The Saddest State In The Union: How Bruce Rauner Is Destroying Illinois

Rauner

‘Earlier this month, Democratic lawmakers in the state approved a gap funding measure to help address the dire circumstances faced by education and social services. But naturally Governor Rauner is expected to veto it. And in a move almost universally applauded by state residents, Illinois Comptroller Leslie Munger announced last week that Illinois Officeholders Will Go Without Pay until State Passes Budget. But Rauner didn’t run for the paycheck. The billionaire is holding out for “’structural reforms’ such as changes in collective bargaining.” In other words, he’ll bring every one of us to our knees as a union-busting exercise. He is Scott Walker on a more dangerous iteration of public sector-savaging steroids.”

Read the full post at Contemptor.

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Braking Bad (April 17, 2012)

BikeLane

“That’s impossible.” Thus the notion was summarily dismissed by the Vice-President of the company which employs me full-time.

My good friend and direct report, a kid who’s gotten to know me rather well in recent months, turned to me and asked, “The theoretical just became a must, didn’t it?”

You know it.

Ever since I began work as the Head Writer for a housewares company last fall, the thrice-weekly commute I undertake has become the stuff of legend. I do not own a car and have no plans to acquire one anytime soon. Gas prices aside, I am a single woman who lives in the middle of the City of Chicago. That means annual City stickers, registration, high insurance premiums and yes, the cost of gasoline. I have plenty of other options at my disposal, however archaic the Windy City’s public transportation infrastructure might be. And of course, there’s always my bike – the much-adored L’il Red.

However my company is headquartered in Libertyville, IL, close to the border of Wisconsin, roughly 30 miles from my studio. Without access to an automobile, the journey requires me to rise at 4:30 AM to depart at 6, taking the first of two commuter trains that get me to the suburbs at 8:09 AM. Once the work day is finished, I am treated to the whole thing in reverse, arriving home at 6:45 PM if I’m lucky, and 7:15 PM if I’m not. I am very fortunate that I love my work.

I am an avid cyclist, typically logging 30 miles or so per week as part of my exercise routine. As the weather started to warm in March, I toyed with the idea of taking a day’s break from five plus hours on the train to spend the same amount of time on L’il Red. Don’t get me wrong: I love my nap and reading time on the rails, but just this once, I figured I could experience a different challenge, a new adventure.

Folks in Libertyville, at least the ones with whom I work, don’t spend a lot of time on their feet. People have been known to drive to the grocery store situated right across the road from the office. In more ways than one, I am an oddball in this crowd. Still, though I knew the plan to try a 64-mile round trip on my bicycle bookending a full work day was a little outside the box, I wasn’t ready for the lack of confidence in my commitment and ability. I’ve done a pretty thorough job of demonstrating that I’ll try anything.

And so with the refrain “it’s impossible” rolling around my noggin’ as a motivator, I found myself last Friday morning at 6 AM on the road to Libertyville, armed with three full printed pages of Google’s beta bicycle-friendly travel directions. This is the first, perhaps the last time, I ever wished for an iPhone.

There was, I will admit, a wrong turn on the return trip home that resulted in a four-mile detour. There was the sudden awareness that L’il Red has the bike seat from hell, a factory original that pounded my poor keister for nearly 70 miles before the day was out. There was occasional whimpering in the attempt to ride standing up as I neared home. Ample thirstiness and sweating were somewhat a plague. But dammit it all, there was a lot of satisfaction and pride too. This City Girl, often the subject of confusion and good natured kidding, proved a point, to herself as well as her colleagues.

I am mentally and physically stronger than I have ever been. This almost 34 year-old finds nothing impossible anymore. And the round of applause I received when I arrived at the office, shaking and drinking a G2 with the voracity of someone wandering the desert for weeks, was deserved. So was the free lunch I scored from that VP.

Vacation Becky: The Return of the Honey Badger (August 22, 2011)

 

 

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Vacation Becky is a hell of a lot more fun than Real Life Becky. Ask anyone. Real Life Becky is a bundle of nerves and self-consciousness, confined by typically artificial bonds of to-do lists, worries, overzealous exercising, dietary constraints and fears of aging. Vacation Becky is the absolute antithesis of all that. She is a honey badger (see NFSW video clip above) who does what she wants, worries about no consequence and is the type of bon vivant that typically adds to the entertainment of any group gathering.

I was reminded of how much I enjoy my vacation self, so unlike the real me, this past weekend on a friendly group camping trip to scenic Shelbyville, Illinois – population 5,000. What can a group of citified gal pals and gay men get up to in the still, unmolested country? Quite a lot as it turns out. And as the normally-reticent-come-yes-girl ringleader, I left a certain CoCo Chanel/Anna Nicole Smith imprint of white trash glamour that South Central Illinois will not soon forget.

It all began with breadsticks drowning in a lake of butter and covered in rock salt, not unlike the kind you might find on a Midwestern highway in the depths of January. This was the conclusion of a late Friday afternoon dinner with my traveling companion Laura. As she marveled at the delicious grotesqueness of my wish for more carbs to soak up the excess butter pond, she remarked that this sort of culinary abandon seemed outside of character. This is the moment when I acquainted her with Vacation Becky, and warned her that there was a lot more to follow.

We arrived late Friday evening at our cabin in the woods (for neither Vacation nor Real Life Becky do roughing it very well), to a raucous chorus of already inebriated whoops from the homosexual peanut gallery. We came ready to party with a trunk full of booze and chips (Ah Chili Cheese Fritos! How I love thee!). Picture bonfires, cocktails and inappropriate loud laughing well past the campground’s “quiet hour.”

Over the course of the weekend, Vacation Becky, as also known as CoCo/Anna, put boring Monday-Friday Becky in a headlock and engaged in the following:

 

    1. Wildly shameful flirting with brawny local teen boys.

 

    1. The purchase of a thrift store string bikini (Original tags on of course. Even Vacation Becky is a borderline germaphobe).

 

    1. The eating of newly procured pork rinds right there at the counter of Shelbyville’s local Family Dollar store.

 

    1. Jumping off a pontoon into lake water for the express purposes of peeing.

 

    1. Drinking a bottle and a half of wine on aforementioned pontoon, then passing out for a solid 30 minutes before reviving to finish the rest.

 

    1. Eating thinly vetted fried shrimp and coconut cake at a Sunday breakfast buffet.

 

  1. Looking eminently confident and sexy while engaging in all of the above.


Just who is this wild, adventurous minx who cares nothing for public opinion and how do I incorporate her into my weekday life? Or perhaps it’s better than she is only released from her cage for long weekends and holidays? Maybe Vacation Becky is most safely enjoyed in small doses.

An Illinois Voter’s Pulse on Election Day (November 2, 2010)

I live in the State of Illinois, where today we’ll be electing a Governor and a brand new Senator, among other offices. Though he has been gone from the Prairie State electoral canvass for over two years now, this voting day is still somewhat of a referendum on deposed former Governor, Rod Blagojevich and the dispiriting legacy he left in his wake.

In the Governor’s race, citizens have a choice between Pat Quinn, the former Lieutenant Governor for the Blago administration, who has served half a term since Roddy Boy was given the boot. Although not a perfect lawmaker by any stretch, Quinn has suffered from two major flaws: a lack of scintillating personality and the bad luck to have been the person to inherit an economic meltdown, immediately after the Illinois State legislature voted to eject Blago. In the same way I feel that President Obama has been curiously blamed for prolonged economic pains that were not his doing, Quinn seems to have paralleled Barack in microcosm.

Illinois, now officially the most bankrupt State in the Union, was well on its way to being so before Pat Quinn took the reins. However his Republican opponent for the Governor’s mansion, State Senator Bill Brady, will not have any of that – if one assesses the situation by looking at his ads. Senator Brady is fond of highlighting the statistic that Quinn has retained “75% of Blago appointees,” a thinly veiled suggestion that Rod and Pat are chums and bedfellows who have celebrated the continuity of corruption in Illinois. The problem with that assertion is that for most of Blagojevich’s term and a half, the two men were barely on speaking terms. I think “frenemies” is what the kids are calling it these days. The suggestion that Quinn’s failure to clean house and fire everyone the moment he took office means he and Rod are ideological cousins is a stretch at best.

Furthermore, one of Bill Brady’s most treasured sound bites is his claim to be an “optimist. We are facing tough times, but I’ve always believed in America and the people of Illinois. Together, we’ll make a clean break from the past and grow jobs here.” That sounds wonderful, but how exactly? What is your plan Senator Brady?

Don’t look to the candidates website for clarification:

“The four cornerstones of the Brady Better Illinois: Jobs Plan begin with the fundamentals:

•Create a stable tax climate to help jumpstart the economy
•Engage in long-term strategic planning
•Create a fair playing field to once again make Illinois competitive
•Restore accountability and transparency to the state budget process”

I think I speak for many of us when I say that the only thing more unspecific than this plan is Charlie Sheen’s diagram for getting his cocaine and booze soaked life together.

So clearly, we know I voted for the Governor’s seat in Illinois. However, the race to replace outgoing Senator, and further Blagojevich collateral damage, Roland Burris, was not as simple as it might seem for a Lefty like myself.

Clearly, I would not be using the touch screen ballot to select Mark Kirk, the Republican candidate and five term Congressman, who been caught lying about everything this campaign season. Kirk had said he won the Navy’s “Intelligence Officer of the Year” award, which he didn’t. He said he was fired upon the last time he visited Iraq. Nope. Did he learn nothing from Hilary Clinton? He said he served in Operation Desert Storm when he was in actuality a reservist in Maryland. Even his civilian biography proved to be full of half truths. Kirk has frequently spoken about his time as a nursery school teacher, a huge former campaign talking point. Turns out he was just a work-study student from Cornell.

And the funny thing is, given the weakness of Kirk’s competition, Democratic nominee Alexi Giannoulias, the Congressman had no need to embellish his record. Alexi, as my friend Tim so eloquently put it, “has failed at everything he tried.” This hardly speaks to one’s ability to make sober and reasoned decisions for the state. The 34 year-old current State Treasurer (we’re bankrupt) and former BFF of Barack Obama (until the April failure of his family’s Broadway Bank created tension) is hardly qualified to be a Boy Scout Troop Leader, let alone a man in charge of advocating for the American people.

So as I entered the ballot booth early this afternoon, absolutely despising both candidates in this contest, wishing not for the first time that the two party system would provide us more palatable options, I made a snap decision: LeAlan Jones, the Green party nominee.

The former NPR documentarian, just 13 years-old at the time of his honest portrayal of life on Chicago’s south side, Ghetto Life 101, managed to impress me more with this one accomplishment, than anything I have seen out of Kirk or Giannoulias. Republican voters have long ago written me off, and my fellow Democrats might tell me I wasted a vote. No I didn’t. I am sending a one person message to both parties in this politically scarred state to get serious and send me some real candidates. In the meantime, I wish Jones, a linebackers coach at Chicago’s Simeon Career Academy, the upset of a lifetime.

The Waning Days of Summer (August 31, 2010)

sad

The annual battle with Seasonal Affective Disorder has arrived early for me in 2010. Typically, my serotonin levels begin to drop as the days grow shorter and colder, but this year, my brain is slipping into despondency before the heat even dies. It has been a hot, wet season and that’s my wheelhouse, so I suppose it seems curious that I have chosen to take up residence in Chicago. It seems logical that if you want to fight the winter blues, maybe leaving a City that is damp and dark for nine months of the year would be your first step. What can I say? My masochism is twofold. Apparently I require the bracing, biting cold to remind me of summer’s beauty and value, and I can’t shake this morbid fascination with Illinois politics and all the carnivalesque oddities it brings.

This year, early onset SAD is hitting me in profound ways. I don’t want to let go – of the beach, the street festivals, the outdoor restaurant seating. One of my favorite sights this year has been the scene of children playing and riding bicycles until 10:00 PM, as I sit and quietly sip wine on my balcony. The season of fun and frivolity is now behind these kids. Do they feel the loss as I do?

I am also in no humor to welcome the Fall, for reasons that have nothing to do with a Peter Pan-like desire to extend fun in the sun. If it’s September, than that means we have to start taking the November elections seriously. One need not actively participate in the gamesmanship and punditry to feel the effects. Watching the evening news, picking up the paper before your morning commute, then the often frustrating act of voting, which usually means choosing the lesser of two to three evils – it’s enough to make one wish they were still underage.

Though there are many obnoxious and odd matchups in elections across the country, the State of Illinois makes a great case for having the most dispiriting contests around. Though Prairie State politics are historically dicey, we do occasionally get the proverbial Paul Simon/Barack Obama bone thrown at us.

This year, I am very sad to report, there is no such luck. One candidate after another is guilty of complete and total buffoonery. Let’s take the Governor’s race as an example. In this corner, we have sitting Executive Pat Quinn. Quinn is the sad sack who had to step in rather unceremoniously and take the reins after the ignominious fall of one Rod Blagojevich. Quinn inherited an office beset by felony convictions and deplorable fiscal irresponsibility. However, he is a good, if boring fellow, who has spent the last two years watching every plea for reform fall on a large crowd of deaf ears. Thus Illinois now carries the title of “Most Debt Ridden, Least Business Attractive,” State in the Union. This is far from Quinn’s fault in entirety, yet it is clear that it is he who must wear the crown of thorns [cue video of vociferous booing of Governor Quinn at June’s Stanley Cup rally].

Quinn’s competition for the Governor’s mansion arrives in the form of State Senator Bill Brady, a man whose strategy thus far consists of relying on the incumbent’s low polling numbers as a path to victory. Brady has adopted any means necessary to avoid the hassle of actually discussing the issues in public. The Republican’s plan to address the shortfall in revenue and human services, according to his website, includes a resolve to “cut taxes by a billion dollars, as well as reduce spending throughout the state.” With a budget deficit currently hovering around the $13 billion dollar mark, how can Brady justify cutting taxes, and what specific programs would he cut to begin to offset the already terrific revenue imbalance? Don’t know. He won’t say. Like every other good politician in Illinois, he is going to await being voted in before delineating his plans to drag us further into the red.

In the spirit of comic relief, I will briefly mention the third party, Independent Candidate for Governor, Scott Lee Cohen. Cohen had a brief flirtation with political shame and notoriety earlier this year, after winning, then promptly resigning the Democratic nomination for Lt. Governor. The pawn broker was chased away from the Quinn ticket after surfacing allegations of domestic violence, prostitution, drug abuse and rage filled outbursts. Deviant behavior from a pawn shop proprietor? Never saw it coming!

I am almost too exhausted at this point to get into the Senate contest. On the left we have the Democratic Alexi Giannoulias, a once good friend of Barack Obama’s who has begun to see his calls go to voicemail since his business venture, Broadway Bank, was shut down by the FDIC this past January. What, you mean a Wall Street charlatan might not be the kind of ally for which the President is looking? Well why ever not? A man who previously failed to protect the State’s finances in his elected role as Treasurer, while simultaneously running a bank into the ground may be good at malfunction multi-tasking, but this hardly qualifies him to make decisions for the voting public on a greater scale.

Republican challenger Mark Kirk, a current U.S. Congressmen, has experienced PR infractions that appear relatively minor compared to the rest of this lot. He has since backtracked from a statement made at a 2002 House Committee hearing, where Kirk declared himself a recipient of the Navy’s “Intelligence Officer of the Year” award. The politician’s fib was exposed by the Washington Post in May of this year. Not so smart now, are we Kirk?

Oh and by the way, both Giannoulias and Kirk are running to fill the seat of Roland Burris, the half term Senator who may or may not have cut a deal with Blago to take the chair of newly elected President Barack Obama. Though Burris could not be prevailed upon to resign after allegations surfaced in early 2009, he has decided to decline seeking re-election in order to make room for a younger, less experienced goofball.

Pass the melatonin and another glass of wine my friends. It’s going to be a rough autumn.

Illinois is the New California (May 27, 2010)

blagojevich-sucks-photo3

Despite what appears to be the inevitable ascent of the Chicago Blackhawks to Stanley Cup Glory (!), those of us in the Prairie State don’t get a win that often. In sports, we are a long suffering people. The Bears have not won anything since 1985, the 1990s glory days of the Chicago Bulls are long gone, The White Sox brought it home in 2005 (but honestly, say what you want, the Sox have never been “Chicago’s Team”), and the Cubs? Well, let’s not go there.

We are the State that brought you the bootlegging empire of Al Capone, as well the long reign of Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley and “outfit” politics. We are the land of unionized crime, and the entity that has sent two of its last three Governors to Federal prison (once the legal formalities of Blago are complete). Last Fall, we also suffered an embarrassing first round exit from the IOC’s final decision making process to determine the host City of the 2016 Summer Olympics. Ah yes, we have much to be proud of. No wonder we are also known for our drunkeness.

If it appears that I am guilty of conflating Chicago with the State as a whole, that is by design. Downstaters can howl all they want about Illinois being more than just the Windy City, but facts are facts. Chicagoland (City and suburbs) represents more than 75% of Illinois’ population, and roughly the same percentage of its economy. Take Chi-town out of the equation, and we’re left with just another agriculturally centered Red-leaning state.

However, it is not our legacy of losing, corruption, crime and other forms ignominy that I wish to write about today. As a career advocate for human services in Illinois, I would like to call attention to the sorry, pathetic state of lawmaking, and the attempts by the legislature to pass a fiscal year 2011 budget that make the more publicized financial problems of California and New York appear tame.

The Illinois State Senate is preparing to vote on a package, likely by the end of the day, that does nothing at all to address a badly needed increase of revenues. A 1% income tax hike, responsibly proposed by Gov. Pat Quinn, has been shot down over and again, not because lawmakers feel the funds are not needed, but instead because it is considered politically disadvantageous to stand up and do the right thing. The solution, according to these officials, is to attempt to balance the budget, and catch up on backlogged bills, by placing the burden squarely on the shoulders of the social services community – providers who care for children, the aged, the mentally ill, the abused, the homeless and substance abuse addicts. Yes, kick the weak and overworked while they are down. Brilliant!

Under this budget providers will be forced to operate where contracts and funding levels can be changed or cut at any moment. Key points include:

• An Emergency Budget Act that makes funding even more uncertain by giving the Governor unprecedented power (until January 2011) to make additional cuts.

• No human service organization will know about contracts to take affect July 1 for several more weeks, thereby dumping the costs of a quick shut down on the community, clients and staff.

• The Governor will be able to cut budgets at any time.

• There is no solution to late payments; they are simply kicked further down the road.

• There is no comprehensive solution to inadequate human services funding, or the larger issue of the State’s slow descent into insolvency.

If we slice through the political jargon here, what this basically means is that a budget will pass, but no one will know know anything about it until the Governor decides how the money will be allocated. Huh? Last time I checked, the State was not a monarchy. Unacceptable. Don’t we have a right to know where our tax money is going and how it is being use?. Isn’t the point of a budget process to sort all that out upfront? Nope, instead, weak and scared lawmakers are passing the buck right back to Quinn and telling agencies to lobby him for some of those lump sum dollars. What did we hire these people for?

Let’s not wait for the November elections to tell these turkeys how we feel. Call you legislator TODAY and demand better. If you don’t know who your district reps. are, you may access the following website to figure it out:

http://www.elections.state.il.us/DistrictLocator/DistrictOfficialSearchByAddress.aspx

In our cynical age, activism is often derided as both nerdy and pointless. That’s what they want you to believe because if you stay quiet, the status quo can continue unmolested. Let’s demand better Illinois! Let’s show the rest of the nation that we may produce a lot of silly headlines, but we have some backbone too.

It’s Awful, But I Love It (April 17, 2010)

Illinois Partners

There are no office supplies to speak of at Illinois Partners. The coalition manager, my boss Judith, and I use leftover utensils from the basement of the United Way’s main Chicago headquarters. They are the same generous souls who donate us cube space, computer and phone with which to conduct our business, but we cannot have access to their network, since we’re not technically employees.

On my very first day, I sat through four straight hours of meetings, including one with the powerful Executive Committee, which includes philanthropic bigwigs like United Way, the National Shriver Center of Poverty Law and the Chicago Community Trust. When I wasn’t busy being awestruck by their political connections and knowledge of Illinois legislature mechanisms, I was furiously writing notes so I could later prepare and circulate the minutes.

During my very first week I was handed control of the website, FaceBook, Twitter and YouTube accounts. I have wanted to learn how to mobilize social media in a political setting for a long time, and now I have my chance, but it is daunting because I am so new and the stakes are so high.

On Thursday, Judith and I conducted a meeting while parked in her car for 30 minutes on Jefferson Street.

I worked overtime twice.

And yet everyday, tired as I am (the work of organizing 480 members of a human service coalition is left to two employees – Judith and I), I feel more whole, more engaged, and more satisfied in the workplace than I ever have. How many citizens of Illinois use or require one or more of the following social services: drug counseling, mental illness assistance, housing, child care, senior services, adoption help, child and teen programs, domestic violence shelter and more? I don’t think there’s anyone in the State who doesn’t love someone who desperately needs these programs, if they are not themselves a direct consumer.

But Illinois, right behind California and New York is spiraling toward bankruptcy, and I don’t think I have to tell you folks that the Land of Lincoln suffers from more than a bad economy. We have a full blown crsis of leadership on our hands. Michael Madigan is apparently the most powerul man in the State, I have come to learn this week. He doesn’t want to raise taxes and he’s in no mood to take from the unions, whose organizing power social services hasn’t had to this point. Program are going to be cut Draconian-style, and the human services sector are particularly positioned to to take it on the chin. It is both the blessing and the curse of social workers everywhere that they are always willing to do more with less. Government, especially in a fiscal crisis, and a political climate of complete inertia, counts on that.

So I am doing work that interests me, and building my writing skills in new ways, while doing work that directly matters. I can feel it, see it, hear it. This is a tangible that was always missing in my former corporate incarnations, and it kept me from staying interested once I had mastered my job.

No two days will be the same at Illinois Partners. Flush with idealism as I am, there will be moments of tremendous sorrow, as people who need nonprofit assistance will be less and likely to get it with each budget cycle. But I am willing to stay here in the trenches and keep fighting.