On Election Day, Wisconsin and Indiana Union Battles Steal Chicago’s Thunder

Chicago, long a determining factor in national Democratic politics, elects its new mayor today, or at least decides to narrow down its choices. But thanks to our neighbors, we might be more famous as a Democratic sanctuary state.

So Mayor Daley up and quit, giving Chicago its first competitive (there’s still time!) mayoral race in a generation. And come on: Chicago Democrats pretty much run America! The President is a former state senator and Daley ally; his chief of staff is Daley’s brother; the likely next mayor is an old Daley protege and recently ex-chief of staff. You know, the Chicago Way and all that. So you’d think we could be at the center of the political universe for today.

Not so much. First Wisconsin governor Scott Walker decided to strip the state’s public unions of virtually all their collective bargaining rights while refusing to negotiate with them over his putative financial demands. Rather than get steamrolled by the Republican legislature, the minority party decamped for the Land of Lincoln (where apparently they find interstate travel somewhat trying, since wherever they are, it doesn’t seem to have a 24-hour drug store).

Now Indiana Democrats are headed for Illinois, or perhaps Kentucky, for nearly identical reasons–except in this case, according to the Indianapolis Star, Gov. Mitch Daniels (a likely presidential candidate, or at least GOP primary runner-up) isn’t in favor of actually pushing the legislation right now. As a friend put it on Twitter, we’re now a sanctuary state for Democrats.

If all this sounds like a sideshow to our own news, consider that Michael Madigan has discussed a constitutional challenge to guaranteed state employee benefits, and that current city employee benefits have been a centerpiece of the mayoral race. (In fact, they’ve been exactly like a centerpiece: they’re right there in the middle of the table in the way of some things, but no one’s tried to move them.) It was going to be a serious issue to begin with

On Wisconsin: There’s speculation going around, particularly on progressive blogs, that Scott Walker’s budget-repair bill represents a planned handout to the energy moguls/libertarian activists from the Koch family, as discussed by Mike Konczal at Rortybomb and Ed at Gin and Tacos. It’s because of this language in the bill:

16.896 Sale or contractual operation of state-owned heating, cooling, and power plants. (1) Notwithstanding ss. 13.48 (14) (am) and 16.705 (1), the department may sell any state-owned heating, cooling, and power plant or may contract with a private entity for the operation of any such plant, with or without solicitation of bids, for any amount that the department determines to be in the best interest of the state. Notwithstanding ss. 196.49 and 196.80, no approval or certification of the public service commission is necessary for a public utility to purchase, or contract for the operation of, such a plant, and any such purchase is considered to be in the public interest and to comply with the criteria for certification of a project under s. 196.49 (3) (b).

Emphasis theirs. It turns out that the language is very similar–but not identical–to 2005 legislation proposed by then-legislator Scott Jensen and vetoed by then-governor Jim Doyle. Here’s how it read then (PDF):

16.896 Sale or contractual operation of state−owned heating, cooling, and power plants and wastewater treatment facilities. (1) Except as provided in 2005 Wisconsin Act …. (this act), section 9101 (4), and notwithstanding ss. 13.48 (14) (am) and 16.705 (1), no later than April 1, 2007, the department shall sell each state−owned heating, cooling, and power plant and wastewater treatment facility or shall contract with a private entity for the operation of each such plant or facility for the period beginning no later than April 1, 2007. Notwithstanding ss. 196.49 and 196.80, no approval or certification of the public service commission is necessary for a public utility to purchase, or contract for the operation of, such a plant or facility.

The no-bid language is new, and the wastewater treatment is gone (as is the mandate to sell every facility), but it’s similar to Jensen’s 2005 plan. What happened to Jensen? He is alleged to have imported the Chicago Way, and resigned from office.

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