By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
In late June and early July, during an extraordinary two-week span, South Carolina legislators did this:
- Turned a cold shoulder on more than 150 years of racism.
- Showed a nation what compromise looks like.
During that same time frame and since, the Illinois General Assembly did this:
- Failed to enact common-sense budget measures to draw the state out of years of blistering deficits.
- Failed to demonstrate any progressive leadership.
- Showed a nation why compromise is just not possible in a state where power is seated in too few people.
The South Carolina General Assembly was compelled to act, of course, after the slaughter of nine people in a black church in Charleston by a white supremacist who worshiped the Confederate flag. The incident laid bare the reality that hatred and its symbols have little role in civilized society. Thousands of people came to the capital to protest the flag and demand its removal.
One can argue that Illinois’ economic problems are not comparable to the societal ills that humbled the Palmetto State. But I would argue that the way to fix them is exactly the same way: by communication.
The South Carolina House, in historic, dramatic oratory that went on for 13 hours, bravely debated whether the flag’s place in Southern heritage was more significant than the oppression that many, many others believed it represents. In the end, during a remarkable five-day span, the House and Senate voted overwhelmingly to remove the flag, the governor signed the bill and the banner was taken down, in a wondrously regimented ceremony.
Few South Carolinians will ever forget the events that began June 17, the day Dylan Roof went on his murderous rampage, and ended July 10, the day the flag went into storage. While there is still a long way to go to heal the state, one gets the sense that real progress is under way.
The point here is that personal differences — even deeply rooted ones — can be put aside, and without being dragged out. Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, House Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton have engaged in good theater this summer, but you could hardly call it communication, inasmuch as most of it was Rauner doing the talking — and not to them.
Every few days during this long hot summer, Rauner dashed off a press release demanding action on his turnaround agenda, and blaming Madigan and Cullerton for their inaction. The latter two responded by sending the governor a plan to spend $36 billion, despite the state’s projected revenues of $32 billion. Rauner vetoed all but the education portions of the spending, calling it “unconstitutional” to spend $4 billion more than you’ve got in revenue.
Essentially, the chamber leaders are trying to goad Rauner into tax increases to pay for imbalances, rather than work with the governor to find cost-cutting areas of agreement.
And so, because Democratic majorities in both houses serve at the beck and call of messieurs Madigan and Cullerton, little has gotten done. Rauner, a Republican realist with a Jake LaMotta approach, in one corner. The House and Senate heads in the other, comfortably ensconced and not wanting to cede their power positions.
The budget issue, at this writing, is still unresolved, but there many other issues facing Illinois, and without compromise, the state cannot hope to move ahead.
I have but one question: If South Carolina can come to terms with its past, why can’t Illinois deal with its present?