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.

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