"Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." So said Winston Churchill to the British House of Commons in 1947. I heartily endorse the sentiment. And we are about to witness "Exhibit A" of the magnificence of democracy.
In January in the state of Illinois, we will participate in the peaceful transition of power from a Democratic administration to a Republican administration. All of the caustic criticisms in those toxic campaign TV ads will linger in the air, and suspicion and mistrust between the political parties will remain. But Pat Quinn will still turn over the keys to the governor's office to Bruce Rauner.
What does this mean for the state of Illinois? How will we govern in the wake of the November election? What did the voters say to those of us in politics?
A divided government has virtues and vulnerabilities. With a Democratic legislature and a Republican governor, I do not foresee more of the bold, progressive policy victories we achieved over the last six years. Marriage equality, abolition of the death penalty, expanding health insurance to thousands of low-income adults — none of these victories would likely be possible in an age of divided government. Bipartisan power sharing may help us achieve difficult things, but not dramatic things.
A divided government does give us the opportunity, however, to deal in a more bipartisan fashion with the nuts and bolts of government. For more than a decade, we have adopted Democratic budgets paid for with Democratic revenue proposals. Now, Gov. Rauner and the Republican Party will own the state budget and need to provide revenues adequate to pay for their proposals.
I fully expect the Democratic majorities in the General Assembly to cooperate with the governor to achieve fair and balanced budgets. But fair and balanced budgets will require something we haven't seen in recent years: the active engagement, sponsorship and affirmative votes of Republicans. The GOP has had the luxury of avoiding responsibility by voting "no" on necessary yet unpopular reforms. But now, with a governor of their own party, Republican legislators have responsibility for real, achievable solutions. This may be a rude awakening for my GOP friends but potentially good for Illinois. We shall see.
While divided government can lead to cooperation on certain issues, it leads to confrontation on others. With a Republican governor, the Democratic General Assembly will become even more important as the defender of progressive ideals. If Gov. Rauner advances proposals to do away with collective bargaining, adopt "right to work for less" proposals, repeal or lower the minimum wage or otherwise attack the bedrock of working families in Illinois, he should gird for a fierce fight.
In making these predictions, I am mindful of what voters told us on Nov. 4. They elected a Republican governor but reelected Democratic super majorities in the Illinois House and Senate. They endorsed key pieces of our party's platform with overwhelming approval of Democratic-initiated referendum questions: increasing the minimum wage, protecting a woman's right to comprehensive health care, protecting victims' rights, ensuring protection of voting rights and asking those who earn more to pay more for the government services they expect.
The slow pace of job and wage recovery from the Great Recession has frustrated families both in Illinois and across the country. Here, the majority of voters embraced change in the state's executive branch while maintaining Democratic majorities in the legislature.
In the months leading up to Nov. 4, I spoke personally with hundreds of voters. All I met viewed Pat Quinn as the honest, decent, hard-working public servant I have always known him to be. I believe that voters were simply frustrated and out of patience. For better or worse, the governor "wears the jacket" for the battles not won, just as he or she enjoys the lion's share of credit for the victories.
The General Assembly and the new governor should take these lessons to heart.
Democrat Don Harmon, a lifelong resident of Oak Park, is Illinois Senate President Pro Tempore. He was elected Nov. 4 to a fifth term as senator representing the 39th District, which includes parts of Chicago, suburban Cook County, including Oak Park, and DuPage County.
Answer Book 2017
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