Illinois Update 5-31-18: ‘Yikes’ edition

An overview of some really weird and contradictory stuff happening in Springfield, Illinois over the past 24 hours.

The excellent: Illinois ratified the Equal Rights Amendment last night, making it the 37th state to do so. If one more of the 13 remaining states which have not ratified the ERA does so, then the U.S. enters new and contentious legal territory. (The clock has run out on both extensions – so, will ratification be considered valid?)

The almost-as-excellent: Illinois has passed a budget ($38.5 billion), which is more or less balanced (if you ignore the unfunded pension liability). The Senate passed its version last night (56-2), and the House just passed the same version (97-18). Bipartisan, big – huge – majorities were mustered in both houses. The budget now goes to the governor, who says he’s ready and waiting to sign.

Whew, that’s a first for this governor.

The quite good overall: It’s a pretty good budget overall, although there will be plenty of second-guessing and criticisms as more details become known (it’s over 1200 pages in length, so nobody’s read it through yet). First: the $350 million in additional funding required by the new evidence-based funding model for K-12 got approved. Second: there’s $55 million or so for the Quincy Veterans Home – nowhere near the $230 million the gov wanted, but a fair hunk of change which will allow the replacement of the IVHQ water system (including a new water source), purchase and renovation of an interim home in the neighborhood for the veterans to move to during construction of a new facility, and all the preliminary studies required for a more permanent solution.  Third: nobody – well, almost nobody – got seriously stiffed. Higher ed is getting a bit more for scholarships to retain IL grads in their home state (“Aim High” is the program). It’s not a lot ($25 million, to be matched by the universities), but it’s a start. There’s money for human services, and local government, and a provision for some forms of pension buy-outs (at 70%) (estimated pick-up rate of 22%). And there will be capital improvements, including around 2,000 miles of roads and 500+ bridges.

The not-so-excellent, aka not all that good: Illinois legislators still aren’t addressing the unfunded pension liability.  And Moody’s is making mean about it. While the proposed pension buy-outs (of those vested but no longer actively enrolled in TRS or SURS) will save money long-term, they weren’t amortized correctly in the budget – how’d that happen? I mean, the systems’ actuaries came up with the proposal, at least according to reports …

Unless and until the state decides to deal with the long-standing liability in a focused, committed way over a period of around 30 years (yes, a lifetime in the career of a state pol, but hardly the lifetime of a state), this problem is just going to keep coming back to bite politicians every day and twice on Sunday.

Come on, Illinois, you can do this, you really can. You are a rich state, not a poor one, and there’s no excuse beyond political self-interest for not setting in motion remediation. There are already-in-circulation plans to address this issue, and they’re austere but not draconian.

The not-good-at-all, aka terrible: Illinoisans have just learned (1 pm CT) that the chief sponsor of the Equal Rights Amendment in the IL House, Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), is being accused of harassment by a woman who served as an unpaid political lobbyist. At a rather chaotic and painful presser, Maryann Loncar accused Lang of touching her inappropriately, of calling her ex-husband and offering to “bury” her (politically), and of bullying her, for want of a better term. She also said something about a $170 million bribe of which she became aware, presumably involving the organization of producers-sellers of medical marijuana (she was involved in lobbying for the medical marijuana bill).

So here we have it: less than 24 hours after celebrating the passage of the ERA in Illinois – which he’d supported consistently for 25 years – Lou Lang is accused of harassment.

At the same time Loncar was speaking (accompanied by three other women including another lobbyist who spoke out against Sen. Ira Silverstein last fall, and two female members of the IL House), a statement was released on behalf of Rep. Lang, who: resigned his position on the Legislative Ethics Committee; resigned his position on JCAR [Joint Committee on Administrative Rules], and resigned as Deputy Majority Leader of the IL House.

Lang is holding a press conference now (3 pm CT).

We’ll provide an update to this update shortly, but for now, a few thoughts:

  • Apparently, Lang’s overall behavior towards women (and the disabled?) in Springfield is an open secret to many working in the Capitol; Rich Miller had forbidden commenters on his CapitolFax blog to refer to names on Tuesday when the presser was announced, but then turned around and called it Springfield’s “worst-kept” secret in the related post today. [See “The worst-kept Statehouse secret of the week is now public.”]
  • At one point in her press conference, Lang’s accuser looked at members of the press and more or less told them “Every one of you has seen this and knows what’s going on.” [See @HannahMeisel: “’Many of you that stand here today (meaning us in the media) have witnessed’ behavior, accuser Maryann Loncar says. Says no one has listened to her story for years.” 1:02 AM – 31 May 2018]

Did members of Illinois’s political press know about Lang’s behavior (not towards his accuser specifically, but towards women generally)? Did other legislators? Did lobbyists? Did legislative staff? Apparently some people – the “in” crowd –  knew some things / something. But nobody said anything? Ever?

Lang’s presser is transpiring as we write. He’s accompanied by numerous female legislators – colleagues, all of whom are praising him, referring to him as a mentor in some cases.

Rich Miller and Hannah Meisel, Capitol Fax’s new politics blogger (she’s excellent, by the way) have a slew of posts up now, and there are comments, but it’s almost impossible to get a sense of the personalities – professional demeanor of those involved when there’s so much partisanship and as long as people who are claimed to be knowledgeable of what’s going on remain silent.

Did we mention that Illinois has an almost-balanced budget, and that the gov’s itching to sign it?

And did we mention that Illinois ratified the ERA last night?

This is what makes Illinois politics so thrilling – uplifting, really – and simultaneously so discouraging and demoralizing.

P.S. The President is considering commuting ex-Governor Rod Blagojevich’s sentence (he’s served 6 of 14 years to date), which on a normal news day would be major in Illinois. But people are so distracted by everything else they scarcely have time to think about, or comment on, Blagojevich and his fate.

Update no. 1: Here’s a reaction by state senator Dave Koehler (D-Peoria) to the prospect of the President commuting Blagojevich’s sentence:

SPRINGFIELD – Disgraced former Governor Rod Blagojevich could receive a pardon from President Trump according to reports on Thursday. State Senator Dave Koehler (D-Peoria) issued the following statement:

“In 2009, the Illinois Senate, in a unanimous vote of 59 to 0, voted to remove Gov. Rod Blagojevich from office. I was one of those 59 Senators. After I heard testimony from an FBI source about his shakedown of a children’s hospital for a political donation before he would sign an important piece of legislation, it was pretty clear that we had a corrupt governor.

“He was ultimately convicted of numerous crimes and sent to prison. Had he ever come clean with the public about what he had done in a humble and sincere way, I could feel sorry for him. But to this day his arrogance pervades.

“President Trump’s consideration of giving him a pardon confirms for me that the common bonds between the pair are arrogance and ego-centricity.”

Update no. 2: Denise Rotheimer (an unpaid lobbyist who accused Senator Ira Silverstein of harassment last fall, and was instrumental in today’s revelations regarding Rep. Lou Lang) holds her own presser.

Update no. 3: Commenters on Capitol Fax are busy discrediting Lang’s accuser’s (Maryann Loncar) testimony re: that $170 million in particular. Tendency to discount the inappropriate physical touching and the call to her ex-husband offering to bury her (metaphorically, of course) – in other words, the aspects of sexual harassment.

Sampling of comments:  “…this looks more like a smear job than a harassment claim.” @3:28; “…Absurd” @3:35; …”My take is she is about a half loaf short. …This is a train wreck.” @3:56.

Not good.

Update no. 4: Here’s what we posted on one of the Capitol Fax threads tonight:

Just reread Rich’s post of Oct. 24 2017, “open letter alleges sexual harassment,” signed by 130 individuals.

A quote from the AP follow-up: “The incidents mentioned in the letter don’t accuse anyone by name but the letter does outline scenarios involving male legislators, including a ‘chamber leader.’”

During the past seven months, the very small number of women who have come forward (3? 4?) to “name names” have not been very well received by the majority of commenters on this blog.

Is this an accident? Did these women feel they have nothing (left) to lose by speaking out?

From the letter itself: “Everyone has at least one story of their own, and the common thread has been that most times we’ve had to brush these advances off out of fear of retribution or of being accused of leading someone on or have been encouraged to stay quiet.”

Offhand, I’d say that fear of retribution / being accused of leading someone on is still rife in the hallowed halls of the Capitol.

It seems to me that once specific complaints are voiced, the accuser is shown to be a person unworthy of trust, or a bit “off,” or only peripherally connected with “real politics” as practiced in the Big Leagues, etc.

And yet, Rep. Lang resigned all positions except for his seat itself. And Kevin Quinn lost his job. And Ira Silverstein was roundly defeated in his primary race. So something’s going on – these men didn’t resign / lose their jobs/ lose their primary race without reason.

I don’t think things will change until those harmed come out and name names, perhaps en masse, perhaps guided strategically by a master in orchestrating this type of revelations (think Gloria Allred or her daughter, Lisa Bloom).

It all comes across as very weird – inexplicable, actually – that while the atmosphere in Springfield is generally acknowledged to be toxic for women political operatives (legislators, their staffs, lobbyists, activists, and campaign staff members), nobody seems to be culpable of much of anything except being a (male) politician.

I don’t know any of the parties involved, but there’s something strange and contradictory about this picture.

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