Democracy is dying in this nation and it’s being killed by entrenched interests in both political parties.
I can’t say it any more bluntly than that.
There are some things that I found encouraging in the recent midterm election: Trump Republicans in hotly contested congressional races took a shellacking. If I were to point to a singular character that epitomizes the rot within our political system it would be The Donald.
He’s made unsubstantiated allegations of election fraud, shown contempt for the peaceful transition of power and inspired an insurrection.
And he has fellow Republicans quivering in their wingtips, fearful he can torpedo their political careers.
Regular readers of this column know I’m conservative on economic issues and moderate to liberal on most other matters. And when I vote I almost always split my ticket between both parties.
When I first entered journalism, the conventional wisdom was for reporters to hide their political leanings. Readers aren’t so naïve as to believe journalists don’t have their own political convictions. I’ve embraced transparency. That said, I strive to be fair in all my news stories.
Sometimes, I’m delighted by a particular race.
For example, I really enjoyed covering the contest for the 13th Congressional District between Nikki Budzinski and Regan Deering. Both women are bright, articulate and have entered the realm of public affairs for the right reasons. After interviewing each of them, I found myself genuinely liking both.
They had distinct philosophies, giving voters a clear choice. That’s the way democracy is supposed to work. Unfortunately, in this nation it seldom does.
In fact, in any given election less than 10% of races for the U.S. House are in play. In the other 90%, the candidate is either uncontested or facing only nominal opposition.
For example, I live in the 15th Congressional District. MAGA-loving Mary Miller will be my representative in Washington. She had only nominal opposition from a Quincy Democrat, who no one believed could win.
For state senator, I’ll be represented by Steve McClure. He’s a good guy and ran unopposed. In the old Soviet Union, they had elections where all of the candidates were unopposed. That wasn’t and isn’t democracy.
My current state Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, also is a good guy who ran unopposed. But within a week of being reelected he announced he was resigning to become a lobbyist for the Illinois Railroad Association.
So why run for a job that you’re going to quit?
Well, being a popular incumbent, his presence on the ballot dissuaded any Democrat from seeking the office. And now that he is leaving office, the Republican Party bosses – rather than the voters – get to pick his replacement.
It’s business as usual in Springfield. Both parties do it, but democracy is about having voters decide, not political insiders.
The reason so few congressional and legislative districts are competitive is because instead of voters choosing their politicians, politicians are choosing their voters.
Almost every state – Illinois included - is so effectively gerrymandered that for the majority of races the outcome is preordained.
But it gets worse; we now have a situation where politicians are not only picking their voters - but their opponents.
We saw that this year in the governor’s race. Gov. JB Pritzker spent $30 million in the Republican primary to ensure that their nominee - his opponent - was the weakest in the field.
Republican Darren Bailey represents the far right of the party. He’s a Trump acolyte far out-of-step with most Illinois voters. Once the GOP nominated Bailey, Pritzker spent $110 million of his personal fortune to defeat him.
It is worth noting that despite Pritzker essentially picking his opponent, having the advantage of incumbency and outspending him 11 to 1, he captured only 54% of the vote.
A win is a win. But with those advantages, one would expect a better performance.
Upon winning the election, our governor had this to say:
“To the fake patriots and their enablers: You don’t love the United States if you’re not willing to defend it against a man who would destroy it. Donald Trump is the modern embodiment of tyranny that our founders feared the most. So don’t lecture us about norms or typical political practices. Against a party that nominates and endorses antisemites and racists and anti-immigrant zealots, appeasement and complacency do not work.”
While I don’t entirely disagree with the statement, it wasn’t one for Pritzker to make. He spent $30 million to ensure a MAGA-loving, “fake patriot” was the Republican nominee.
It doesn’t get any more cynical than that.
• Scott Reeder, a staff writer for Illinois Times, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.