Column by Reboot Illinois' Madeleine Doubek
President Obama, Gov. Bruce Rauner, House Speaker Michael Madigan. Three peas in a pod. Don't snort. They have more in common than you might realize.
Obama returns home to Springfield Wednesday, nine years to the day he launched his White House bid from the steps of the Old State Capitol. In the current state Capitol, where little progress ever is made anymore, he will speak to Illinois lawmakers about "what we can do, together, to build a better politics - one that reflects our better selves," according to the White House.
If he can somehow manage to prompt Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic House Speaker Michael J. Madigan to kiss and make up, or just shake and compromise, well then, he'll have succeeded where he failed himself in Washington, D.C.
After years of failing to get a Tea Party-controlled Congress to deal with him on many things, Obama shifted his approach and began issuing executive orders whenever he thought he could to get around Congress. Rauner seems to be following a bit in Obama's footsteps.
Last week, Rauner issued an executive order creating a public-private corporation called the Illinois Business and Economic Development Corporation, a private, non-profit body that will attempt to attract new jobs and business here. A few weeks earlier, Rauner signed an executive order creating, of all things, a new bureaucracy, the Department of Innovation and Technology. He said that department will revamp and update the state's dinosaur-era information technology department.
Rauner also isn't letting his budget impasse with Madigan stop him from suggesting the state should take over Chicago Public Schools, or get going on a pension compromise framework long offered by Illinois Senate President John Cullerton.
Like Obama, Rauner wants to appear active, engaged and getting things done, despite his failed relationship with majority lawmakers in the opposing party. So, this year, he's taken to near daily press conferences to announce orders or plans for legislation on non-budget topics.
Obama's visit here, though, could serve only to emphasize, for both Illinois and a national audience, just how stuck both he and Rauner have been.
Give the president credit, at least, for being willing to admit one of his failings and regrets. In his final State of the Union address, Obama said, "Democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn't matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some special interest. Too many Americans feel that way right now. It's one of the few regrets of my presidency -- that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better."
Too many Illinoisans feel that way right now. Madigan has too much power. Rauner has too much money. Rauner and Madigan both are operating in much the same way, as obstinate dictators who demand their parties' independence be stifled and checked at the Capitol doors as they play for controlling power in the next election without regard for who or what falls by the wayside in the eight months without a budget.
"Instead of having a patronage army, he's got a fistful of wire transfers, or a big bank account," Kent Redfield, professor emeritus of political studies at the University of Illinois at Springfield, said of Rauner. "The leverage is different, but the goal is the same, to override the natural checks and balances built into our system.
"I don't think exchanging a legislator who's a wholly-owned subsidiary of Mike Madigan for a legislator who's a wholly owned subsidiary of Bruce Rauner is improving the process," Redfield added.
Of course, Rauner and Madigan aren't entirely alike. They are, after all, each other's nemeses. Still, Rauner campaigned on being a different kind of governor, one who would shake up Springfield. Yet, he's waving his campaign funds like a hammer at any Republican who thinks of straying from the Rauner line.
That Madigan and Rauner both wield their political power in this same way might be why we don't have a budget eight months into the fiscal year.
State Rep. Sam Yingling, a Round Lake Park Democrat, sees the paralysis.
"I have personally seen how Republican members of the Legislature have become terrified of the governor and that's lending to an ongoing dysfunctionality," he said. "Democrats have to do what they think is right and go against their leadership when they think it's right and Republicans have to do what they think is right and go against their leadership when they think it's right."
Maybe Wednesday, President Obama can somehow manage to get Rauner and Madigan to quit acting so much alike. Maybe he can persuade them. Or maybe he can persuade a few legislators sitting before him to embrace independence, cooperation and compromise. Wouldn't that be something?