CHICAGO — On Thursday evening, The Chicago Sun-Times hosted an online webinar as part of its “At the Virtual Table with Laura Washington & Lynn Sweet.” This month’s discussion was focused on a preview of The Biden Transition.
The newsmaker guests included: Illinois State Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, ranking Republican on the Special House Investigative Panel; Michael Eric Dyson, Author and Vanderbilt University Professor of African American and Diaspora Studies; Illinois State Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, D-Oswego; Susana Mendoza, Illinois State Comptroller; and Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul. Laura Washington and Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times served as moderators.
Lynn Sweet: Mr. Attorney General. You have been on the frontline fighting these Trump lawsuits. What’s it going to be like? Do you and your other democrat attorneys general plan on playing offense to go to defense now?
Illinois AG Raoul: “It depends on the issue. We’ve been active during the Trump administration challenging some of the president and some of his agency’s policies. Before Trump’s administration, we were active as well. It should be noted that not all multi-state actions are partisan nature–many are bipartisan nature.”
Lynn Sweet: Is an example the Google lawsuit that is moving today?
Raoul: “We are part of a bipartisan coalition that filed a lawsuit based on the search engine practices. Yesterday, there was a Texas-led coalition that was strictly Republican AGs that filed a lawsuit against Google based on the advertisement. We can’t ignore the politics of the decision making that led them to join that lawsuit. There may be consolidation of that and the federal government’s action in the future. As of right now, I’m part of the bipartisan coalition that filed today.”
Laura Washington: As you pointed out, the problem is there’s politics involved. There shouldn’t be politics involved in your work and the work of your colleagues. Can we expect some decision being made on your side as we go forward into the Biden administration?
Raoul: “There’s certainly polices that are more common for Democrats to embrace to be consistent with access to education, and access to health care which are tenants of being a Democrat. That’s different than being purely political–doing something because you’re a Democrat or doing something because you’re a Republican because you don’t want to stray from what your party is doing.”
Lynn Sweet: What is going to happen in the days ahead because we have election deniers. What happens to our nation?
Comptroller Mendoza: “It’s really sad. But I think that what we’re seeing here with the attorneys general is so disconcerning is that it’s not based on an issue. For example, health care or education. It’s specifically around an election which by definition is purely political and an election that every entity has more than validated that has gone for President-Elect Joe Biden. It’s really a temper tantrum that instead of squashing it, they’ve joined into it. My 8-year-old knows that if he loses at a board game in the house, he can’t cry about it for all eternity. He certainly cries for a little bit. We give him a time out and he’s over it. The fact of the matter is taking these legal actions that are so wrong, morally frankly. They pose a real threat to Democracy. This is going to have lasting ramifications for many years and potential administrations down the road and the ability to work quickly in the middle of a global pandemic. This should be about respecting the will of the people who voted overwhelmingly, over 8 million votes more for President-Elect Biden. He won the popular vote and the electoral. So let’s get to work. We shouldn’t be playing these stupid games.”
Laura Washington: Comptroller, how would you say this has impacted your job? What is happening with our state spending with our budget as a result of this not facing up to reality?
Mendoza: “Everyone knows that Illinois has had many years of fiscal mismanagement. Democrats and Republicans have done a poor job. I will say that I walked into a nightmare that most people wouldn’t have wanted the job of comptroller when I first ran and got elected. I inherited a gigantic bill backlog. I’ve done my very best to chip away at that bill backlog. I took it down from $17 billion to about $6 billion when we had our last state of the budget when we thought we were getting out of the woods and then boom COVID-19 hits. Independent of whatever self-inflicted wounds Illinois had given itself in year’s past… when COVID-19 hit, it blew a crater, not a hole, into our revenues. Obviously, our state went into lockdown as many states across the country did. So this is not an issue that impacted Illinois’ finances, but all 50 states. Blue states, red states, all 50 states would love to see relief come from Washington, not for the mistakes of the past for Illinois and I’ve been very clear about that. I don’t think the federal government has an obligation to pay our pension debt or any of that stuff. But they do, it is the role of the federal government to step up and help states like Illinois and every other state including Kentucky get past this COVID-19 specific hole in our budgets which in our case could be $5-6 billion at least. We’ve already seen over the same time period, this year versus last year, over $2 billion in less revenue coming into the state because people aren’t working, they’re not eating out at restaurants, they are unemployed. By delaying paying stimulus to all 50 states, not just Illinois, all they are doing is making every state make tougher decisions that are hurting the very people we are trying to help.”
Lynn Sweet: With the Biden administration coming in, most of the Cabinet spots are being filled. When looking at the regional posts that are so important, are you or Kwame pushing for any regional HUD?
Mendoza: “I think that we have a great opportunity with Pete Buttigieg getting the Secretary of Transportation position. I mean he’s the closest thing that we have to a local here in Illinois. I thought it was cute that he proposed to Chasten at O’Hare Airport. The guy is incredibly intelligent. He understands Chicago. I’m very pleased with the Cabinet that he’s put together which is the most diverse, incredibly qualified group of men and women who frankly look like America. It’s been super heartening to me to see that. I love the pick of Xavier Becerra for Health and Human Services. He has a track record as an attorney general of fighting for protections for people’s health care. It’s exactly what we need right now given COVID-19 and the pandemic that we’re going through. I just want to make sure that the Cabinet the president is picking has a level of expertise and is diverse…not just what they look like but their diverse of thought. That’s how we’re going to move this country forward.”
Lynn Sweet: One of the things Joe Biden is doing now is making his appointments. The news of the day is that he is going to tap Deb Haaland to be interior secretary. If confirmed, she will be the first Native American. He is also likely to pick Michael Regan as the EPA chief. He’ll be the first black person to head the EPA. What is your assessment on how Biden is doing to make good on his pledge of diversity?
Michael Eric Tyson: “I mean, he’s doing a great job. The diversity as Mendoza was saying, the diversity of thought, opinion, approach, ideology, gender, race, sexual orientations is beautiful. It’s been more diverse than I’ve seen in a bunch of whole other presidents. I can’t remember a president that pulled together this many kinds of forces. People think there has to be a playoff against either you’re talking diversity on one hand or quality on the other. We should never assume again… ‘Oh, it’s a person of color, it’s a woman, is she qualified?’ What Joe Biden has done, he’s been at this a long time, he’s been thinking about this for quite a long time. At his third time at bat, he finally hits a home run. He has chosen carefully, judicously and wisely the people in his Cabinet who will inform him, carry out policy, who will set standards and create benchmarks. The fact that he stood up and said Black America, you’ve got my back and now I’ve got yours situates himself in a public space with an accountability metric. So I think so far so good.”
Laura Washington: Are you satisfied, comfortable with the diversity because there’s been a number of African-American groups, NAACP, Urban League who have spoken out about some concern about where Biden was headed with his diversity picks.
Tyson: “I’m just saying, he hasn’t chosen the Department of Justice, the Attorney General but he’s got a black man in defense, Michael Regan, you’ve got Marsha Fudge. He’s got more than Obama. So the people who were satisfied with Obama because Obama’s blackness itself constituted an advantage to many people without thinking ‘He can’t be the only black guy in the room.’ Why does the metric shift when you’ve got a white guy in office who is choosing more diversity than the black guy who was there. I think that the NAACP and the National Urban League should do their job. They should press, they should push, they should hold accountable in a way that they didn’t do with Obama. Given the man an opportunity to do what he’s doing…He’s got a gay man, explicitly gay man, LGBTQ+. He’s got the first Native person. Yes, you have the diversity of diversity.”
Laura Washington: Mike Madigan. Those are the two words on the lips of everyone working in state politics right now. Rep. Tom Demmer was a ranking Republican on the Mike Madigan investigative panel. It’s just wrapping up. There were some fireworks around that investigative panel and maybe some leftover feelings because of it. What’s your perspective on how that went and where were headed next month for the coming election of perhaps a new speaker.
Rep. Tom Demmer: “I think this is an important conversation for people in both political parties certainly in the state of Illinois. Talking about the longest serving Speaker of the House in U.S. history. What we saw this week in the special investigative committee, was I think, an abdication of responsibility. The special investigative committee was put together at the end of August with the exclusive duty to conduct a thorough investigation largely in response to the federal court filings we’ve seen that have implicated Speaker Madigan in a the long running scheme of rewarding and influencing public officials. The committee though, in 106 days, only met three times and only heard from one witness. It’s hard to say after an experience like that, that we conducted a thorough investigation. We’ve made motions to use the committee’s power of subpoena to bring in Mike Madigan, to bring in Mike McClain, individuals who have been indicted in federal court for these actions. That’s not at all what happened when the vote was taken on Monday to hear from no additional witnesses and then to immediately shut down the investigation and go no further.”
Laura Washington: Was there anything new you learned from that one witness? There was a lot of work that was being done behind-the-scenes as well. Did you learn anything new in respect to what folks can expect in terms of an election next month?
Rep. Demmer: “I think we did hear quite a bit. They also produced some documents. It shows that time and time again there are direct references to the speaker making requests and following up on requests. Also, some not so subtle threats that if we don’t grant this favor that he’s going to ask for more or he’s going to be highly irritated. I think it tells people as they consider who they are going to vote for Speaker of the House in the upcoming general assembly…You have to ask yourself, is that the kind of person you want at the helm? Is that the kind of leadership culture to continue after we seen the way that it really has failed in Illinois for years.”
Laura Washington: State Rep. Stephanie Kifowit…You are in the middle of a campaign to be come the next Speaker of the House. Why did you decide to do this? Don’t you feel pretty lonely?
Rep. Stephanie Kifowit: “I guess what my decision was, it’s fundamental. I served in the United States Marine Corps. We hold a high standard of ethics and accountability and not everybody can be a Marine. When I saw the behavior in July, I sent a letter for him [Madigan] to step down. Then, he issued a statement that he would not. Then, I thought, who’s going to go up against him? I’m a U.S. Marine, so why not me? I have an impeccable resume, I was a registered financial advisor. I’ve been working on the budget for eight years in the state legislature. I’m on the budget committee, the budget working group and I have a master’s degree in public administration. I had the thought of, I am a highly qualified woman. I have been judged on my face and my looks and not really given the credit for who I am. The state of Illinois is failing as Comptroller Mendoza said. There’s been Democrats and Republicans on both sides and we have huge issues. I’m a financial person, a very analytical person and I think the state of Illinois needs somebody like me to restore the trust and integrity in the office of the Speaker of the House.”
Lynn Sweet: The members of the Black caucus right now are with Mike Madigan. But that’s for one ballot, maybe two. It seems to me the next Speaker of the House, according to professor Laura Washington here, who just saw the future, will be a member of the Black caucus because Mike can’t put it together. I want to give you the benefit of the doubt that maybe you could. Why would a member of the Black caucus deal away the speakership just to get another place in leadership when one of their own can be speaker?
Rep. Tom Demmer: “The Black caucus took a vote and chose to endorse Speaker Madigan for another term. That’s the only concrete action of support for Speaker Madigan so far.”
Rep. Stephanie Kifowit: “Myself and the others in my group want a robust election because Michael Madigan doesn’t have 60. Why aren’t more people coming forward? I, myself, like competitive elections. I would like to have an exchange of ideas. I would like to have people who want to run for this race and do it. The Black caucus had the opportunity to get behind one of their own and they chose not to. They chose to endorse Mike Madigan. This is ever fluid. If Michael Madigan gets the message, he doesn’t have 60. Because our group signed on and said, we are not voting for him. And he chooses to retire. Right now, I am the only one. Nobody from the Black caucus has come forward.”
The state of Illinois will vote for a new Speaker of the House on Jan. 13, 2021.
Watch the complete webinar about The Biden Transition below: https://www.facebook.com/thechicagosuntimes/videos/713177562669800
For more information about The Chicago Sun-Times’ webinar series “At the Virtual Table with Laura Washington & Lynn Sweet,” go to https://chicago.suntimes.com/events