January 27, 2016



The way to fix gridlock in Springfield is to simply post a “No Loitering” sign in the state capitol. That would keep 175 of Illinois’ 177 state senators and state representatives out of mischief.

After all, they’re superfluous and irrelevant. They’re seen but not heard. They make no decisions. All determinations are decreed by House Speaker Mike Madigan (D) and Senate President John Cullerton (D), with Governor Bruce Rauner (R) playing a bit part.

When the legislature is in session, as it is for 2-3 days per week during January, February and March, and 4-5 days during April and May, with adjournment by June, all legislators need to is show up and loiter.

There’s nothing constructive to do, except spend their $111/day per diem (which pays for gas, lodging and food), collect their annual salary of $67,836, schmooze with lobbyists, return their cell phone messages, find some work for their 3-person staff, and wait to be told what to do and how to vote (if a Democrat), or totally ignored (if a Republican). Illinois’ salaries are the fifth highest in the nation. New Hampshire pays $200 per year.

About the toughest daily decision, it is said only somewhat facetiously, that a legislator need make is when to have their first martini, and which lobbyist will buy it.

“That’s not true,” insists State Representative John D’Amico (D-15). “There are constant committee meetings.” D’Amico is chairman of the Vehicles and Safety Transportation committee. D’Amico has a point. Legislators are paid an extra $6,500 if they are a committee chairman or the ranking Republican. In the Senate there are 20 committees, commissions or task forces, but there are 60 in the House. That costs taxpayers $1,040,000. Of 177 legislators, 147 get that $6,500 stipend. And remember, every committee has a staff and legal counsel, so the output of new laws and regulations, not to mention hair-brained ideas, is substantial. But every bill voted out of committee goes to the Rules committee, controlled by the “Two Tops,” and few ever get to the floor.

Democrats have a 39-20 Senate “super-majority” and a 71-47 House “super-majority.” That is critically important, inasmuch as the vote of 60 percent of the members can override the governor’s veto, and pass bills in overtime, post-June sessions. Madigan has one more than he needs, and Cullerton four. Maintaining their “super-majority” is an obsession, for two reasons:

First, it increases their cash haul from special interests and lobbyists. In the past, there were “Four Tops,” meaning the party leaders in both chambers. Minority votes were needed, so the cash had to be spread around. Not now. Madigan and Cullerton outraise the Republicans 2-1, with Madigan, also the state Democratic chairman, taking in $5-8 million per cycle, and Cullerton $4-5 million. They can readily pump $500,000 or more into any targeted district, protecting their “super-majorities.”

And second, all that campaign money keeps the incumbent Democrats in line, and discourages Republican competition. The “Two Tops” rule through their “caucus” system. Before a floor vote, the members meet privately, are told how to vote, and then vote to ratify that edict; if a majority support Madigan/Cullerton, then all members are bound to vote that way. Bills on the floor are always a done deal.

At least until Rauner won the governorship. Last June, Rauner vetoed the 2016 fiscal year budget, excepting funding for elementary and secondary education. The “Two Tops” can override that veto, and raise taxes, but that would put their “super-majority” at risk. They want Rauner to “sign on” to a tax hike, and deliver some Republican votes. He won’t. For the “Two Tops,” clinging to power trumps using and risking their power. By April, said McAuliffe, there will be no more money to pay any state bills.

And there is a curious side-effect: Members, especially Republicans, are bailing at a remarkable rate. “There’s been an 80 percent turnover (in the House) since the mid-2000s,” said State Representative Mike McAuliffe (R-20). In short, Springfield is a time-waster: Drive 200 miles from Chicago, show up at 2 PM Tuesday, hang out and gossip for two days, leave at 2 PM Thursday. Nothing accomplished.

For 2016, Rauner’s PAC is prepared to spend heavily to shave Madigan’s “super-majority.” Here’s a look at some races:

20th District: Will 2016 be the year that Madigan pumps in $500,000 to beat McAuliffe? Not a chance. McAuliffe is the only House Republican from Chicago, and is going on 20 years, making him the 12th most senior Republican. He was elected in 1996 to succeed his late father, who occupied the seat for 24 years, and generally has a pro-labor record. Madigan made an effort to win the seat in 1996 and 2002, but has given McAuliffe a “free pass” since 2004. In the 2011 remap, Madigan made McAuliffe’s district even safer, adding a large chunk of north Park Ridge; now the 20th contains only the 41th Ward in Chicago, where McAuliffe is Republican committeeman, plus Park Ridge, Rosemont, Harwood Heights, Norridge, and western suburbs south of O’Hare Airport. As of Jan. 1, McAuliffe had $36,073 on-hand.

In 2014, McAuliffe was opposed by Mo Khan, a young law student. Madigan gave him no money, and McAuliffe won 18,879-11,354 (62.4 percent).

In something of a surprise, anti-airport noise activist Merry Marwig filed as a Democrat to oppose McAuliffe. Without Madigan’s money, she will go nowhere. According to sources, she is not Madigan’s candidate.
To understand far northwest side/41st Ward politics, one must be either a psychologist or just psycho. There are wheels within deals. There are perpetually-changing alliances, and there are non-aggression pacts. State Senator John Mulroe (D-10), of the 41st Ward, whose district includes the House districts of McAuliffe and Rob Martwick (D-19), is unopposed. Mulroe is a Cullerton ally, and had $445,351 on-hand as of Jan. 1. Martwick is also unopposed. McAuliffe’s task was to insure that no Republican was found or slated, and he expected reciprocity.

But the 2015 aldermanic race created complications, as Mulroe’s ally, Mary O’Connor was ousted by Anthony Napolitano. One of Napolitano’s chief strategists was former Alderman Brian Doherty, a McAuliffe ally. With O’Connor gone, Mulroe’s organizational base has collapsed; only his money deters opposition. Doherty made sure that the Napolitano group didn’t run somebody against McAuliffe.

As an aside, it should be noted that McAuliffe promised not to draw a state paycheck until the budget was passed. That’s cost him about $40,000 since June. But he won’t be in any soup line. His wife is a well-connected Springfield lobbyist.

15th District: Call him 24/7 Johnny. D’Amico is a multi-tasker par excellence. He earns $74,336 in his part-time job as a legislator, is a committee chairman, and, when not in Springfield, is a district foreman for the Chicago Department of Water Management, a job budgeted at $103,000 per year. His job entails driving around the North Side, in a city vehicle, to monitor sewer and water main repairs.

In a Jan. 25 phone interview, D’Amico boasted that he “spent 7 hours a day knocking on doors,” and that his reception has been “fantastic.” He said two Madigan staffers, paid by the state party, “push” him to campaign daily. They co-occupy space in the office on Lawrence Avenue, along with his aunt, Alderman Marge Laurino (39th), his legislative office, and ward Democratic organization. Expect Madigan to dump $300,000-plus into the district.

“That is absolutely outrageous,” fumed Jac Charlier, D’Amico’s opponent in the March 15 Democratic primary. “He is getting paid with public dollars to campaign.”

Charlier’s theme is that “52 years of the Laurino-D’Amico machine are enough,” a reference to the fact that Tony Laurino, Marge’s dad, became alderman and committeeman in 1965, and Marge alderman in 1994, after Tony’s indictment and resignation. Marge’s brother Bill was a state representative for 26 years. “They are a public disgrace,” said Charlier, a cofounder of FAIR, the anti-noise group.

“That family has cost taxpayers millions of dollars in salaries, pensions, investigation fees, legal expenses for indictments and trials, and incarceration costs,” said Charlier, who noted that D’Amico’s father, mother, aunt and grandmother were convicted in a ghost-payroll scheme masterminded by grandfather Tony, involving the city council’s Traffic committee, of which Tony was chairman. “It’s disgusting.”

No, countered D’Amico, “it’s negativity. I should be judged by my performance.” D’Amico said he sponsored a driving-and-texting ban, a 9-step program for teen driving permits, and a “graduated” driver’s license program for teens. He said he got an award from MADD – Mothers Against Drunk Drivers – for his work. As for the state’s fiscal mess, D’Amico had four words: Blame It On Rauner. “Past Republican governors” -- meaning Jim Thompson, Jim Edgar and George Ryan --

“worked with the legislature to pass the budget. Rauner won’t.” What D’Amico is saying is that those Republicans consented to tax hikes, which Rauner won’t.

Charlier places the blame squarely on D’Amico: ”Illinois is $135 billion in the hole, and by 2019, annual state and pension debt will be $22 billion, three-quarters of the budget.” D’Amico, he said, backed pension holidays, more pension obligation bonds, and non-funding of pensions.

I asked Charlier when he was going to stop being Mr. Nice Guy. He laughed.

E-mail Russ@russstewart.com or visit his website at www.russstewart.com.