Even by Illinois standards, it was a funny — as in oddly unique — week in Springfield.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker released a $41.6 billion state budget proposal held together by chewing gum, bailing wire and borrowed money.
Distraught over a lack of revenue, Pritzker, leader of supermajority Democrats, lambasted superminority Republicans for their failure to show leadership. He also indirectly heaped scorn on the voters for overwhelmingly rejecting his proposed progressive-income-tax constitutional amendment in the November election by chastising the GOP for that electoral setback.
“In a normal year, I might have more patience for their hypocrisy. But this is not a normal year,” he growled at the GOP.
Then there was former House Speaker Michael Madigan, who ended part of the suspense about his future by announcing he’s resigning his House seat after 50 years as a state representative, 36 of those as speaker.
In doing so, Madigan issued a glowing tribute to his wonderfulness. He also expressed dismay over “vicious attacks by people who sought to diminish my many achievements” by having the audacity to suggest Madigan sometimes acted for less-than-noble reasons.
“I have been resolute in my dedication to public service and integrity, always acting in the interest of the people of Illinois,” he insisted.
Topping off the peculiarities was undeniable evidence that a number of Republicans are champing at the bit to run against Pritzker for governor in 2022.
Former state Sen. Paul Schimp officially announced his candidacy while others wait in the wings. Among them are such names as businessman Gary Rabine, state Sen. Darren Bailey and U.S. Rep. Darren LaHood. Bloomington state Sen. Jason Barickman is also interested in running for statewide office, possibly governor.
Judging their professed ambitions, some might conclude they are goofed on skunkweed. But they each have a plan.
First, a warning about plans: They run off the rails at the first sign of contact with the enemy.
Nonetheless, even unrealistic plans are a necessary nuisance in both life and politics.
The GOP’s plan is based on what it perceives as Pritzker’s weakness as a re-election candidate.
In a nutshell, Republicans suspect Illinoisans are getting sick of him, and they have polls that provide support for that view.
Weakened by the public’s weariness with the coronavirus pandemic, controversy over Pritzker-ordered economic lockdowns and uneven results of the governor’s policies, the governor’s public approval rating has fallen from 65 to 49 percent.
That’s still not bad. If
49 percent still approve of him in isolation, how many of the nonapprovals will approve when they compare Pritzker to a GOP alternative?
And think of this: How popular will that GOP alternative be after Pritzker has spent $200 million on political ads to portray them as only slightly less loathsome than a serial killer?
Then there’s the GOP’s turf problem.
Illinois is overwhelmingly Democratic. Because the party controls all three branches of government, Pritzker and his fellow Democrats can do anything they want without wasting a second worrying about GOP opposition.
That’s what makes Pritzker’s criticism of Republicans last week so laughable. Because they have zero power, they are useful only as foils for a disingenuous governor.
Democrats can win statewide in Illinois by carrying only one county — Cook. Their relatively new strength in the collar counties makes them doubly formidable.
While the GOP’s downstate base is enthusiastic, it’s small in population.
Analysis of past
statewide races shows the GOP can only win if a strong Republican runs against a weak Democrat.
Even with that scenario, the strong Republican’s win would be narrow.
Every other scenario — weak Democrat against weak Republican, strong Democrat against strong Republican, strong Democrat against weak Republican — produces a solid or landslide Democratic victory.
People can argue about Pritzker’s strengths. But that dispute also applies to the GOP, which is divided.
Hardcore conservatives, like Bailey, who has engaged in futile legal challenges against Pritzker’s coronavirus lockdowns, come across as humorless and inflexible.
More traditional conservatives, like Schimp, a lawyer and former Marine officer, and LaHood, a member of the U.S. House, recognize that to win, they must unite the GOP while appealing to Democrats and independents.
But that’s a tough
balancing act even under the best of conditions.
Finally, it’s clear that Illinoisans have charted a consistent political course — big spending, big taxing, big government all the way.
It’s not going well. But contrary to GOP hopes and expectations, there’s little sign that voters are favorably disposed to change their voting habits.
Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 217-351-5369.