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Doubek: Crank up the heat on ordinary state lawmakers

Lawmakers and lobbyist move through the hallways during a recent session at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

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Our state lawmakers generally mean well. These are the rank-and-file lawmakers, the state representatives and state senators who represent us, I’m talking about. They work harder than we give them credit for, going to lots of night and weekend events, drafting bills, working with local mayors in their districts. Some put plenty of miles on the car traveling districts that stretch miles across Illinois.

But they allow themselves to be victims of a corrupt political system. We allow them to act like victims too much. And that, I suspect, is a big reason why we don’t have a state budget. Our politics in Illinois, and  around the country, is set up to corrupt our policy.

rank-and-file-lawmakers
In Illinois, Democratic state representatives have been voting for Mike Madigan to lead them for 34 years. Democrats have held the majority for most of the past 30 years, meaning we’ve had House Speaker Madigan for three decades. His party chooses him because he is a master tactician, bar none. He has been exceptional at raising millions upon millions of dollars, which he gives to his caucus in the form of campaign cash and workers that are essential to their ability to win.

They become beholden to him. He doesn’t have to tell them to vote a certain way or to be quiet about something. They catch on quick if they want his help at election time.

OPINION

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To his credit, when members start telling him, they need something to happen because they believe their re-election will be threatened without it, he listens and eventually responds.

This has not happened enough in the now 10 months we have gone without a state budget.

The same, of course, can be said for Republicans. They are beholden to their leaders for campaign funds and workers in the same way. Republicans now are more beholden than ever to the state’s top Republican, Gov. Bruce Rauner, the man with all the money.

They, too, can pressure him to act if we pressure them to act.

So, enough with the excuses.

I’ve heard quite a few. Not just excuses, but downright fantasies and lies. Last week, I heard a lawmaker tell constituents via video that he’s working on his own budget solution, as if such a thing would pass in a state where the power is concentrated up top. Months ago, I heard a suburban Democratic state senator tell business the leaders just weren’t going to do anything until after the November elections and, she was sorry, but there was nothing she could do.

Wrong.

If certain members in a few hot districts considered to be competitive in the fall, were to persistently tell their leaders something needed to get done, it would get done. To make that happen, those constituents need to pressure their politicians.

The Daily Herald recently reported that Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno and House Republican Leader Jim Durkin suggested suburban Democrats will pay an electoral price for not pressuring their leaders for a budget resolution. The Herald asked state Sen. Tom Cullerton and state Sen. Melinda Bush about that.

“I don’t think I’ll pay the price in showing people they’re getting more value for their dollars,” Cullerton told the Herald, noting he supported government consolidation like Rauner does.

“I would say there’s plenty of blame to go around on both sides,” Bush told the Herald.

We’ll see.

Rank-and-file lawmakers representing districts with universities and community colleges sure are feeling some pressure. Others should be feeling that pressure, too, in other competitive districts like House 59 and Senate 28 in the suburbs and House 112, 95, 76, and 79 and Senate 59. Look them up at ilga.gov. And every other lawmaker could be feeling more if everyone who ever interacts with a social service agency would do some pestering for a solution.

The lawmakers, generally, aren’t bad people. But they play the victim when it comes to this budget nonsense and we let them.

There’s the literal cost to us of $6.09 million in House salaries and $3 million in Senate salaries and $1.22 million in “leadership” stipends for an un-grand total of more than $10.3 million in salaries paid to lawmakers for all these months without a budget so far.

And then there’s the literal cost of communities around colleges collapsing and poor, elderly and disabled people suffering more than they should.

That doesn’t even mention the higher taxes we’re all going to pay that rise the longer this all goes unresolved. When will we apply enough pressure? When will they feel threatened enough?

#Do.Your.Jobs. #Il.Budget.Now.

Madeleine Doubek is chief operating officer of Reboot Illinois.

Follow Madeleine Doubek on Twitter: Follow @mdoubekRebootIL

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