Both within and outside of Illinois there is a perception of an ironclad “blue” (Democrat party controlled) state owed to the high concentration of the party’s political power brokers in Chicago, Cook County, and surrounding collar counties.
If you are not a fan of the magic elixirs of ever more spending supported by ever higher taxes, the thinking goes, you had best head south to the rural outposts where Republican ideals are more likely to thrive, posing no threat to the Democrats’ agenda in Springfield.
But the recently unveiled Illinois Legislative Vote Card (researched and published by the Illinois Opportunity Project) disproves this tidy delineation. Specifically, we refer to the contrast between two state senators from similarly populated western suburbs of Chicago separated by only about 16 miles.
One is Republican Sen. Carole Pankau (Bloomingdale, IL-23rd), the other Democrat Sen. Kimberly Lightford (Westchester, IL-4th). For those keeping score at home, Pankau scored an “A+” based on her voting record during the 97th General Assembly’s spring session. Lightford was rated as an “F”, having voted zero percent of the time with Pankau on 8 pieces of significant legislation selected for analysis by the Project.
It is not only remarkable that these lawmakers are such polar opposites on the grading scale, but that they are so far apart on issues that draw a clear distinction between, on one hand, a commitment to protecting taxpayers from fiscal waste and promoting economic growth, and, on the other, an obsession with suffocating regulation and escalating entitlement spending.
Consider their votes on the bills and/or resolutions in question. Pankau, the ranking minority member on the Senate commerce committee, took a pro-economic growth/limited government position by voting yes on state employee health insurance premium reform; on Medicaid reform (and savings of $1.6 billion); and on the elimination of access to scholarships for members of the General Assembly. Accordingly, Pankau voted no on an onerous $1 cigarette tax hike; on the relaxing of Medicaid eligibility through early adoption of new ObamaCare requirements; on campaign contribution limits for individuals but not political parties; on a new tax for satellite dish television subscribers; and on a bill requiring bidders for local government projects to specify “straight-time hours” that will be paid union workers, potentially increasing the costs for those projects.
Assistant Senate majority leader Lightford voted in lockstep with fellow Democrats on all of the above, with the exception of a non-committal “present” vote on ending the scholarship program that allowed lawmakers to dispense annual tuition waivers to two students in their districts.
So on several key issues, the senators’ votes make it crystal clear where each stands. But only Pankau will be called upon to defend these, or any other votes for that matter, in the immediate future. Lightford is on the ballot next month as an unchallenged candidate. Pankau is opposed by Democrat Thomas Cullerton, a member of the Villa Park city council.
Nonetheless, the day of reckoning comes around sooner or later for most elected officials (not that you could convince entrenched Democrat House Speaker Michael Madigan of that), and this is where Pankau appears to be on far more stable ground than her counterpart, Sen. Lightford.
As Illinois continues on its economic death spiral amid nearly incomprehensible debt, deteriorating credit ratings, and a tsunami of unsustainable pension obligations, the day of reckoning will come for every citizen, each already on the hook for $21,000 if the state’s debt is ever to be resolved.
More than a reckoning, there is certainly an awakening on the horizon, too. When it comes in Illinois, the 69 lawmakers including Sen. Lightford who earned grades of “F” because they voted to embolden the status quo rather than serve the best interests of taxpayers finally will face formidable opponents.