women, 66 percent of men, 75 percent of independents, 80 percent of Republicans, 74 percent of both Latinos and whites, 65 percent of suburban Cook residents, 72 percent of collar county residents and 77 percent of Downstaters opposed the Obama presidential library idea. The poll’s margin of error was ±3.1 percent. 23 percent were cellphone users.

But even more said the state couldn’t afford to help build the library.

“No matter how you feel about the Presidential Library,” respondents were asked, “do you believe the state can afford to support it?”

Only 21 percent said the state could afford it, while an overwhelming 71 percent said it couldn’t. Another 8 percent were unsure.

Not a single demographic category said the state could afford the project. Chicagoans said it was unaffordable 43-42, a 53 percent majority of Democrats said it was unaffordable and African-Americans said it was unaffordable 54-35,

Everybody else’s responses were almost off the charts. 71 percent of women, 70 percent of men, 83 percent of Republicans, 79 percent of independents, 78 percent of whites, 69 percent of suburban Cook and 80 percent of both collar county residents and Downstaters said the state can’t afford it.

Speaker Madigan has had a few misfires this year. He wanted to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to levy a surcharge on income over a million dollars, but he couldn’t round up enough votes.

Madigan said in March that he wanted to make the income tax increase permanent, but last year eleven of his members - many of whom are his most politically vulnerable - introduced a bill to roll the tax hike all the way back. He has 71 Democrats and he needs 60 to pass the permanent extension measure. That gives him no wiggle room at all.

And, as the poll makes clear, Madigan badly miscalculated with this Obama library thing, both with Republican legislators and the voting public.

Subscribers have full crosstabs.


- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Just Observing - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 8:55 am:

    Hopefully the legislators will get the hint and abandon this horrible idea.

  2. - Stones - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 8:57 am:

    I have to wonder if sometimes the results of this poll have more to do with the lack of this President’s current popularity more than anything else?

  3. - wordslinger - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 8:58 am:

    It was never necessary and was never going to happen.

    My guess is that Madigan was hoping that some Illinois GOP types would rise to the bait and say something nasty about Obama. So far, it hasn’t happened.

  4. - Rich Miller - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 9:01 am:

    === have more to do with the lack of this President’s current popularity ===

    Some, perhaps, but a recent Rasmussen poll found his job approval rating at 53 percent here in Illinois, and at 97 percent among African-Americans.

  5. - Rich Miller - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 9:03 am:

    Oops. Link:

  6. - Archiesmom - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 9:05 am:

    Private funds, baby. Do it the way everyone else does. Bad mis-step by Madigan.

  7. - In the Middle - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 9:13 am:

    21% say “We just can’t afford it.”

    29% say “Eh, let’s do it anyways!”

    Had to laugh… who budgets a $100 million like that?!

  8. - Grandson of Man - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 9:20 am:

    Madigan is flailing politically in this legislative session, with the failed millionaire tax and the Obama library. Everyone’s human, and even the best at playing politics have off times.

    Madigan still has a chance to pull through the income tax hike extension, but that is the smallest needle to thread.

    I have issues with the $100 million for the presidential library, because as I have stated before, state workers are still owed back-wages of roughly the same amount of money. This is money that has to be paid with interest. It’s in the state’s and workers’ best interests to pay this money as soon as possible.

  9. - Anonymous - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 9:22 am:

    The message is out and roundly accepted that Illinois is broke. Really broke.

    That reality has been pushed by all GOP candidates, and by Squeezy. The fact that we’ve shown some improvement recently is not on the radar.

    This general feeling, without hope for the near future, can only help Rauner.

  10. - Geronimo - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 9:23 am:

    If you believed the Illinois IS BROKE billboards along the highways when pensions were the hot topic then Illinois should still be BROKE even for our President’s library unless, of course, we’re not broke at all. ?

  11. - Mason born - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 9:23 am:

    I do wonder about the 8% who were unsure if the state could afford it but presumably thought we should do it anyway. The best news is 71% realize the state needs to be frugal. Now if that can translate to other legislative ideas we’ll be in much better shape.

  12. - Walker - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 9:23 am:

    Anon above 9:22 was me. Sorry, computer problems.

  13. - Anon - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 9:48 am:

    “My guess is that Madigan was hoping that some Illinois GOP types would rise to the bait and say something nasty about Obama. ”

    This is why Illinois is perceived to be swirling the drain.

    Springfield gamesmanship at its finest. We get exactly what we deserve

  14. - Ginhouse Tommy - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 9:55 am:

    Is it my imagination or is Mr Madigan starting to slip a little. He has always been cool and calculating and right on the money. Now he seems to me to be making mistakes that make him look silly. That’s not like him at all.

  15. - Ron Burgundy - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 9:56 am:

    I would love to have the library in Illinois, and this is where it should be. However, it’s hard to justify an outlay of $100m in public funds in this day and age given the financial condition of this state, and given the library would be for the most prolific private fundraiser in American political history to date. Just can’t support that.

  16. - Quiet Sage - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 10:02 am:

    Listening to Madigan at the committee hearing, I did not get the sense at all that he was strongly behind the State funding for the Obama library. I believe he is carrying this legislation on behalf of the Obama administration.

  17. - wordslinger - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 10:03 am:

    –I believe he is carrying this legislation on behalf of the Obama administration.–

    What evidence do you have of that?

  18. - Walter Mitty - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 10:04 am:

    Wheww… I feel better. I did think and still do, what the fallout from this is? I thought it would make any tax increase more difficult from the party saying the sky is falling… Then saying we have the $100 million for a library… I think the speaker is seeing just that….

  19. - Quiet Sage - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 10:15 am:

    Wordslinger at 10:30 am: Just his tone and lack of any enthusiasm before the committee.

  20. - Jacob S - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 10:28 am:

    Stones 8:57

    We just don’t have the money, period.

    If we do get any extra money, it needs to go to back bills FIRST. Pay off any prior debts before even thinking about incurring new debt.

  21. - Mokenavince - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 10:49 am:

    Madigan needs to fix pensions not be a shill for a library . The recent rash of Presidential library’s are a waste of money.
    100 million can be better used else where.

    Madigan loves to spent other people’s money.

  22. - Mokenavince - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 10:56 am:

    How many have ever visited the Hoover Library in Iowa? Or are planning a trip to Georgia to visit Jimmy Carters Library?

  23. - RNUG - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 11:03 am:

    - Mokenavince - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 10:56 am:

    I don’t plan any vacation trips around presidential libraries / museums … but I do visit them if I’m in the area anyway and have some time.

  24. - VanillaMan - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 11:23 am:

    Michael J. Madigan looks bad when he attempts to barb the political opposition into making hateful statements which could help end the drive for government change in 2014. Both times, with the voter rights bill and now with his politicizing of President Obama’s library, Mr. Speaker has been handed his hat as a powerful political player who is willing to use his sway over our legislative process, only to further his own political fortunes. Even if it means baiting other elected officials into a terrible trap.

    Mr. Michael J. Madigan is exposing himself as a man without interest in doing much more than winning the next election, regardless of the costs.

    It is best if both sides of our political parties remember that no one ends up looking good when dishonesty in public discourse is used to divide Illinoisans away from finding common ground and consensus.

    After all our embarrassing recent history surrounding our elected officials, bond ratings, maladministration and fiscal mismanagement, Mr. Madigan’s attempt to deliberately polarize Illinois through race issues is unconscionable.

    His lawsuits to block our ability to vote on change and now these political stunts, exposes him as a cynical leader playing with fire at our expense.

  25. - Southern Illinois Voter - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 11:33 am:

    I agree with Jacob S. Personally, I couldn’t believe that this was even brought up - $100 million with the financial shape this state is in? My dad would have said, “Call the man with the net!” as he did when I said or did something stupid.

  26. - A guy... - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 11:48 am:

    ++++Rich Miller - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 9:01 am:

    === have more to do with the lack of this President’s current popularity ===

    Some, perhaps, but a recent Rasmussen poll found his job approval rating at 53 percent here in Illinois, and at 97 percent among African-Americans.+++++

    This really points to Madigan trying to keep that 97% on board with Rauner making inroads in the community. His problem is that he badly miscalculated the issue to hold them on. Only 44-45% support his library scheme. That means he lost half of this Demographic on this issue. It underestimates the intelligence of the African American community to think drawing the library here is the thing they think about in their nightly dreams. It isn’t. The AA community EXPECTS him to put the library here. Anything less would be betrayal. They also expect him to raise the money. This community clearly understands the account balances with this president. He owes them plenty. And he’ll pay that debt.

  27. - Formerly Known As... - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 12:01 pm:

    Speaker Madigan’s proposal to cut corporate income taxes by $1.5 billion while keeping higher rates on individuals taxpayers also struck a sour note with many.

    He’s definitely had a few misfires lately. In most of those other cases, he seems to have caught the error and then cut bait fairly quickly.

  28. - Formerly Known As... - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 12:05 pm:

    == I believe he is carrying this legislation on behalf of the Obama administration. ==

    Lynn Sweet reported exactly the opposite on April 22.

    == Then, out of the blue, Madigan proposed the unsolicited, giant, State of Illinois sweetener to build the case for the Obama library to be built in Chicago even as the state is looking for cash to pay billions of dollars in bills and pensions.

    The foundation certainly did not ask for anything from the state. My goodness, the last thing I can imagine is foundation chief and Obama pal Marty Nesbitt wanting to get embroiled in the Springfield snakepit or a City Hall cesspool.

    The entities preparing bids did not ask, either. ==

  29. - Befuddled - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 12:32 pm:


  30. - Downstate Illinois - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 12:35 pm:

    Democrats want to raise taxes + Democrats want to build a $100 million monument for Obama = Democrats want to raise taxes to build a $100 million monument to Obama.

    Couldn’t Madigan see where this was going? I thought he was smarter than this.

  31. - MrJM - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 12:39 pm:

    Presidential libraries should be financed just like our presidential elections are, i.e. by big-money donors looking for political favors.

    – MrJM

  32. - Captain America - Monday, May 12, 14 @ 8:25 pm:

    Ploy or not, there is a serious question isn’t being asked of President Barack Obama and his numerous allies of Illinois, from Rahm to Axelrod to Valerie Jarrett to Arne Duncan to Michelle.

    Why aren’t THEY being asked about spending taxpayer funds for the library and why we even NEED a library in today’s digital world?

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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