Illinois really is the Twilight Zone

Bruce Rauner’s approach to government reminds me of the 1961 Twilight Zone episode in which a young Bill Mumy (Lost in Space) starred as a small child who terrorized Peaksville, Ohio, with the capricious use of absolute power. It was an allegory about 60s dictators who, with no one to rein them in, behaved like children. It may well be the most terrifying Twilight Zone episode ever.

Little did Rod Serling know that, 55 years later, his thesis would resonate more than ever!

Mumy Twilight Zone

In an effort to consistently move the budgetary goal posts and do his damndest to make Donald Trump look rational, Bruce flew out of bed at 3 a.m. last week to summarily shriek, “Aha! It must be a property tax freeze!” And he came to this compelling conclusion despite the fact there’s no basis in reality for this kind of thing and it will never happen.

But instead of telling the emperor he forgot to wear his pajamas, just like those completely cowed Peaksville residents, Bruce’s GOP foot soldiers simply stuttered, “It’s a really good thing Bruce. A really good thing!” You see, no one wants to tell the Governor the truth because he’ll get mad and banish them to “the cornfield.”

Of course, anyone with a sixth-grade education already understands that, until the state changes the funding mechanism, our school districts are forced to primarily rely on property taxes. And since that same General Assembly insists on piling on the unfunded mandates, they’re forced to regularly raise those taxes.

Not only that, but the cost of doing business inexorably rises, good educators deserve raises and there’s always the next capital expense.

To a lesser degree, municipalities and counties face the very same conundrum, which is will be greatly exacerbated as the State voraciously eyes a larger piece of the income and motor fuel tax pie.

So please tell me, how are school districts and non-home rule towns supposed to make up the shortfall?

This is nothing more than the typical magical and immature Republican thinking in which you always get your way and nothing on this planet ever has any bearing on anything else.

C’mon! I know that State Reps Steve Andersson and Keith Wheeler know you can’t wave a magic property tax freeze wand without some sort of serious local consequences that might make things worse than they already are. But instead of being the adults in the room, they go along with this silly stunt.

Wheeler

Keith Wheeler

But wait! There’s more!

Everybody blames Illinois Democrats – I’ve never been fond of supermajorities – but the truth is, of the 8 surrounding states, only Indiana has a lower income tax rate. It’s only when you combine property and income taxes that Illinois really shines.

And who’s responsible for collar counties enduring some of the highest tax burdens in the country? That’s right! Republican school boards, city councils and county boards!

There isn’t a single Democratic governing body within the confines of DuPage, Will, McHenry, Kendall and Grundy Counties. And in an ironic twist, in Kane and Lake Counties, the Aurora, Elgin and Waukegan school boards and city councils are far more fiscally conservative than their Geneva, Wheaton, Yorkville or McHenry counterparts.

Emboldened by a conservative electorate with the attention span of a gnat, these “good” Republicans built fiefdoms and went on the kind of spending spree that makes the Kardashians look like Ebenezer Scrooge. And their Springfield Republican brethren failed to call them on it because they wanted their support.

Andersson2

Steve Andersson

No! The Illinois GOP was so busy pandering to their base with social issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, and attacking the black president, they’ve managed to accomplish absolutely nothing fiscally meaningful.

Meanwhile, Speaker Madigan developed the kind of ground game that wins elections under almost any circumstances. I keep asking, but no Illinois Republican can tell me when they’re gonna start beating the Speaker at his own game. That’s the real challenge folks!

Not only did this Democratic supermajority took 30 bleepin’ years to build, but the taxes levied by Illinois Democrats pale in comparison to what local Republican boards have done to our bank accounts for decades.

So suddenly a governor with a second-grade negotiating mentality comes along and says he’s gonna change it all within a year? Right! I’ve said it before, political goals can only be achieved through a series of win-win compromises that slowly move toward the greater good.

And Steve Andersson and Keith Wheeler, two of the most intelligent politicians I know,  know this. Steve’s quick House rise doesn’t surprise me one bit. Trust me!  No one understands political realities more that I do, but when these two get out in front of an abject impossibility like a property tax freeze, it’s a very disappointing proposition.

Meanwhile, U-46 schools will be shutting down around Thanksgiving.

Guys! Stop pointing fingers at the Democrats, tell the Governor he’s full of manure and start being the leaders we elected you to be.

Quick Hits – May 26, 2017

We’re doomed!

There is no doubt in my mind that Governor Rauner will not be reelected until I see Democratic frontrunners Chris Kennedy and J. B. Pritzker do, well, almost anything. I thought statewide candidates had the smarts and cash to hire the kind of talent that always mean their best foot goes forward.

Before we continue, I refer to our two candidates “frontrunners” because State Senator Daniel Biss, Madison County Regional Superintendent of Schools Bob Daiber and Chicago Alderman Ameya Penwar have about as much chance of making it through the primary as I have of becoming Pope.

At least I was raised Catholic, but these folks aren’t even in the same financial universe.

Before you get your hackles up, please remember that I don’t make the rules, I only report them.

So while I fervently believe he’s well-intentioned, aside from sitting on $3.4 billion, the best thing Mr. Pritzker has going for him is he looks like the father from ‘The Wonder Years.’ Having seen him speak, “charismatic” is not the word that comes to mind.

He’s short, heavy, has no neck, his speaking voice is mediocre, the haircut doesn’t work and he shouldn’t be allowed to dress himself. Pritzker reminds me of a former NFL head coach who’s been fired so many times that he’s moved on the motivational speaking circuit.

Pritzker

J. B. Pritzker and his really bad signs!

Please! This has nothing to do with being catty! Nobody’s paying me to grace the cover of GQ, either. But I’m not running for governor. And the truth is, there are all sorts of competent political consultants who could mitigate each and every one of these damaging factors, but apparently J. B. thinks he’s got it down pat.

To make matters worse, go to his Facebook page and click on the announcement video. You’ll shortly be met by an interesting reverb echo effect as the same pinned-to-the-top-of-his-timeline video starts playing seconds after the featured one does. Special effects work in Star Wars, not political campaigns.

Then there are his signs. Yikes! You always want your name to be relegated to be the smallest portion of the placard possible.

J.B.! Failing to get the basics right doesn’t exactly build confidence. Not to worry sir! Chris Kennedy ain’t exactly settin’ the bar too high. He may well be the first candidate to fritter away that daunting last name advantage in very short order.

Chris! For God’s sake, buy some Grecian Formula 16 and darken things up a bit. Nothing crazy! Most of us can’t pull off the Phil Donahue look. And please avoid close-ups or get some sun. You might be the only person on the planet who’s whiter than me, which means you only get washed out in those bright window video backgrounds.

If that’s a skin condition, either stop drinking or get it taken care of!

Kennedy

Lastly, please hire a voice coach to will train you to talk from the back of your throat and diaphragm. Your thin and wavering oratory makes you sound much older than you really are. (Great job on the signs, though! They will stand out in an Illinois winter.)

C’mon guys! You’re making me nervous because the state won’t survive another four years of Bruce Rauner. Get the basics right!

 

We’re doomed part 2

Given 14th District Congressman Randy Hultgren’s particular brand of moral and political hypocrisy, and his sometime campaign manager is Joe “I’ll do anything for a dollar” Calomino, there is nothing I’d like more than to send the Congressman home to his angry wife.

With the inevitable 2018 mid-term election backlash likely to be an anti-Trump steamroller, one good candidate could pull it off. But when you look at the list of Democratic contenders, it’s makes the governor’s race look good!

Montgomery Mayor Matt Brolley is really a Republican who should try to beat Hultgren in the primary. But he doesn’t even have the money for that or the general election.

Jim Walz is a hard worker and I really like him. But he doesn’t have the funds either and his ultra-liberal message will never fly in the generally Republican 14th.

But the worst of the bunch is Batavia school teacher Victor Swanson – though he certainly is the most entertaining! How do I know this? Please allow me to explain.

Swanson

Victor Swanson

In an effort to gauge his level of political acumen, I watched his Facebook messaging for a bit and sent him a private message offering something along these lines:

“I’m Jeff Ward and I’ve done x, y and z. I’m glad to see you’re running against Randy, but since I hate seeing anyone waste their time, your messaging is horrific. I’ve beaten Randy’s potential campaign manager and I know he will use your constant attacks to rile his base. With previous Dem primary winner Jim Walz entering the race, you need to start telling voters about you and what you’d do differently.”

I’m not sayin’ it was the most scintillating advice, but it was reasonably accurate.

Mr. Swanson’s simply offered a terse “Thank you” and then he blocked me. And I’m such a nice guy too!

If you can’t handle private constructive criticism from someone with a long and reasonable Kane County track record, that doesn’t bode well for your political future. Mr. Swanson will come in dead last.

The Speaker is no overnight sensation

As always, I thoroughly enjoyed the responses to yesterday’s letter to U-46 CEO Tony Sanders if for no other reason than it proves my wife isn’t the only one who reads my stuff. But what semi-baffles me is all the folks who declared, “Michael Madigan has got to go!” as if that simple sentiment was good enough.

It’s not that I necessarily disagree. It’s those commenters’ failure to begin to understand how the Speaker got there that bothers me.

You see, it took a mere 30 years of masterful maneuvering while he consistently applied an astute political strategy as he took advantage of a general Illinois Republican incompetence and complicity.

A mere bag of shells, right?

Madigan

And now that he’s ascended to these lofty heights, he ain’t going anywhere. When his appointed time finally comes, he’ll be wheeled out of that House chamber still clutching that gavel to his chest.

Saying “Madigan has to go” may make you feel good, but it doesn’t change a damn Illinois thing. Since we always have to start with where we are, as was once said of the Eternal City, all Springfield roads lead to the Speaker.

And if y’all don’t understand that history, not only will nothing change, but we’re doomed to repeat it.

Before we get back to that history, let’s use a football analogy to demonstrate how silly this simple anti-Madigan statement sentiment really is.

Tom Brady became the Patriots’ starting quarterback in 2001 and he’s won a record 25 playoff games since then. That’s more post-season wins than 28 NFL teams have managed in their entire history. Don’t forget about those unparalleled five Super Bowl rings, either.

But can you imagine football fans ever saying something like this?

“The Patriots are bad for the NFL! They’ve got to go!” To some degree, that’s true. Overly dominant teams are bad for the game because fans lose interest. NFL ratings were down 10 percent across the board in 2016.

“The Patriots cheat and play dirty!” Yep! So does every other NFL team, but New England does it better. And when they get caught and lose draft picks and/or Brady gets suspended, they win anyway.

“The Patriots don’t care about other teams or the NFL!” Of course they don’t! All they  care about is winning Super Bowls and making money.

“The NFL should never allow a team to become this dominant!” First, the Patriots generally play by the rules. Second, it took decades for the organization to develop into this finely honed machine. And third, when you have the best coach in NFL history, a scouting combine that rarely misses and a general manager who knows his stuff, you amass wins through impeccable drafts, despite being saddled with the last pick.

“The NFL should do something about the Patriots. It’s not fair!” Roger Goddell would love nothing more than to slap those New Englanders down. He knows a rising parity tide lifts all boats. But you can’t penalize a team for doing everything exponentially better than their closest competitors.

Though there’s a certain logic to our anti-Patriot arguments, given the Lombardi theory regarding the only thing that matters, my fondest wish is you see just how ridiculous these contentions really are. Are the Patriots that good or is the rest of the NFL that bad?

To wit, if you want to compete with the New England Patriots, study their methods and do it better!

The same thing goes for Michael Madigan!

“Madigan and the Democratic super-majority are bad for Illinois! They’ve got to go!” You’re right! No one should be have that kind of unbridled power. But flapping your gums ain’t gonna change a damn thing (Allen Skillicorn!).

“Michael Madigan plays dirty!” Yes he does! But if Republicans were in the same position, they’d do the same gerrymandering thing. My favorite Madigan tactic is, knowing he’s vulnerable in his two-year district, he has subordinates sit in David Orr’s office with ready-to-go nominating petitions from black, Hispanic, Polish and all sorts of other candidates. The second a challenger tries to sneak in a last minute run, they dash to the front desk to suddenly make it a four-way race. That’s how you do it folks!

“Mike Madigan doesn’t care about the State of Illinois!” No he doesn’t! All he cares about is wealth and power. And he’s done an amazing job of amassing both too. Please tell me how that differs from most Illinois politicians?

“Illinois should never allow a State Rep to become this dominant!” Perhaps! But the Speaker generally follows the rules, it took thirty years for him to get this far, he’s the most effective politician in Illinois history, his campaign ground game borders on perfection and despite being regularly excoriated, he simply keeps his mouth shut and wins elections. Don’t hate him because he’s beautiful!

“Somebody should do something about Michael Madigan! It’s not fair!” Illinois Republicans would love nothing more than to slap the Speaker down. But they’ve hung their hats on so many silly social issues like same-sex marriage, their ground game sucks and their messaging is so bad they can’t buy an election in a state that’s fiscally insolvent.

If you really want to “get rid of the Speaker,” then dispense with the gum flapping, study what he’s accomplished and start building the kind of team it takes to takes to beat him at his own game. Any other conclusion belies the kind of abject political immaturity that put Illinois Republicans in the super-minority in the first place.

At least Mr. Madigan was willing to put in those countless political hours, are you?

A letter to Tony Sanders

U-46 CEO Tony Sanders is one of my favorite people. Not only does he make an incredibly difficult job look easy, he never seems to lose his love for gig that would make me homicidal in a scant 48 hours.

One must also give him credit for the leadership role he’s taken in putting the pressure on Springfield to pass a bleepin’ budget. Considering his already insurmountable duties, he’s been on this one like white on rice!

So I can’t tell you how much it pains me to have write this letter to Tony explaining that, as long as Bruce Rauner is governor, there will be no budget. So here goes!

Sanders

Tony Sanders

Dear Tony,

The entire U-46 School District applauds the fact that you managed to meet with Darth Madigan and Sith Lord Rauner to insist they sit down and strike a budgetary deal. But sadly, your semi-Herculean effort will never amount to the irresistible force that can move the intractable object.

Because that immovable object is Governor Rauner.

I’ve never been a big fan of the Speaker, his policies or the fact he’s managed to amass as much power as he has. But this kind of Rome wasn’t built in a day and the “Shake up Springfield” guy knew exactly what he was getting into. When questioned by the papers, he declared that he could work with everyone.

But Bruce Rauner can’t work with anyone! It’s why, in an unprecedented move, the Sun-Times, Tribune and Crain’s all rescinded their endorsements.

I’ve said it before, I’m not a big biblical passage fan, but there is one that always seems to ring true:

“I’ll say it again–it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”

What Jesus meant was, since rich folks have the wherewithal to create and live in their own reality, they never experience the connectedness that Jesus referred to when he said:

“You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you.”

Thus, Governor Rauner doesn’t even listen to his own advisors because, in his closed mind, he’s always right. The only way the Governor will finally shed this reality is when he’s badly beaten by Chris Kennedy or J. B. Pritzker.

But the damage to the state will have already been done.

You see Tony, the Governor thinks he’s winning this budgetary battle and no one can tell him otherwise. He even believes his Lucy strategy is working! Every time he declares a deal is near, and it’s been four separate times, the Governor pulls the football away firmly believing voters will blame the Democrats for the ongoing stalemate. And he’s so tone-deaf he has no clue that’s not the case.

C’mon! The man is already running campaign commercials that claim he’s actually accomplished something.

So when you told Governor Rauner that, without a budget, U-46 will shut down around Thanksgiving, he wasn’t the least bit concerned, because it’s exactly what he wanted to hear. The Governor has convinced himself that doing serious damage to state universities, school districts and social service agencies will finally incite the kind of anti-Madigan revolution that he believes is one small spark away.

His political immaturity is so pronounced that, not only does the Governor think he can get everything he wants all at once, but the voters won’t hold him accountable for failing to make some sort of deal.

When those shutdowns do occur and Republicans take the brunt of the blame, the Governor still won’t get the voter message. Since he’s never wrong, he’ll simply double down. Bruce Rauner doesn’t care if he has to destroy the state to “save it,” because he’s rich enough that he doesn’t have to care.

I’m not saying you should give up the “we need a budget now crusade,” Tony. I’ve been wrong before. But considering the massive amount of evidence supporting my contention, I’d start preparing for the shutdown.

I wish I had better news.

Your Friend,

Jeff

Ron Hain officially announces for sheriff

Though my recent workouts have taken a toll, I hoisted my tired butt out of the home-office chair and headed over Kane County Sheriff candidate Ron Hain’s campaign kickoff press conference in front of the Regional Board of Education in Geneva at noon today.

Not only did about 20 of his supporters show up, but at time when the Press has no bodies to spare, it was gratifying to see the DH’s Sue Sarkauskus, the Chronicle’s Renee Tomell and a couple of photographers in attendance too.

Hain Conference.jpg

In his brief commentary, Hain told reporters his administration would focus on:

  • Getting heroin off the streets by attacking it at the source
  • Creating a Heroin Hotline to better address the scourge
  • A Break the Cycle jobs program to reduce recidivism by 20 to 25 percent
  • Moving the Public Safety Division into the modern world
  • Substance abuse referral programs to help addicts get and stay clean
  • A consulting partnership to investigate and prosecute online child predators
  • Better communication with the County Board and local law enforcement agencies

All-in-all, I have to say this semi-jaded journalist was impressed with Mr. Hain and I do look forward to watching his campaign develop.

For background purposes, Kane County Sergeant Ron Hain will be facing off against Lieutenant Willie Mayes, who lost to Don Kramer in the 2014 general election. Though he hasn’t announced yet, with Chairman Chris Lauzen’s backing, it appears that bomb squad leader Kevin Tindall will take on Don Kramer in the Republican primary.

2018 is approaching faster than you think!

The Geneva Report – May 17, 2017

Worst reality show ever!

If any of y’all tuned into Monday’s Geneva city council meeting I’m sure you felt the same irresistible urge to gouge your eyes out that I did. I’d rather be forced to watch an episode of ‘Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” at gunpoint, than go through that again.

The central theme of the get together was the impending St. Charles Prairie Winds 200+ apartment development coming in behind the Randall Road Lowes on Bricher Road. And 10 to 20 of my north Fisher Farms compatriots were on hand to protest the inevitable traffic complications.

Prairie Winds

The Prairie Winds Apartments

Though I have to say a great part of the off-the-rails meeting problem was that city attorney Chuck Radovich clearly shares my capacity to aggravate the crap out of people, but my saving grace is I do it on purpose. Chuck’s school marm mien and inability to effectively communicate with regular folks made the meeting last much longer and become much more contentious than it had to be.

In Mr. Radovich’s defense, there is no IQ test requirement to move into my fascinating subdivision.

Firmly believing the City was selling them short in regards to a 1990’s intergovernmental agreement, those Fisher Farmians spoke in the kind of anti-apartment circles that made Donald Trump’s Andrew Jackson soliloquy actually make sense.

Kudos to Fourth Ward Alderman Jim Radecki for coming the closest to saying what really needed to be said, which was this:

1. Intergovernmental agreements are generally boiler plate contracts that no one pays attention to because there’s nothing to pay attention to. I know this, because I saw and archived hundreds of ‘em during my tenure at the Kane County Clerk.

2. The reason these agreements are so basic and consistent is we can’t have municipal government playing tit-for-tat over developments on their borders. That would quickly descend into a Hatfield and McCoy-esque quagmire.

3. What those agitated Genevans were essentially asking was for those 1990’s city councils to have been prescient enough to predict that the great recession would lead to a retail collapse, the subprime mortgage fiasco would make mortgages tough to come by, and Millennials would have no interest in home ownership, all of which would make apartments much more attractive.

4. If those alderman could make those kinds of predictions, they’d be working for a federal think tank, not getting 300 bucks a month to listen to their constituents complain.

5. If retail went into that space, as it was originally zoned, the traffic problems would be ten times worse, so Fisher Farms actually dodged a bullet!

C’mon! If they had the power, don’t you think the City of Geneva and/or the city council would stop that development to avoid taking all this heat?

 

But it could’ve been different!

What those fine Fisher Farms denizens failed to understand is, while we couldn’t hold St. Charles hostage over some simple intergovernmental agreement housekeeping, we could’ve forced some major Prairie Winds changes if city administrators didn’t sign off on the traffic study.

Burns

Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns

You see, that very same intergovernmental agreement stipulates that, for any Bricher Road border project to move forward, St. Charles must provide Geneva with a professional traffic study, and Geneva must approve it.

But that traffic study never made it to the city council, and here’s why:

1. Geneva Mayor Kevin Burns didn’t trust that non-rubber stamp gaggle to do the “right thing.”

2. The Mayor does trust city staffers whose loyalty has been purchased through top-of-the-line salaries and benefits packages.

3. When the traffic study arrived last March, Burns was battling Tom Simonian in a mayoral death match and the last thing he wanted was something this contentious to come before the council.

So Burns told staff to take care of it and, since they don’t have a constituency to answer to, they did. To be fair, as a professional campaign manager, I would’ve have advised my client to avoid the potential mess by either putting St. Charles off or having staff take the heat.

But now, with that golden opportunity squarely in the rearview mirror, Geneva can do nothing but sit back and watch those buildings go up.

 

Burning bridges

Rogina

Ray Rogina

If you did watch Monday’s city council meeting, you may have taken note of Mayor Burns’ brief summary of his terse Prairie Winds conversation with St. Charles Mayor Ray Rogina.

“I did notice that Jeff! And I thought that, considering the benefits of intercity cooperation, suburban mayors would be a lot friendlier with each other.”

They generally are, but through his infamous inclination to unleash his ample ego, Mayor Burns has worn out his welcome with many Kane County elected officials. Any other Mayor might have had a shot with his St. Charles counterpart, but not this one.

 

A growth project

This is the Geneva school superintendent’s front lawn which hasn’t been touched since the summer of 2016 so it’s a foot high in spots. I’m looking forward to the mail order goats’ arrival because they’ll be a vast improvement over most of my neighbors.

Mutchler Lawn.jpg