Kadner: Business group soft on state officials
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org February 11, 2013 10:50PM
Chamber president David Hinderliter, left, looks on as state Sen. Bill Cunninghan talks at the Chicago Southland Chamber Regional Consensus Lunch at the Tinley Park Convention Center on Monday, February 11, 2013. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 13, 2013 6:22AM
Maybe businessmen don’t care where their elected officials stand on important issues.
Maybe they don’t want to disturb them by asking tough questions.
Or maybe the thought process is that if you’re not likely to get the truth, why ask questions.
Three new state senators appeared Monday as guests at a luncheon of the Chicago Southland Chamber of Commerce.
Democratic Sens. William Cunningham (18th), Napoleon Harris (15th) and Michael Hastings (19th) were elected in November and represent most of the Southland.
Gun violence is a hot topic in this state, with children being murdered in Chicago on a regular basis.
Do the senators support a concealed-carry law, a ban on assault weapons, a limit on ammunition clips? No one at the luncheon would be enlightened because such questions weren’t asked.
How about gay marriage? The Legislature is supposed to take up that controversial issue this spring, maybe even this week.
Cunningham, Harris and Hastings weren’t asked about same-sex marriage.
How about pension reform? Certainly, there had to be some tough questions on this major issue because long-term pension debt is a big reason why this state is facing financial insolvency.
David Hinderliter, president and chief executive of the Southland chamber, appeared on a stage with the three senators and asked all the questions, and he apparently isn’t interested in those issues.
By the way, the SouthtownStar is as a sponsor of the chamber’s monthly luncheon, but this newspaper plays no role in determining the event’s format.
Hinderliter did press the three senators about legislative changes for the state Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, but none of them seemed to know what he was talking about.
Cunningham did mention that pension reform is a priority, but there were no follow-up questions about how that was going to be done or what Cunningham advocated.
The members of the audience — including mayors, aldermen, trustees, community college officials and school board members — were not allowed to ask questions. Maybe Hinderliter thought they weren’t smart enough to ask intelligent questions.
Whatever the case, what happened on Monday at the chamber luncheon is part of a much bigger problem here in Illinois.
State legislators get treated as celebrities. People of influence are too often afraid to ask embarrassing questions, fearful that when they ask for favors later on, there might be retaliation.
The news media in Illinois is often criticized for not being tough enough on lawmakers, but I didn’t see anyone else Monday who was willing to put the three rookies on the hot seat.
Hey, these guys may be new to the office of state senator (Cunningham was a state representative for two years), but if they’re not ready to answer difficult questions they shouldn’t have run for office.
I’m still waiting to hear why Harris decided to drop out of the 2nd Congressional District race and support Robin Kelly for Jesse Jackson Jr.’s seat in the Feb. 26 Democratic primary election.
I also wanted to know where the three senators stand on shifting the cost of suburban and downstate teacher pensions to school districts. That would increase property tax bills to support the schools and would likely force more businesses to move to Indiana.
I have to believe that this concerns members of the Southland Chamber of Commerce.
Harris and Hastings talked about the importance of public education. Hastings said that when he served as a board member in Consolidated High School District 230, the state cut transportation and education funds for the district, which is one of the reasons he ran for higher office.
But even if the state does pass pension reform this spring, there’s likely not going to be any more money for public education. The short-term debt, caused by the state’s unpaid pension bills in the past, is likely to soak up any additional revenue from reform.
No one asked the senators about that during the public session of the chamber meeting.
The Three Rookies have joined forces to support a bill that would expand health insurance coverage to the poor in Illinois, and that’s a good thing.
After the meeting, Cunningham told a few reporters that he has reservations about the governor’s call to increase the minimum wage to $10 because it could force small businesses, such as Rainbow Cone in his district, to cut jobs. On the other hand, he thought corporations such as Wal-Mart have large enough profits to pay employees a little higher wage.
Cunningham wants to explore the possibility of a minimum wage for small businesses and another one for larger companies.
That might have been of interest to Southland Chamber of Commerce members, but that was part of a conversation between reporters and Cunningham after the public presentation concluded.
Hinderliter did ask the three senators what they would say to the chamber two years from now if they appeared as candidates for governor.
He might as well have asked them if they were a tree, what kind of tree would they be?
Harris and Hastings, by the way, emphasized that Gov. Pat Quinn has a heart and that it’s in the right place.
Speaking as someone with only a rudimentary knowledge of anatomy, I was neither surprised nor comforted.
Hinderliter seemed delighted to obtain the information.