Somehow, I don’t think this election season is going to end like the last cold open of “Saturday Night Live,” with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton running around New York City, hand-in-hand, embracing each other’s supporters.
If only it could end like that epic World Series, with Cubs’ top executives praising the Indians on their stellar battle, and then all of Chicagoland and the nation embracing the team and their own, goofy SNL performance.
There is no “happily ever after” in our democracy, as surely the immigrants who rebelled and forged America knew. For this nation to be indivisible, it probably always will go through cycles of great division and strife. The strife does need to end and we have to face what’s next, too, for us in Illinois, a state as gridlocked as Washington, D.C.
Do we want the Cubs and the rest of our teams to have a good state in which to play? Do we fans of all Illinois teams want to believe we can afford to go to a game now and then?
A few months ago following the Illinois Supreme Court’s second consecutive rejection of a ballot question on changing redistricting, someone who believes the Democratic court majority made a purely political decision asked me why don’t I just tell some rank-and-file Democrats they’re a farce? A farce because they‘re beholden to their leaders, House Speaker Michael Madigan and Illinois Senate President John Cullerton. And now, it’s clearer than ever that the same is becoming truer on the Republican side. Republicans are getting nearly all their funding and protection from Gov. Bruce Rauner.
That only divides us more. It won’t settle anything. Record-breaking tens of millions have been spent on this election and all reasonable observers say that, at most, a few seats might change parties. We’ve gone 16 months without a budget and plenty of people believe Madigan and Rauner intend to keep piling up debt through Rauner’s re-election bid in 2018.
That could mean regional universities completely collapse. Grade- and high-school children downstate continue to suffer from an unfair funding formula. The truly neediest and the heroes who try to provide for them in social and public service agencies might be forced onto welfare. The population shrinks as those who can afford to leave, do. That means record debt grows even more expensive as the backlog gets divided up and paid off by fewer Illinoisans.
That is what could be next. It sounds hopeless and I know a lot of us feel helpless, so I turned to a few former Democratic state lawmakers for their thoughts about what’s next and how to heal:
— One of them asked not to be named, but said rank-and-file lawmakers should push to change the rules in their chambers so that bills with three or so sponsors from each party get full floor hearings and votes. That might end the gridlock and improve the process right there. Soon, each party will vote to choose their House and Senate leaders and then they’ll vote to approve operating rules written by the majority leader. Democrats will have a chance to impose some fairness if they can muster the courage to implement an idea like the one above.
Kathy Ryg, a former Democratic state representative from the northern suburbs, said she understands many Illinoisans have quit caring and are frustrated. Ryg, who was among the leaders of the last redistricting reform effort, noted it took 10 years of effort before a redistricting change was made in California and the result has been lawmakers who are much more responsive to constituents.
— So, how does that help Illinois? Well, the Democrats last spring played a little dirty trick by passing a redistricting reform amendment in the House and a different one in the Senate so they all could claim they voted for reform on campaign flyers and ads. How about we make them prove they favor it starting right now?
HJRCA58 passed the House last spring, 105-7. One of the “yes” votes came from Madigan. Nearly 600,000 voters in Illinois signed petitions for a people’s vote on redistricting reform. If all of those people kept pressuring House and Senate Democrats to call the substance of that bill for a vote, lawmakers could pass redistricting reform themselves. State Sen. Heather Steans said on “Chicago Tonight” last spring she was committed to exploring a remedy to gerrymandering in Illinois. We, the people, need to apply the pressure.
— If we can walk in each other’s shoes for a few blocks and realize there are real fears and worries behind the political views of those with whom we disagree, then we might not be like the fake Trump and fake Clinton on SNL hugging each other, but we can heal. We can begin to get to what’s next. We can demand that what’s next be better than no budget and being ruled like slaves by the political overlords Rauner and Madigan. If millions can turn out peacefully to cheer a baseball team, then why not turn out peacefully to create and cheer a better future for ourselves?
— Applying persistent pressure and pointing toward solutions can work. Democratic lawmakers did defy their leader under pressure in Springfield last spring to send some money to state universities. A police superintendent lost his job and the Mayor feared he might after the Laquan McDonald video surfaced in Chicago.
“Public pressure that’s more than cynicism and disgust is really empowering,” Ryg said recently. “That’s what drives individual members to go to leaders and say people at home are no longer happy and I can no longer get by on saying what polls well and not produce something.”
What’s next? How do we heal?
We follow our individual state representatives and senators like they are our team and we place high expectations on them.
“The public has a job to stay informed and keep up the pressure,” Ryg said. “You can say it’s important to you to look at redistricting reform and you will hold someone accountable. And the same with the budget issue. There are people who will say we know we’ll need a tax increase, but we want to know it’s not going to go into a dysfunctional system.”
What’s next? We get to work on the long-term job of applying steady pressure to improve Illinois.
Madeleine Doubek is publisher of Reboot Illinois.
Follow Madeleine Doubek on Twitter: Follow @MDoubekRebootIL