Our democracy, and newspapers, are under attack

Opinion: Columns

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By Don Harmon

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Dan Haley called me recently to share his concerns about a bill pending in Springfield that would allow governments to publish official public notices on a state website instead of in local newspapers.

It's simple legislation that sounds good and would save taxpayers money. Who could be against it?

Dan was candid and direct, as is his style. He was clear that the bill, if passed, would hurt Wednesday Journal's bottom line.

But he said something more profound that got me thinking.

Democracy depends on a vibrant local press to police government, he reminded me. If lawmakers kill local newspapers by eliminating the regular revenue stream that public notices provide, who will be left to call out politicians who don't act in the public interest?

The legislation is nominally an initiative of the Lieutenant Governor's Office, but its support is much deeper and far more nefarious.

There is a common element that runs through the political vein that includes Bruce Rauner, Donald Trump, Scott Walker, the Koch Brothers and all of the other dark money financiers. The clear goal is to pry control of democracy out of the tired hands of the electorate and consolidate power in the oligarchy. 

Take over the Republican Party? Check.

Eviscerate the Democratic Party? How would they best do that? Attack the three legs of the stool of traditional Democratic Party supporters.

One: Eliminate labor unions. End collective bargaining and prevailing wage. Break AFSCME, state government's largest employee union, and force a strike. That's Gov. Rauner's Turnaround Agenda, Part I.

Two: Undermine lawyers representing injured workers. Upend worker's compensation laws. Distort justice through tort "reform." That's Gov. Rauner's Turnaround Agenda, Part II.

Three: Disenfranchise voters, particularly those of color and younger voters. Implement voter ID laws, term limits and redistricting "reform." That's Gov. Rauner's Turnaround Agenda, Part III.

Now all that's left is to disable the free and independent press or — better yet — starve it to death and replace it with fake news. Sound familiar?

Rauner's allies already have created a slew of fake newspapers, all innocuously named and taking root in the suburbs and downstate. The Illinois Policy Institute, a dark money organization sponsored by the Koch empire, has established a bureau that feeds "news" to depleted local newspapers that too often print them as news because they've already been starved to the point of needing content and having too few or no reporters.

I'm not one prone to believing conspiracy theories. I usually look for a more innocent explanation. But I can't any longer. Our democracy is under a full-fledged and coordinated national attack by the oligarchs.

State Senator Don Harmon is a Democrat from Oak Park and president pro tempore of the Illinois Senate.

Reader Comments

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Nick Polido  

Posted: May 16th, 2017 11:06 AM

If benefiting from your law firm with state business is not ethically challenged I don't know what is.....and for people who receive a household income in excess of 200k from state pensions then pay no state income tax on that should just say thanks.....

Bill Kopper from Oak Park  

Posted: May 15th, 2017 10:25 PM

Who knew. Web based posting of news and public announcements is a big Republican conspiracy to destroy Democrats in deep blue Illinois. What a hack!

Jerry Sebesta  

Posted: May 15th, 2017 6:19 PM

@Bob Partisan Slim ? Really ! I've have been an O P Resident/.voter since 1978. I don't know Tom or Bruce. I wrote then on my own , after reading Don's rant which Dan Haley published for him The articles I referred to were from the Chicago Sun Times who questioned his ethics. I don't think of the Sun Times as a GOP paper.. I might add that the BGA has run stories on Don's ethical issues. See 1/8/14 BGA article entitled UNO Law firm in Harmony., So my ethical questions about Don have have been in the Media for a long time. The point I raised and will note again is these stories never make to WJ.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: May 15th, 2017 5:56 PM

@ Bob Haisman - no one pays me to post anything. In most places you get a whopping two choices, but here we get no choice so we are stuck with Harmon and Madigan and Danny Davis and so on. One party rule and the state is going to insolvency. If that is what you call ethical government its a joke. Lets not pretend like anyone has a choice, and Trump has nothing to do with it either.

Nick A Binotti  

Posted: May 15th, 2017 5:27 PM

Regarding concern in dark money and organizations being forthright with their intentions: Last week WJ's "Town hall puts racial equity front and center" article incorrectly identified the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability (a think tank similar to the aforementioned Illinois Policy Institute) as "non-partisan". However, this org is almost entirely funded by public sector unions, each one an extremely left-leaning partisan organization in their own right that incessantly lobby for tax hikes on working families. Senator Harmon often cites CTBA findings but never mentions their funding sources either, probably because they're both funded by the same public sector unions. Why are we only concerned with bias on one side? In the spirit of transparency, why don't our local newspapers and elected officials cite proper allegiances so that we can start having a truly "non-partisan" conversation.

Bob Haisman from Oak Park  

Posted: May 15th, 2017 11:48 AM

Gee!!?? Did the Republican Party pay you three to respond ...plus give you all sample letters. Oak Park is fortunate to be Represented by a public Servant as accomplished, as skilled and as ethical as Senator Harmon. Senator Represents provides Oak Park with excellent progressive representation! With your Party Leaders of Trump, Bannon, Rauner, Roskam, Ryan -- you don't have any room to throw your partisan slim at a Good Man like Don Harmon. Bob Haisman

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: May 10th, 2017 6:07 PM

We need redistricting reform, so we are not gerrymandered by the Democratic party. We need term limits, so when a Don Harmon is forced upon us by Boss Madigan he has to at least change roles once in awhile.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: May 10th, 2017 4:18 PM

This is laughable. So Dan Haley "calls a code blue" to Sen. Harmon to help resuscitate his failing enterprise. And where has the WJ been? Missing in action, that's where. What a crock. The WJ has abrogated any of the historical duties of the 4th estate when it came to investigating malfeasance in Oak Park government or the gross mismanagement of Illinois State government in which Sen. Harmon participates. The WJ is a real bull dog when it comes to Republicans but when it comes to the shameless activities of Sen. Harmon and his colleagues down in Springfield, the WJ is a mere lap dog. Absolutely ludicrous. Yes, you're right Mr. Sebesta, there are reasons the print media is dying. Here is one.

Jerry Sebesta  

Posted: May 10th, 2017 2:56 PM

Don . On your column/rant on newspapers you note newspapers are vital to calling out politicians. . My question to you is where was WJ when the Chicago Sun Times published a in depth probe of your ethical conflicts "Senators Law Firm cashes in on state deals". ., Also an editorial was published later questioning your ethical conflicts. I don't recall seeing anything in WJ as Dan choose to ignore the story. However he had no problem running numerous stories on Rep Roskam, who doesn't represent Oak Park. Was this column your way of thanking Dan for keeping the Sun Times stories from WJ readers ? As for the state publishing notices online.. That would provide a free way for citizens/voters to access state notices rather than have to pay for a print copy. to access the information. You might not have noticed Don since you are older but the print newspaper business is dying. My 30ish children read everything online as I assume yours will.. They don't read print newspapers . It is far better for democracy to have the information out free on the net.

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