Wednesday, June 4, 2014

At the Hideout: Mitchell explains how pension theft is constitutional

It was monthly political junkie night again at the Hideout last night. This time around it was Ben and Mick engaging soon-to-be State Rep. Will Guzzardi, Rep. Christian Mitchell, and AFSCME lobbyist Adrian Alexander. The trio found plenty of common ground in the sense that they were all under 30 and in many ways, represent the future of progressive Democratic politics in the state. Of course, that future isn't written yet.

Springfield neophyte Guzzardi made clear his opposition to so-called "pension reform" and correctly framed the current crisis as a revenue problem. His call for a progressive tax system was met with loud applause.

Mitchell stood out from the others in the sense that he's the incumbent who narrowly defeated my favorite, Jay Travis in a close hard-fought election. Mitchell ran with backing from his patron, Cook County Board Pres. Toni Preckwinkle and with a war chest stuffed to overflowing with one-percenter money from the likes of California billionaire Eli Broad and teacher-union busters Stand For Children. Unfortunately, he was never asked about his views on corporate school reform or the expansion of privately-run charters.

Mitchell did his best to explain to the liberal Hideout crowd, why he voted for SB1, the unconstitutional pension-robbing bill, a vote he described as, "the most difficult he ever had to make." For a moment, I almost felt sorry for him (not really). He must have been in so much pain, taking all that hard-earned and hard-saved promised pension money out of the pockets and purses of the elderly even though the State Constitution clearly states that public sector pension benefits cannot be "diminished or impaired." His grandfather is even a union man.

I suppose he's thinking -- Oh, sorry gramps. This will hurt me more than it will hurt you.

Mitchell claimed he was actually doing retirees a favor by cutting our pensions before that mean old Republican Bruce Rauner comes in a does away with them all together. He even claimed that SB1 was "constitutional" (does anyone else really believe that?) since the state is in such dire straights and unwilling to tax the wealthy and corporations. The only choice left is to raid the pension fund. On this, he was only echoing his mentors like Preckwinkle and Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan who argue that the law “is a permissible exercise of the State of Illinois’ reserved sovereign powers (sometimes referred to as the State’s police powers).”

Anyway, except for a few of us grumpy retirees who still depend on our pensions, a good time seemed to be had by all -- at least up on the stage. The crowd all rallied around defeating Rauner, although the sharp young lobbyist Alexander expressed some concern about being able to rally the Quinn troops "given what he's done" and "who he's running with" (Paul Vallas).

Lots of unity was also found on the marijuana legalization issue and Ben told a great funny story about his adventures in pot-legalized Denver, which I'm sure we'll all be reading about in his next Reader column.

I'll really be interested to see how all this plays out if and when Preckwinkle and/or Fioretti decides to run against Rahm Emanuel in 2015. Someone should have asked the trio how they would vote.

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