Cancellation of the upcoming legislative session is no great loss to the body politic.
The recent spike of new cases of the coronavirus and the public-health fears that go with its return have persuaded the legislative powers that be to cancel the fall veto session of the Illinois House and Senate.
If only that was the lone casualty of this nagging pandemic, it would be cause for celebration. Remember the old saying that no man’s life or property is safe while the Legislature is in session — well, that goes in spades for the Illinois General Assembly.
The official reason for the cancellation is, according to legislative leaders Michael Madigan and Don Harmon, “this is not the time to physically bring together hundreds of people around the state.”
As a consequence, six planned work days scheduled for next week and the week after are now off.
That’s not all. What does the future hold for the new Legislature scheduled to meet in early 2021? At this point, it’s impossible to say, just as it was equally impossible to say what would happen when the coronavirus pandemic started to sweep through the nation in March 2020.
For the time being, the future ain’t what it used to be. When it will be is simply a matter of speculation.
A handful of political savants are suggesting, however, there’s more at play regarding the cancellation of the veto session than good-faith public-health concerns. Some Republican legislators and newspaper editorialists contend this could be a ploy to protect Speaker Madigan from facing rebellious House Democrats in Springfield.
“I can’t help but wonder if the cancellation has more to do with political unrest within the House Democratic caucus than it has to do with health and safety. I certainly hope that’s not the case, because it would be a great injustice if Speaker Madigan has placed his political problems ahead of our ability to do the people’s work during a scheduled veto session,” state Rep. Steve Reick, R-Woodstock, was quoted as saying.
The Chicago Tribune suggested even a darker motive, one related to Madigan sending a message to Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
“Madigan canceled veto session altogether. Let (Pritzker), who recently joined others in calling for Madigan’s ouster as state party chair, struggle with the budget and pension headaches himself. Make him wear the jacket. This is about that, too,” the newspaper wrote.
Madigan, of course, is not above sending pointed messages, and he is having a rare bad time of it in the aftermath of the Nov. 3 election that saw Illinois Democrats fall short of expectations.
Pritzker, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and others have called for Madigan to step down as chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party, while eight members of the Democratic House caucus have said they will not vote to re-elect him as speaker.
But he’s a long way from finished, and it’s hard to see how holding or canceling the veto session would be decisive in any way to Madigan’s future.
What’s of much more practical import are the counterattacks Madigan’s friends in organized labor have launched on the speaker’s behalf.
Union leaders are making it clear that Madigan is their guy and those who disagree need to reconsider their position.
That’s not to say that Illinois is not in dire straits from a governance perspective, a legitimate subject of legislative concern. Unfortunately, in the past, when legislators have met, they worked diligently to make the state’s current problems worse.
That’s not a guarantee that they would do the same if the veto session was held.
But from a public-policy perspective, in the middle of the pandemic, why take the chance?