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Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019 12:18 am

Inauguration blues

Democrats behaving badly

Gov. J.B. Pritzker at Monday's inauguration ceremony.
Photo BY Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune/TNS


Here’s an idea for an amendment to the state constitution: Require that governors and other statewide officeholders be sworn in on the steps of the Capitol, outside, in January, where everyone can see and hear them.

I suggest this after having spent three hours on Monday listening to John Philip Sousa marches and speeches from a six-pack of Democrats who gathered at the Bank of Springfield Center to take oaths of office and spike the ball in front of a crowd that included politicians, campaign workers and sundry political operatives who helped get them into the end zone. Comptroller Susana Mendoza, who announced that she’s running for Chicago mayor even before she put her hand on the Bible in Springfield, said the silliest thing when she took the stage after Secretary of State Jesse White was sworn in.

“It’s always, certainly, tough to follow the greatest politician to serve the state of Illinois, the only one who can ever be called the greatest, and that would be Jesse White,” Mendoza gushed.

Take that, Abraham Lincoln, Adlai Stevenson and Paul Simon, none of whom, unlike White, issued a single driver’s license.

I’d never before attended an inauguration in Illinois. I asked brethren in the press corps: Is it always like this? Yep, I was told, and both parties do it. Perhaps the most amazing thing was the number of reporters who came to cover an event devoid of news. There were dozens upon dozens. Some marveled at the stage: Look! It’s shaped like the state of Illinois. I stole a few glances at laptop screens. A fair number of scribes, understandably and myself included, surfed Twitter or checked email while pols delivered speeches recalling what one hears on the campaign trail and during Oscar ceremonies.

Kwame Raoul, the new attorney general, repeated a line from his campaign commercials: “This is my life’s work, and I’m just getting started.” White reminisced about Nov. 6. “Thanks to you, I received the largest number of votes in a midterm election in the history of the state of Illinois,” he said.

Like the other five constitutional officers, Gov. J.B. Pritzker behaved as if he were still running, promising everything except an end to brown M&Ms, and if he’d gone on longer, he likely would have gotten to that, too. He said that he’ll be a good governor who will change Illinois for the better.

“In 2019, we must begin a new century with new maturity and enough foolishness to believe we can make a difference,” Pritzker said. “That starts with leadership that abandons single-minded, arrogant notions. No – everything is not broken.”

The fellow who showed the most class was outgoing Gov. Bruce Rauner, who sat in the front row of the riser onstage, where everyone could see him, not unlike a celebrity who gets roasted at a banquet, but in this case, the ribbing wasn’t good natured. That he came, surely knowing what was coming, suggests that Rauner has some decency, even though he appeared to be asleep at one point and didn’t applaud when Democrats spewed promises and congratulated themselves. Afterward, he exited stage right, skipping a chance to chat with reporters. He looked like a man who had swallowed a frog that was coming back up on him.

Being that time of year, there have been a bunch of inaugurations throughout the land this month as newly crowned governors take oaths of office. We could learn a lot from states like Alabama, Michigan and Colorado, where governors take oaths of office on capitol steps and you don’t need a ticket to watch. Sure, some succumb to Illinois-itis and rehash campaign speeches, as if they can’t bear to let go of stuff they, or their minions, worked on for so long. But others behave like adults who have been put in charge of important things and understand that elections are over.

In Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat who took over from a Republican, delivered a speech on New Year’s Day that was half as long as the one Pritzker dished and twice as relevant. “We might live in divisive times, but Michigan’s problems are not partisan problems,” Whitmer said. “I will be a governor for everyone.” She revisited her campaign once, repeating a slogan that helped get her elected: “Fix the damn roads.”

To be sure, stuff that Pritzker promised on Monday, and on the campaign trail, is worthwhile: a balanced budget, broadband internet access in every corner of the state, legal marijuana, strong schools, a $15 per hour minimum wage, a tax code overhaul, repairs to roads, bridges and railway systems, money and other help for new businesses. But there is a time and a place, and talk and promises are cheap.  

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.


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