by Whet Moser
Earlier today in an interview with the Tribune, Dick Durbin sounded disappointed but vague about Roland Burris, using the infamously useless word "troubled." Despite returning to that same word, the statement he released later today seems to leave little doubt that Durbin's given up on Burris. As he should: Mark Brown explains why as simply as possible.
Which... is great, kind of. Burris's weaselly incompetence gets us off the hook, or at least I hope it does, for someone who at best was barely tolerable and who really shouldn't have been appointed based on his actions in the Rolando Cruz affair. As with Blagojevich, yet another round of embarrassment spares us from the worse problem of bad politicians. Would that all our politicians so suck at corruption.
Which... is also cold comfort. What can be done?
Charles Madigan suggests a "Panel of 50": "It should find some way to form itself from the ether [Ed. note: you'd have to draw a sword from a stone] and tap a candidate for the Senate position first and for the governor's race later and for any other significant race in the interim. It should urge boycotts of any fundraising efforts but its own. It should put tight limits on what money it can raise and how it can be used."
I have in the past called for such a group to determine our politicians for us until we can be trusted to elect half-decent politicians again. I called it: "Wisconsin." Nonetheless, the idea of a "Panel of 50" gives me the fantods, for reasons that Steve Rhodes nails: "Huh? You mean like outsourcing our politics to the Abner Mikvas and Penny Pritzkers of the world? They're sort of already doing that, aren't they?" That, and the concept of impaneling a bunch of "clear minded and decent citizens"--is there a test for that? do you throw them in the lake to see if they float?--to grace us with someone pure of heart and spirit sounds at worst like tyranny and at best like the Unity Party, which you may not remember because it didn't have any candidates.
Nonetheless, the fact that a veteran journalist like Madigan is shrugging his shoulders and kind of giving up on the electorate has to give one pause.
I don't know. Illinois' system is pretty busted, but it could actually be worse--we could be California, where legislators pulled a pathetic (in the literal, pathos-inducing sense) all-nighter, falling asleep at their desks, in a futile attempt to pass a budget before the state is declared insolvent. Which still might happen. In other words, democracy is actually hard.
There are structural problems that need to be addressed. Burris was appointed by a governor who was about to be impeached, whereas Rahm Emanuel will be replaced by a special election, one that has offered up a number of intriguing candidates, as Ben Joravsky details. California's struggles with passing a budget stem from structural problems, such as a 2/3 majority needed for tax increases versus an initiatives system that makes issue-spending inevitable. But, as David Dayen of Calitics points out, people are sexier than process.
[About that Fifth District race: I don't know who I would vote for even if I could, though I suspect it'd be Thomas Geoghegan, whose answers to the Trib's quite engaging questionnaire (similar to the ones he gave the S-T) are sui generis and suggest that he'd be an independent voice within his own party. Having recently read his book In America's Court, I'm impressed with his humanely practical moral compass and his passion for human rights and international law. (I also amusingly admire that back in the day he was a gadfly for WFMT, rattling the chains about the quality of local radio being a hobby of mine.)
In the somewhat likely event that he loses--Nate Silver puts the good money on Sara Feigenholtz, and as far as I can tell the excitement and attention over Geoghegan nationwide hasn't translated into much state attention--there is a great deal to admire about Mike Quigley, as Ben Joravsky has written about on many occasions, as has Mick Dumke. Then again, he also helped Todd Stroger get elected (scroll down; more), so the problems he's had with Stroger seem somewhat earned. I am playing catch-up on this race and haven't made up my mind, not that it matters too much outside of my little soapbox.]
As Ben Joravsky points out (notably, he also suspects that she's running ahead) Feigenholtz is a Madigan foot soldier and hardly a reformer, a vote that, if it exists at all, Quigley and Geoghegan may split.
Um... she's better than Burris? Score one for democracy?
Again: what can be done? Why is reform so difficult to come by?
A fair amount of blame, I think, can be laid at the feet of the local media, or what's left of it (and I include myself in this, I've dropped the ball on following IL-5).
One thing that must be said: RedEye needs to develop a social conscience. From personal observation it seems to be the most-read, or at least most-glanced-at, publication in the city, and with that should come certain obligations. It was originally pitched as training wheels for a real paper, but in the few times when I bother picking it up it doesn't seem to have evolved into anything other than sudoku wrapped in self-indulgence. If Mother Tribune feels the need to agitate for reform, it should enforce that on its bratty progeny, which isn't doing the chores and is more interested in talking
on about the phone and watching TV. It's been around, what, five years? Let it do some of the fucking work.
Huffington Post Chicago [ed. pulls garlic, cross out of pocket] has focused a fair amount on IL-5. Lots of praise for Geoghegan, little of substance ("Phone Bank For Tom Geoghegan From Your Living Room," "Rhymes With Reagan, Thinks Like Wellstone"). Their local blogging seems to be slowing a bit.
The Trib and the Sun-Times have done a good job getting the candidates on record, but there hasn't been much analysis. The editorial endorsement just isn't a great vehicle, cf. the twin Quigley endorsements, neither of which mentioned the fact that Quigley himself endorsed the board president he has subsequently had to fight so hard against. (In their brevity such editorials have a tendency to be poorly argued, for instance: "with the city possibly winning a bid for the mayor's pet project, the Olympics, we need a Mike Quigley to keep an eye on the spending details." So we should send him to Congress? Obliged to the Trib editorial board for the shout-out, though.)
It's a shame--it's a fascinating race with a lot of candidates who say a lot about local politics and not much time to figure them out.