(gentle music) (camera shutter clicking) (energetic music) - Welcome to Capitol View, our weekly look at the politics and other happenings inside and outside the Illinois State Capitol.
I'm Jennifer Fuller.
Our guests this week are Dan Petrella of the Chicago Tribune, and Amanda Vinicky of WTTW Chicago Tonight.
Both of you, thanks so much for taking the time.
- Sure thing.
- Glad to be back.
- So this is actually a week where we're going to talk about the happenings mostly outside the state Capitol.
Illinois lawmakers are on their regular spring break and it's election week, so a lot to talk about.
We're going to start with arguably the biggest race across the state, and that was the race for Chicago mayor.
Now, people may remember that current mayor, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, was unseated in the primary.
So we knew there was definitely going to be a new mayor in the office.
Voters chose Brandon Johnson to win over Paul Vallas earlier this week in the city of Chicago.
Amanda, talk a little bit, if you could, about the ramifications of this race.
Now, as I understand it, Brandon Johnston, a little more progressive, Johnson, I should say, a little more progressive than Paul Vallas.
What does this mean for governing in the city of Chicago?
- A lot more progressive than Paul Vallas.
Vallas is a name that, for those who follow state politics, might be more recognizable given that he has had long involvement in Illinois government and ran as a lieutenant governor candidate with former governor Pat Quinn.
Obviously, neither of that team did not win, otherwise, we might be in a different place by now.
But Vallas since then appears to have tracked some to the right.
He describes himself as for sure, a Democrat, but it was nonetheless an accusation that hounded him because he had been on things, for example, like spoken with Awake Illinois and gone on a right wing talk show.
And so that was something that I think did bring him down.
You see in this election the results showing that at least half of Chicago or 51% of those who voted want the city to turn far more progressive.
And that is what Brandon Johnson did.
Although interestingly, he did back away from some of those positions, at least watered them down from what he had previously said in his role as Cook County Commissioner to his role as candidate for mayor.
And so that's something that we're going to be watching, things like he had said as a commissioner in the wake of George Floyd's murder and when the Defund The Police movement got a lot of traction, that it wasn't just a slogan, that that was a political goal.
He then, at a candidate's forum, said something that was literally laughable to the audience.
And that was, "I said it was a political goal.
I didn't say it was mine."
But nonetheless, moved away so that he is not going to defund the police.
But certainly, it is going to be a far more progressive, left-leaning, liberal trap than Chicago has seen in quite some time.
And he'll be buttressed by that with a more left-leaning city council and also the powerful group that got him there.
And that is the Chicago Teachers Union.
He is a paid organizer of the CTU, an organization that in recent years has gone head to head with the mayor of Chicago.
And presumably, not anymore because CTU is not only Johnson's employer at present, but also the biggest funder of his campaign.
So we're going to see, I think, widespread ramifications when it comes to how this city goes about dealing with crime.
And that was, of course, a major issue for voters.
Also, what goes on with CPS, the list goes on and on.
But before I send it back to you, wanting to add, of course, that this was a very contentious race.
While Johnson did win, we didn't have to bite our fingernails and stay up all night to get those results.
He did win.
What he did not win was super decisively.
I mean, 51% to 49 point something with a turnout around 33%.
So what you have is a divided city.
Something that both Johnson and Vallas recognized in their remarks and said that they want to make, Vallas said he wants to help Johnson.
Johnson said that he recognizes this sort of division.
He wants to be a mayor for all of Chicago.
Nonetheless, it is already apparently clear that many of his policies are ones that about half of, at least, the voter base very much disagree with.
- Dan, so for the rest of the state, as they look at this, there are a lot of people saying, "Well, why should I care?"
Others saying, "What should I be paying attention to?"
What does the city of Chicago, and particularly, it's mayoral race, say about the rest of the state in terms of its politics?
- Sure, well, I think one thing to think about is just that Chicago is the economic engine of the state.
So much of what happens in the state depends on the success of the city of Chicago, even in agricultural areas that all has ties to (indistinct) exchanges, things like that in Chicago.
So, the health of the city is very important to the rest of the state.
You also can imagine that Mayor Johnson, once he's sworn in, will be coming down to Springfield and looking to advance things for the city of Chicago.
And I think in the dynamic we're in now, it'll be interesting to see how the super majority Democrats in the legislature respond to some of those requests, especially because the Democrats have built up their super majorities in the House and the Senate by stretching further and further out into the suburbs.
So, you don't have just Chicago Democrats representing the Democratic caucuses in the legislature anymore.
So that'll be one interesting dynamic to watch.
And I think it also just speaks to maybe a new trend in the Democratic party to more of a sort of pre-Reagan era New Deal, Great Society kind of thinking about what it means to be a Democrat.
Democrats in the eighties and nineties kind of tracks toward the center, and the center is maybe moving a little bit to the right in the wake of Reagan and all that.
So I think you see Democrats, especially younger voters who turned out it looked like a little bit more in the runoff than they did back in February in the initial round of voting.
Voting for a more robust social safety net, more social service programs, things like that.
So it'll be interesting to see if those trends carry into elections next year.
It'll be interesting to see how Mayor Johnson works with Governor Pritzker because the relationship between Mayor Lightfoot and Governor Pritzker ran very hot and cold throughout their four years in office that overlap.
So those are things that I'm watching going forward.
I think we'll also mention to see whether the election of Johnson as the mayor sways the folks from the Democratic party nationally who are deciding where to put their convention next year and whether they like Mayor Brandon Johnson being on that stage more than maybe they would have Mayor Paul Vallas.
- And I'll add to that.
Something that Dan mentioned briefly, but I do think that this is going to be a very new dynamic for Pritzker.
In a way, it takes him out of any sort of tangles he might have had had Vallas been the victor in that because of some of the remarks that I mentioned that Vallas had made in sort of the intervening period between being a candidate for lieutenant governor and now that could have put him in a tough spot.
Again, Vallas very much, however, more a moderate and would've had demands along those lines.
This I think is going to put pressure on Governor Pritzker to perhaps go more left, to go more progressive.
And because Johnson comes in instead of as had been the case with Mayors Lightfoot and prior to her, Rahm Emanuel, with this contention adversarial relationship with the more progressive wing of the Democratic party, including representatives of the general assembly as well as, again, the very powerful Chicago Teachers Union, powerful politically.
That could put pressure on Governor Pritzker to make some more progressive moves statewide and to comply with some of the asks that I think seem perhaps very difficult to swallow otherwise, things that are on the Johnson platform, including solving some of Chicago public schools massive budget issue by asking the state for more money.
They want more.
Is that something that you're going to have sort of more acquiescence to in Springfield than you would have in years past because of the political punch that Pritzker knows can come from Johnson and his allies?
And then same with when you look at perhaps there's no particular proposal that comes to mind just yet, but any sort of issues on policing.
And then also, other asks, such as potentially getting state approval for changes to how Chicago taxes, be it to businesses or a real estate transaction tax.
Some of these more progressive fronts that Chicago is asking for that, again, I think are really going to put pressure on the governor to perhaps look at statewide or at least give a hand to, that he hasn't been under the gun to do previously.
- When we look at those levels of influence and the inner workings of how all of this has to happen, we've also been keeping an eye in this election on some influence that doesn't always happen.
And Dan, I know you've done quite a bit of reporting on the influence of political parties in non-partisan elections, particularly school board elections, public library elections, those sorts of things where we're starting to see national issues like book bans, curricula, those sorts of things be a part of elections that in the past really just had to do with people who had the best interest of their school district or their library board.
What did you see in terms of, I know there were quite a bit of stories about influence in the Chicago suburbs, it was happening downstate as well.
Did that influence have an impact on the election?
- It's very interesting and it's not just political parties as you mentioned, but also sort of what some people like to call dark money groups or sort of right wing or conservative organizations in state and out of state getting involved.
Awake Illinois, for example, which Amanda mentioned earlier.
And then the sort of the, I was gonna say elephant in the room, but I guess the donkey in the room was the state Democratic party with about $300,000 from Governor Pritzker getting involved in a lot of these elections and doing pretty well with the candidates.
They backed by their count a little bit over 70% of what they labeled extremist candidates that they had opposed appeared to have lost on Tuesday night.
We had places like Oswego in the far western suburbs of Chicago and Barrington in sort of the far northwest suburbs where there were these conservative slates of candidates trying to get elected with support of groups like Awake, Moms for Liberty, who are pushing some of those culture issues, those overblown concerns about critical race theory being taught in schools, things like that.
Those slates of candidates were defeated.
They did have successes in some other places.
Huntley, for example, is another northwest suburb of Chicago where a slate of four more conservative candidates did win, which will now make up a majority on the school board.
So I think one of the things to watch is whether this is the new normal in these local elections, which had really been low money affairs.
I mean, the vast majority of people who run for school board never hit the $5,000 threshold where they have to register with the State Board of Elections to report their campaign fundraising and spending.
So, I think this is just the democrats and the teachers unions are happy that they performed pretty well on Tuesday night.
But I think there's a lot of people wondering whether these races are gonna get more expensive and more political going forward.
- That's a question that a lot of people are perhaps taking a look at.
When you look geographically at the state of Illinois, the vast majority of the ground covered is still leaning conservative, quite a bit conservative in some areas, whereas where you see larger centers of population, it appears to be moving even further to the liberal or progressive side of things.
Amanda, what does this mean for 2024?
You see in lots of elections this year a progressive lean.
We see mayors being unseated like the Springfield's mayor was unseated in his reelection bid this term.
Carbondale, for example, elected its first Black woman mayor.
As well as a city council member who we believe may be the first openly transgender woman to serve on a city council anywhere in Illinois.
So if those progressive moves are happening, what does that mean, Amanda, for 2024?
- I'm not sure we can take much from individual races when you look at trends such as that in terms of what it might mean for 2024 beyond broadening acceptance, of course, in some arenas and a heck of a lot of pushback, as Dan was just talking about in terms of these, quote unquote, "culture wars," when you look at a transgender individual serving on a city council and that being the first in all of Illinois, sort of both a surprising stat, and then perhaps not.
But a lot of these, you've gotta remember all politics is local.
So I lived in Springfield for a while and while I did not closely follow the dynamics of this latest municipal race for mayor there, there had been a lot of frustration with Mayor Langfelder.
Certainly, he had won two terms, it's a big name in Springfield, had a lot of supporters and fans and believers, but not enough.
I mean, that was, I think, a particularly local race.
You can't necessarily look at it and say, "All right, this is a progressive wave hitting all of Illinois."
I think what you really see, and as you noted is when you look at the last statewide election, that's far more telling in terms of what bodes for 2024 and you see quite a division.
And the fact that that's popping up in school board races, all of this, that you are going to continue to have a divided Illinois where the Republican party, those who make it out of primaries tend to be far more conservative and right-leaning.
And those who make it out of Democratic primaries, at least in pockets of Illinois, the more populous centers, tend to be more progressive.
Certainly, that is not always the case.
We saw some moderating factors, perhaps you could describe them as such in the suburbs where, in some of the larger suburbs, looking at Naperville and Joliet, where Democrats have come to dominate what had been really GOP strongholds, GOP gaining back with the mayors in each of those, again, very large suburbs being more Republican-leaning.
Moderate so, a very different sort of Republican than, say, a Darren Bailey.
But there's just a lot of dynamics, again, a lot of this going local, but you look at 2024 and really I think the big thing first is what Dan touched on as well, and that's whether Illinois is going to be a huge spot, at least for Democrats, is we look at the presidential politics and that could be, will the city be hosting the Democratic National Convention?
That's step one for me for 2024.
- And we've got a little less than a year then before we really start taking a look at election returns for the primary in 2024.
Of course, the campaign arguably is already underway.
You can't talk about influence without also mentioning the fact that we're keeping an eye on that corruption trial in the city of Chicago.
It's a federal case, the "ComEd Four" as it's being called.
Dan, anything stand out to you in this week's testimony in terms of new revelations or arguments on either side that might sway the jury one way or another?
- Well, I think one of the most interesting things that I saw was the handwritten notes of former state representative turned ComEd lobbyist and sort of alleged Mike Madigan counselor and fixer Mike McClain, things like this, quote unquote, "magic lobbyist list."
The most trusted of the trusted written on paper that they apparently found in a duffel bag in the trunk of his car.
That was interesting to me just because we know from earlier reporting, an earlier testimony, that he had advised other people he was working with on these alleged schemes to never write anything down.
And as Dave McKinney of WBEZ noted in a story that I heard earlier this week, apparently advised that he did not follow himself.
I think what's really interesting about this trial is being able to hear the secretly recorded phone calls.
These are things that we've read in court documents going back a year or so now, or even more.
But actually, hearing them in people's own voices, I think, is very compelling.
I think if I were the prosecutors, I would feel pretty good about being able to present that evidence to the jury.
- Amanda, former House speaker Mike Madigan is not on trial, he's not in the room, but he's certainly present in all of this evidence, in all of these arguments.
How does that hang over the trial?
The fact that Mike Madigan is so much a part of what's being talked about here.
- Yeah, and Madigan will be on trial himself about a year from now.
So this really does give us a glimpse into what perhaps awaits the speaker, maybe gives his defense team a bit of a leg up in terms of how they will be able to present their arguments when it is the former speaker and head of the Democratic party's time in court.
At this point in time, it's hard to tell, truth be told, where the jury might lean.
This is confusing stuff in large part.
You've had some of the, as Dan noted, I mean, the note was absolutely fascinating and a heck of a lot of familiar names, including some former state legislators who themselves are in legal trouble, not directly related to this case, but certainly I think shows, oh wait, where the prosecutors were looking and where they were trying to apply pressure.
But you don't know, and there's no way to really get a true inclination of how the jury might be seeing this, whether they're buying the defense argument that, well, okay, Madigan was a powerful guy and so was it crossing any sort of law to try to appease him?
That is the crux of the battle that we have here.
And for me, again, I just wanna echo what Dan said.
It is that handwritten note, it is hearing the conversations, sometimes it is hearing the conversations between Madigan and McClain, which for people that are as tight as they apparently were, still seem very stilted.
It is not a buddy-buddy sort of friendship.
There's clearly somebody who is in charge and somebody who is taking those orders.
And you hear that in the calls, which just gives you, I think, insight into the sort of leader that Madigan was and how he kept that hold on power for so many decades until all this hit.
- Well, we're going to take a little bit of a leap here, and I'm not saying that either of these cases is tied in any way together, but we saw the unsealed indictment this week, 34 felony counts against former President Donald Trump.
And now there is this argument on one side people saying that no one is above the law, on another side saying this is a political witch-hunt.
In Illinois, unfortunately, we are far too familiar with current and former legislative and political leaders being on trial, whether it's in the federal court system or in the state's court system here.
What have we learned through these trials and through the trials that continue to go on that may help inform us on how things might go for former President Trump?
And Dan, I'll start with you and, again, I understand this is taking a bit of a leap here.
- No, but I think I saw some reaction very much to that point on social media on Tuesday and when the indictment of former President Trump was coming down and all that.
We are used to formerly powerful political figures even going to prison in Illinois.
Not that long ago, we had two governors in a row go to federal prison for misconduct while they were in office.
So, I think we, as Illinoisans people, who are knowledgeable of politics here are familiar with that.
It's a little bit different when it's the former President of the United States because it's something that has not happened before.
But I think, it's also one thing to note that it's in state court, not federal court.
So that'll be interesting to see how that plays out.
Usually, one of the criticisms of particularly the Attorney General's office here in Illinois over the years has been that the state courts don't do enough to root out political corruption, and it takes the feds coming in to bring a case to hold people accountable.
I think it'll also be an interesting precursor to potential future indictments in the federal court system against the former president.
I think that prosecutors here in Illinois have shown that they have been able to prove some of these cases.
Obviously, the allegations are very different, but it'll be interesting to see how the DA's office in Manhattan handles the case.
- Amanda, we have to look at how not just the former president's potential trial, but former House speaker Mike Madigan's potential trial, this ComEd trial might impact the 2024 election.
And we've already talked about how this year's election or the previous election might actually get into that, but there was so much time where you heard Republicans saying that Mike Madigan was the problem.
Now you're hearing Democrats saying that President Trump was the problem, perhaps is the problem in some political circles.
So how do these trials inform what voters are going to hear and see about the future political candidates that'll be on the ballot?
- I think Trump is a case all his own.
What is different when you look and try and maybe draw any sort of parallels from these two going on at the same time is that there really hasn't been an impact to the Democratic party.
Even though, again, you have a former head of the party, let alone the longest serving speaker in the United States who was the state's most prominent Democrat.
And this list of those who'd curry favor with him being top Democrats, even those who have been named in that still have very healthy lobbying lists of clients.
They're still prominent figures at the State House that are hired to pass legislation.
You saw Democrats bolster their ranks, even as all of this was going on, and really no major legislation when it comes to tackling corruption.
So, I think that is quite different than you see on the federal level in terms of what Republicans, and Democrats too, what everybody is looking at in regards to what happens to Trump and what does that mean to the GOP, what does that mean to the presidential race.
Certainly, all that happened with Madigan didn't drag down Speaker Welch, president Harmon, governor Pritzker.
It was brought up, but it did not change the tide of the race.
As clearly, we are all watching and waiting to see what both is going on in New York, as well as any other potential legal pitfalls that could be awaiting former President Trump and what that could mean for the presidential primary.
And the GOP at large as who have prominent Republicans figuring out what way to go, how to take a stand, and who to back.
Just a couple of minutes remaining, I wanna bring things back under the dome, so to speak, and think about what could be awaiting lawmakers as they return to Springfield after their spring break.
Dan, both chambers have reached their deadline to get bills out of the chamber, so now they'll be considering bills from the opposite side of the rail.
So, what are the big issues that you think we need to be watching for over the next several weeks?
- You know, it's really interesting.
It's been a very busy but quiet kind of legislative session this year.
Thinking back four years ago when Governor Pritzker was first in office, it was a really blockbuster kind of session where they got all these major pieces of legislation done.
There's really nothing that quite rises to that level.
The budget is somewhat easier than it's been for many, many years.
There obviously are still issues there trying to get the governor's childcare and preschool proposal across the line, better funding for higher education.
Another example, one thing that we are gonna be watching for is whether the Chicago Bears are able to get any support out of the state for their move, potential move, to Arlington Heights.
But it's been sort of a less marquee sort of legislative session so far.
- And we'll certainly keep an eye on it here on Capitol View.
I wanna thank Dan Petrella and Amanda Vinicky for joining us this week.
I'm Jennifer Fuller.
You can always find Capitol View online at wsiu.org and at our YouTube channel.
Thanks for joining us and we'll catch you next time.