Black Students Return to School But Will the Funding

by

Maze Jackson

According to the Mayor and CPS officials, Chicago Public School students have made tremendous progress in spite of school closings and budget cuts. But as those students prepare to return to school on September 9th, they will feel the impact of the $500 million teacher pension crisis in the classroom. While most would agree schools are built for the children inside them, increasingly those children are losing to factors outside of the school. Combine that $500 million deficit with the gridlock in Springfield, and the trip back to school will be a difficult journey for Black Chicago Public School students and their parents.

To understand the impacts of a $500 million shortfall, it is important to understand how we got here. Currently, Chicago is the only school district in the state of Illinois that must fund its own teachers’ pensions.

“This budget reflects the reality of where we are today: facing a squeeze from both ends, in which CPS is receiving less state funding to pay our bills even as our pension obligations swell to nearly $700 million this year,” new CPS Chief Forrest Claypool stated. Claypool has asked the Illinois General Assembly to resolve that by having the state of Illinois cover Chicago teacher pension costs as well.

“We look forward to continuing to work with our leaders in Springfield to rank education funding reform and finally end the inequity that requires Chicago alone to take scarce dollars from the classroom to pay for teacher pensions,” Claypool said in a press release. Democrats have indicated that they are willing to aid CPS, but Republican Governor Bruce Rauner has made clear he will not support without passing his “Turnaround Agenda.”

“For Chicago to get what it wants, Illinois must get what it needs,” Rauner told a skeptical city council in a July address to the City’s governing body. With little to no progress in Springfield, and little expectation of any movement in the Rauner-Madigan face-off for the near future, it seems that CPS students will return to school with far fewer resources than last year, $68 million fewer to be exact. But what does that mean exactly for students?

It means 1500 layoffs district wide. Those layoffs will include 479 school teachers, 866 in-school support staff, and 146 citywide employees. According to CPS, those cuts will impact less than 2 percent of teachers citywide, including 204 high school teachers and 275 elementary school teachers. While that number may seem nominal, it means direct impact to the lives of students, particularly on the South and West Sides of Chicago. Not only does it mean increased classroom size, it also means less support for those teachers who will be operating with increased classrooms, which are predicted to grow to almost 40 students.

The impact of increased classroom size is compounded, when special needs are factored in. According to a Catalyst Chicago Report, “Specialty schools for high-needs students lost on average 16.8 percent of their staffing since the start of last school year — significantly higher than the average 1.6-percent staffing reduction that other district-run schools saw.”

Upon further analysis, Catalyst Chicago concludes, “Schools with high concentrations of African-American students and students in poverty make up many of the schools hardest hit by staffing loses, again reflecting enrollment trends. Among those same 75 schools, more than half were schools where 95 percent or more of the student population were black or low-income.” Essentially, as the city continues to grow, cuts to the budget are coming disproportionately out of Black schools that arguably need the most resources.

In addition to the fact that services cuts are disproportionately affecting Black and special needs students, the school day will shift anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour.  In the case of elementary schools, students may begin as early as 7:45am, and in the case of some high schools, start times will begin as late as 9:00am. According to CPS, the change in start times will save about $13.5 million annually. While the savings will be significant for CPS, they may be more expensive for the parents who will have to make childcare arrangements to accommodate the changes.

Elementary schools students will also take a blow as the 2015-2016 CPS budget removes funding for all elementary school sports programs. Unlike the cuts to special services, the removal of elementary school sports is not disproportionate to schools that are predominately Black, because they were removed from all elementary school programs. Like all cuts CPS maintains that they are fair and equitable across the board, which appears to be the case with elementary school sports. It is important to note that CPS did not ban elementary sports totally, but required the schools to do their own fundraising to support their teams.

Critics point to the fact that the more affluent CPS schools on the North and Southwest Sides have greater fundraising ability to support their athletic programs, while predominately Black schools struggle to find the more resources like basic supplies and school books. Additionally, with cuts to music and arts programs as well, many are Blacks are concerned that Black children will be left without the necessary programs to keep students engaged and well-rounded.

The 2015-2016 school year for CPS is shaping up to be one of the most challenging years ever. With a $1.1 billion structural deficit and no relief from Springfield anticipated in the near future, the back to school season is going to be a costly issue for parents and students alike. For parents it will be everything from adjusting work schedules, paying for after-school activities, and the massive property tax hike which appears inevitable. For kids it will be adjusting to larger classrooms with fewer teachers, resources, and extracurricular activities. Next week will definitely be back to school week, but with all the cuts, there will be a lot fewer familiar faces and activities for Black students.

 

 

 

 

 

Springfield Rules

by

Maze Jackson

If you know anything about Springfield, you know The Rule: The Speaker always wins. Everyone knows not to get on The Speaker’s bad side or you risk the possibility of being neutered in state government and politics. It appears however, that Governor Bruce Rauner does not know The Rule, nor does he care.

Feared as the most powerful man in Illinois politics, rarely if ever is The Speaker’s authority questioned. While the media likes to portray The Speaker as some nefarious character in the murky world of an Illinois political drama, he has actually proven to be the leader strong enough to build “consensus” among his members. From what I have observed, The Speaker spends a significant amount of time accommodating his members, converting even the candidates most vocal against him on the campaign trail into supporters once in the legislature.   The Speaker also has a formidable, military-like political organization that relies on discipline, legislation, and fundraising to maintain control of state government. The Speaker’s status is rarely challenged and his members remain loyal because of The Rule.

Enter Governor Bruce Rauner trying to break The Rule with Black people possibly paying the price. Rauner campaigned heavily on the promise to beat The Speaker in Springfield, but he has found the task to be a bit more difficult than he anticipated.   Unlike The Speaker, he is a business titan but a political novice, with even less knowledge of Springfield. Governor Rauner also has a talented, yet relatively green to Springfield staff, even if for no other reason than Democratic dominance for the last decade. What he lacks in experience he makes up with money: money to insulate himself and his staff from the effects of a government shutdown; money to finance media campaigns; money to finance campaigns; and money allows him to ignore The Rule.

The Speaker has already shown his early dominance, soundly defeating every significant piece of legislation that Governor Rauner proposed. The Speaker has also gotten the Governor to remove two of the four pillars of his turnaround agenda. By all accounts, it is only a matter of time before The Speaker teaches the Governor, The Rule; except this time I am not so sure it will be as easy.

On numerous occasions, I have heard Governor Rauner speak, and somewhere in that speech, he always says something to the gist of, “I am willing to take the arrows…be the bad guy.” Translation: “I’ve made the necessary but painful necessary for the long-term sustainability of the company, regardless of the human impact.” And that’s why I think The Speaker may have a much more difficult time teaching the Governor The Rule.

Bruce Rauner the businessman has prepared Governor Rauner for the protests that will ensue if the government shuts down. Bruce Rauner the philanthropist has prepared Governor Rauner for stories of the families that will suffer. And the long-term outcome for Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin has prepared Governor Bruce Rauner for a protracted union battle (Walker is now considered a potential Presidential candidate.)

In Illinois, we have grown accustomed to Democratic governors who, regardless of their issues, put “people” first regardless of “fiscal” challenges. Gov. Rauner came into office prepared to deal with the “fiscal” challenges, regardless of the “people.” In the past The Speaker was able to give the governor a budget and let him “take the arrows…be the bad guy,” for the any cuts. Those governors were always concerned with voters, so they generally did not make deeps cuts to services important to Black people, so Black people usually benefitted from The Rule.

If The Speaker gives Governor Rauner a budget with a $3 billion hole, he WILL make the cuts. We already know those cuts will not be good for Black people. So, I am not suggesting that The Rule has changed, but maybe the game has.

 

Right to Work Zones and Unions in the Black Community

by

Maze Jackson

 

Governor Bruce Rauner has proposed introducing employee empowerment zones in Illinois and it has not been received with open arms by unions or legislators around the state. While the Governor initially proposed changing Illinois, known as a union stronghold, into a right to work state, he has settled on empowerment zones.

Governor Rauner says, “Employee empowerment zones will allow Illinois to better compete with employment-flexible states, like Indiana. The Turnaround Agenda empowers local voters and communities to decide if they should be open or closed shop, and these zones will help attract businesses, which will create jobs, particularly in areas with high unemployment.”

It would also exploit historic tensions between the trade unions and the Black community, which has long-held that the unions are barriers to Black employment in Black communities.

Trade unions, formed after slavery were initially created for workers rights, but also to prevent skilled slaves from taking jobs from White workers.   Over time, as Blacks migrated North and White businessmen sought to break strikes, they often employed Black “scabs” who were willing to accept the verbal and often physical abuse of White union members and expendable to the White business owners.

Concurrently, Black leaders like A. Phillip Randolph eventually began organizing groups like the Pullman Porters who advocated specifically for Black workers. Eventually, Black unions were integrated into larger White unions with their presence being relegated to Black “caucuses.”

The trade unions, which traditionally have the highest paid remain primarily dominated by White ethnic men in membership and leadership, and receive complaints from legislators and community activists alike for their lack of diversity. Conversely, low wage Black and minority workers dominate the service unions, with “liberal” White leadership making most policy decisions. Both groups say that right to work laws are bad for working middle class families, pointing to a Public Policy Polling report that states, “55% of voters are resistant to right to work laws.”

But with a Black unemployment rate of almost 25% in Chicago, and projected to be almost 14% statewide, the question becomes what is the benefit of employee empowerment zones for Black community? Black community activists and Black legislators alike agree that while unions provide great jobs and wages, they are the barrier to Blacks accessing those great jobs and wages. “Right to work zones are needed to allow the people who have been left out to participate in rebuilding their own communities. Then, once the community is rebuilt they want us to leave,” stated community activist and organizer of Voice Of The Ex-offender (VOTE).

The unions counter with the fact that while there are opportunities for growth, Black people are not applying to become part of the trade unions. In response, they have increased their outreach efforts. “One of the biggest challenges we find it that most people do not know the process of how to find the job. Once a person gets in the program, they can be as successful as they want to be, “ said IBEW Local 134 official Mario Miller.

State Representative Ken Dunkin, counters, “We have to hold these unions accountable. They’ve got to explain to our community why they should not have the right to work. “

Right to work zones will most likely be voted on this week, will fail miserably, and the unions will be able to claim a big victory against the Governor. What remains to be seen is how this vote plays out in the upcoming Statehouse elections. If the Black unemployment rates remain disproportionately high and social services continue to get cut, many of the same Black legislators who will vote against the right to work zone legislation will have to explain to their constituencies why they voted for unions and against their right to work.   That will be difficult to sell to unemployed Blacks.

BLACK DEMOCRATIC OPERATIVES WORK, WHITES GET PAID

 

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by

Maze Jackson

Last night, for the first time since Election Night, March 15, 2016 I attended a Democratic fundraiser. While I have not been in hiding, as some would like to think, I had avoided attending some high-profile events because as a true Chicago political operative, I knew it was coming…the jokes about 68%-32% drubbing that my good friend Ken Dunkin received. I knew I would be the target of the jokes, because as many felt, rightfully so, that I had worked for Dunkin behind the scenes.

Dunkin was ultimately crushed by the sheer weight of the entire Democratic Party putting every available resource against him, but he did not go down without a fight. And when he was given the resources, party leaders were clearly concerned that Dunkin could still win the election, so concerned that they even called in the leader of the free world. That’s right, even President Obama weighed in on the election, at which point I faced the reality that the Democratic Party was willing to do ANYTHING to ensure Dunkin’s defeat. It was a tough loss and I knew they would come for me afterwards.

But walking into that fundraiser and hearing fellow Black political operatives laugh about how they “Kicked my butt!” stung a little. Then when a committeeman that I have known, supported, and respected shouted out in front of a table of strangers, “WE KICKED YOUR ASS!” it stung A LOT. It stung because so many times, I had been on the other side, laughing at those idealistic political wannabees, whose hopes we laughed at, as we mercilessly kicked their butts at the ballot.

It stung because as a Black political operative, I know that there are two different “WE’s.” As a Democratic political operative any win against the opposition is cause for celebration. But “WE” for Black Democratic political operatives usually means working as the “field” director, while inexperienced young White Democratic political operatives handle jobs like media director, communications director, campaign manager, and fundraiser.

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“WE” to Black Democratic political operatives means that you get a small raise or promotion, while White Democratic political operatives get lucrative contracts or new business clients. “WE” to Black Democratic political operatives means a win bonus that may pay for a weekend in Wisconsin, while it means buying a vacation home in Michigan for a White Democratic political operative.

I was content being a Black Democratic political operative until I went to Springfield and saw what it meant to be a White Democratic political operative. I saw all of those young twenty and thirty something hustling around the Capitol in their fancy suits, with big contracts, representing corporate America working 3 days a week, six months per year. I saw them taking multiple family vacations, living in big houses in (847) area codes, and driving fancy cars on the weekend. Their outcomes looked nothing like those of the Black Democratic political operatives I know.

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The top Black Democratic political operatives I know are the people behind the desks at your local ward office. You may see them walking around city hall, or they may be sitting in the back of the room at your local block club meeting. They know what to do, who to talk to, and where to be in their communities. Black political operatives are experts in their communities. It’s generally who the White Democratic political operatives rely on for success when they are dispatched to Black communities.

But few if none of them will ever be millionaires like the White Democratic political operatives that they work along side during election season. As a political operative, I understand that when the boss sends you on a mission, your only goals are to destroy the competition and win. But as a Black Democratic political operative, I know we are rarely if ever allowed to control the budgets, make decisions, or be part of the strategy team. They will let us handle the “ground game” and “visibility” which is cool, but we won’t ever retire millionaires like the White Democratic political operatives.

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Going against the Party in the Dunkin race may not have been the smartest thing for my political or professional career, and I admit that. I’ll even admit I did get my butt kicked. But while that Black Democratic political operative was at the same event with me on a cold dreary March night, laughing, the White Democratic political operative that needed him to win, was chilling on a beach with his family. When I reminded him of that,  things weren’t so Democratic or funny anymore.

 

Chicago Budget Fix Relies on Dysfunctional Springfield

(as published in the October 7-13 Chicago Defender)

by

Maze Jackson

Illinois legislative leaders Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton (photo courtesy of The Daily Herald)
Illinois legislative leaders Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton (photo courtesy of The Daily Herald)

When Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that he would be proposing over a $588 million property tax increase in the city of Chicago, a collective groan was heard across the neighborhoods. While many knew that the day of pension reckoning was finally upon us, the shock of actually hearing Emanuel deliver the message was palpable. While he discussed a wide range of services savings and cuts, most Chicagoans fixated on the $500 million property tax increase.

 (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

A $588 million increase that equates to an approximate 58.1% increase over what Chicagoans had been paying. That increased property tax assessment could potentially have a dire effect on the Black community whose property values are rapidly increasing, while their incomes are not. Combine that with the fact that the Black community has not fully recovered as quickly as others from the recession, while struggling to hold on to their homes. At the same time, White developers are buying every bit of property they can get their hands in anticipation of the Obama library on the South Side, and Silicon Valley 2.0 which is being built on the near West Side.

In an effort to provide some relief from the enormous tax increase, and prevent some of those things from happening, Mayor Emmanuel proposed an exemption for homes that are valued under $250,000. The move was hailed as an attempt to ensure that the cities most vulnerable homeowners would be spared the massive increase that would eventually drive them from their homes and communities, a fact that members of the Chicago Aldermanic Black Caucus applaud.

“I believe it will encourage investment, while lessening the impact on people with less income,” said 27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett, Jr. who represents a portion of the West Side and West Loop, where high-income development is booming.

(photo courtesy of Chicago Reader)
27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett, Jr. (photo courtesy of Chicago Reader)

But to get the necessary relief, the mayor’s budget relies on approval from a dysfunctional Springfield that has not been able to pass its own budget. As a matter of fact the state of Illinois has been operating without a budget for the past five months with no solution in the foreseeable future. In spite of that, Burnett remains optimistic that “Governor Rauner will do the right thing, help the city of Chicago, and low income residents.”

While all parties would agree that the city of Chicago is on the brink of financial peril all parties do not agree on the solution, the most important of which is Governor Rauner, who has called for a statewide property tax freeze. Combine that with the fact that when Governor Rauner addressed the Chicago City Council back in July, he made it perfectly clear that if Chicago expected to get any relief from the state he expected that they would make concessions in Springfield. Regardless of Rauner’s ominous statements, Springfield insiders remain optimistic that they will be able to pass the property tax exemption and get Governor Rauner to sign it.

(photo courtesy of the Daily Herald)
Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner (photo courtesy of the Daily Herald)

Assistant Majority Leader Art Turner, Jr. (D-Chicago) is one of those insiders. “Most of the constituents I represent would benefit from the exemption and I am for it. It’s progressive which is something that we should look at on the state level as well. Those who can pay more should,” Turner states.

 

(photo courtesy of Jewish United Fund)
Assistant Majority Leader Arthur Turner, Jr. (photo courtesy of Jewish United Fund)

“The City of Chicago is the largest economic engine in the state, and while I think it will be tougher to get through Springfield, I am confident that the Governor understands how important Chicago is to the rest of the state. Mayor Emanuel has taken the first step in fixing the situation, but because he and the Governor have a working relationship and talk regularly, I think we will get a bill passed and signed,” Turner explained.

Turner’s optimism is based on Emanuel and Rauner’s relationship, because Rauner’s relationship with Democratic leaders in Springfield is tense to say the least. Governor Rauner and Illinois Speaker of the House Mike Madigan are currently locked in a budget fight to the death over who will control Springfield, and neither seems willing to compromise. But if the city of Chicago hopes to plug its budget holes and pension problems, it must rely upon cooperation with legislators, leaders and the Governor to get it done. But so far no party has shown any willingness to give, which is what makes Emanuel’s role in the situation so crucial.

Illinois Speaker of the House Mike Madigan (photo courtesy of Chicago Now)
Illinois Speaker of the House Mike Madigan (photo courtesy of Chicago Now)

Mayor Emanuel has stated, we must fix the “structural deficit” and we cannot “kick the can down the road any longer” as he has so often accused the previous administration of. And, while he is careful not to blame the Daley administration by name, one only need listen to Emanuel talk about the city’s financial situation to know that he will not wear the jacket for the massive property tax increase alone.

One thing is clear, if the City of Chicago wants to keep growing, it must tackle the financial woes created by years of underfunding police and fire pensions. The intentional underfunding of police and fire pensions have reduced Chicago’s bond ratings to junk status, driving the cost of borrowing money to unmanageable levels. But with the property tax increase, Emanuel and the Chicago City Council still have to convince voters why they should accept such a large property tax with very few to no new services.

To combat the perception, Emanuel has also proposed using a rare state law that allows the city to levy a $45 million school improvement tax to ease the tensions associated with such a large increase. Emanuel has also tried to make the increase more palatable by phasing it in over 3 years, with increases being $318 million in 2015, $109 million in 2016, $53 million in 2017, and $63 million in 2018.

But none of that will make a difference if he can’t get Springfield to work together, something they have been unable to do for the last five months. Emanuel needs them to if he hopes to save Chicago from being devoured by its pension obligation.

Dunkin Breaks with Madigan, Says Not “Enough…for Black People”

by

Maze Jackson

(from the September 16-22, 2015 edition of the Chicago Defender

Fifth District State Representative Kenneth “Ken” Dunkin seems to have no problem keeping his family commitments and travel schedule even if it comes into conflict with Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan’s political power plays. Some might even infer that those “family commitments and travel schedule” include a broader family, the residents of his district, and in some cases the even larger Black community of Illinois.

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Born and raised in Chicago’s notorious Cabrini Green Housing Projects, Dunkin has always been one to go against the grain. “Even as a kid, we called him ‘GQ’, because Ken was always trying to achieve a higher standard. Whether it was how he dressed or the way he carried himself, he always knew we could do better,” recounts childhood friend and fellow Phi Beta Sigma brother Cyril Nichols. Dunkin went on to graduate from Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia and received his Masters from the University of Chicago. Dunkin ran the Robert Taylor Boys and Girls Club, before being elected to the Illinois House of Representatives in 2002.

 

While in Springfield, Dunkin established a reputation as a legislator who was willing to buck Madigan to cut a better deal for the constituents of his district. Dunkin even aligned himself with former Governor Rod Blagojevich when it made the most sense for his constituents. Because of his alliance with Blagojevich, Dunkin faced numerous Madigan backed challengers early in his career, soundly defeating all challengers. During the last remap, Madigan went as far as to map Dunkin out of his home base, but being the consummate campaigner, Dunkin adapted and was re-elected with little fuss.

 

In 2009, when Madigan wanted to put his full power on display against his than political mortal enemy Governor Rod Blagojevich, “family commitments and travel schedule” kept Dunkin from being present to vote on the impeachment. Dunkin’s refusal to take part in the process was symbolic of Dunkin’s unwillingness to kick Blagojevich, who was wildly popular in the Black community in spite of his legal issues, while he was down.

 

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Since the House voted 114-1 to impeach Blagojevich, Dunkin’s absence was easily missed, but when Senate Bill 1229 failed, and Madigan said “If Mr. Dunkin were here we would have had 71 votes” because of those same “family commitments and travel schedule,” it sent a ripple through Springfield. When Dunkin was quoted to ABC 7 reporter Charles Thomas as saying, “There was not enough in the bill for Black people!” that ripple became a shock wave.

 

Dunkin sent a shockwave through Springfield, because for the first time, he dared to interject the interests of the Black community into the political death match between Republican Governor Bruce Rauner and Democrats led by Speaker Madigan. Because the Governor has veto power, the Senate has a bullet proof super majority, and the House has a super majority, the state budget impasse has reached gridlock. Dunkin’s break from Madigan over Black issues could become the game changer for either side, up to this point, only Rauner has been even willing to discuss the needs of the Black community specifically.

 

Springfield Power Dynamics

In the Illinois Senate, President John Cullerton listens closely to the advice and counsel of Assistant Majority Leader and Illinois Legislative Black Caucus Chairman Senator Kimberly A. Lightford. Additionally, the Senate Black Caucus has taken the lead in identifying areas of compromise, but are leery to trust Rauner, who they say has yet to back up his campaign promises. “We haven’t seen the business he was supposed to bring.” Lightford said, but she did indicate that there was room for compromise. “I can see some term limits if you think some people have been there too long and have a monopoly (on state government)” she continued in a veiled reference to the 40 year Speaker of the House.

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In the Illinois House the situation is a bit different. While the Illinois Speaker of the House is widely regarded as the most powerful man in Illinois, his position of strength relies on his ability to control his members. In this situation, Madigan must be able to corral all 71 of his members to be able to override Rauner’s ability to veto, and any defection leaves Speaker Madigan in the weakest negotiating position of the three major players. Always the master strategist, in the past Madigan has typically been able to convince at least one Republican to vote with Democrats, but since Rauner entered the scene, he has commanded the loyalty of the House Republicans, led by Minority Leader Jim Durkin.

 

 

While Cullerton has the strongest Democratic position, he and his Senate colleagues have taken a backseat to the “Madigan v. Rauner Show.” Equally in the background, is the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, who until this point has also been overshadowed, even though they control the second largest Caucus in Springfield. Rauner has openly courted their support, and has been rumored to have offered the Black Caucus a menu of social service and economic concessions tailored to the Black community. The Black Caucus so far has rejected Rauner’s overtures because of his stance on basic “Democratic core values.”

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Meanwhile, Madigan has yet to even mention the issues that concern the Black community, with many suggesting that he is at the root of Blacks being excluded from equal participation in state contracts and the political decision making process. As a matter of fact, during Madigan’s 40-year tenure as Speaker, he has never had a Black person on his Senior Leadership Team. He has been able to count on the unquestioned support of the Black Caucus members, without ever having to confront his own record in the Black community… until Ken Dunkin missed that vote and audaciously mentioned, “Black People!”

 

Senate Bill 1229

When Black State Representative Ken Dunkin missed the vote on Senate Bill 1229, he took on two of the most powerful forces in Springfield, Speaker Madigan and organized labor. The bill, which would have strengthened state employee labor union AFSCME’s negotiating power and proved Mike Madigan as the biggest boss in Springfield failed by 3 votes, and Madigan blamed it singularly on Dunkin’s absence, he inadvertently gave the Black community their strongest negotiating tool in almost two generations.
Traditionally, state workers negotiate their contract with the Governor and the Executive Branch not the Legislative Branch, but because of the extreme anti-union position Bruce Rauner has taken against unions, AFSCME sought the assistance of the General Assembly to gain additional leverage. Because AFSCME needed to involve the Legislative Branch in the negotiations because things are not going so well, Dunkin saw it as the perfect opportunity for Black legislators to leverage concessions from the trade union that represents state workers including downstate prison guards.

Dunkin admits he voted for the bill initially, but after Rauner vetoed the bill and he had more opportunity to ask questions, AFSCME representatives told him that they “don’t typically share that information.” Dunkin admits he was incredulous at the fact that the union would not provide the information he requested, but still demanded his vote and unquestioned support. Dunkin knowing that he had previous commitments said “he informed House leadership that he would be unavailable” the following week. House leadership scheduled the vote anyway, and added SB 570 to restore childcare subsidy levels, on the same day with the hopes of guaranteeing Black lawmakers would be present for the vote.

When Dunkin followed through with family plans and travel schedule as he had previously communicated, the Speaker called SB 1229 in his absence. When the bill failed by 3 votes, Dunkin alone was vilified by the leader of the Democratic Caucus for the bill’s failure. Then knowing that he did not have the votes to pass the childcare bill, SB 570, the Speaker called it and it failed by one vote. Insiders speculated that Madigan called the bill knowing it would fail, so that it could be used against Dunkin in future campaigns. It is common practice in Springfield to leverage Black social service needs to secure votes on issues important to him. While SB 570 failed, Rep. Jehan Gordon made a motion to reconsider, which allowed SB 570 to be called again, a fact that has been lost in all of the rhetoric.

While the Speaker and AFSCME continue to attack Dunkin, for being “disloyal,” they fail to mention that 40% of AFSCME’s downstate membership voted for Governor Rauner in the past election. They also fail to mention that they spent the better part of two years attacking Democratic governor Pat Quinn. They also fail to mention that their leadership threatened to “punish” Dunkin for not supporting their bill.

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In the Black community, the narrative has been all about the failure of SB 570, but the real battle was SB 1229, because it would have given Madigan and AFSCME the upper hand in their negotiations with Rauner. When Dunkin made the declaration, “I don’t work for Mike Madigan,” he dramatically shifted the power of the supermajority out of the hands of the all-powerful Madigan into the hands of a Black man. It’s a position that Blacks have not been in very often, and are very uncomfortable with.

 

While most Illinois Legislative Black Caucus members have remained silent, it is clear from their response that they are not happy with Dunkin. They have refused to speak out publicly against the former Chairman of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, but behind the scenes many are calling for the Speaker to “punish” Dunkin, but that would leave the Speaker in a precarious position.

While the House Democrats have a supermajority, there is no room for error. If they lose one vote, the Governor’s vetoes stick, making the supermajority worthless unless they can increase it. As we saw this week after Dunkin’s no show, the power dynamic shifts pretty fast in Springfield if anyone, particularly anyone Black leaves the proverbial “plantation,” a notion thought unthinkable until Dunkin rebelled against Madigan publicly last week.

 

That leaves the Speaker with a whole lot to think about, and based on his record in the Black community, that is not something he’s had to do for 40 years.

 

 

 

Black Caucus-Governor Rauner…”Together?”

(from The Weekly Intelligence Report)

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Members of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus.

As the state budget impasse continues with little to no progress, the state budget battle is shaping up to be a battle of egos between two of Springfield’s “five tops,” holding the rest of Illinois hostage until someone blinks. I sat down with the Chairman of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, State Senator Kimberly A. Lightford on The Maze Said Radio Show and Podcast, and I got the distinct impression that some members of the Black Caucus were willing to negotiate with Rauner, depending on the terms.

Illinois Legislative Black Caucus Chairman Kimberly A. Lightford
Illinois Legislative Black Caucus Chairman Kimberly A. Lightford

On the flip side, sources inside the Rauner camp tells me Rauner wants the support of the Black Caucus so bad, he would be willing to fund Black Caucus priorities AND grow Black business opportunities with in each of the districts. Of course, that would mean supporting Rauner’s “Turnaround Agenda.” Black Caucus members remain skeptical, preferring Rauner to bring business to the state before they consider cutting a deal, but they did not rule out the possibility of a deal, which is intriguing.

Gov. Rauner and Rev. James Meeks, who Lightford implied sided with Rauner after being frustrated with Democrats treatment of Blacks.
Gov. Rauner and Rev. James Meeks, who Lightford implied sided with Rauner after being frustrated with Democrats treatment of Blacks.

A Black Caucus/Rauner alliance would not solve the budget crisis, but it would change the balance of power in Springfield, giving the Black Caucus a bigger voice in directing where the state’s funding goes.   The Senate President John Cullerton has already shown some willingness to work with the Governor, but as Lightford acknowledged, has not been as “involved” in the battle as the Governor and Speaker Madigan. She also acknowledged that it would be more difficult to gather the same support in the House.

Sources inside the Caucus inform me that Rauner has been quietly meeting with Black Caucus members in the House. Democratic leaders were so nervous about Black Caucus House members meeting with Rauner, they requested written confirmation of the meetings. Members balked at the suggestion, but clearly there are concerns that the Black Caucus will begin to leverage the power of their numbers.

Gov. Rauner talks with Sen. Napoleon Harris at State Budget Address. (photo courtesy of Reboot Illinois)
Gov. Rauner talks with Sen. Napoleon Harris at State Budget Address. (photo courtesy of Reboot Illinois)

But “we are looking at it,” Lightford answered when I inquired why not cut the best deal for the Black people. “The Governor has a list,” she continued, “but we need to look at that list together” and pick which things “we can live with.”

“I’m not for term limits…that’s what elections are for,” she goes on. “Maybe some people have been there too long, I get that,” which is why they need to look at the list together she reasons.

Illinois Speaker of the House Mike Madigan
Illinois Speaker of the House Mike Madigan.

In a state where Blacks continually do less that 2 percent of the state’s business and cuts to vital services in the Black community are always on the table, the fact that the Black Caucus is talking about looking at a plan TOGETHER with Rauner should be of grave concern to the people Lightford said have built “legacies” while not letting the Blacks participate equally.

I don’t know whom she was talking about, but they better be concerned…

#mazesaid