Brown: Dunkin ties Democrats in knots

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I’ve wrestled with whether state Rep. Ken Dunkin is the most reasonable Democrat in the Illinois House or the most self-serving.

He’s definitely one of the best dressed.

Dunkin stopped by the Chicago Sun-Times on Wednesday to explain why most reasonable would be the proper interpretation of his decision to be the only member of his party not to oppose Gov. Bruce Rauner on two key votes in Springfield this week.

But not before he fretted over whether he should change his fashionable paisley tie for our videographer.

Dunkin, as comfortable in his lightning rod role as his well-fitted suits, stuck to his guns that “we should be celebrating the success” in convincing Rauner to back away from efforts to gut state child care subsidies and home care programs for the elderly and disabled.

Instead, social service advocates were lining the hallways of the Capitol on Tuesday to blame Dunkin for the failure of two pieces of legislation that sought not only to restore Rauner’s cuts — but also to prevent the governor from doing it again in the future.

Dunkin stuck to the storyline, first advanced by Rauner, that he was the one who convinced the governor to compromise. Dunkin said that made it necessary for him to stick to his end of the deal and withhold support from legislation being advanced by his fellow Democrats.

“The governor kept his word, and I kept my word,” he said.


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Restoring the child care subsidies immediately was more important than “teaching the governor a lesson,” said Dunkin, arguing the bills should never have been called to a vote by House Speaker Mike Madigan.

Some people think Dunkin would like to teach Madigan a lesson. Dunkin denied it, although clearly he has a better relationship these days with Republican Rauner than the leader of his own party. (I asked if that had earned him a fishing trip yet to Rauner’s Montana ranch. He said he hasn’t been there.)

“I don’t have a problem with Speaker Madigan. I just don’t work for him. And he, like myself and others, have to be about the business of getting something done,” said Dunkin.

“What is that [Madigan] has offered up or is willing to compromise immediately with this governor?” Dunkin said.

“If I can convince this governor to do the right thing, to do an about face on child care and an about-face on home services for our most vulnerable elderly, that’s a start . . .” he said.

RELATED: Democrat Dunkin says he was key ‘negotiator’ in Rauner child care talks

My own impression is there are two things that moved the governor to “compromise,” such as it was, neither of them having much to do with Dunkin.

The first was the threat of having some of the powers of his office taken away — in the form of restrictions on his emergency rulemaking authority. Rauner has shown himself to be very touchy about efforts to restrict his powers.

Second, and maybe more important, was the possibility some Republicans were on the verge of breaking with the governor on the child care vote, which would have been viewed as a major sign of weakness.

For whatever reason, Rauner decided it was in his own best interests to cave. He needed Dunkin to keep the House from going ahead anyway and handing him an embarrassing rebuke — and just as importantly to prevent a face-saving win for Madigan.

It was a simple enough matter for the governor to credit his change of heart to Dunkin in exchange for Dunkin taking a powder on the crucial votes.

Except for partisan reasons, I can’t honestly say Dunkin was on the wrong side of either vote.

Although I believe Rauner used his rulemaking powers abusively in both instances, I have to admit it’s never good public policy to change the law solely to thwart an individual personality. (Example: term limits for the sole purpose of getting rid of Madigan.)

Still, I doubt Dunkin’s decision to part with the rest of his fellow Democrats had much to do with the merits of these issues.

I think he was trying to leverage something, whether that’s more power for himself or, more charitably, increased resources for his district.

For the record, Dunkin denied there’s anything in this for him other than the satisfaction of knowing those parents will be able to keep their children in day care.

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