It’s not all that surprising that Illinois legislators sometimes explode as the session nears it end. Because the General Assembly tends to put off important decisions until the last minute, the last few days are filled with competing bills and tensions sometimes boil over.
The latest example is last week’s temper tantrum thrown by Rep. Mike Bost, a Republican from Murphysboro. Bost’s outburst has become something of an Internet sensation. As outbursts go, it’s a pretty good one.
But lost in all the attention are a few simple facts. First, Bost was right. Second, he’s part of the problem.
Bost became upset as legislators prepared to vote on a plan to overhaul the state’s pension system. The pension reforms are a political hot button, and since 2012 is an election year, politicians are especially nervous. No one really wants to tick off teachers and others in an election year.
As the issue came up, Democrats said they were going to use a 1995 rule to block debate or amendments. That sent Bost into a paper-tossing, slightly obscene tirade that included yelling at Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan: “You should be ashamed of yourself. I’m sick of it.”
Actually, we’re all sick of it.
Bost acknowledges he voted for the 1995 rule that he was complaining about. He now says he didn’t fully understand what he was voting for and called his vote a mistake.
But Bost’s complaint that the speaker of the House has too much power is correct.
As more details of the end of the legislative session emerge, it appears Madigan may have derailed a pension reform solution that appeared to be headed for passage.
Madigan has advocated shifting the cost of teacher pensions to local school districts, an idea Republican leaders found unacceptable. He backed off from that idea and turned sponsorship of the bill, without the cost shift, over to Republican leader Tom Cross. But there are reports that Madigan later indicated he would not vote for the pension reform bill and that’s when the entire deal fell apart.
Madigan is a master strategist, so his true intent may not be clear for weeks, if ever. Did he plan all along for pension reform to fail? Or was he orchestrating a plan that would entice teachers and other state employees to blame Republicans for changes in the pension system?
The rules approved by the General Assembly give the speaker too much power. It’s doubtful that will change as long as Madigan holds the office.
But Bost and other Republicans also are complicit. Republicans have agreed to tepid campaign finance reform, leaving the power of political dollars in the hands of party leaders like Madigan. Their support for pension reform wasn’t outstanding, and their objection to the reasonable solution of placing pension costs appropriately at the local level is part of the reason the reform package derailed.
The ultimate solution is for Republicans to win more elections and become more of a force in the General Assembly. Until that happens, outbursts may garner some attention, but won’t have any real effect.