One of the big winners in Tuesday’s election was Dan Proft and his Liberty Principles PAC.
He was involved in a bunch of races (see the full list here), but the two biggest were supporting challenger Peter Breen in his successful unseating of incumbent Sandra Pihos, and backing Keith Matune’s challenge to incumbent Ron Sandack in a race that became particularly nasty. Matune conceded yesterday, coming up 153 votes short out of 13,353 votes cast.
Proft has been involved in Illinois politics for quite a while now, dating back long before he was anchoring the WLS-AM morning show with Bruce Wolf, and long before his 2010 bid for governor. (Full disclosure: Once upon a time, I was a consultant at Proft’s media firm, Urquhart Media, worked on his campaign, and worked with him serving wounded warriors and active duty, deployed military men and women with Operation Homefront.) He’s an opinion host. It’s political talk radio. I don’t think most people find it strange in the slightest to see him still actively involved in Republican electoral politics.
But it would seem that Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn is not “most people”:
Proft — like you, me, and everyone else who lives in Illinois – has skin in these games. He’s a citizen and a taxpayer. As the old saying goes, even if you don’t take an interest in politics, politics will take an interest in you.
I don’t always listen to Proft and Wolf’s morning show (I have two kids; mornings are hectic) but I’ve heard him disclose regularly when talking about these races his involvement in them via his PAC. Clearly WLS is aware of what Citizen Proft is doing and they don’t have any particular problem with it, otherwise they wouldn’t let it continue. He doesn’t fundraise on air. And, as Zorn notes, he’s not a journalist, and has never (to my knowledge) claimed to be one. His employment at The Big 89 doesn’t necessitate his surrendering his capacity as a private citizen to engage in political activity, and — brace yourselves for a big shocker here — political activity often means raising and spending money.
But, alas, none of this seems to meet Zorn’s lofty standards:
People should demand “disinterested commentators.”
We’ll continue when you’ve stopped laughing. Take a few minutes. It’s fine.
Ready? Okay then.
First, I think he means “dispassionate commentators.” I can’t imagine disinterested commentators having much to say about anything, since, you know, they’re disinterested.
But if listeners and readers should demand dispassionate commentators (or disinterested, if that’s really what you’re into), does that mean they should be getting their feathers ruffled over commentators who violate this notion by being openly for marriage equality? Who back a progressive income tax, ObamaCare, and an increased minimum wage?
You know, commentators like Eric Zorn.
Look, Zorn is a left-liberal. I disagree with him on a host of policy issues, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with him having a progressive point of view. As long as he’s honest about it. There’s no reason to pretend Zorn isn’t who he is, just like there’s no reason to pretend there Proft isn’t a conservative and, as such, inclined to actively support conservatives who are seeking elected office.
But if Zorn is going to set arbitrary and, honestly, laughably silly rules about what commentators should or shouldn’t do, don’t you think he should follow them himself?
Objective journalism is a fallacy. But we’re not even talking about journalism here. We’re talking about people like Dan Proft and Eric Zorn whose job it is to have opinions. And that just makes Zorn’s tantrum all the more silly.
Capitol Fax‘s Rich Miller is fond of referring the agencies, contractors, and social service providers caught up in the state’s ongoing budget impasse as “hostages.” Just today he has a post up on DeWitt County senior services organization closing, entitled “Hostage dies.”
An aside: Just a week ago, Miller was fretting about “escalating rhetoric” that was getting “over the top.” This was in reference to an Illinois Policy Institute columnist calling House Speaker Mike Madigan a “king.” Apparently “hostage dies” is a paragon of reasonable and measured rhetoric, but calling the most powerful politician in the state a “king” is a bridge too far. Because, obviously. Or something.
Anyway… His implication is that Governor Bruce Rauner and Illinois legislative leaders are the hostage takers, callously ignoring the plight of the people caught in the middle of this political battle that has been years and years of poor public policy choices in the making. But earlier this week, in the small western Illinois town of Mt. Sterling, we saw a much more naked example of pure power politics.
The state of Illinois currently owes roughly $313,000 to Mt. Sterling for past-due water bills for the Western Illinois Correctional Center. On Monday night, the city council voted 6-0 to keep the water flowing to the prison while they attempt to negotiate a resolution with the state.
In attendance at the meeting was Mike Oeser, chief steward AFSCME Local 3567, which represents staff at the prison, who addressed the city council:
“If you intend to pursue this shutoff action, everyone in our community and everyone in every other adversely affected community would benefit by you building a coalition. Danville, Decatur, Galesburg, Canton, Pittsfield, Lincoln, Logan, Jacksonville. These are all small communities I’m sure are in the same place. If we fight this alone, this is one of those losing battles. You build a coalition and you go forward.”
Let’s be clear on what Oeser is calling for: he wants multiple municipalities to band together to threaten to shut off water to prison inmates — and, I can only assume, actually follow through on that threat if demands aren’t met — in order to leverage Gov. Rauner into capitulating to AFSCME’s budget and contract demands.
Few concepts seem to create more confusion than bankruptcy.
Recently, Hulk Hogan was awarded $140 million in damages in a lawsuit he brought against Gawker Media, which had released a decade-old sex tape involving Hogan and the wife of a media personality. Three months after the verdict was reached, Gawker filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Critics and haters of the Gawker media empire —which includes the sports website Deadspin, the video game site Kotaku, the tech site Gizmodo, among others — hailed the bankruptcy filing as the end of Gawker, forever and ever, amen.
But, of course, that’s not how bankruptcy works. That’s not how any of it works.
A significant source of the common confusion on bankruptcy is, I believe, our board game understanding of the term. When you go bankrupt in Monopoly, you’re done. The game, for you, is over. Entertainment contributes to these misconceptions, too, when bankruptcy is typically used as a punch like, like in this example from The Office:
In the early days of the Obama presidency, when he and his political cohorts were arguing for a taxpayer-funded bailout of General Motors, a common line of argument was that bankruptcy would mean the end of the American auto industry as we know it. As with much political rhetoric, that statement was just true enough. But, of course, bankruptcy wouldn’t cause the factories and offices of GM to go *poof* and vanish into thin air, or even necessitate that the company itself be liquidated and dissolved. GM still have valuable assets, after all. They just needed relief from their crushing debt obligations.
Chapter 11 bankruptcy provides the opportunity for restructuring while the company continues to operate. For General Motors, this would have allowed them to jettison some of their legacy labor costs that were artificially driving up the cost of their automobiles in comparison to their competitors. For Gawker, it will likely facilitate of sale of all of the operation, or the selling off of individual websites, to others to keep Hulk Hogan from taking control.
Bankruptcy regularly enables businesses to emerge from the other side much healthier than when they entered. It can be a bumpy ride to get there, for sure. Some creditors end up lower on the priority list than others. Some employees don’t return. Corporate leadership is typically trimmed, if not completely replaced. But the company survives, and is usually better and stronger than before.
I bring all of this up because we may not be that far off from a time when the city of Chicago needs to consider bankruptcy as a means to solve its myriad crises.
“Bankruptcy was the opportunity to bring together a number of parties . . . both on the financial and on the labor side,” said Kevyn Orr, who was the emergency manager for Detroit when it filed three years ago. ”They said, ‘Look, we know the jig is up. We know we have to do this. You have to help me manage my own constituencies and cut a deal. I have to go out and villainize you, but I know this is what you’re capable of.’
“I’m hopeful that kind of discussion can occur outside a bankruptcy environment,” he continued. “But my experience has been (that) bankruptcy accelerates that discussion because it becomes real real, real quick. You have a federal judge that’s supervising the process, and parties have to drop some of the Kabuki theater and get to where the rubber meets the road.”
Look, I get it. Bankruptcy isn’t something that you intentionally angle for, with the possible exception of Donald Trump’s companies. No CEO wants to be the person in charge when it happens. No politician would want to be the one at the helm when it happens, either. But those are arguments about self-preservation for politicians. They aren’t arguments about the wisdom of pursuing bankruptcy when you’re staring down enormous structural deficits and multi-billion unfunded pension liabilities, like the city of Chicago is right now.
More from the Crain’s panel:
“The most high-quality buyers, they hear the word bankruptcy spoken, they’re out,” said Bill Black, a managing director and senior portfolio manager at City National Rochdale. “So you’ve lost your best lever (to avoid insolvency by borrowing) by talking about bankruptcy. By the time that word’s being invoked, you better be sure you’re pretty far down the road to discuss using that hammer.”
A lot would still need to occur before Chicago could seek bankruptcy protection, including legislation in Springfield specifically authorizing municipalities to do it. But when you consider the political moving of heaven and earth that would be necessary for Chicago to get its fiscal house in order without filing bankruptcy, Springfield passing the legislation necessary to make bankruptcy a possibility starts to seem like the real path of least resistance.
As Rich Miller noted on Capitol Fax, reporters were grilling Governor Bruce Rauner during a Q&A session in Springfield on Tuesday:
“A Springfield reporter (Bruce Rushton) ask[ed] Gov. Rauner today why we haven’t seen, ‘a solid budget proposal out of you for a year and a half.’ The reporter made the mistake of throwing in some stuff about the Turnaround Agenda, so Rauner said he disagreed with much of what the reporter said and focused solely on the ‘non-budget’ angle.”
The reporter clearly wasn’t satisfied with the response he was getting. So, he interrupted the Governor, saying, “We’ve heard that before. It’s your issue now. Why have you not produced a budget that is balanced that includes realistic proposals for revenues and cuts? Why not?” In turn, Rauner again began discussing his plans for reform.
Gov. Rauner is starting to sound like a broken record. So is the media. And so am I, quite frankly. “We’ve heard that before,” the reporter said. Indeed we have. And we will continue hearing it until the reality of the situation begins to sink in with the Democrats, with House Speaker Michael Madigan, with the media, and with the public.
A report by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute studied the political climate in Illinois over the past eight years, attempting to identify “the roots of gridlock.” In the report, the authors noted, “The Illinois example also serves as a sort of laboratory experiment and cautionary tale in which a series of campaigns over the past decade have failed abysmally to deal honestly with the budget and pension issues and have failed to teach the voters the entirely predictable consequences of those failures.”
Gov. Rauner is attempting to do just that: “deal honestly” with the budget and pension issues instead of implementing another quick fix that will further damage the fiscal viability of Illinois in order to put together a budget. Along the way, he’s also trying to explain where we are and why systemic reform is needed.
Illinois is in the midst of a crisis. The fact that we haven’t had a budget in nearly a year is a symptom, not the disease itself. Simply raising taxes or cutting services or some combination thereof would not solve the underlying problems Illinois has been grappling with for, in some cases, decades: its $111 billion pension debt, its highest-in-the-nation unemployment rate, its shrinking population.
In an August 2015 report by Crain’s Chicago Business, Dave McKinney addressed the pension crisis specifically, writing, “It didn’t happen by accident. Governors and legislators, Republicans and Democrats, repeatedly approved financially toxic changes that created the worst-funded pension system in the country.” Many such “financially toxic” decisions have been made over the years, landing us where we are today. If Illinois is ever going to be an attractive state for working families, for business owners, for jobs, then those in power now must make drastic changes to reverse the current trajectory of the state and make Illinois competitive with its neighboring states.
In a candid interview with the Chicago Tribune’s Editorial Board, Gov. Rauner confirmed he is not relenting. He detailed three aspects of his Turnaround Agenda that he wants to see enacted as part of a compromise with Democrats: modifications to workers’ compensation laws, more negotiating power for local governments, and pension reform.
Say what you will about Gov. Rauner and his Turnaround Agenda, but at least he’s being transparent about what he’s looking for in negotiations and why he believes these reforms are so critical. Then you have Speaker Madigan, widely viewed as Rauner’s political nemesis and the person whom voters blame the most for the budget impasse.
Madigan is a skilled politician. You don’t remain Speaker of the Illinois House for 31 out of the past 33 years unless you are very shrewd and very calculating. It’s hard to believe that Speaker Madigan isn’t doing all of this on purpose, as Gov. Rauner has claimed. Whatever Madigan is doing, it’s not helping to fix the crisis he had a hand in creating over the past 30-plus years.
The media and the public should demand Madigan stop issuing banal statements via his spokespeople and hold a press conference—an actual, in-person press conference like the multiple Gov. Rauner has hosted since the legislature adjourned—so the media can ask Madigan the same questions they’re asking Rauner.
Speaker Madigan needs to be held accountable to the people of Illinois and explain what his supermajority party is doing to work toward a resolution.
School’s out for the summer, which means it’s time for the members of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) to go on vacation,take a break and relax, teach summer school, stage protests and rallies. According to the official CTU website, an event entitled “Demand the Schools and City our Students Deserve!” will take place on Wednesday, June 22. Participating CTU members will be camping out at several locations across the city. According to the event page:
“With hundreds of millions in cuts threatened, the mayor and CEO of Chicago Public Schools want to pin all our hopes on a gridlocked Springfield. City Hall needs to take responsibility. For years, the Chicago Teachers Union has lobbied in Springfield and Chicago for progressive revenue that can provide the funds needed for the schools our students deserve. Rahm never supported any of those bills (Millionaires Tax, LaSalle Street Financial Transactions Tax, swaps lawsuits, etc.) that CTU worked for. Now, Rahm and Claypool want all eyes on Rauner. Springfield needs to come up with more money, but they are much less likely to act if the mayor and city council don’t demonstrate that they will embrace progressive revenue solutions in the city.”
When you’re broke, you have to make cuts. And anyone who’s been paying attention knows that Chicago Public Schools (CPS) is broke. The district is $6.2 billion in debt, operating on a $1 billion deficit, and teachers’ pensions are underfunded by $8 billion. But ask any of the CTU leaders—especially CTU President Karen Lewis— and they’ll tell you CPS is “broke on purpose.” Lewis and other union stalwarts will try and pin this “broke on purpose” myth on Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanual, Governor Bruce Rauner, CPS CEO Forrest Claypool, or any other leader who does not fully support CTU’s agenda.
The numbers, however, tell a different story regarding who’s to blame. Based on the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for Fiscal Year 2014, the Illinois Policy Institute compiled a report that found CPS’s financial crisis started back in 1995:
“CPS officials – with the consent of the General Assembly – enacted a 10-year ‘pension holiday’ that diverted more than $1.5 billion in taxpayer dollars away from pensions and toward school operations, most notably to salaries. In 1999, the system was fully funded. But by 2006, those skipped pension contributions coupled with a weak stock market created a $3.1 billion shortfall. […] It’s odd that the Chicago Teachers Union, or CTU, did not squash the pension holidays to protect its members’ retirement security. Perhaps it had to do with the fact that the money diverted from pensions allowed CTU members to receive consistent pay increases averaging 4.2 percent per year from 1998 to 2012.”
When the teachers went on strike in 2012, instead of demanding the crumbling pension system be fixed, they instead chose to increase their pay. According to a November 2015 Chicago Tribunearticle, “Higher salaries, in turn, increased pension obligations. As a result, Chicago teachers’ lifetime earnings are among the highest for the nation’s largest U.S. school systems, according to a 2014 analysis by the National Council on Teacher Quality.”
Regardless of whether CPS is “broke on purpose” or just plain broke, the CTU is certainly complicit in the fiscal crisis, a crisis that would not exist had taxpayer money gone to pension payments as planned instead of increasing the salaries of CPS teachers and administrators.
In 2015, a whopping 68 percent ($3.9 billion) of CPS’s annual budget went either to teachers’ salaries and benefits or teachers’ pension obligations. This is despite the fact CPS consistently fails its students: just over half only about 73 percent of them graduate (The Chicago Tribunewrites of these updated figures: “With CPS figures, we’re always skeptical. But Elaine Allensworth, the lead author of the consortium report, assures us the numbers hold up under independent scrutiny.” Even if this is the case, failing to graduate over a quarter of your students is hardly acceptable, especially given the amount of money—$15,000—spent on each student.), just one in five can do math well enough to gain admittance to college, and a meager 14 percent will finish college.
Now would be the time for someone to explain how this kind of spending is “for the kids.” It seems appropriate to ask the CTU: is their rally on Wednesday to demand “the schools our students deserve” or the salaries the union wants?
“All members are well aware of what happens to strike breakers[.]”
There you have it. The Chicago Teachers Union in one sentence. Comply or be punished. Prioritize engaging in political activism over any obligations to your students or we’ll drop the hammer on you. And that’s exactly what happened to Joseph Ocol.
The union’s decision came via certified mail, in a letter signed by Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis.
“I’m expelled from the union,” Ocol explains.
He was kicked out for skipping the union’s “day of action,” which was a one-day strike the CTU organized in protest against the Chicago Public Schools administration and contract negotiations.
If you’re not angry, then you’re not paying attention. Ocol is precisely the kind of teacher who should be celebrated and held up as an example of selfless dedication to his profession and his students. Instead, the CTU views him merely as a threat to their political hegemony.
He’s that rare kind of teacher who has embraced the challenges of teaching in a community in crisis like Englewood. He has managed to make a difference in the lives of his kids through his chess program by teaching them a game that promotes critical thinking and strategy — skills that will serve these students well throughout their lives. He’s gone above and beyond the call in creating an elite extracurricular program, for which he is uncompensated, that helps to keep vulnerable young kids away from the gang violence and drugs that plague the streets of their neighborhoods.
And yet, to the union, Ocol is merely a pawn. Someone to be sacrificed in defense of the Chicago Teachers Union’s castle of political power.
The message from the CTU is clear: our political priorities are more important than educating kids or anything else. And “all members are well aware of what happens” when you dare to exercise your own set of principles.
The CTU wants Joseph Ocol to be a cautionary tale to their rank and file members. Instead this story should be cautionary tale to every person who cares about the future of education in the city of Chicago. It’s an abject lesson in what really matters to the CTU.
As I said before, keep this story in mind the next time you hear the Chicago Teachers Union say that they’re doing it all “for the children.”