So, Illinois lawmakers and Gov. Pat Quinn finally did something about the state’s pension mess.
Depending on your perspective, they either solved one of the state’s biggest riddles or robbed a bunch of old school teachers.
The truth, as usual, is somewhere in the middle. And, it could all be for nothing if the courts strike down the 327-page behemoth as unconstitutional.
For the most part, the way the voting went down on Tuesday was not a big surprise. Downstate Democrats and Republicans who represent heavy concentrations of state employees and university workers voted, for the most part, “no.”
But there were some aberrations in the way it all came together after years of muddling inaction.
Let’s take a look at a few:
- Former House Minority Leader Tom Cross cast a “no” vote on a bill that was super-similar to a plan he supported last year.
Why the switch?
Well, Cross is now running for statewide office, hoping to replace state Treasurer Dan Rutherford, who is running for governor.
The Oswego Republican will need a lot of money to fend off Democrat state Sen. Mike Frerichs, of Champaign.
One source of that money could be Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner, the uber-wealthy hedge fund manager who came out swinging his gold-plated bat against the pension overhaul.
Cross’ explanation for why he pushed his red button was very similar to Rauner’s complaints about the proposal.
"Unfortunately, the measure brought before us today fails to deliver real pension reform and does little to ease the burden on taxpayers." Cross said in a prepared statement.
If indeed Cross’ decision was made in order to position himself for some Rauner campaign cash, would it be fair to say he “Crosstituted” himself?
- State Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, was apparently on the fence about voting for or against the changes. Ultimately, he pushed his green button, helping to bring the vote count in the Senate to the bare minimum of 30 needed for passage.
Now we’ll wait and see what kind of green Quinn showers on Jacobs’ 36th Senate District.
- State Sen. Napoleon Harris, D-Flossmoor, is presumably a tough, battle-tested kind of guy. After all, he played linebacker in the National Football League for seven years before coming to the rough-and-tumble political gridiron in Springfield.
Given that the pension vote was among the toughest many lawmakers might ever take, you’d think Harris would tackle the challenge.
He voted “present.”
That’s the legislative equivalent of telling the coach you can’t play because you have a paper cut.
- State Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, was the lone downstate Democrat in the House to vote for the pension changes, which were negotiated by House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago.
It’s no secret Madigan has been grooming Bradley in recent years. The powerful speaker made Bradley the chairman of the House Revenue committee and has put him in charge of negotiating some very tough issues.
The man once called a “wallflower” by imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich has even been mimicking Madigan’s penchant for not carrying a cell phone, at least when he’s on vacation.
Perhaps Bradley can leverage another interchange on Interstate 57 with his vote.
- TAKING CREDIT
Madigan was not shy about taking credit for the passage of the new pension law.
“The bill would not have passed without me,” Madigan said in a prepared statement.
- A SOUTHERN ILLINOIS LEGEND
John Rednour Sr. wasn’t just a mayor and a banker. He was a fixture in Illinois Democrat Party circles.
Rednour died last week at the age of 78 at a hospital in his hometown of Du Quoin.
His visitation served as a vivid reminder of where he stood in the political world. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin was there. Gov. Pat Quinn flew in to town. Current and former congressmen were on hand.
Southern Illinois University President Glenn Poshard, himself a former congressman and state lawmaker, said Rednour was well-liked, respected and an important part of Illinois’ political culture.
He was not only an “icon,” but a “humanitarian.”
Rednour was Du Quoin mayor from 1989 until his retirement earlier this year, in part because of poor health. He also served as a school board member, a Perry County commissioner, chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party and a delegate to the Democratic National Committee.