‘Featherbedding’ runs rampant in Springfield

Russ Stewart Chicago Political Analysis


by RUSS STEWART

Featherbedding is a colloquial term which originated in the railroad industry during the transition from coal-fired to oil-powered locomotives. Stokers were required to shovel coal, and as they were suddenly obsolescent, the railway unions demanded a contract to require stokers in every train, so stokers kept their jobs, rode in the rear of the cab, and, as the legend goes, snuggled comfortably in their feather bed.

The same term can be applied to the Illinois House of Representatives. There is one engineer, Speaker Mike Madigan (D-22), and 117 featherbedders, of whom 70 are Democrats who vote as they’re told and 47 are Republicans who are ignored and inconsequential.

With a 71-47 super majority — meaning more than 60 percent of members — Madigan and his Democrats don’t need any Republican votes on any measure in overtime sessions, and they can override any veto by the governor.

I read a book some years ago about the mindset of traitors. The acronym MISE explained treasonable motivations: money, ideology, sex and ego. That acronym also applies to the Illinois House, where Madigan has the "P," for power, and everybody else is there for MISE.

Every decision of consequence emanates from the speaker. Same-sex marriage, pension reform and income tax hikes won’t pass unless Madigan decrees it and only if it is politically safe, which means that it broadens the Democrats’ fund-raising base, such as opening the door to a flood of money from gay rights groups, and doesn’t jeopardize Madigan’s majority.

Madigan controls the House through a binding caucus system. Before any critical vote, members gather to discuss the bill, a vote is taken, and all 71 representatives are bound to support the majority position. Madigan has 50 votes in his pocket, so his decision is the caucus’s decision. Since Madigan pumps upwards of $500,000 into any hotly contested race, no incumbent Democrat with a modicum of self-preservation will defy the speaker.

As it takes only 60 votes to pass a bill, Madigan occasionally can give special dispensation to up to 10 members. They can, as they say, "vote their district," as opposed to voting their party.

While "King Mike" reigns supreme, raising scads of money from special interests, the chamber’s 47 Republicans are dysfunctional, dispirited and wholly irrelevant.

Previous House Republican leader Tom Cross is bailing out to run for state treasurer. In 2014 a total of 12 Republican incumbents also are bailing. The new leader, Jim Durkin (R-82), of the western suburbs, is the Rodney Dangerfield of Illinois politics: He gets no respect.

At the close of candidate filing on Dec. 2, one Democrat retired. In 2014, despite a developing pro-Republican environment, the Democrats likely will gain two or three House seats, and a 75-43 majority is not unattainable.

Despite Madigan’s hammer and rigorously enforced code of obedience, there is no dearth of Democrats who covet a $67,836-a-year, tell-me-how-to-vote Springfield job. Here’s a look at some primaries:


40th District: Illinois’ 2010 population was 12,864,380, which means the 118 House districts contain an average of 109,000 people. Turnout in a typical Democratic primary is barely 7,000. In 2008 Deb Mell, the daughter of Alderman Dick Mell (33rd), decided she wanted to be a state representative, so Mell dumped incumbent Rich Bradley and sent his daughter to Springfield. Mell’s other daughter, Patty Blagojevich, was about to become Illinois’ former first lady, as her husband was about to be impeached. Deb Mell voted against impeachment in 2009. In 2013 Dick Mell decided he was going to quit his 38-year aldermanic gig and hand off the job to his daughter. Mell kept his ward committeeman post.

That created a sticky situation, and we shall see in the primary whether the "Mell Machine" is toothless and decrepit. After Deb Mell’s resignation, her father engineered the appointment of his top staffer, Jaime Andrade, to her House seat.

Andrade has six opponents in the primary — a clear signal of his political precariousness. He has multiple problems. First, Dick Mell’s clout has withered since his retirement. Second, Andrade is totally unknown, and he must rely on Madigan’s money and Mell’s workers to persevere. Andrade backed the Quinn-Madigan pension "fix," so the speaker owes him. By doing so, he alienated organized labor, and the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees will spend heavily against him in the primary. Third, the Hispanic voter base in the district is only 30 percent of registered voters. Fourth, he exudes no charisma.

However, Andrade could still win, primarily because the non-Andrade vote will be split among six others. Andrade’s most formidable foes, each of whom has a base in the district and fund-raising ability, are Nancy Schiavone, a Logan Square attorney who is the 35th Ward Democratic committeeman, Aaron Goldstein, a criminal defense attorney who was the second chair on Rod Blagojevich’s first corruption trial and the lead counsel on the second trial, and Bart Goldberg, an attorney who ran for 38th Ward alderman in 2011, getting 7.8 percent of the vote. Also on the ballot are Chicago Public Schools librarian Melanie Ferrand, Mark Pasieka and Wendy Jo Harmston.

The 40th District extends from Argyle Street on the north to Altgeld Street, between California Avenue and Kostner Avenue, and it is bisected by the Kennedy Expressway. According to the 2010 census, it is 45 percent white, with most white residents concentrated in the area north of Irving Park Road, which is decidedly upscale, and in Logan Square, in the southeast corner. It also is 45 percent Hispanic, with most Hispanics are concentrated southwest of the Kennedy Expressway between Irving Park Road and Logan Boulevard. According to Goldstein, about half the Hispanics are non-citizens. The district’s population is about 10 percent Asian American.
In the 2010 primary Deb Mell initially had a serious challenger, Joe Liacona. She had moved, but she failed to change her voter registration. Liacona challenged her residency, but Dick Mell’s high-priced lawyers prevailed. Mell beat Liacona 4,335-2,242, getting 65.9 percent of the vote in a turnout of 6,577. Mell was unopposed in 2012, and turnout plunged to 4,011. The district contains 68 precincts, of which 21 are in the 33rd Ward, 16 are in the 35th Ward and five are in the 38th Ward.

Goldstein’s "Blagojevich connection" is no asset, especially since he was 0-for-2. Convicted defendants usually blame their lawyers, not themselves, so he can expect no help from the "Mell Clan." Goldstein is energetic and creative, he will use adjectives like independent, reformer and progressive to describe himself, and he likely will have union backing. Andrade’s strategy will be to run as the incumbent, focus heavily on the Hispanic vote, and let mailers and door-knockers do the rest. He should draw 30 to 35 percent of the vote.

If Andrade loses, Deb Mell will be at major risk in 2015.

39th District: Will Guzzardi’s relentless, stealthy precinct campaign nearly upset incumbent Democrat Toni Berrios in the 2012 primary. Berrios prevailed 4,021-3,896, a margin of 125 votes. Guzzardi is back for a second crack. Also running is Jim Muscarello.

Berrios is the daughter of powerful county Assessor Joe Berrios, who also is the 31st Ward Democratic committeemen and the county Democratic Party chairman. Unlike in 2010, when Berrios had a tough primary to win his first term as assessor, he will be unopposed in 2014, but a loss by Tony Berrios would be an utter humiliation for him. No expense will be spared to beat Guzzardi.

Guzzardi is incredibly disciplined. He says that he spends 5 to 6 hours a day walking precincts, making about 100 contacts per day. He claims to have made 13,000 contacts in 2012. He began campaigning in June, and he expects to make more than 15,000 household contacts by March.

Turnout in 2012 was 7,764, but it will dwindle to 7,000 in March. There are 82 precincts in the district, of which 32 are in the 31st Ward, giving Berrios home-field advantage. Tony Berrios won the 31st Ward in 2012 with 63.6 percent of the vote and the 12 precincts in the 30th Ward with 62.1 percent. Guzzardi is working hard in the outlying 36th, 38th and 45th wards, he will carry his Logan Square 35th Ward base (seven precincts) by a 2-1 margin, and he was endorsed by 1st Ward (nine precincts) Alderman Proco Joe Moreno.

Registered voters in the district, which is just to the west of Andrade’s, are about 55 percent Hispanic, but white voters produce 55 percent of the turnout.

To win, Berrios needs at least 65 percent of the vote in the 31st and 30th wards and of the overall Hispanic vote, while Guzzardi needs 60 to 65 percent of the vote in the other wards and 65 percent of the white vote. Berrios has a slight edge.

16th District: Democrat Lou Lang, who is part of the House leadership, has $1,167,950 in campaign funds, and he covets the speakership after Madigan leaves. He won his Skokie-Lincolnwood district over Republican Vincent Romano in 2012 22,81-10,431, getting 68.1 percent of the vote. Romano is running another hopeless race.

15th District: Democrat John D’Amico was under enormous pressure on the gay marriage bill. He finally backed it, and he has no primary opposition. Two Republicans filed, Bart Dahlgren and Evelyn Mazzucco. Expect gay marriage to be the issue.

Send e-mail to russ@russstewart. com or visit his Web site at www. russstewart.com.


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