Tom Kacich: Retiring Rep. Hays gives 'unvarnished' take on state politics

Tom Kacich: Retiring Rep. Hays gives 'unvarnished' take on state politics

Retiring state Rep. Chad Hays promised "the most unvarnished presentation of my career" at Monday's meeting of the Active Senior Republicans of Champaign County, and he pretty much delivered.

You didn't have to be a senior, a Republican or someone from Champaign County to be entertained and enlightened by what the Catlin Republican — who a year from now will be a former state representative — had to say about Illinois government and politics. Some of these quotes are from Hays' presentation, and some are from an interview afterward.

On last July's votes to enact a state income-tax increase and to give Illinois a budget for the first time in more than 30 months. (Among those supporting at least parts of the plan were about two dozen Republicans, including Hays):

"The fact of the matter is that had we not done something, the income tax rate would have been much higher than it is now, the unpaid bills would have been around toward $25 billion, headed toward $30 billion. Let that wash over you for a minute. We only had $15 billion of unpaid bills. If it gets to $25 or even $30 billion, the entire general revenue budget is only $36 billion. We could have been facing a situation at the end of this fiscal year where the unpaid bills in this state were as high as the general revenue taken in by the state. Can you imagine such a thing?"

The estimated bill backlog Tuesday was $8.9 billion.

Hays again disputed the claim advanced by some Republicans that the GOP lawmakers who broke ranks and worked with Democrats on the tax and budget issue overturned work being done by other Republicans.

"From my perspective, I hung in there a long, long, long, long time, and we were no closer to a budget the first of July last year than on the day the governor took office. We were not. Anyone who tells you that wasn't there. And if they were there, they weren't in a room where the negotiation was actually happening. And I've told those people that to their face. They know it.

"I'm very upset that I was in that position. I was extraordinarily upset to this day that the people in leadership and even the governor didn't work out a budget. It's untenable. However, if I had to be the adult in the room, so be it. Sometimes you look in the mirror and you say, 'Those things that I taught my children for all those years, am I going to live it out when the going gets tough and am I going to stand up and make a decision that could be career-ending or am I just going to go on and allow the forest fire to rage?' I decided I'm not going to, and I'm not even looking for everybody to say you did the right thing."

On Gov. Bruce Rauner's role in the tax and budget deal:

"Why would he veto the bill so quickly? (The House passed the tax and spending plan on July 2, Rauner vetoed it on July 4, and the House overrode the vetoes on July 6). He had 45 days. Because he didn't want the Legislature leaving town without overriding a veto. He needed a budget too. When he got a budget and he didn't have to touch it and he was able to blast it (in campaign rhetoric) until the next election, he fell out of the political lucky tree and hit every branch on the way down."

On the difficulty of being in the Republican minority for his seven years in Springfield:

"From the minority, any candidate who tells you that we're just going to go over there and we're going to tell them how it's done and we're going to crack them in the back of the head with a 2 by 4 because if we hit them hard enough, they're going to come around to our way of thinking, that sounds great. But the likelihood of that happening with the head count the way it is in the General Assembly (a 67-51 Democratic advantage in the House; 37-22 Democrats in the Senate) is nonexistent. This notion that we're going to go over there and hit a 3-run home run and we're going to drive everybody in (while in the minority) is fool's gold.

"Let me tell you how it really happens in the minority, using a baseball analogy. You beat out an infield hit, you steal second and you bunt the guy to third and you score on a wild pitch. And you plant your flag in the ground and you take the progress you made and you live to fight another day. That's reality."

On how Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan controls issues:

"One of the things you're going to hear this whole campaign season and you've heard for years is we need to raise the minimum wage and we need a progressive income tax and this and that and whatever. I find it interesting that none of those things, despite in Gov. (Pat) Quinn's last term they had the governor and a veto-proof majority in the House and Senate, they had all the votes and yet none of those things is the law of the land. I find it fascinating. Why is that? He doesn't care about those things. He needs those issues alive politically because he believes in the city particularly that those things are important and they can continue to wave that banner. If he made them the law of the land when he had all the votes, the issue goes away for them. The issue alive for him is more important for him than being the law of the land."

On the upcoming gubernatorial election, likely between wealthy incumbent Republican Rauner and wealthy Democrat J.B. Pritzker:

"Unfortunately, I predict that the governor's campaign is gong to be the most expensive in United States history. I think you can see north of $300 million spent in the governor's race. It will be an ugly, out-in-the-alley brawl. I think the citizenry of our state will be crying uncle by the Fourth of July, just praying that it's over soon. But the stakes are very high. If a Republican is not victorious, we once again will go into a (redistricting process in 2021) with no goaltender (to stop a Democratic-drawn redistricting map)."

On the need for redistricting reform:

"This is a fight worth fighting. We fight it until we knock that door in," he said, predicting that once it finally passes constitutional muster and gets on the ballot in Illinois, "it passes with a minimum of 75 percent voting yes."

On what might happen once Madigan is no longer speaker (a post he has held for all but two years since 1983):

"If we Republicans can get up to maybe 55, 56 members — remember you need 60 votes to become speaker — the Republicans in a post-Mike Madigan era might be in a position to play a role like the Republicans have done repeatedly here (with the chairmanship of the Champaign County Board). If we can't elect one of our own speaker, we can partner with some of the willing on the other side of the aisle to get somebody that we can do business with." Three times in a 14-year period minority Republicans on the county board helped elect a Democrat who was not the choice of the Democratic caucus.

On Madigan's remarkable ability to stay in power:

"Mike Madigan came together largely with union, blue-collar Democrats from the city, Chicago Machine Democrats in the '70s. That's the girl he brought to the dance, so to speak. Forty years later, the people who are winning the seats in the city ironically look nothing like Mike Madigan. They're way to the left of Mike Madigan. They consider themselves hard-core, new-wave progressives. And that he's been able to hold together in his own party, despite the fact that the people in his own party look like nothing like the folks that brought him to power, is just as remarkable as the fact that he's been speaker for 40 years.

"That begs the question: How much longer can he hold on? It will be very interesting as we go forward, how many on his own side of the aisle — young, minorities, well educated, articulate — are going to continue to allow themselves to be under the thumb of Mike Madigan. I think this era is going to come to an end sooner than later."

On his own last year in the Illinois House:

"I'm going to be very outspoken," Hays said. "I'm going to call out the hypocrisy there."

Some Democrats, he said, think that the newly liberated Republicans "are going to want to poke the governor in the eye. No, that's not going to happen. I said that these (Republicans) aren't going to check their values at the door. But I would say that if there is a willingness on workers' comp reform, we might have the leverage to do it without a second floor (governor's office) blessing. There were some people who had been working on that subject for a long time that were very frustrated that a deal couldn't be cut to make progress on that in the last year or so."

Fun fundraising

Here's a new way (at least around here) for a politician to raise money: Jen McMillin, a Democratic candidate for the 101st Illinois House District seat, is hosting a "101 Laughs" comedy night at Sliderz Bar in Long Creek at 8:30 p.m. Feb. 10. Tickets are $35 each or $50 for a couple.

Two local comedians, Jeremy Hughes and Larry Smith, will supply the laughs. McMillin is the only Democrat running in the district now held by state Rep. Bill Mitchell, R-Forysth. Three Republicans are also seeking to succeed him.

Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette reporter and columnist. His column appears on Wednesdays and Sundays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at

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BruckJr wrote on January 10, 2018 at 3:01 pm

Don't let the door hit you in the can on the way out the door, Chad.  Better to resign than to have your constituents push you out.