Kevin McDermott

Illinois Issues: The Governor's Money

Jul 9, 2015
Bruce Rauner
Brian Mackey / WUIS/Illinois Issues

Technically, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner’s election victory on November 4, 2014, marked the end of his first political campaign. But in some ways that campaign has never stopped.

Gov. Pat Quinn and Chicago Democratic state Rep. Greg Harris, sponsor of the same-sex marriage bill, celebrate after the House approved the measure.
Illinois House Democrats

It was May 31, 2013, and the cause of same-sex marriage rights was gusting through America like a spring squall. Public opinion had recently swung around on the issue so dramatically that it took even its long-time proponents by surprise. The earlier trend of states outlawing gay marriage had completely looped back on itself in the 2012 elections, with an unbroken string of states’ voters — Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington — either approving same-sex unions or declining to outlaw them. Perhaps even more important, the U.S.

Boy, Christopher Valdez
WUIS/Illinois Issues

For years, they’ve shuffled across Illinois’ front pages, a parade of tragedy.

There was Christopher Valdez, 4, of Chicago’s southwest side, whose mother’s boyfriend allegedly beat him to death in 2011. Earlier, Christopher’s mother had been convicted of abusing him, but the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and the courts had nonetheless allowed him to remain in her home.

Kent Redfield
WUIS/Illinois Issues

In the final weeks of 2013, Illinois was among more than 20 states tripping over each other like eager suitors to woo a new Boeing production plant for its 777x airliner. The aerospace giant had put out word that it was abandoning its Washington state production plans over labor disputes and would consider the presentations of any states that wanted a shot at it. It said it would decide in January 2014 which state would get the estimated 8,500 jobs and other economic windfalls associated with the project.

Murphysboro Republican Rep. Mike Bost’s rant went viral on YouTube and made Late Night with David Letterman.
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Willie Sutton reputedly said he robbed banks because that’s where the money was.

That kind of stark mathematical logic also could explain why Illinois’ political system has, more than ever it seems, turned its back on that oddly defined region we call “Downstate” to focus almost exclusively on “Chicagoland.”

As Sutton might say, with painful obviousness, it’s because that’s where the money is. And the votes.

Former Dixon Comptroller Rita Crundwell with one of her horses.
American Quarter Horse Association

Even the most optimistic citizens of Dixon don’t think they’re ever going to get their $53 million back.

At this point, they just hope they’ll at least get their pound of flesh. 

“The citizens are anxious to see what kind of sentence she gets” if she’s convicted, says Mayor Jim Burke, referring to his city’s former comptroller, Rita Crundwell. “There isn’t a day that goes by when someone doesn’t call and say, ‘If she gets off with a slap on the wrist ...’”

  When Chris Matthews of MSNBC’s Hardball needed a guest early this year to express progressive outrage at the treatment of Wisconsin’s public-sector union workers, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn was a natural choice.

On the morning of Wednesday, November 3, it was still unclear whether Democrat Pat Quinn had held on to the governor’s office in the previous day’s election. What was already apparent, though, was that his party had utterly lost its once-encompassing grip on downstate Illinois. 

Democrats that day lost one U.S. Senate seat, two state-level constitutional offices and saw their commanding state House and Senate majorities pared back. Most of the bloodletting came in the southern half of the state. 

Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich on  The Bonnie Hunt Show.
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Soon after Rod Blagojevich was led in handcuffs from his Chicago home in December 2008, comedian Jon Stewart of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show noted that Illinois has seen four of its last seven governors arrested (Otto Kerner, Dan Walker, George Ryan and Blagojevich). 

Noting that half of all murders go unsolved, Stewart hit viewers with the inexorable math: “You are more likely to end up in jail if you become governor of Illinois than if you are a murderer.”

Kevin McDermott
WUIS/Illinois Issues

On September 2, 2006, bicyclist Matt Wilhelm, 25, was riding along state Route 130 near Urbana when a car struck him from behind. Wilhelm died six days later. The driver had drifted off the road while downloading ringtones to her cell phone.

Rich Miller is the founder, publisher, editor and sole reporter for the Capitol Fax political newsletter. He is pictured in his home office.
Kevin McDermott / WUIS/Illinois Issues

It’s a rainy December evening, and Rich Miller is still keyed up over the day’s top story when he arrives at the small, dark bar at Maldaner’s Restaurant in downtown Springfield. The founder, publisher, editor and sole reporter for the Capitol Fax political newsletter rejects the Jameson’s-and-soda that the bartender automatically offers. “Too early,’’ Miller declares — and he orders a Guinness instead. 

Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno leads her caucus in berating the lack of an operating budget less than a week before a new fiscal year. “There is a lack of clarity, a lack of leadership, in terms of what is going on."
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Christine Radogno didn’t begin her political career out of ideological fervor. She began it because the Village of LaGrange was considering putting a fire station near her home, and she didn’t want her three young children being awakened by sirens at all hours. 


On January 8, 2007, Gov. Rod Blagojevich stood in a packed Springfield convention center before a frenzied crowd of supporters celebrating his second inaugural and surveyed what must have looked like a cloudless political horizon.

Throughout the year, Illinois Issues will publish occasional mini-profiles of some of the state's rising public officials. 

Late one night in May, state Sen. James Clayborne Jr., a Belleville Democrat, stood on the Senate floor and fielded withering attacks from his fellow African-American senators over his sponsorship of landmark legislation to cap noneconomic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits.

The November election for the Illinois Supreme Court’s Fifth District will be about more than filling the high court’s sole vacancy.

To the lawyers, doctors, insurance companies and representatives of other special interests who have lined up on either side, it is perhaps the most important battle yet in the ongoing war over tort, or civil law, reform — a war in which the front lines were drawn through the rural towns and rust-belt river communities of southern Illinois long before this Supreme Court campaign began.

In 1967, John Schmidt graduated from law school into a nation rocked by the civil rights movement and increasingly divided by a war, two issues which would soon occupy a good deal of the newly minted attorney’s energy. 

Lisa Madigan, too, would earn her law degree and wade into the big social and political issues of her time, but not for a while. For her, 1967 was the year she turned 1.

MVP’s Sports Bar & Grill is one of those places crouched in the shadow of every factory in America: shiny veneer walls on linoleum floors; neon beer signs in more variety than available brands; a low white ceiling that goes gray with haze after shift changes because just about everybody here smokes. The nondescript metal exterior that wraps it all together says the exterior isn’t the point. Norman Rockwell had his barber shops. Towns like Decatur have this.