The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) strike settled this Tuesday caused a national spotlight to be shone on President Obama’s adopted home to the glee of the GOP. As President Obama’s former chief-of-staff and head of his re-election PAC fundraising operation, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel dueled with the CTU, the adage of “politics makes strange bedfellows” rang true.
Emanuel received public endorsements for his efforts to restrain CTU’s “wish-list” from unlikely high-profile Republicans, such as the GOP’s nominees for president and vice-president, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. This coupled with the browbeating Governor Pat Quinn, a Democrat, has taken from unions recently may be exposing a fissure in the relationship between Illinois’ Democrat politicos and labor.
This clash is really hard to avoid for Emanuel, Quinn and Illinois mayors, county executives, township supervisors and school board presidents throughout the entire state. To a certain extent, labor is the big driver why the Democratic Party controls Illinois’ Governor’s mansion, Secretary of State and Attorney General Offices and both chambers of the General Assembly. But, the relationship is strained as Illinois tries to deal with its fiscal woes, with the main culprit being pension reform.
The much talked about Illinois pension crisis looms over the Illinois Statehouse and has a domino effect on all 102 Illinois counties and most municipalities. Even the “big dog” known as Chicago is no exception. It is now triggering reductions in the state’s credit rating, facility closures and service reductions.
Also, as union contracts come up for state workers, school teachers, police and firefighters throughout Illinois, the desire to provide higher salaries and stable benefits may still be there, but the government wallets are saying no. Even though the CTU strike was resolved, the aftermath is still probably going to result in school closures which translate into staff reductions and loss of jobs for union members. There is only so much money to go around.
To make matters more difficult, Illinois has cut so much, sometimes the cuts are challenged in court and reversed such as Governor Quinn’s attempt to close the Dwight and Tamms prisons, which are opposed by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). So, the only move Illinois state and municipal government budget managers can make is to squeeze the cuts out of the next union’s contract – thus creating an on-going, ugly,”Catch-22” scenario.
But, there could be some hope that the relationship will be patched up. In a September 12th poll conducted by We Ask America, former State Representative Derrick Smith was leading his main challenger, Lance Tyson, by a whopping 48 percent to 9 percent margin in the race for Illinois House District #10. On the ballot, Smith is listed as a Democrat and Tyson as a member of something called the “Unity Party”, even though Tyson is a Democrat who previously served as the chief-of-staff to former Cook County Board President Todd Stroger. The key is that this summer, Smith was expelled from the Illinois House by his own colleagues and faces a criminal trial for allegedly taking a $7,000 cash bribe from an undercover FBI informant.
The Smith/Tyson situation may show that just being a Democrat is enough to win in Illinois. That may be what Governor Quinn is hoping for if he runs for re-election in two years – assuming he wins his party’s Primary Election, which is no slam-dunk.