The Show Must Go On

Republicans accuse Democrats of political theater over right-to-work

Capitol observers could be forgiven for feeling a sense of déjà vu. For the second week in a row, the Illinois House of Representatives ran legislation modeled after Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s agenda, and for the second week in a row, Republicans raised objections.

Two weeks ago, a bill resembling Rauner’s proposed budget was brought to a vote by House Democrats. Last week, a bill modeled after the governor’s proposal to allow local right-to-work or “employee empowerment” zones was called.

Both bills failed with zero “yes” votes. Both times, those who didn’t vote against the bills voted “present” instead as a protest. Republicans called the votes political theater because House Democrats ran the bills unilaterally without first getting a consensus from the governor’s ongoing secret working groups.

“Two weeks in a row in which we are proceeding with sham bills,” said House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs. “What’s happening today, what happened last week, really is a disservice to this body, to this chamber and to this building.”

Like the week before, Republicans spent none of their time arguing the merits of the bills, which Democrats said reflected the governor’s agenda, but rather spent their time decrying the legislation as a political game played by Democrats.

“Get your YouTube videos together for the next campaign,” said Rep. Ron Sandack, R-Downers Grove. “Because that’s all this was, and all it is.”

Democrats on the floor said the debate was about bringing the discussion of an important public policy issue out in the open where it belongs.

“A fundamental part of the American system of government is the representatives of the people coming together, debating topics that are important to our state and to our country and voting on them in public where all can see.” Said Rep. Greg Harris, D–Chicago, “That is what it we’re doing here today.”

However, there was little debate over the merits of right-to-work, expressed as “zones” or otherwise. Democrats either talked about the importance of unions or the legitimacy of the legislative procedures they were using, which was virtually the only thing the Republicans were talking about.

Rep. Jack Franks, D–Marengo, said he preferred debating things on the floor of the House to working out the budget and the state’s agenda in Rauner’s secret working groups, of which he is not a member. The working groups are reportedly developing legislation to reflect Rauner’s agenda.

“I’ve heard my colleagues on the other side of the aisle bemoaning the procedure. I’m tired of procedure too, I think the procedure stinks,” Franks said. “I’m tired of secret meetings. I don’t think we should have these secret meetings.”

At least one Republican, Bill Mitchell, R–Forsyth, said he planned on voting against the right-to-work proposal that would eventually come out of those working groups. He made a point of bringing up labor strife  during the 1990s in Decatur, where he grew up.

“I’ve opposed right-to-work, under Governor Quinn; I oppose right-to-work under Governor Rauner,” Mitchell said. “But this isn’t about right-to-work, it’s about dividing people.”

It is, however, worth noting that right-to-work was never debated under former Gov. Pat Quinn. Mitchell joined his fellow Republican in voting “present” on the legislation.

Though all of the Democrats spoke favorably of unions and against the right-to-work zones, at least one of them turned his attention to the unions themselves. Rep. Ken Dunkin, D-Chicago, said that the unions have to do better in ensuring they have more black and brown faces amongst their ranks. Dunkin said that if the legislative black caucus were to join with Republicans they could easily pass right-to-work in Illinois.

“We’ll see if they get the message,” Dunkin said.

Two more bills forwarded by Democrats but resembling the governor’s agenda are scheduled for a vote on the floor of the House this week.

Contact Alan Kozeluh at

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