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Right-to-work goes down in flames in Illinois House with zero yes votes

Gov. Bruce Rauner’s desires to have right-to-work in Illinois went down in flames in the House on Thursday, gaining zero yes votes in a fiery debate Democrats aimed squarely at the governor.

The vote tally was 0 yes votes, 72 no votes and 37 voting present, offering a blistering rebuke to Rauner’s anti-union agenda. A handful of Republicans went for a walk during the vote, not publicly falling on one side or another.

Republicans dismissed the vote as political theater even as Democrats pit workers’ rights against corporate greed and called Rauner “divisive” for touring the state and essentially asking local towns to kick unions out.

“Don’t be afraid, stay with us, vote no!” state Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Belleville, said.


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Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, lambasted Democrats for moving what he said amounted to “sham bills” in the House. The legislation voted on Thursday was not drafted by the governor’s office. Last week, Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan had urged Rauner to give him language for a bill, needling Rauner that he had talked about right-to-work for 100 days.

“What’s happening today, what happened last week really is a disservice to this body, to this chamber and to this building,” Durkin said. “I’m embarrassed to be part of this process today. I think this is a very dark moment in this body’s chamber.”

Rauner’s office countered that Madigan and Democrats were walking away from the negotiating table by plucking out controversial issues and voting them down. In the Capitol on Thursday, Rauner dismissed the notion that a vote on right-to-work was meant to embarrass the governor, who has made it his marquee issue since he was sworn into office in January.

(Read related: Lawmakers’ agenda for Rauner: Turn around and head to Springfield)

Asked whether the vote on right-to-work — which essentially allows people to work in union jobs without paying union dues — was meant to embarrass him, Rauner said: “Difficult negotiations in government often involve political theater. That’s a little bit of what that is. I don’t take it that way. This is just part of a political process. We’re working together and we’ll get through it. . . . There’s a lot of pressure from special-interest groups who don’t want to change. We are in a long slow decline we need to grow pretty strongly . . . we are encouraging Republicans to stay strong together. We’re a super-minority.”

(Read: Rauner says he’s pulled some agenda items off of table in talks with lawmakers.)

On the House floor, state Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, accused Republicans of selling out, saying that Rauner moved money into state lawmakers’ funds in advance of Thursday’s vote: “$400,000 this week. What were those checks for?”

Lang needled Republicans who were expected to vote present.

“You have a responsibility to tell the people of Illinois . . . what do you stand for?” Lang shouted. “We stand for them! We stand for organized labor.”

Madigan didn’t wait long before he launched his next grenade at Rauner, scheduling votes on workers’ compensation and capping awards on lawsuits.

Madigan set the vote for May 21.

Madigan noted that there had been two hearings in the full House on both issues.

“If the governor is serious about the changes he is proposing, the right thing to do now is for us to bring these issues into the open and have a constructive and open discussion, vote and see what steps need to be taken from there,” Madigan said in emailed statement.