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Hot buttons and reform

Thursday, Oct 1, 2009 - Posted by Rich Miller

* Conservative activists in this state, along with a tiny handful of allies in Chicago’s opinion media, have stressed their “anti corruption” and “pro reform” positions above just about all else. Some cynics have claimed that the Right has done this in order to play down its “real” social issues agenda to become more politically acceptable.

But, if the cynics are right, isn’t that a smart move? By calling out corruption and pushing reform, the messengers can build credibility over time. That, in turn, can help when the same messengers push their other agenda items.

Plus, “hot button” issues often aggravate me (and many others) to no end, so I, for one, am glad to see them de-emphasized. Compromise are rendered nearly impossible because positions are so hard on both sides. And both sides usually declare as an apostate anybody who would try to walk down the middle - and are well-funded and well-organized enough to make it stick. Think Judy Baar Topinka on abortion, for instance. She considered herself pro-choice, but the pro-choice groups believed she was pro-life because she was against them on a few issues. And the pro-life groups derided her as a pro-choice extremist.

* I won’t blame the Right. Blagojevich’s arrest is most certainly behind this latest craze, but it certainly seems to me that over the past several months “reform” has replaced the usual suspects as the mindless, emotional hot button in Illinois. Nobody wants to debate the actual issues, they just want to scream at each other. Anybody who dares offer up a compromise or criticism of the reformers’ proposals is derided as a tool of the entrenched, corrupt establishment.

In the meantime, actual hot button issues are beginning to fade away. Gay marriage, for instance. That issue was once so extreme that only a tiny handful would touch it. But with Iowa, of all places, legalizing gay marriage right next door and still managing to exist, arguments against the issue are, so far, quite muted here.

As you already know, two Democratic US Senate candidates - Giannoulias and Hoffman - support gay marriage. Another Dem candidate supports civil unions, which was also a formerly untouchable position. And Mark Brown writes today about a bill that will be introduced to legalize gay marriage in Illinois…

A state senator from Edgewater said she plans today to introduce a measure to legalize same-sex marriage in Illinois, the first time such a bill would have been up for consideration in the Senate.

Sen. Heather Steans, a first-term Democrat whose district encompasses the state’s largest concentration of gay and lesbian residents, said her “Equal Marriage Act” will open a new front in the effort to provide full legal rights to same-sex couples.

Until now, gay-rights activists in Illinois have focused their efforts on gaining approval in the Illinois House for a “civil unions” bill that essentially would provide same-sex couples with most of the basic rights that accrue from marriage — without some of the controversy of calling it that.

One major reason behind this legislation is that Steans has a Democratic primary opponent who is also a gay rights activist. Here’s part of his press release…

But today’s ill-timed press conference by State Senator Steans demonstrates that she is more interested in pandering and politics than in doing the hard work of crafting a strategy and passing legislation. Today’s press conference will allow Senator Steans to tout her new bill on the campaign trail, but it will not bring much-needed rights and benefits to same-sex couples.

That’s probably correct. But, it’s also how things get moved forward over time in the General Assembly. Legislators feel political pressure, introduce a bill to ameliorate that pressure, and then eventually it may actually pass, if the pressure is strong enough. Maybe not next year, but maybe in the future. This is true on both the Left and the Right.

The press release continues…

Not once, but twice State Representatives have introduced a marriage equality bill in the Illinois House. Senator Steans did not sign on as a Senate sponsor of those marriage equality bills since she was appointed in February 2008.

Well, that’s just stupid. Steans didn’t sign on as a co-sponsor of a House bill because it’s still in the House and therefore only has House sponsors. Sheesh.

Today’s out-of-the-blue press conference is a sign that Springfield won’t get the job done… again. Instead of spending her time securing the last few needed votes for the civil union bill, Senator Steans is injecting a new bill at the last minute.

Again, Steans is a Senator, not a House member. And both of her House members are solidly in the civil unions camp since they’re both sponsoring the bill. Nearby House members are also with the program. I doubt the freshman Steans would have much influence with the remaining holdouts.

And, Steans’ marriage bill may eventually help push the civil unions bill forward, or eventually force a compromise. The Statehouse argument so far has been between civil unions and the status quo. Toss gay marriage into the mix and maybe that pushes civil unions more into the center. We’ll see. But I don’t think they’ll do anything much in an election year. I could be wrong, but that’s usually a sure-fire way to heat things back up again.

* Back to reform. After pushing several positive steps towards reform, the Right is now trying to fuse their social stances with reform issues, and that position is moving into the mainstream of their party. The most obvious example is this SEIU/ACORN kerfluffle, which liberal-moderate Republican Congressman Mark Kirk has so eagerly embraced in his US Senate bid.

And they’re planning to increase the heat. From a press release posted at Illinois Review…

Despite what the left-wing media has claimed, Illinois has an ACORN problem. The corruption that has plagued our state for decades is due to corrupt groups like ACORN and its affiliates like SEIU. These groups are wasting millions of our hard earned tax dollars and our leaders in Springfield, including our Governor Pat Quinn, have strong ties to ACORN. This continuing plague of corruption seems difficult to fight but here’s how you can take the first step in ending corruption in Illinois.

Join us on Thursday Night as we launch our Illinois based grassroots movement called Say NO to ACORN. Here are the details:

Join us on Thursday Night!

When: 7:00pm CDT on Thursday, October 1st

Where: Dial by Phone (724)-444-7444, Call ID: 65215

Who: Joe Calomino, State Director of AFP-Illinois, Fran Eaton, Editor of and Warner Todd Huston, Editor of

For a Republican primary, this is a very politically astute move - if somewhat dishonest. ACORN Illinois doesn’t get “millions” of dollars from the state government. It’s been shut down for two years.

Anyway, just a few trends I’ve been noticing and I thought I’d share my admittedly somewhat random thoughts. Yours?


  1. - George - Thursday, Oct 1, 09 @ 10:15 am:

    I will have to wait for the ACORN/SEIU/Ayers talking points before I provide you my random thoughts.

  2. - OneMan - Thursday, Oct 1, 09 @ 10:16 am:

    We should be treating ACORN as part of the meal on this whole reform/incompetence issue, not the meal it’s self.

  3. - The Doc - Thursday, Oct 1, 09 @ 10:22 am:

    The reform flames have also been stoked by the MSM, particularly the Tribbies with their new “Watchdog” section.

    I think much of the GOP reform push is window dressing, as evidenced by the steady flow of ACORN/SEIU rhetoric. Let’s see them focus on more substantive issues like redistricting and in-kind contributions.

  4. - OneMan - Thursday, Oct 1, 09 @ 10:24 am:

    The downside is people can understand ACORN/SEIU

    ==redistricting and in-kind contributions.== is a bit more complicated

  5. - The Doc - Thursday, Oct 1, 09 @ 10:31 am:

    OneMan, certainly these issues are more complex and difficult to grasp, but no more so than health care or climate change - and the GOP has not found it difficult to establish specific talking points that resonate with these topics, albeit to a select group.

    For all the generic railing against the concentrated power of Mike Madigan, these two items in particular can substantively support such a contention.

  6. - Helm - Thursday, Oct 1, 09 @ 10:34 am:

    Unfortunately, the race card appears to be a trend developing in the race for Cook County Board President. A few weeks ago, Sen. Meeks convened a meeting of 4 of the 5 candidates to try and determine who was the “best” candidate.

    At yesterday’s minister’s meeting they apparently tried to pick the “best” candidate for the community. One minister was quoted as needing to organize against the “forces of evil.” It is hard to view this comment as meaning anything other than the non-black candidate.

    While not getting into commenting on any specific candidate, it would appear that the white candidate in the race is just as qualified as the black candidates though is not included in Sen. Meeks or the minister’s discussion.

    I have a feeling this will get uglier. I was hoping that we were past the race of the individual making a difference but I guess not. It would appear to me that with the natural ebb & flow of elective politics, no one race or gender has a monopoly on any one office.

    Should be interesting to see how it plays out.

  7. - George - Thursday, Oct 1, 09 @ 10:35 am:

    OneMan - I understand redistricting and in-kind contributions.

    I don’t understand ACORN.

  8. - Mac McIntyre - Thursday, Oct 1, 09 @ 10:39 am:

    For the cynics: I’m not running for office or working for a campaign. I am nonpartisan. My agenda is good government.

    The arrest of Blagojevich did not catapult me into advocacy, nor did Ryan’s. As a young kid I was inspired by the famous JFK inauguration quote. The ask not. But over time I’ve watched messengers get killed and our government on all levels transform to apparently follow the creed of another President’s famous quote: “I’m saying that if the President does it, its not illegal.”

    I have sat in on meetings that were billed as an “affordable housing” agenda to instead listen to voter registration and get out the vote strategies. Objecting on the basis of 1) that’s not what’s on the printed agenda and 2) I’d prefer more information to voters over mass registration of targeted for agendas. The local ACORN member informed me that “mediocrity can be a good thing.”

    ACORN receive(s)(d) public monies. They and SEIU use other people’s money to lobby elected officials. Within those parameters any such organization must be subject to full sunlight and, if warranted, independent investigation and prosecution.

    I’m nonpartisan but I’ll take JFK’s espoused vision over Nixon’s illustrated example any day of the week.

  9. - Shore - Thursday, Oct 1, 09 @ 10:40 am:

    I’m a younger republican. I’ve worked for pro-life members on the Hill largely because that’s all we’ve got left. I’m really ready to see our party jettison running campaigns on these issues. Obama signed a law earlier this year that expanded gun ownership into national parks, the democrat senate leader reid is prolife and progun and people my age really don’t care about social issues as much-it’s hard to with 11 percent unemployment and 20k in undergrad debt.

    Kirk has to grab these issues because if anyone looked at his f- nra rating, pro gay, pro enviornment, pro abortion, pro-nea record he’d be in hot water. There’s nothing wrong with going after SEIU, just as dems went after enron and halliburton 8 years ago, this is part of the process.

  10. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Oct 1, 09 @ 10:41 am:

    ===They and SEIU use other people’s money to lobby elected officials.===

    And so does every, single Statehouse interest group.

  11. - OneMan - Thursday, Oct 1, 09 @ 10:44 am:

    When thinking about what you find important and interesting when it comes to state government and politics, remember you are readers and people who leave comments on CapFax.

    In no way, shape or form are you the average voter.

    Remember the average voter in Illinois completely bought the Judy = George stuff Rod used in the last election.

    You are not the audience for the ACORN stuff. There are reasons why Glenn Beck gets better ratings than frontline.

  12. - George - Thursday, Oct 1, 09 @ 10:46 am:

    Shore -

    Enron bilked customers out of billions of their dollars through fraud.

    Halliburton got huge, no-bid government contracts, and misplaced billions of taxpayer dollars through ineptitude and fraud. (I won’t even go into the allegations regarding what their employees have done)

    SEIU has - umm, donated money to candidates of both parties… lobbied for healthcare, pay increases, and rights for their members.

    If you and the Republican Party wan’t to own Enron and Halliburton, I will take SEIU any day.

  13. - wordslinger - Thursday, Oct 1, 09 @ 10:48 am:

    –OneMan - I understand redistricting and in-kind contributions.

    I don’t understand ACORN. –

    George, I’m with you.

    Two summers ago, there was a trial in Chicago in which very prominent members of both political parties and the statewide business community figured in what can only be described as the most vulgar corruption and breaches of public trust.

    The same is true if you believe half of what’s in the Blago indictments. And there’s likely more to come.

    ACORN, by any measure in this state, doesn’t even register compared to that. For many, I think the outrage comes from the acts that were caught on video. For others, I think there are baser motives.

  14. - 10th Indy - Thursday, Oct 1, 09 @ 10:48 am:

    I’m waiting for someone from the GOP to tie the GAO report USA Today and Rich published yesterday on Medicaid fraud to the Illinois budget mess and the national health care debate. Something along the lines of “The Democrats in power are not using currently available tools to stop abuses in the Medicaid system that are costing taxpayers millions of dollars. How can we expect them to effectively manage the even greater sums of taxpayer funds for which they would be responsible under a $3 trillion dollar government take-over of health care?” The smart ones will follow up with a proposal that ties any increase in federal healthcare dollars to more efficient monitoring for fraud – at a minimum a requirement to actually use the currently available federal database to monitor abuse.

  15. - Bill - Thursday, Oct 1, 09 @ 10:59 am:

    Meeks is being suprisingly naive if he thinks that all whites will automatically vote for O’Brien because he’s white and won’t vote for any black candidate. More likely, he is trying to play king maker and pick “the best” black candidate himself. While his 20,000 parishioners may be an unbeatable force in a state house or senate district it is not so much in a county wide race. If Meeks wants to remain a viable politician beyond the state legislative level he should concentrate more on issues and less on race. Here’s an observation from one of the “forces of evil”. “The community” is a myth. There are many diverse leaders with diverse interests. A lot are opposed to the Jr.-Meeks combine. Appealing to their ethnic pride is not gonna do it. It just makes them all look ineffectual. If Meeks wantsd to be the next Jesse, Sr. he should concentrate 21st century issues instead of 1960’s rhetoric.

  16. - brennan - Thursday, Oct 1, 09 @ 11:34 am:

    The short short summary of this post is how random thoughts typed out are cover for incumbents.

    Here an appointed State Senator that has very little to show for a senate record, but is involved in doing what she can to make up for the failures of 46th ward Alderman Helen Shiller on public safety matters, can adopt a nearly identical hot button politically acute position the way Helen Shiller did in 2006 just in time to stave off a challenge from a reputable democrat in Jim Madigan.

  17. - VanillaMan - Thursday, Oct 1, 09 @ 11:36 am:

    The SEIU/ACORN scandal is played out. It is a dead horse. It is now stinking and anyone still dancing around it trying to scare up votes with it are wasting their time. Voters have enough on their plates to purge those in power without resorting to stupid stuff like that. The Democrats looked stupid with Haliburton and only extreme partisans used it as a reason to support candidates they would have voted for anyway. The SEIU/ACORN issue falls into a similar category.

    The polls do not help Meeks. There is no clear front runner here. As long as this continues, Meeks will not have enough leverage to talk any of the candidates out of their campaigns. These people all think they have a chance. Until we get closer to the Primary, or something changes that situation, Meeks will be unable to get the perfect black man for Cook County. The conversations we are hearing pubically from these meetings is crossing the racial line. That will happen, and will continue to happen here in Illinois. Voters sensitive to this will take these racial comments into consideration when they vote, as they should. Regardless of race, sensitive voters take race into consideration every possible angle when they cast their vote. We cannot stop that, or we’d end up instituting a thought police.

    Meeks is not yet a kingmaker, and if this contest continues as it is, he will not become a kingmaker.

  18. - beth - Thursday, Oct 1, 09 @ 11:39 am:

    SEIU doesn’t use other people’s money to lobby members of any elected body. They use PAC contributions collected from their membership separate from their union dues (as is the law). It’s a clever trick the GOP has of trying to remove union members from the union itself, but it is deceptive and inaccurate… they are our janitors, they are our nurses, they care for our children. I’m sure members of SEIU will make that point, put a face to the union, here very soon.
    The unfortunate thing is that there is no base of ACORN members to defend the organization’s name here, to put a face to its work; as it has been mentioned dozens of times on this blog and others, ACORN disbanded it’s organizing here in Illinois two years ago.

  19. - Ghost - Thursday, Oct 1, 09 @ 11:57 am:

    This actually suggest a respondse to reform campaigns…

    “[name] claims that want to be elected to “reform” governemnt; by “reform”, [name] wants to take away the rights of a women to choose what happens to her body; abolish gay rights; end stem cell research that is saving lives; [hot button issue here].”

    I’m not saying, im just saying.

  20. - Louis G. Atsaves - Thursday, Oct 1, 09 @ 12:14 pm:

    To start off commenting on Rich’s piece, the cynics are right. It is a smart move, no matter who is doing it.

    What everyone seems to be forgetting is using ACORN/SEIU as a means of getting voters attention so that you can speak to them on other issues is an old political ploy. ACORN is a hot button issue right now. Ask all the ACORN Democratic supporters who have been scrambling away from them the past few weeks.

    It’s like using Haliburton as a means of getting voters attention so that you can speak to them on other issues is also an old political ploy.

    We all can cite endless examples of this behavior. And then watch it occur over and over again on all sides of the political spectrum.

    I’m not a big ACORN/SEIU conspiracy buff as a Republican. But I do understand that more mud on that “issue” is sticking on Democrats than Republicans. And again, as a Republican, this only pleases me! :-)

  21. - Louis G. Atsaves - Thursday, Oct 1, 09 @ 12:14 pm:

    To start off commenting on Rich’s piece, the cynics are right. It is a smart move, no matter who is doing it.

    What everyone seems to be forgetting is using ACORN/SEIU as a means of getting voters attention so that you can speak to them on other issues is an old political ploy. ACORN is a hot button issue right now. Ask all the ACORN Democratic supporters who have been scrambling away from them the past few weeks.

    It’s like using Haliburton as a means of getting voters attention so that you can speak to them on other issues is also an old political ploy.

    We all can cite endless examples of this behavior. And then watch it occur over and over again on all sides of the political spectrum.

    I’m not a big ACORN/SEIU conspiracy buff as a Republican. But I do understand that more mud on that “issue” is sticking on Democrats than Republicans. And again, as a Republican, this only pleases me! :-)

  22. - Bubs - Thursday, Oct 1, 09 @ 12:57 pm:

    There is something more going on, and it is sneaky. The Social Conservative Right in the GOP is seeking subtley to co-op the Tea Party element, by making it look like the tea party types are their people. It’s just not true.

    The Tea guys are not conservatives, as in Social Conservatives, they are libertarian. They want government out of their lives to a great extent. Social Conservatives are hardly libertarian, as they want the government involved in everyone’s lives, to mandate their principles, right down to the bedroom.

    These libertarian groups are slowly amalgamating into the GOP as a new wing of the party, discernably separate from Moderates and Conservatives, because alternatives like the Libertarian Party are just not viable.

    So groups like this may look and talk “reformer,” but they are really not. In the end they will always return to their “agenda.” For them, “reform” is a cloak to be worn, then cast off as needed.

  23. - Mac McIntyre - Thursday, Oct 1, 09 @ 1:13 pm:

    beth… Until and unless it is proven otherwise I’ll keep on thinking that SEIU is following the law. I do think election laws need some fixing, especially in the area of PACs and campaign financing reform, but I understand the system in place.

    I’m not GOP but I do think it appropriate to differentiate union rank and file members and union leadership. The latter is another area of needed reform. The desired result of lobbying is to protect and promote a vested interest. That can lead to those dreaded unfunded mandates that benefit some at the expense of others.

  24. - David Jenkins - Thursday, Oct 1, 09 @ 1:32 pm:

    I consider myself a conservative anti-corruption and transparency activist, but I would also say that I’m very liberal on social issues like gay marriage and abortions. My main priority is fiscal responsibility, less (intrusive) government, and lower taxes. And you can’t address any of those issues without tackling corruption, which is very real and tangible in Illinois.

    To me, fiscal responsibility is an obvious solution to an obvious problem. The government should spend money reasonably as do ordinary people. And although the average taxpayer might float a few items on a credit card from time to time, he or she eventually has to cut back spending or face bankruptcy, foreclosure, loss of personal property, and eventually legal claims. But the government of Illinois will operate on a deficit rather than to address the ultimate need that people have, whether they realize it or not, to pay less taxes; my point being that a person can only pay 100% of their income in taxes and not a penny more. And although we’re far from paying 100%, which would be slavery, we continue to move in the wrong direction.

    I like keeping people employed as much as the next person; but I’m old enough to understand that someone who makes $80,000 a year to do what someone else is willing to do for $30,000 will not only provide relief to the taxpayer, but provides an opportunity for someone else who’s looking to prove him or herself for less money. Recent college graduates are a good example, and I would have once considered myself extraordinarily lucky to earn any kind of a salary provided I got the experience necessary to move on to a job with higher pay - when I was 22 years old. And the state of Illinois has a tremendous amount of opportunity to give people a start in life by providing lower-paying jobs to people who are younger, more mobile, aggressive, and eager to make good first impressions in their careers.

    Cutting back jobs in Illinois government isn’t so bad. It saves the taxpayer money and creates opportunity for people like all of us who are not part of the political establishment. And everyone benefits in the end, as opposed to when we refuse to do what’s necessary because of special interests like SEIU and AFSCME; where only the few who continue to be employed benefit at the expense of everyone else paying into the system.

  25. - Ghost - Thursday, Oct 1, 09 @ 2:18 pm:

    === less (intrusive) government,====

    WHat is less intrusive government exactly? One with less regulation of marijuana and fewer laws prohibiting the use or posession of small quantities of recreational drugs?

    === fiscal responsibility…and lower taxes. And you can’t address any of those issues without tackling corruption. ====

    So um we should not ork towards responsible spending and lower taxes until we add aditional laws addressing corruption. Keeping in mind that corruption is already illegal… So you support the governemtn engaging in unfettered spending and raising taxes until such time as it decides to add another layer of corruption laws??? Seriously?

    How about we go for fiscaly sound spending and lower taxes now. I am not wanting to wait for those issues, and I see no reason we cant implement them today.

    So far the US attorneys office has not come forward and identified that Ryan an Blago are going free because their conduct was lawful. So I am not sure even more time quibbling over anti-corruption laws should be a road block to spending and tax reform now.

    So we can’t

  26. - dupage dan - Thursday, Oct 1, 09 @ 2:25 pm:


    Pleze profe reed yure posts efore you koment.

  27. - paul - Thursday, Oct 1, 09 @ 3:34 pm:

    Heather Steans flip-flops. The 7th Senate needs someone with integrity, not someone who donated $200,000 of her dad’s bank money to Blago then calls for campaign contribution limits–not someone who is against gay-marriage until she draws an openly gay primary opponent. She is a symptom of the problem. The ultimate–More Of The Same candidate.

  28. - wordslinger - Thursday, Oct 1, 09 @ 5:24 pm:

    –There is something more going on, and it is sneaky. The Social Conservative Right in the GOP is seeking subtley to co-op the Tea Party element, by making it look like the tea party types are their people. –

    There are subdivisions here? Forget it.

  29. - Bubs - Thursday, Oct 1, 09 @ 9:22 pm:

    Wordslinger, if you want to try on the “ignorant” shoe and announce that it fits, be my guest.

    The GOP can be just as internally complex as the Democrats, who themselves are hardly monolithic.

  30. - Suzanne - Thursday, Oct 1, 09 @ 10:12 pm:

    Paul, I would not characterize Senator Steans bill as evidence of a flip-flop. During our short but intense race, she first expressed support of civil unions, then endorsed marriage equity (I must admit I am not sure what that is) and later avowed a commitment to marriage equality. As one’s understanding of an issue grows, positions evolve. This is not a bad thing.

    That said, can I imagine two, maybe three ways readings of this bill that are more strategic or self-interested? Sure but that’s not unique to this Senator or this filing. Until it makes no sense not to and because this issue is so important, I am willing to give Senator Steans the benefit of the doubt on this one.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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