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The Open Illinois Senate Seat and The Progressive Dilemma

Don Rose 15 March 2010 6 Comments

As it stands now the Democrats stand to lose at least a half dozen senate seats in November and could even lose their wobbly nine-seat majority if the wobbly independent Joe Lieberman wobbles more to the right.

Losing Ted Kennedy’s Massachusetts seat—granted because of a miserable candidate—showed that everything is up for grabs in this anti-incumbent, anti-politician, anti-everything year. The bluest states could turn blood-red—New York with an ill-chosen appointee to replace Hillary Clinton, Delaware with no Biden of any generation to shore up the faithful and, yes, Illinois with a seriously flawed nominee to replace the ill-chosen appointee who replaced Barack Obama.

I speak here of Alexi Giannoulias, the 34-year-old state treasurer who narrowly won the Democratic primary over reformer David Hoffman—whom some unions did not view as either progressive or a reformer, but come November would have been the favorite.

Not so Giannoulias. Well before the primary, even though he is a basketball buddy and big money guy for Obama, the White House recognized his shortcomings and tried to persuade Attorney General Lisa Madigan to run for the senate. She would have glided home like the smoothest curling stone in the Olympics. Understandably she preferred tending to her own kids instead of coping with the squalling brats of the U.S. Congress.

So here’s Giannoulias, whose family bank, already reeking because of big loans to mobsters and criminals-to-be such as Tony Rezko, is about to fold. But we will not have to hold a bake sale for Alexi and his family. The bank is structured so that upon collapse its multimillion-dollar debt will be picked up by us taxpayers, while the Giannoulias family will get somewhere between $11million and $15 million in tax credits to divvy up. Talk about winning by losing.

Add to this the burden he carries for covering up the true losses of a mismanaged fund in the Bright Start college savings program. He always obfuscates when asked to explain why 6,500 families wound up losing almost half their savings after he told them they would lose less than 10 percent.

Even if you excuse him for not moving faster to prevent the losses on this one fund, and even if you acknowledge that the rest of the Bright Start program was well run, there is no excuse for a year of lies and coverup of the true losses. I have written of this at length, as have many other reporters, but Giannoulias always evades response by changing the subject.

So he wins a Pyrrhic victory in the primary and stands at the plate with two strikes against him, facing the only Republican candidate capable of getting crossover votes and downsizing the 400,000-450,000 vote margin that most Democrats rack up in Cook County.

That candidate, Mark Kirk, is often called a moderate, though his moderation is mainly in style and because he is prochoice, progay-rights and voted for cap-and-trade, all to pacify his largely Democratic North Shore constituency. Otherwise his voting record is pure Bush-Boehner. He is not the kind of liberal Republican capable of swinging masses of Democrats as was Charles Percy. But he can cash in big on the disgust vote stemming from Rod Blagojevich’s antics.

There’s plenty of disgust with Giannoulias on his own. I don’t know any liberals or progressives—let alone reformers—who actually want to vote for him. But plenty will. It would be best, of course, if he could be talked into dropping out. High-level Dems are said to be trying, but this guy’s ego is bigger than Willis Tower.

If they fail to remove him, a two-point, purely partisan, ideological argument will be promulgated on his behalf:

We must do everything in our power to save Obama’s seat and retain the Democratic majority.

Despite his personal failings and ethical challenges, Giannoulias is not exactly a crook and he will cast a liberal vote 95 times out of 100, while Kirk will be lucky to cast a liberal vote once a year.

That’s the progressive’s dilemma. Conscience vs. ideology. Hold your nose again or vote Green, which means half a vote for Kirk. Right-to-lifers and antigay Republicans will be undergoing the same psychodrama for Kirk.

The odds favor Kirk. But it’s possible that demographics and nose-holders might pull it off, especially if the national picture eases.

Enumerating the reasons to vote for this lump of imperfection, do I convince myself?

Yech. It’s like swallowing a poisoned cocktail.

Don Rose is a regular columnist for the Chicago Daily Observer


  • CREDIGY - 2009 Illinois Law Enforcement Torch Run Plane Pull (author) said:

    […] The Open Illinois Senate Seat and The Progressive Dilemma … […]

  • Paul McGrath said:

    I think the progressive dilemma is shall we feel pure or get something done. In 1998 we felt pure and rejected Glenn Poshard, one of the best candidates who ever ran for governor, and wound up with George Ryan. I don’t want Alexi Giannoulias marrying my daughter, but that’s not the issue. I want to elect someone who’s going to vote the Democratic program.

  • Bill Baar said:

    There’s plenty of disgust with Giannoulias on his own. I don’t know any liberals or progressives—let alone reformers—who actually want to vote for him.

    Regardless the stuff on second thoughts about him and the push for Lisa Madigan (was this discussed with Blagojevich by the way? Tapes will tell) Obama the Chicago Progressive sure saw something in this guy. If he doesn’t want to actually vote for him, Obama sure wanted to in the past. Giannoulias wouldn’t be where he is without Obama.

  • Dan Foley said:

    Hey Mr. McGrath –

    With your kind of party loyalty, we suffered through Rod Blagojevich as opposed to the perfectly honorable Jim Ryan.

    What we do know now, is that with Blago, we began borrowing at an incredible rate. It does not look like we are anywhere close to living near our means, still. Quinn still plans on borrowing and will not confront the SEIU and their exploding entitlements.

    Imagine, if democrats did not pinch their noses and vote for Rod. Do you think the state would be closer or farther from bankruptcy? Democrats put Rod in power and hopefully will pay for it this fall.

  • Dan Kelley said:

    Obama saw something that he liked in Giannoulias: a basketball player with money.

  • Paul McGrath said:

    Dan (Foley)– Blago ended up a jerk; Ryan started out a jerk.

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