It was tough to tell the D from the R last Friday at a joint discussion by U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin and former governor Jim Edgar.
The conversation sponsored by the Citizens Club at the Hoogland Center for the Arts included analyses of the presidential election and a good deal of talk about fiscal predicaments faced by both state and federal governments.
“These are not easy problems to solve and they did not occur overnight,” said Edgar, a moderate Republican who served two terms as governor in the 1990s. “Hopefully, with your help and good people like Dick Durbin in office, we’ll get it done.”
“Is that an endorsement?” Durbin quipped.
Asians, Hispanics, women and voters younger than 30 were the key to Barack Obama’s reelection, said Durbin, who professed himself surprised that the percentage of Asians who voted for Obama surpassed the percentage of Hispanics who supported the president.
While Hispanics weren’t necessarily thrilled with the record of Obama, who didn’t deliver immigration reform while deporting illegal immigrants in record numbers, Romney’s talk of self-deportation sealed his fate with Hispanics, Edgar said. Obama’s support of the Dream Act last year put him over the top with Hispanic voters, the former governor said.
“Many Hispanics told me they…were disappointed with President Obama, but they were scared to death by Romney,” Edgar said.
If Romney had run as former governor of Massachusetts, he would have won, Edgar said, but the primary campaign in which he painted himself as a conservative cost him. The former governor added that Obama’s victory reminded him of the 2004 race in which George Bush was reelected by getting out his base vote, but that’s no longer realistic for the GOP.
“There’s not enough in our base to win a presidential election anymore,” Edgar said. “The demographics have changed. The attitude of voters has change. The Republican base just is not sufficient to elect a president.”
Now that the election is over, Durbin said, the two biggest issues facing the nation are recovery from recession and the federal deficit. Recovery has been slow because the recession isn’t an ordinary one, he said. The growing deficit is unsustainable, he said, and will require tough choices.
“You’ve got to put everything on the table – everything,” Durbin said. “You’ve got to put revenue and taxes on the table. You’ve also got to put spending on the table, whether it’s defense or non-defense. And you have to put the entitlement programs on the table. Now, that last phrase I just uttered would send most Democrats running for the doors because they don’t want to get into it. We’ve got to get into it.”
Medicare, which has just 12 years of solvency left, is in bigger crisis than the Social Security program, which has 22 years of solvency, Durbin said.
“My liberal friends who say don’t touch it (Medicare), they’re crazy,” Durbin said. “We’ve got to do something, starting now.”
Edgar was in the same camp and said he’s hoping for action soon in whatever post-election spirit of bipartisanship might exist in Washington.
“I agree with a lot of what Dick just said,” Edgar said. “I wish you well.”
The former governor acknowledged that escalating pension obligations are a problem for state government, but that’s not the only fiscal problem facing the state.
“We still have a very serious problem in Illinois,” Edgar said. “The income tax increase a couple years ago really didn’t solve the problem. I think we made a huge mistake when we didn’t do the cuts while we were raising taxes. … We’re going to have to make cuts. We’re going to have to find some additional revenue.”
The state needs to go on a fiscal diet for four or five years to put things right, Edgar said, and that will be difficult given that the legislature likes to spend money.
“It can be done – it has to be done,” Edgar said. “The governor has to provide the leadership. We hear a lot about, ‘Mike Madigan is the most powerful man in Springfield.’ If that’s true, then state government’s broken. The way Illinois is put together, the governor has to be the most powerful person. That has to be where the leadership comes from.”
Contact Bruce Rushton at firstname.lastname@example.org.