Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Speaker Madigan, Republicans and progressives. Who's included and who's excluded?

This is a fascinating interview in the State Journal-Register with Speaker Madigan. (Thanks to the Os-blog for the link). Here, Adriana Colindres interviews Speaker Madigan in a question and answer format. After Madigan describes his 'coalition government' between himself and the two Republican caucuses against Senator Jones and the governor, this question:

Q: Do you expect the coalition government - is it a long-term coalition or is it purely for this session?

A: No, my plan is to continue my engagement with the Republicans. And my engagement with the Republicans did not start with the budget. Over the last year and a half, I’ve gone out of my way to engage with the House Republicans, so there have been several issues, one being the proposal for the Board of Education, another being public hearings on prison closings, another being public hearings on debt responsibility and fee-for-service, where I have deliberately engaged with Republicans, asked them to come in and join us in consideration of this issue. Much of this activity has been with House Republicans because that’s simply the nature of the legislature. But going forward, I plan to continue this policy, which is a policy of inclusion, OK, not exclusion. I was the practitioner of exclusion at one time. I was the victim of exclusion in ’95 and ’96, and during those two years, I learned that it’s a mistake, that the right policy for a legislature is inclusion. I’m going to do that with everybody - House Republicans and Senate Republicans, just as I did this year. I think the people want that.
This is fascinating on several levels.
One, I do think Madigan is right on the policy to avoid excessive borrowing.
Two, how many of the 67 House Democrats agree with the Speaker? How many of them would rather implement the GOP agenda (less spending)? My guess is less than half. My guess is more than half of the caucus agrees with the Senate Democrats and the governor: spending this year is better for the economy and the state, even if through somewhat irresponsible borrowing instead of a tax hike. So what gives? If Speaker Madigan doesn't reflect the House Democrats, how can he get away with it? That's why Blagojevich has started his MILF fund (which is the funniest acronym for a PAC I've ever seen -- doesn't anyone on his political staff watch Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure and know what MILF stands for?) to support House Dems. That's why Senate President Jones is furious at black House Dems. They sense a disconnect between the House Democratic caucus and the Speaker's position.
Three, which group is more important to the Speaker: progressives or Republicans? Sounds like Republicans. I could be over-emphasizing the interview, but that's what it sounds like.
Four, isn't there something nice about Speaker Madigan admitting that he was too harsh on the Republicans before Daniels took over in 95 and 96, and that he thinks a more inclusive style is a better way to go?
Fifth, and then I'll stop banging this drum: why does Speaker Madigan define 'everybody' as the House Republicans and the Senate Republicans? As in, I'll include everybody in public policy decisions. It will be me, the House Republicans and the Senate Republicans.
I met Garnet Coleman, a Texas Democratic state representative. He was one of the legislators who tried to stop the Tom Delay executed redistricting of the Texas congressional map by denying the legislature a quorom and staying out of state to avoid arrest. Yeah, arrest. He told me that when the Democrats ran the legislature, they would usually try to find common ground with the Republicans, and ultimately the end result would be closer to the GOP. When the Republicans took over, they just ignored the Democrats. Representative Coleman looked over his shoulder, and as if snapping at a dog, yelled "No!" That's how the Democrats were treated. And the end result of budgets and policies was in the heart of the GOP position, nowhere close to the Democrats.
I'm not saying that Speaker Madigan is wrong to deal in Republicans (which means that the state budget moves closer to GOP positions). I am saying that his decision to do that hurts progressives, because progressives might approach a majority of the Democratic caucus, and if Illinois Dems governed like Texas Republicans, we'd have more progressive budgets and policies than we do now. And that would raise living standards for millions of people in our state.

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