The Lincoln Scenario: How Rauner and Madigan Finally Ended their War for Illinois and United Illinois' "House Divided"


August 30 The updated, extended version of this piece is here at our Medium site.
Author's note: So is necessity really the mother of invention? If it is, here's a look at how close Illinois is today to a workable alternative to the politics of self-destruction that's fueling the fratricidal "War For Illinois". So far, three experts and two State Reps have commended this piece. Like it? Please help advance it. See how, below. Here's a Printable Copy.

On June 7 the Tribune declared it THE WAR FOR ILLINOIS
By mid-summer of 2015, a grinding yearlong power struggle between governor Rauner and House speaker Madigan had gridlocked into trench warfare. Mounting losses in precious time, energy, resources, services and money were bankrupting Illinois and destroying public faith and trust in government itself.

It became clear that for whoever won this contest, victory would be pyrrhic. The Land of Lincoln, in Lincoln's famous biblical phrase, would be "a house divided against itself": a state too polarized and weakened to be governable.

So at the eleventh hour, Rauner conferred with Madigan. Then, on prime time TV, he and three key Democrats took decisive action. With a single gesture of commitment to the future of Illinois, they ended the War For Illinois. Overnight.
Finally the governor and speaker had something really to smile about
The occasion was historic. It marked the end of the politics of self-destruction in Illinois. It broke the ever-tightening stranglehold of TV attack ads on political discourse here.

It also marked the beginning of the interactive political discourse that since 2015 has enabled Illinoisans to build a state that's competitive with other states and works for its residents.

This sea change resulted from two discoveries on the governor's part.  

The first came when Rauner asked himself why his inaugural budget-balancing call for shared sacrifice, backed by his own reduced annual salary of $1 without benefits, had failed to register with voters. Why had this sensible proposal fallen like a brick? Instantly he saw that, as a very wealthy man, he himself had to feel the same financial pain he’d be asking all Illinoisans to feel.

The second came when Rauner recalled his inaugural pledge to “fix years of busted budgets and broken government”. On reflection, he realized that his reliance on televised attack ads as a way of communicating with citizens - like his $20 million ad blitz attacking Speaker Madigan - was doing more to break Illinois government than to fix it.

With these discoveries in mind, Rauner approached Madigan. Saving Illinois, he said, means painful sacrifice shared by everyone. And turning Illinois around means dethroning the "Cash is King" political advertising that’s polarized Illinois for decades. “We’ve got to curb it," he told the Speaker. “It’s the only way out of the mess we’re in now.”

Madigan agreed, knowing that in Illinois, Rauner himself is King Cash. The two leaders then talked about how TV might connect citizens and government in ways that demonstrably serve all Illinoisans and move Illinois forward. It was quite a conversation. It led to conversations with owners of Illinois media. 

With Madigan's support, Rauner then initiated a series of constructive developments:

  • He convened Madigan, Senate Speaker Cullerton and Mayor Emanuel to announce that he was donating $27.6 million of his own money to a special Saving Illinois fund, matching the $27.6 million in personal funds he’d donated to his gubernatorial campaign. This unprecedented, legacy-making sacrifice prompted comparable sacrifices from all three Democrats. (If not, Rauner would go it alone on all six steps below, empowered by their rejection.)
  • The four leaders announced their historic sacrifices on Growing Illinois, the first of a series of monthly 60-minute primetime TV programs dedicated to making citizens and governments responsive and accountable to each other.
  • Growing Illinois made national headlines, transforming Illinois politics overnight. Overnight, four goats became four heroes. Tigers changed stripes. Coming at a time of nationwide voter despair with government, 12.8 million Illinoisans now felt that their leaders might actually be in their corner and working on their behalf.
  • In this sea-changed climate, Illinoisans rallied behind the Four Horsemen of Illinois with their own contributions to Saving Illinois. (Detroit, during its bankruptcy, received hundreds of millions of dollars in donations from long-time companies and residents.)
  • An energized public and news media eagerly discussed the equitable implementation of shared sacrifice with experts like Ralph Martire of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability and Lawrence Msall of the Civic Federation. Sacrifices ranged from increases in fees and taxes (sales, property or income) to pay freezes and salary cuts.
  • Promising revenue generating ideas were advanced. Wholesale eliminations of essential programs and mass job cuts (like the 1,400 public school layoffs planned in Chicago) were avoided.
  • Final shared sacrifice decisions, made by the legislature, were written into law. The likelihood of bond defaults in Chicago and Illinois decreased. Credit ratings rose.
Illinois turned around, though not quite as Governor Rauner had envisioned.
Illinois never banned political advertising. Far from it. But since 2015, the TV attack ads that once polarized Illinoisans have complemented and coexisted with the vital, televised interactions of citizens and governments initiated by interactive programs like Growing Illinois.

Thanks to its Four Horsemen, Illinois has turned itself around. Illinoisans’ newfound ability to connect, cooperate and construct gives the state a competitive advantage over other states. Illinoisans have always taken enormous pride in their sports teams. Now they can take pride in their leaders and in themselves as Illinoisans.

Longtime Chicago educator and media entrepreneur Steve Sewall, Ph.D., designs and implements civic media formats and writes about links between ethics, education, government and media at chicagocivicmedia.com.

Action Steps. Like these ideas? Help advance 'em!

  • Leave a comment at "comments" below
  • Tweet hashtag #endattackads, post to Facebook, Instagram & your maiden aunt, etc.
  • Email Steve Sewall (with the help of three people much can be accomplished)
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