As progressives in Illinois wage what amounts to a two-front war against President Trump and Governor Rauner, they’re always on the watch for a two-birds-with-one-stone kind of weapon.
That is, one issue with which they can stymie Trump’s assault on, well, everything, while damaging Rauner’s chances of winning reelection in the 2018 campaign.
They have a potentially versatile weapon in Senate Bill 982. Having passed the Illinois senate last month, it now heads for the house. And if it passes there, its ultimate destination will be Rauner’s desk, where it would at least make him squirm.
The bill would require presidential candidates to release their income tax returns for the previous five years before they could appear on the Illinois presidential ballot. Similar proposals are popping up in state legislatures around the country.
As we all know, Trump’s the only major-party presidential candidate since the 1960s not to release any of his tax returns.
He’s failed to do this either because he doesn’t want people to see who he owes money to, or how rich he is (or isn’t), or how little he pays in taxes, or that he doesn’t have to. And apparently his loyal supporters don’t care.
SB 982 is being pushed by Indivisible Chicago, the local affiliate of a national group created by four former Democratic congressional aides: Ezra Levin, Jeremy Haile, Leah Greenberg, and Angel Padilla.
In the days after last year’s presidential election, the national group published the Indivisible Guide, which lays out a plan to retake Congress and bounce Trump from office by creating a left-of-center version of the Tea Party. On the grounds that if you can’t beat ’em, you might as well emulate ’em.
“Like us, you probably deeply disagree with the principles and positions of the Tea Party,” the guide reads. “But we can all learn from their success in influencing the national debate and the behavior of national policymakers.”
(Actually, I’d take it back a step further: Republican intransigence didn’t start with the Tea Party. Republicans have been unbending in their opposition to anything the Democrats propose since former congressman Newt Gingrich seized control of the party in the midterm elections of 1994.)
In any event, the Indivisible Guide basically urges progressives to act like Tea Party Republicans. Unite around a “set of shared beliefs,” just “say NO to Members of Congress” who don’t take progressive stances on crucial social issues, remain “united in opposition” to Trump, and treat weak Democrats “as traitors.”
About freaking time, I’d say.
In January, Rachel Maddow featured Indivisible on her nightly TV show. They’ve been forming affiliates all over the country ever since.
“All of these Indivisible chapters are really a bunch of concerned citizens with day jobs,” says Jeff Radue, one of the founders of Indivisible Chicago. “We’re putting our energies into action.”
In February, the local chapter found a rallying issue in SB 982, which was introduced by state senator Daniel Biss (now a gubernatorial candidate).
The issue worked on two fronts: It rallied Democrats and swing voters who believe that Trump should release his taxes. And it would put Rauner on the defensive—but I’ll get to that in a minute.
On April 27, the bill came before the state senate for a vote. During the debate, state Republicans railed against it, arguing that the measure was unconstitutional, an invasion of Trump’s (or any presidential candidate’s) privacy, and mean, nasty politics.
In rebuttal, state Democrats replied that there are law professors who say such bills are constitutional—so see you in court.
And, they argued, it’s hardly an invasion of privacy to require a presidential candidate to do what every mortgage applicant is required to do—you know, show someone your tax returns.
“The invasion of privacy argument is especially ridiculous,” says Radue. “This is the president of the United States—what privacy? We know almost everything about the two main candidates. But we don’t know their potential conflicts of interest?”
As for being mean and nasty—please. Republicans have been playing mean and nasty since the days of Nixon, when they invented the southern strategy, pitting whites against blacks.
My guess is Trump’s operatives probably wouldn’t care all that much if he were kept off the ballot in Illinois, a state he’ll probably never win. As we saw in the last election, where Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by about three million votes nationally, the popular vote doesn’t currently matter in our democracy. Trump could still be reelected even if he’s bounced from all the blue states.
However, there are similar income-tax-disclosure bills coming up in red states like Tennessee and Kansas, as well as swing states like Michigan and Ohio. So this could get interesting if Indivisible keeps pushing.
The Illinois state senate ultimately passed the bill on a partisan vote of 32 to 19. Republicans voted against it and the Democrats voted for it—except for senator Steven Landek, from the south suburbs.
Now it goes to the house, where speaker Michael Madigan will undoubtedly relish another chance to embarrass the governor.
And that brings us to Rauner. This is one of those bills that puts him in a bind—sort of like HB 40, the reproductive rights bill he’s vowed to veto to appease his antichoice allies.
In this case, Rauner’s always tried to position himself as a good-government Republican who cares about transparency.
Well, what could be more transparent than making sure the leader of the free world has no conflicts of interest with the companies he regulates, or with the foreign powers with whom he must negotiate? We can only know these things if we see the tax returns.
At the very least, it would be fun to watch Rauner squirm as he tries to explain why he’s vetoing a bill that fosters transparency in politics.
Entertaining us is the least Rauner can do for bringing so much financial chaos to our state. v