Many years ago, an activist named Pat Quinn came up with an idea to change the Illinois Constitution. He used the petition process to get rid of a third of Illinois House members in one fell swoop. This, Quinn said, would save money and make legislators more responsive to their constituents.
In reality, all that did was allow a guy named Michael Madigan to more easily consolidate his power. And one way he consolidated that power was by spending lots more money. Quinn’s plan backfired.
But even though this sort of thing has happened over and over again here, the media tends to give reformers a pass, almost no matter what.
So I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised when I read the major media’s news reports of last week’s Senate Executive Committee hearing. It wasn’t at all like the meeting I attended.
Admittedly, I arrived a little late and had to leave for a meeting before it was over, but from what I saw, Illinois Gaming Board Chairman Aaron Jaffe’s years-long criticism of the General Assembly’s gaming expansion bills was exposed as hollow and not entirely fact-based. He badly stumbled through his testimony, couldn’t directly answer questions and despite long-standing public criticisms, a notebook filled with thoughts and a history as a state legislator himself, Jaffe seemed woefully unprepared for the hearing.
For years, Chairman Jaffe has criticized various gaming expansion proposals, which has made him a media darling. He comes up with great quotes, once calling a gaming bill a “pile of garbage.”
But he’s never once said how the General Assembly ought to actually write the bills. Instead, he has relied on media-friendly criticisms of the way the legislature has gone about things.
It’s not like Jaffe is completely blameless here. The people drafting the gaming legislation clearly despise the man and never really attempted to work with him, or even listen to him.
But last week’s Senate meeting was designed to finally provide Jaffe with a public forum to offer up some concrete solutions. He didn’t have any.
Over and over, Senators in both parties pleaded with Jaffe to offer up some specifics for how to make the gaming bill more acceptable to him, and over and over Jaffe simply could not do so.
Instead, Jaffe stuck to generalities and catch phrases.
Jaffe said he hadn’t read the full bill, saying it was too long and claiming that a better bill might be just 25 pages long, without explaining how less language wouldn’t create gaping loopholes and without admitting that many of the pages in the 555-page bill are simply filled with current statutory language restated without any changes whatsoever. Jaffe declared that there were no ethical improvements in the recently revised legislation, even though the new bill would ban campaign contributions from gaming interests.
Jaffe even urged legislators to outright eliminate some state agencies because they were impeding his agency’s staff hiring – even though existing personnel regulations were inspired by decades of state corruption. He bitterly complained about the projects in the bill inserted to attract more votes, even though those projects have no direct bearing on the Gaming Board’s mission. He complained that the Chicago casino language wouldn’t allow the Board to determine whether the region was already too saturated with gaming, but then said he had no philosophical problem with a Chicago casino. His testimony was, in sum, an embarrassing mess by a man clearly past his prime, but the media covered for him, focusing mostly on a one-minute spat between Jaffe and the bill’s sponsor.
The only real progress came late in the hearing when Jaffe’s administrator Mark Ostrowski seemed to pull an idea out of thin air to delete the Chicago management agency’s language and give full responsibility for all operations to the private casino management company that the agency was supposed to choose. The manager, Ostrowski said, would be far easier to regulate than a municipal entity, which could fight bureaucratic battles through the courts. If the Senators were paying attention, they may have found a solution to finally get Jaffe off their backs.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.