Politics

Good public servants deserve to be paid

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My wife and I recently stopped into the corner bar and grill for dinner. This being Chicago, the bartender immediately engaged us in a political conversation.

“You live around here? I’m gonna to run for alderman.” 

He explained his philosophy, which sounded fine, then added what he believed would close the deal:

“…and I won’t accept a salary.” 

It’s a thing. Would-be public servants grandly announce they won’t accept payment from taxpayers. They will work for us “for free.”

This promise is intended to win public trust and admiration, though anyone familiar with the history of Illinois politicians knows official compensation is mere tip money for those who take graft seriously.

A current list of high-profile government employees claiming to be doing taxpayers a favor by  working for free includes President Donald Trump, First Daughter, Ivanka Trump, First Son-in-law, Jared Kushner, US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and, closer to home, soon to be ex-Illinois Governor, Bruce Rauner.

We can add to the list the next governor of Illinois.

Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker, a billionaire who pumped a record $171.5 million of his personal fortune into his winning campaign for Illinois governor, will forgo his state salary, his staff said.

Considering state government’s annual spending is nearly $38.5 billion, the $177,412 annual salary Illinois pays its governors is a drop in the bucket. But the Hyatt hotel heir takes office next year facing steep financial challenges — the state’s sitting on at least $7.5 billion in unpaid bills — and refusing a salary sends a message to lawmakers and voters as he starts addressing them.

The only good news about Rauner’s bad governing is that we got it for free. He didn’t accept his governor’s salary.

BFD.

Remember, the state owes $130 billion borrowed from the state pension systems and expects to take in $36.7 billion, so the impact of the governor’s refusal of payment is infinitesimal.

With J.B. Pritzker, we’re again getting a governor “free of charge.” Will he be better? He’d almost have to be. But like Rauner four years ago, he has no record. We’ll have to see.

Sadly, this idea of getting a public servant “at no cost you YOU!” is likely to become more popular. That’s bad for democracy.

In my years working for teachers and education support employees, I often heard from school board members who were focused exclusively on taxpayers while paying lip service to student needs. These folks balked at the notion school employees should be treated as professionals, suggesting teaching is a “calling,” and therefore not an activity for which the teacher’s education, training and experience should be fairly compensated.

That was wrong. It is always wrong. If you want qualified, competent people who care enough to do their very best and take on important responsibilities, you have to pay them. You should want to pay them.

We shouldn’t let the Bruce Rauner disaster obscure the fact that delivering important public service is real work, deserving of fair compensation.

If J.B. Pritzker can get Illinois on the right track, he will be worth far more than the salary we aren’t paying him.

McBarronBlog Bonus:

Despite the corruption and incompetence, about 25 percent of American voters remain loyal to Donald Trump, proving the producers of The Apprentice did a great job creating his undeserved reputation as a tough, decisive, successful businessman.

Read all about it.

 

Politics

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, Mrs. McGinley

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There are no chairs in the hallway outside the Social Security/Medicare office on Chicago’s northwest side. Nevertheless, arriving well before the office opens has benefits; standing for the better part of an hour is a small price to pay for those hoping to get necessary business completed so they can get on with their day.

I was fifth in line on Friday, getting there about an hour before the 9am opening. Very quickly, I got to discuss my Medicare issues with an expert.

I had needlessly dreaded this visit. The woman assisting me, who wore a badge reading “Mrs. McGinley,” could not have been farther removed from the stereotype of the uncaring civil servant. Our conversation lasted about 20 minutes and, when it was over, I understood all I needed to know about my Medicare benefits and costs.

She helped me immensely and efficiently. I was and am grateful.

Since President Trump forced the federal government “shutdown” on Friday night, I’ve been thinking a lot about Mrs. McGinley. I’ve read comments online about the affected federal employees; “They’ll eventually get their money” “This is no big deal,” etc…

It’s certainly a big deal for civil servants who, at Christmas, unexpectedly will have their paychecks delayed. It’s interesting to note that, though this political theater is supposedly due to Trump’s strong feelings about border security, 54,000 border protection agents will be working for free over Christmas.

What did these public servants do to deserve this disrespect, this uncertainty?

Not a damn thing.

Because our hopelessly corrupt President seeks to distract us from investigations and resignations, Mrs. McGinley and her colleagues are pawns in a game of “Look over there!”

The far right has done a masterful job of ratcheting up resentment of government employees, charging the workers with essentially stealing from taxpayers for advocating for reasonable pay and benefits in exchange for providing services we all need.

People like Mrs. McGinley seem to take it all in stride. While suggesting I follow-up my visit with a phone call to Medicare she added, under her breath, “If there’s anyone answering the phone next week.”

But, once the shutdown ends, she and her two million federal colleagues will continue to answer the phone. They’ll do it because it’s their job to help us, whether we appreciate them or not.

Thank you, Mrs. McGinley. And Merry Christmas.

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Politics

41

800px-George_H._W._Bush_crop

(Updated) When a political leader dies, especially when the death is not a surprise, reaction arrives in predictable waves. Straight news reports give way to biographical assessments, which are almost always laudatory.  Overwhelming praise is soon replaced by reassessment and, inevitably, by disparagement.

So it is with George Herbert Walker Bush, 41st President of the United States, who died November 30 at 94.

In addition to a recounting of Bush 41 accomplishments, it’s been rightly pointed out that, as President, GHW Bush made some bad decisions or allowed terrible things to be done on his watch.

He made the reckless decision to put the uniquely unqualified Dan Quayle a “heartbeat away from the presidency. ”

His 1988 presidential campaign was extremely divisive.

Under the tutelage of hardballers Roger Ailes, James Baker and Lee Atwater, Bush impugned the Americanism of his opponent, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, the son of Greek immigrants, and pandered to prejudice in making hay of Dukakis’ honorable decision to accept a Massachusetts Supreme Court judgment that deemed mandatory pledge-of-allegiance recitals in public schools to be unconstitutional. “What is it about the Pledge of Allegiance that upsets him so much?” Bush taunted. Then came the Willie Horton ads that hyped the scare-story of an African-American criminal, released on furlough from a Massachusetts prison, who raped a woman and assaulted her husband. Never mind that Reagan, as governor of California, had signed a similar furlough bill.

Perhaps nothing Bush did as president was as indefensible as naming Clarence Thomas to replace Thurgood Marshall on the US Supreme Court when there were much better qualified African American judges or legal scholars he could have chosen.

Yet, GHW Bush deserves our respect for his military service, for the many posts he held in government and, yes, for his single term as President.

If you have strong opinions about politics and policies, and you pay close attention to both, every President will disappoint you.

Every President.

Imagine if we had a president who cared nothing about uniting the country after a divisive election? A president who encouraged division?

Imagine if our Chief Executive was the kind of person who would take actions counter to American interests because he wanted to personally profit, or because he feared alienating his core constituency?

No patriotic American wants that.

Bush 41 was not that man. He foolishly took a “No new taxes” pledge but did what was best for the country by reneging on it.

When former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke won the Republican nomination for Governor of Louisiana, Bush got involved:

“When someone has a long record, an ugly record of racism and of bigotry, that record simply cannot be erased by the glib rhetoric of a political campaign,” Bush said of Duke. “So I believe David Duke is an insincere charlatan. I believe he’s attempting to hoodwink the voters of Louisiana, I believe he should be rejected for what he is and what he stands for.”

He had a memorable presidency. There was good and bad. Some presidents are better than others and 41 was probably somewhere near the middle.

He represents a time when we could have a president who you might not have voted for, and who held distinctly different political views from your own, but who was not an embarrassment and who did not represent a threat to the Constitution and the rule of law.

We’re hearing now from people who think those who are speaking respectfully of George H. W.  Bush have developed amnesia. They seem to think we don’t remember or don’t care about mistakes he made or that were made in his name.

That’s not true.

We’re just very aware of the present as well as the past.

# # #

McBarronBlog Bonus

Politics

Why you need to vote

morans

It has always baffled me that those who decide not to vote either don’t understand or care that they are forfeiting their right to self-determination.

They are handing their power off to those who DO vote.

As a public service, I provide the following information:

I have it on good authority that the man whose picture you see above plans to vote.

Therefore, if you don’t vote, this man will have more influence over your government, and therefore your life, than you.

Don’t be a Moran.

Vote.

# # #

McBarronBlog Bonus: Find your polling place.

Politics

Who do you want in your foxhole?

FOXHOLE

In addition to a won/loss record (923–324) that placed him among college basketball’s elite, legendary coach Don Meyer is remembered for devising “The Foxhole Test”  as an aide for coaches.

“Have each player draw a circle to represent their foxhole…

…they write the names of teammates they would want in their foxhole if they were fighting a life and death battle.”

Meyer believed the test reflected a simple truth:

“There are many people who you would love to have around on the golf course or in a duck blind but deep down you know that defeat is assured if they are in your foxhole”

How do the major party choices for Governor of Illinois look in the metaphorical foxhole?

Gov. Bruce Rauner has been in your foxhole for nearly four years. In that time,  the foxhole has gotten deeper and far more treacherous.

Rauner, a rich man with no political experience, used his wealth to purchase name recognition, then convinced voters he had what was needed to work with the General Assembly, including the 400 lb. gorilla named Speaker Madigan.

Gov. Rauner held the state budget hostage for two years in to try force his unpopular anti-union, anti-working family “Turnaround Agenda” through a Democrat-dominated legislature. In the process, he severely damaged state colleges and universities and forced not-for-profit organizations that serve Illinois’ most vulnerable citizens to cut services or shut down entirely.

Eventually, with the help of fed-up Republican legislators, a budget was passed over Rauner’s veto, saving the state from total disaster.

It’s difficult to assess JB Pritzker‘s “foxholeworthiness,”as this is the billionaire philanthropist’s first run for political office.

We can look at his campaign website and see what he hopes voters will focus on, but there’s no record by which we can judge him.

Pritzker’s avoided specifics about important policies like taxation because he knows that a dishonest opponent who’s willing to demagogue issues will distort information, then use the distortions to mischaracterize and damage the opposing campaign.

For example, Pritzker supports a graduated income tax, one that will have the wealthiest people paying higher tax rates than low and middle income earners. The graduated rates would be determined, with legislative input, later.

Changing from a flat rate (everyone pays the same rate) to a graduated system requires an amendment to the Illinois Constitution. That will take time and the ability to work with the legislature and Speaker Madigan.

The voters’ dilemma: go with Pritzker, the unproven rich guy, or go withGov. Rauner, the rich guy who spent four years trying to force his agenda on the state.

That man not only did great damage, he also didn’t pass his agenda. When confronted with his failure, Gov. Rauner said“I am not in charge. I’m trying to get to be in charge.”

Four years after his election and he was never in charge? 

Is that the guy you want in your foxhole?

When you go to your polling place, remember what Maya Anjelou said:

‘When people show you who they are, believe them the first time,’” 

Don’t forget to vote.

# # #

McBarronBlog Bonus: Find your polling place.

Politics

Who do you want in your foxhole?

FOXHOLE

In addition to a won/loss record (923–324) that placed him among college basketball’s elite, legendary coach Don Meyer is remembered for devising “The Foxhole Test”  as an aide for coaches.

“Have each player draw a circle to represent their foxhole…

…they write the names of teammates they would want in their foxhole if they were fighting a life and death battle.”

Meyer believed the test reflected a simple truth:

“There are many people who you would love to have around on the golf course or in a duck blind but deep down you know that defeat is assured if they are in your foxhole”

How do the major party choices for Governor of Illinois look in the metaphorical foxhole?

Gov. Bruce Rauner has been in your foxhole for nearly four years. In that time,  the foxhole has gotten deeper and far more treacherous.

Rauner, a rich man with no political experience, used his wealth to purchase name recognition, then convinced voters he had what was needed to work with the General Assembly, including the 400 lb. gorilla named Speaker Madigan.

Gov. Rauner held the state budget hostage for two years in to try force his unpopular anti-union, anti-working family “Turnaround Agenda” through a Democrat-dominated legislature. In the process, he severely damaged state colleges and universities and forced not-for-profit organizations that serve Illinois’ most vulnerable citizens to cut services or shut down entirely.

Eventually, with the help of fed-up Republican legislators, a budget was passed over Rauner’s veto, saving the state from total disaster.

It’s difficult to assess JB Pritzker‘s “foxholeworthiness,”as this is the billionaire philanthropist’s first run for political office.

We can look at his campaign website and see what he hopes voters will focus on.

Screenshot 2018-08-30 16.46.36

Pritzker’s avoided specifics about important policies like taxation because he knows that a dishonest opponent who’s willing to demagogue issues will distort information, then use the distortions to mischaracterize and damage the opposing campaign.

For example, Pritzker supports a graduated income tax, one that will have the wealthiest people paying higher tax rates than low and middle income earners. The graduated rates would be determined, with legislative input, later.

Changing from a flat rate (everyone pays the same rate) to a graduated system requires an amendment to the Illinois Constitution. That will take time and the ability to work with the legislature and Speaker Madigan.

The voters’ dilemma: go with Pritzker, the unproven rich guy, or go withGov. Rauner, the rich guy who spent four years trying to force his agenda on the state.

That man not only did great damage, he also didn’t pass his agenda. When confronted with his failure, Gov. Rauner said, “I am not in charge. I’m trying to get to be in charge.”

Four years after his election and he was never in charge? 

Is that the guy you want in your foxhole?

When you go to your polling place, remember what Maya Anjelou said:

‘When people show you who they are, believe them the first time,'” 

Don’t forget to vote.

# # #

McBarronBlog Bonus: Find your polling place.

Baseball · Politics · Radio

Thirty years ago, Illinois defeated Florida – Jim Thompson got the save

 

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The owners of the Chicago White Sox were adamant: they were going to get a new ballpark.

As for “In what state?,” Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn were open-minded.

The Sox had played on Chicago’s south side since 1901. However, in the summer of 1988, business leaders and politicians were offering a sweet deal in St. Petersburg if the Sox would become Florida’s first Major League Baseball team.

A cherished dream of many Floridians — the state’s own major-league baseball team — moved closer to reality Tuesday when legislators approved a $30 million plan to lure the Chicago White Sox to St. Petersburg.

”We are extremely pleased,” said Larry Arnold, chief assistant city manager of St. Petersburg.

”We have taken a major step toward bringing major-league baseball to Florida. We have every hope that they’re going to be in St. Petersburg in 1989.”

Supporters of the plan said Tuesday’s votes by the House and the Senate significantly increased the odds that the White Sox will play ball next year in a 43,000-seat domed stadium under construction in downtown St. Petersburg. 

This was a fact: Unless Illinois lawmakers passed the stadium bill by midnight (60 votes needed in the House) on June 30, the White Sox would be Florida-bound on July 1. The reason: after that date, the legislative bar would be raised. A proposal as controversial as the $150 million taxpayer-funded White Sox stadium bill would never get the super-majority (71 House votes) needed for approval after June 30.

On June 30, the stadium bill needed to first get 30 votes to clear the Senate, itself a seemingly impossible task.

It all had to happen by midnight.

In the Senate, Chicago Democrats favored the proposal, but at least three Republicans needed to join them. Noted Chicago-hater James “Pate” Phillip of DuPage County was the Republican Senate leader. His opposition meant no Republicans were willing to vote for the stadium bill.

But the Save Our Sox campaign had some well-placed supporters.

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Governor Jim Thompson, a Chicago Republican popular in his hometown, understood losing one of the city’s two Major League teams would be a blow to the local and state economies. Thompson, in his fourth and final term as governor, also knew a departure of the the White Sox on his watch would stain his legacy.

It was more personal for Speaker Michael Madigan, a White Sox fan whose legislative district is located on Chicago’s south side. But, regardless of what Madigan wanted, saving the Sox would be impossible without Republican support.

June 30, 1988

In the late afternoon on June 30, based on Senate President Phillip’s opposition, Lt. Gov. George Ryan pronounced the Sox stadium bill “dead.”

Phillip had a vice-like grip on his members, so there was no reason to doubt Ryan as the bill awaited a Senate vote.  But, Gov. Thompson wasn’t giving up.

“I said, ‘Pate, this is personal. I want this stadium and you have to help me,'” Thompson said.

In a surprise, Phillip dropped his opposition, allowing his members to vote as they wished. The Senate Minority Leader smirked as Thompson prowled the Senate floor, looking for Republicans willing to support the bill.

Shockingly, Thompson convinced three Republicans to go along, giving the bill the minimum 30 votes needed. As soon as the votes were tallied, Thompson and his lobbying team literally sprinted into the House chamber to try to get the bill passed before the midnight deadline.

What happened next was as dramatic as anything that happened at Comiskey Park in the during the 80 years it hosted ballgames.

The sound in the House chamber was a dull roar. The atmosphere was extremely tense.

Thompson scurried around the Republican side of the aisle in a feverish attempt to find supporters. Voting for a stadium for Chicago was not an easy sell for downstate and suburban Republicans.

Every Republican Representative was a potential supporter, as far as the governor was concerned. With all eyes on him, and with Speaker Madigan’s support, Thompson unashamedly played “Let’s Make a Deal” on the House floor.

Afterward, there were stories that Thompson was awarding “pork” projects right and left. One legislator said the governor had promised to support him for Secretary of State.

I’m not sure how a representative could hear any of the promises being made. The decibel level in the chamber ranged from “very loud” to, as midnight drew near, “deafening.”

Ordinarily, a bill is read and debated, voting opens and, after 30 seconds or less of members being prodded “Have all voted who wish?”, voting ends and results are tallied and posted. Reporting a legislative vote “live” for the radio is an uncomplicated task, normally.

What happened shortly before midnight on the evening of June 30, 1988, was not normal.

In the House press box, with a phone jammed against my ear but unable to hear anything being said to me by the WMAQ-AM news producers back in Chicago, I had to assume I was “live” on the air. With one eye on the House tote board and the other on Gov. Thompson twisting arms on the House floor, more than 20 minutes of radio “play-by-play” was improvised for audiences in Chicago and St. Petersburg.

Here are the last eight minutes of the WMAQ broadcast of the House vote. Listen for the tone signaling midnight.

Illinois Issues:

Senators, having adjourned for the night, filled the rear of the House chamber. When the voting opened in the House several members did not register their votes on the electronic board. The voting was closed, thereby forcing representatives to declare their votes. The board showed only 54 yes votes, and 60 were required. The roll call was not announced, giving Thompson and other supporters time to convince reluctant representatives to change their votes. The clock on the vote board was switched off, so nobody could be sure of the exact time. Slowly six representatives, three from each party, asked that their votes be changed from no to yes. When the 60th vote was lit up on the board the vote was immediately announced, as well as the time of 11:59 p.m., although the printed roll call recorded the time at 12:03 a.m.

WMAQ was the only news outlet to broadcast the entire vote “live.” Chicago TV stations, believing the Sox bill was dead, had left Springfield while Chicago’s radio news leader, WBBM, cut away from the Statehouse to air CBS network news at the top of the hour.

WBBM took the “midnight deadline” literally. Speaker Madigan did not.

In the House, after many observers saw their watches read past midnight, the constitutionally mandated adjournment time, the House passed the measure by a 60-55 vote. The published roll call read 12:03 a.m. Friday, which normally would mandate any bill passing by a three-fifths majority, or 71 votes.

“I don`t think there is a judge in the nation, especially in Illinois, who would challenge this,” said Madigan (D., Chicago), who also had strong-armed three Democrats to switch their votes before the electronic toteboard was closed.

“By my watch, it was 11:59′” Madigan said.  “I didn’t know this would pass. The Republicans told me they had seven votes when we went in, but the governor and I and all the members took risks and passed this bill to keep the White Sox in Chicago.”

It was akin to the White Sox coming from behind to win after the final out had been recorded.

“You bet I was worried,” a relieved Thompson told reporters. “Wouldn’t you be worried? Weren’t you watching the votes? This is a political resurrection from the dead, a baseball resurrection from the dead.”

During his 14 years as the state’s chief executive, Jim Thompson usually governed with Republican minorities in both the House and Senate. He won some and lost some but, unlike the current governor, Thompson would never have claimed he was “not in charge.”

Because Jim Thompson knew how to govern, he was able to save the White Sox for Chicago and Illinois.

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McBarronBlog Bonus:

Had Thompson failed, Chicago would have missed out on an amazing 2005 season.

The stadium bill’s passing meant the end for a great ballpark. Watch a brief documentary on Comiskey Park

Aerial photo of Comiskey, taken during the 1959 World Series

Watch the final three outs at old Comiskey.

A look at what might have been from a Tampa-St. Petersburg baseball fan 

*This Sox stadium anniversary post is a revised and updated version of a McBarronBlog post from last year.