By: Mark Glennon*
They probably comprise no more than 20% of the general population, but they’ve learned how to mau-mau moderate Illinois Democrats into compliance or silence and, unlike America as a whole, their party controls all of Illinois government. That makes their threat existential.
“They” are the new left. Debate a proper label for them if what you want – the resistance, radicals, leftists, whatever. They are why people like me, who have thought of themselves as JFK Democrats all their lives, now view that party as a hostile force.
The exact list of policy positions defining them is debatable but it’s unquestionably extreme and, ominously, has become a normalized element of Democratic governance in Illinois.
Start with the fringe of the fringe, socialists, who are now a serious force. “Socialists win big in Chicago” was The Nation’s headline on last week’s elections. Jacobin, a leading socialist publication, proclaimed that the “left’s victories in Tuesday’s Chicago elections are tangible and undeniable. Few could have imagined such an unquestionably positive night for leftist candidates.” The Chicago Teacher’s Union is headed by socialist Jesse Sharkey. Their influence on elections is huge, and their longstanding efforts in schools are now showing up in election results. “CTU knows how to put a mayor in place,” said one of its vice president’s recently.
More importantly, aside from socialism, the rest of the far left’s policy agenda is gaining acceptance throughout the Illinois Democratic Party and going unchecked in this single-party state. Nationally, some Democrats are beginning to question the party’s leftward shift. Even a liberal columnist in the Washington Post asked last week if the party is committing electoral suicide.
Not in Illinois. Consider a few of the new left’s plans for Illinois, and how far they have gotten with Illinois Democrats:
• Progressive real estate transfer tax. It’s best seen as an exit tax on wealthier homeowners fleeing. It’s supported by both Chicago mayoral candidates who won a place in the runoff election, Toni Preckwinkle and Lori Lightfoot. The heavily Democratic City of Evanston is already implementing it.
• Rent control. Illinois politicians should be setting the rent, we’re told. A bill authorizing rent control is pending in the General Assembly and Governor Pritzker has indicated approval in concept. Preckwinkle supports rent control; Lightfoot hasn’t indicated her position.
• Universal basic income in Chicago. Just give at least $500 per month to every family in Chicago, no strings attached. Mayor Rahm Emanuel evidently saw enough force behind the idea that he authorized a task force to look into a pilot program. It’s leading proponent, Alderman Ameya Pawar, may well become Chicago’s new treasurer, having just won his way into the runoff election. Its cost to the city if fully implemented would be about $12.6 billion annually. Chicago’s annual budget for fiscal 2018 was $8.6 billion.
• 100% renewable energy. Both Governor Pritzker and a many Illinois lawmakers (including at least one Republican) want Illinois to commit to reaching that goal by 2050. It’s the core feature of Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s Green New Deal for the nation, albeit with a longer deadline – 30 years instead of 10. But a Greenpeace co-founder recently wrote, “You are delusional if you think fossil fuels will end any time soon, maybe in 500 years,” and said the Cortez plan would “bring about mass death.” The Green New Deal’s price tag has been estimated as high as $93 trillion, or $600,000 per household. Illinois supporters haven’t bothered to place a price tag on meeting the goal over their longer time period. That’s a common aspect of the new left’s policy agenda – numbers mean nothing.
• Statewide $15 per hour minimum wage. Governor Pritzker made this a top priority and already signed the new law raising the minimum to $15 by 2025, statewide. That might seem reasonable around Chicago, but opposition came largely from lower income communities across the state. The Rockford Park District, for example, gives hundreds of teenagers and young adults get their first jobs at a lower wage, and the new law will open a $2 million per year hole in its budget.
All that is apart from the fiscal crisis Illinois faces. What’s their answer on that? Regarding its primary cause, pensions, the Pritzker Administration and both Chicago mayoral candidates are firm: No pension reform. Not one dime’s worth. Pritzker outlined the rest of his fiscal approach in his recent budget address: More borrowing to fund pension debt, a can-kick delaying the schedule for pension contributions and gifting public assets to pensions. Illinois’ new left seems fine with all of that.
And on the national issues polarizing the country, Illinois’ new left seems intent on stoking division, in policy and words. Chicago is already labeled a super-sanctuary city by critics, protecting some 400,000 undocumented immigrants whose benefits include free community college education (the numbers on which the schools don’t even count). Governor Pritzker has vowed to make Illinois the “most progressive state” on abortion, and the legislature is now fast-tracking what’s been called “legislation so extreme you won’t believe it.” Pritzker calls those who want border walls “hateful.” Skeptics of his climate policy “hate science,” he has said.
No Illinois Democrat has stood up to yell “Stop” to any of this, except one. Congressman Dan Lipinski warned last year against his party becoming the “Tea Party of the left.” About all he accomplished with that, however, was insulting the Tea Party.
If anything, leading Democrats read the new Chicago elections as a call to move further to the left. “Hours after historic election, Lori Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle each argue they’re more progressive than the other.” That was a Chicago Tribune headline. Credit the new left for being exceptionally well-organized, aggressive and committed, which accounts for their success bulldozing the entire Illinois Democratic party. Unfortunately, that doesn’t validate their ideas.
Margaret Thatcher’s famous quote needs amendment when it comes to Illinois. “The trouble with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money,” she said. But in Illinois, the trouble is you run out of other people. If the fiscal crisis doesn’t ensure that Illinois’ population loss accelerates, the new left will.
*Mark Glennon is founder of Wirepoints.
Updated to clarify that the universal basic income tax pilot proposal is for $500 per month.
For background research and commentary on these issues, see our earlier articles below: