Middle-school mothers quiz the senator and others, October, 2013

The next gathering of legislative eagles was a solemn-high affair, an organized interrogation of legislators by parents at Oak Park’s Percy Julian middle school on Oct. 9, 2013.

The Oak Park schools superintendent cheerily greeted the assembled “citizenry” who had come for the “festivities,” which had been many months in the planning.

He welcomed the legislators — two senators and two representatives — who had come to be questioned by three schools-connected women, probably each a mother of a student.

He further noted “gridlock in Washington” as a problem, ignoring the recently concluded Springfield version, in which legislators were locked in combat about state pension reform. Indeed, they had only recently received their two months’ late pay checks, with interest, after a judge had ruled the governor out of order in cutting them off to get them to stop disagreeing with each other.

Additionally, the citizenry had not materialized as expected, to judge by the dozens of empty chairs in a small meeting room, for a total of 40 or so citizens seated, including two village board members and presumably the school board also. Indeed, on entering this room — from the mall-like entry way to the school on a pleasant fall evening — one saw it was like church, with all seated as far back as they could. What’s more, the entire front two rows were reserved and so marked — for whom it was never clear, because they remained unoccupied throughout the 90-minute meeting.

Ignoring all that, the superintendent proceeded, reading from a lectern to the left of two long tables — one for the school mothers, the other for the senator and his fellow legislators. His text was a lengthy “strategic plan” statement salted with such school-professional staples as “challenge” and “risk-takers.” He held his head down throughout, reading it, he said, so that the Oak Park senator and the others would know “where our board is coming from,” which was pretty much where liberal-progressive school boards were coming from throughout the land.

As for “why we are here,” he read several explanatory paragraphs, part of a welcome message in which he congratulated the organizers of “this forum” of citizen questioners and legislators. It “took a lot of work,” he said. “It took a year,” spent presumably in formulating questions, prepping the questioners, and (probably most time-consuming) scheduling the all-star cast of senators and representatives.

He introduced these one by one, requesting and getting “a hand” for each. He did the same for the three questioner-mothers, members of the district’s Committee for Legislative Action, Intervention and Monitoring (CLAIM), who would do the questioning, he explained.

The first CLAIM questioner sailed a softball, asking the legislator-panelists how their records demonstrated their support for President Obama’s program for education, as if this were known to all there present, which I must admit, I would be hard pressed to elucidate. Were they up to snuff as directed by that man in the White House?

The first to respond was Kimberly A. Lightford, a senator from nearby Maywood since 1998, Democrat like the others, vice-chair of the Senate’s education committee. This latter presumably made her specially important to this schools-based audience.

In general, she was and remains clearly a senate heavyweight — assistant majority leader and member of five other committees: Labor, Education, Executive, Financial Institutions, and Redistricting, plus chair of the Senate’s Black Caucus and co-chair of the Illinois Commission of Intergovernmental Cooperation. She represented no part of Oak Park, of course. That’s the Oak Park senator’s domain.

She was a special friend of public schools in that she had led a push for lowering compulsory schooling age from seven to six and had a goal of reducing it to age five. Some parents objected to the six, she said, but it’s a “perfect time” for early-childhood education. She was happy to note also that there had been “no deep-freeze” in public-school funding in that year.

The Oak Park senator said nothing to contradict her but injected a caution: “We all like early-childhood education,” he said, “but it’s a fight every year because of budget pressures.” Paying for it, that’s the problem..

to be continued —

Ald. Graham learns something, Rep. Lilly defends herself: Galewood town hall, 2013

Galewood, September 2013, continued . . .

Questions and complaints continued — about illegal immigrants using scarce resources while not paying taxes, declining property values in their racially threatened neighborhood, lack of a public library “we can take our kids to,” a North Avenue pawn shop.

“Residents need a voice,” a woman said. “We are stuck. You have to listen.”

The airing of North Avenue problems prompted a call for comment from the alderman, Deborah Graham, who had sat quietly through it all in the audience.

Graham had been a state representative for Oak Park and Austin from 2002, when she defeated an Oak Park woman in a challenge election following her loss to by a coin toss — not kidding — to break a tie some months earlier.

After the second election, more than a hundred uncounted ballots were found in an Austin polling place, perhaps held in reserve in case they were needed by Graham. They weren’t.

She had been lifted from the General Assembly ranks in 2010, when Mayor Daley had appointed her to replace an alderman who had pleaded guilty to corruption charges.

On this occasion she rose and said she had learned quite a bit from the meeting — and let it go at that.

As the meeting drew to a close, a woman called for Rep. Lilly and the senator to “be a moral voice” in their roles as public officials.

Lilly took it personally, misrepresenting the challenge.

“My morals cannot be questioned,” she complained, ignoring the woman’s protests that she had been misunderstood. “You are talking about me as an individual.”

A few minutes later, the meeting came to an end. Lilly repeated her thanks to all, adding as a pledge of continuing interest, “I want you to contact me.”

She did not say how to do so, but people could look it up. I did and twice tried to contact her, asking by email about something she said at the Franklin Park meeting in July, copying the senator each time.

“The other night in Franklin Park,” I wrote on Aug. 1, “you mentioned signing legislation that helped small businesses in Illinois get loans. I looked it up and found nothing about it. I may not have looked in the right places. Can you help me locate that legislation?”

No response. I wrote again Aug. 16, asking “Have you had a chance to give this a look? Find anything?”

Again no response.

So much for her nonsense about wanting people to contact her, nonsense that captured the essence of being Representative Lilly.

The senator closed with thanks of his own.

Eruption of discontent in Democrat territory: Short History, Galewood, September 2013 . . .

The senator and Rep. Lilly took it on the chin in Galewood on September 12 from a crowd of 60 or so gathered in the small Galewood Community Church, a few blocks north of North Avenue, the Oak Park-Chicago boundary.

In a meeting of just over an hour, assorted cries from the heart filled the air while the two legislators, by now town-hall tested, responded civilly at first but as the evening wore on, less so, even testily, with Lilly fairly shouting at one point, talking over questioners.

The senator took his customary optimistic stance at the start. The state is “turning the corner,” he said, offering in evidence that there had been “no borrowing for the last three years.” The pension problem is not as dire as some of the media say. The issue is not pensions anyhow, but the ever-increasing growth rate of pension benefits.

Which was one odd distinction, in that pensions as such were not the bone of contention — no one said abolish pensions, but their costs. Pension benefits had always been the issue, of course — how to afford them when they are breaking the state.

His motto was never to say “crisis,” however, and certainly not “the brink of disaster,” as his senatorial colleague Mulroe had said a few weeks earlier in Franklin Park.

A self-announced retired teacher pushed the issue. Why were her benefits on the line?

They aren’t, the senator said, again playing dumb: “It’s that they don’t grow at the same rate.” As if the woman would say no problem, she was glad to have that explained.

She did not say that, instead gave her own explanation to the befuddled or more likely befuddling legislator standing before her, namely that limiting benefits’ rate of growth reduces her benefits, and by a specific dollar amount, which she supplied.

Reducing state payout is the point, the senator might have said, but didn’t. Later he would, when pressed even further, using a Republican argument which unfortunately would take him off message, which was to minimize the problem and play down the cuts.

Another woman cited recently publicized expensive copper doors at the state capitol, which she said demonstrate a “let them eat cake” attitude.

The senator had a rebuttal for that too. The money for those doors did not come from general revenues, he said, but from the “five-year-old” Illinois Jobs Now! program, as if, signed into law by Gov. Quinn in 2009, it did not represent Democrats’ stimulating the economy by government expenditure, with accompanying taxation to pay for it, a cool $30 billion over six years.

Indeed, the copper doors constituted a more substantive argument against ruling-party policies than at first appeared, or appeared only symbolically. More than symbolism, there was free-spending by a cash-strapped government whose leaders believed in that sort of thing.

A man emptied a grab bag of populist-progressive complaints: “People in power need money, they get it,” he complained (and the money they get leads to campaign donations, he did not say).

“The state has a revenue problem, not a spending problem,” he continued. “We should raise taxes on the people who can afford it,” especially “cronies.”

Furthermore, he did not want “you guys” to “follow lockstep with Rahm [Emanuel] and the others in closing [Chicago] schools.”

Lilly bristled at the last, protesting that she was “one of the few” to oppose the closings” and was “very concerned” and was “going to make sure this issue is revisited in our great state.”

She also preached austerity: “Everyone will have to help. . . . It’s not easy, it’s not comfortable. . . .” Someone spoke up, she cut her off. “Not yet,” she said, raising her voice even louder.

A woman said her health insurance was rising yearly. The premium had doubled. To which Lilly: “That’s why ACA [ObamaCare] is coming.”

“No, that’s the problem,” the woman said, taking Lilly aback. “I’m getting hit over and over . . .”

Lilly interrupted. “Pain is critical. It can be good.”

The senator took the mike, commiserating with the questioner. “I feel for you,” he said. Then, picking up on Lilly’s argument, sounding his own frugal note: “But we can’t afford your free health care for life.”

Turning to the angry populist, he noted that he had been chief sponsor of a 67 percent income tax increase — from 3 percent to 5 percent — no longer calling it a 2 percent increase.

“It’s not on the right people!” the populist shot back.

The senator defended himself further: “I am [also] chief sponsor of a fair income tax.” Meaning progressive or graduated, as had become clear.

More frustration. A man in the rear asked, “Are you listening? So much is going on in state politics, constantly.” Applause followed. “We’re paying you . . . It’s embarrassing . . . awful.”

Lilly, again taking offense: “I have heard every single word since I have been honored to be a state legislator. God gave me this opportunity. I have learned so much . . .” She advanced, mike held close, raising her voice, intoning once more, “This great state . . .” She was shouting now, angry but trying to sound sympathetic. Hands were raised all over the room.

“It’s discouraging,” said the senator, apparently conceding the sad state of things, if not their being accused of not listening, to which he asked, reasonably enough, “What have we not heard?” seeking specifics.

But the questioner had uneasiness which he apparently could not identify, from “the economy, stupid,” to quote Bill Clinton campaigner James Carville, but also from a sense of impotence in face of one-party domination of the political process — the pervasive Chicago sense that the fix is in, one’s vote does not matter, etc.. helped not at all at this gathering by the seeming insouciance of these two samples of the people’s choice, the one downplaying the “crisis,” the other defending herself stridently.

It’s a “great” state, Lilly said time and again, maddeningly, to people who didn’t think so.

“We need fresh blood,” said another questioner. Appointed and since then electorally unopposed, Lilly was a case in point standing before them. It was hopeless to complain as she pranced and danced, half the time barely making sense, the other half taking offense and being offensive. “We suffer while you guys do nothing,” the angry man said.

“What are we not hearing?” the senator asked again, unable to concede the problem without conceding too much, seeking a concrete point or issue around which he could weave counterpoints and ancillary issues, something he could debate. But he was being attacked, even condemned as so much a part of the problem, it made no sense to be specific. “There’s so much . . .” the man said, trailing off.

It was 7:30, 45 minutes into the meeting. A pleasant-looking young woman, the senator’s aide, stood with a clip board, said it was time to gather written questions. She began walking the room gathering questions.

Meanwhile, questions and complaints continued . . .

— To be continued —

Short History, contd. — Senator and Rep Lilly in Franklin Park , July, 2013

A week after the senator’s Wood Dale appearance, he and Rep. Lilly and three other legislators (one a Republican) faced an audience of 80 or so in the park district headquarters of Franklin Park, seven miles northwest of their offices in Oak Park and on Chicago’s West Side.

The other senator was John Mulroe, a Northwest Side Democrat, who had been “new to politics” in 2010, he said, when he ran for office because the state was “on the brink of disaster.” The senator must have cringed at the phrase; it was language he had never used. Like the senator, he was a family man — father of four, he said, three of them in college.

The two other representatives were Kathleen Willis, who had been with the senator in Wood Dale — a first-term Democrat officed in Northlake several miles west of Oak Park — and Mike McAuliffe, the Republican, in office since 1996, based on the city’s far Northwest Side. He made the point early on that he works with the others, had little to say in the ensuing conversation.

Neither did Lilly, who managed several times to squeeze in reference to her experience as a sophomore legislator. Indeed, her weightiest contributions were about what she had experienced since her appointment — her voyage of discovery, as it were — even as she offered observations that she alone among the legislators apparently considered germane.

During discussion of the state’s economic situation, for instance, she noted that Illinois’ population was growing, which it was — one half of one percent since 2010, according to the Census Bureau. It was sixth-lowest growth in the nation, whose population had grown 2.5 percent. Her point was followed up by no other panelist.

In a discussion of whether the state is business-friendly, she came up with something not quite decipherable. “We signed legislation today,” she said, to encourage “small business loans.” We? On that day? There was nothing in the news about this, nothing on state government web sites. An email requesting clarification two days later and another two weeks later, each copied to the senator, got no response from either.

She said she was proud of her vote in favor of ending double-dipping in pension payouts, said (twice) there’s constant “monitoring” of that. “It’s important,” she said, adding, “To me,” squelching the rumor that when she says something is important, she sometimes means to others, not herself.

All in all, Lilly — central and north Oak Park’s woman in the Illinois House — remained true to form as modestly talented, inadequately informed, and good at picking out odd facts or fanciful flights for mention in the public forum.

Asked about spending cuts, the Senator cited $2.6 billion cut in Medicaid (welfare recipients’ health care) payments, to which a man objected that it “doesn’t do any good for Medicaid recipients.”

“This is what cuts look like,” said the senator, leaving unstated any argument for cuts as saving the state fiscally. Nor anything about the possibility of overall economic growth that adds to state coffers through enhanced tax revenues.

Other concerns were raised — cuts in payments to people with disabilities, noise pollution, expansion of legal gambling. Arguing against the latter, a man said, “For the state to win, people have to lose,” and the Senator agreed. He had supported expanded gambling, he said, because Illinois was “hemorrhaging money” to neighboring states, who had expanded it. He sees money leaving Illinois for lack of expanded gambling but not for anti-growth tax policies.

A man asked about legislative redistricting, by which in 2010 Democrats had generously provided Franklin Park with three representatives and two senators, when one of each would have done nicely. The five, all present this night, represented some 35 towns, villages, and neighborhoods among them.

Such dividing up of a community — a by-product of ensuring Democrat dominance — neatly defuses any unified effort to pressure a legislator to oppose current policies. Divided as to legislative representation, a town is more easily ignored and has a harder time working up a head of steam to put pressure on lawmakers.

It was just such a head of steam that greeted the Senator and Lilly in their next town hall, in the Galewood neighborhood north of Oak Park, where a month and a half later, they withstood an hour of sometimes raucous indignation from aggrieved citizens.

Yet later the senator was to suffer a primary-election challenge — the sort of thing that’s not supposed to happen in a tightly controlled Democrat-voting area.

Short History, contd: The senator in calm, peaceful Wood Dale

Next stop for the Senator was far suburban Wood Dale, where he partnered with Rep. Kathleen Willis, of Addison, an Elmhurst College librarian recently elected for the 77th house district.

Twenty-five or so citizens turned up to hear them at Wood Dale City Hall On July 23, for the third and least contentious of the town hall meetings of 2013.

For instance, when questioned about the lack of urgency in solving the pension problem, the Senator was more circumspect than he’d been in a Wednesday Journal column, where he had put “crisis” in quotes. This time he called it a crisis “according to a tough standard,” namely “assuming pensioners live to 90” — which some of us consider a perfectly reasonable standard. By that standard, he said, the state had 32 years before the money would run out  — which some of us consider neither reasonable nor reassuring.

He also reminded his audience of the 2010 pension fix achieved by Democrats — a staple of his crisis-talk rebuttal — that raised retirement age and reduced benefits for new hires. But one by Republicans in 1995 — re-amortizing the shortfall — he called kicking the can down the road.

In the latter he was backed by the fiscally cautious Illinois Policy Institute, which in 2012 said there has been “perhaps no bigger fake reform” than this 1995 Republican fix, which allowed Gov. Jim Edgar and others “to stand tall” for having “solved” the problem.

“Even more” such fake reforms were then perpetrated by governors Blagojevich and Quinn, “along with their large Democrat majorities,” judged the institute, “including the issuance of pension obligation bonds and Tier 2 reforms [Ignoring decades of hiring] that fix nothing.”

The senator also repeated his complaints about newspaper coverage, a recurring motif. Matters are “misreported” or unreported, he said, as in coverage of the 2010 Democrats’ reform mentioned above (and . In this way do media outlets contribute to the state’s “reputational problem,” he said, presenting political “theater” while ignoring economic reality.

Short History: The Senator and Rep. Lilly at the Oak Park Library, mid-July, 2013, continued

Mid-July at the Library, continued:

Rep. Lilly had said she was confident in passage of same-sex-marriage legislation, which she said was “in [her] heart.”

A man identifying himself as a Certified Public Accountant followed the softball question about same-sex marriage with a hard ball question, addressing the senator: “If you do anything in Springfield in our very corrupt state, do something about corruption.” He specified “gerrymandering,” complained, “The way it’s set up, candidates know they will win,” continuing at length in this vein.

“Each of us is vulnerable in a primary,” replied the senator. If an opponent surfaced, he might have said. Lilly, appointed in 2010, had run unopposed in primary and general in 2012 and would do so again in 2014. The senator had run unopposed in the general election every year but one — he said nothing about this — since he was elected in 2002. He was to be opposed in the 2014 primary, by a Galewood-neighborhood resident with public-employeee-union background, sworn to defend pensions, but not in the general, from which a credible — if certain-loser — opponent removed himself a week or so after being slated, citing family issues, after initially expressing enthusiasm for the attempt.

This was the just-retired deputy police chief of the suburb of Stone Park, who had displayed admirable enthusiasm at a Republican slating session. His chances of victory were microscopic, but he would have given Republicans, God help them, something more to do at the polls than leave the senator’s name unchecked.

The CPA continued: “To say the pension situation is complicated is a classic delaying tactic. We are spending way more than we are taking in. People leave Illinois [in large numbers]. . . . Taxes are huge, hit even homeless people, some of whom I help. You are part of the problem not the solution.”

Neither the senator nor Lilly directly engaged him. Nobody in he audience picked up on his series of questions. He engendered no groundswell. There was none in blue, blue Oak Park. Indeed, another audience member asked, “Why don’t we tax retirement income?” ignoring the CPA.

“We are looking at that,” said Lilly. “It’s on the table of [sic] discussion.”

Another took the offensive vs. the two up front, said he was “embarrassed by Illinois,” citing National Public Radio, Wall Street Journal, and other outlets in support of his embarrassment. “It’s the worst state . . . “

Lilly rose to the occasion: “I have an opinion,” she said with vigor, pursuing a tactic of simple denial. “The media doesn’t represent the facts accurately. The facts don’t state that. . . . I’m very proud to live in Illinois . . . Look at your [sic] history . . . We must come together . . . I celebrate that. . . . This is a great state to raise your family!”

The senator was less defensive. He conceded “some dramatic government failures” but claimed without specifics, “We are climbing out of the hole.” He rejected the Chicago Tribune’s editorial view of matters, complained that the Trib had “bashed the heart out of us.”

The evening wore on. An aide brought the senator two frosted water bottles. Lilly swigged an orange drink. An audience member praised an activist who said the state should amortize its pension debt.

“I had the opportunity to present that . . . ” said Lilly, recounting her activities in Springfield, as she often did in these town halls. She spoke dramatically, as she often did, and then as the senator explained what was wrong with this proposal, nodded vigorous assent, as she often did.

The state’s most powerful Democrat, House Speaker Michael Madigan, was mentioned as part of the Illinois problem. Lilly turned this promptly to discussion of his power over legislation, called it “interesting” how legislation comes forth in the house, as if to be ironic, drawing laughs. She paused, then added that she had “gone and asked the speaker” to bring a bill forth (pause), “and it was brought up,” as if to show it’s easier than people say, thus undercutting her supposed irony, which she apparently hadn’t intended in the first place.

It was a sort of oratorical ju-jitsu, checking laughter, presenting the speaker as not so bad after all. She was all smiles, kept hand gestures going throughout, appearing quite sure of herself, as if in effect toying with her listeners, perhaps mostly unaware of what she was doing.

North Avenue issues were raised again, with reference to a sizeable grant to the clout-heavy United Neighborhood Organization (UNO) for a charter in Galewood in 2009, including big spending on the post-announcement celebration. (All had been widely reported, especially in detailed Sun-Times accounts.)

The senator responded carefully: “I have no knowledge of money being wasted.” This in the face of major news stories, suspension of UNO funding, buck stopping at top man (he was to resign months later), etc., about which the senator apparently had not felt prompted to inquire. He pleaded ignorance, said no more.

Other issues arose — fracking downstate (strongly opposed by environmental groups, got its legislative OK and was judicially good to go by December, 2014) , non-medical-doctor dispensing of psychiatric drugs, etc. Rep. Lilly responded generically, apologetically. The pension comes first, she said. The senator backed her up with a graph thrown up on a screen showing the size of pension outlay, asking along the way if anyone had “missed a payment.”

The senator had asked earlier how many work for the government in any capacity. Twenty-five or so of about 100 in the audience raised hands. Like a good trial lawyer, he asked now knowing the answer: No payment had been missed. Again, it was a so-far-so-good response to one side of the issue, namely payouts to pensioners, without reference to the state’s fiscal health. He practiced narrow-gauge politics that suited his supporters.

Asked about the high cost of college education, he said health care costs “are at the heart of it.” It was unusual to hear tuition connected to health care in this manner — rather than to hugely increased demand thanks to government-loan programs. A unique perspective, I suspected.

Lilly picked up on the cost of college, melding it seamlessly with funding of public schools. Missing not a beat, she offered a solution — “My first thought is to establish a committee” — before revealing her personal, unassailable conviction: “I believe our education system is in crisis, from kindy-garten [sic] on up. . . . This. Is. Crisis. Level.” (Said slowly, every word a stop.) Legislators “should make sure it’s equitable for all citizens . . . . Our great state can do better.” (Said with a bang-flourish, as if she had nailed it. Unclear what was nailed, as was much of her sui generis commentary.)

Asked about the state’s not paying its bills to care-providers, Lilly again waxed assertive: “This is, to me, a no-no. We need to pay these vendors — and that’s what they are — on time. It’s unconscionable . . . happening over and over. . . . That’s why I’m here,” apparently meaning in the legislature.

She closed, urging the questioner, “Give us a call.” This while giving no telephone number or email address or even street address, which for what it’s worth is a few blocks inside Austin, one of the city’s highest-crime-rate neighborhoods.

This location was symptomatic of her low-profile, virtually nonexistent approach to representing mostly white, well-policed Oak Park, not to mention communities in a long meandering line to the northwest as far as Franklin Park, eight miles from that office, the whole business being a stark example of the state’s 2010 redistricting by its ruling party to make sure black and other Democrat office-holders are elected with only token opposition, as the senator mentioned at one point in these meetings, with reference to federal law in the matter. He was apparently referring to the requirement to “remedy a violation” of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. If there was such a violation in Illinois districts in 2010, nobody talked about it. But for the senator, it provided a patina of respectability to his brand of redistricting.

One of the 25 or so pensioners in the audience asked about the state’s running out of money. This is “the scariest part” of the problem, said the senator — ignoring yet scarier parts such as the need to cut back on police and fire protection, with what that dictates in terms of quality of life.

“Most don’t understand” the situation, he said in self-defense. “We [elected officials] pass money through” to citizens who depend on them, he said, presenting government as conduit rather than deciding factor, ignoring legislators’ bad decisions and collective responsibility.

As to health-care costs in general, Lilly again, this time light-heartedly, called up her Springfield experience: “I attended Medicaid 101 [for rookie legislators, three years into her incumbency? chuckling at her levity, then incredibly] When are we going to talk about the cost of health care? I was the first to bring it up,” presumably in a legislative committee meeting, probably Health & Healthcare Disparities, where she was vice-chair. The first to bring up the high cost of health care? When was that?

“For me, health care is not affordable. [Yes it is.] We need to talk about that. [About time that happened.] I think the high cost does impact access! [Wow, who would have thought it?] I see every day [in her Loretto Hospital position, vice president of external affairs and development?] what it costs. Where do we begin?” Wow and double wow. Where indeed?

The senator had heard enough. He offered analysis: “The cost of the uninsured is the main problem with the high cost, [namely in] their use of emergency rooms. Obamacare is going to dramatically lower costs by just eliminating this alone.” He did not share his fellow Democrat’s assessment of it as coming “trainwreck” and was to be sorely disappointed.

The keenly insightful Lilly added, “The healthier you are, the less costly it is.” In the coming age of ObamaCare, she said, “each state is to have its own health exchange.” Some states had declined already, however; most would do so eventually.

Next: The Senator in far-off Wood Dale —

Short History, continued: Mid-July at Library — taxing the rich, saving the Merc, same-sex marriage

Picking up on the town hall gathering at the Oak Park Library in mid-July: Having earnestly alleged that the state budget process was “really, really, really critical” and urged her listeners to have a look at the budget itself via “the new technology of today” on the state’s web site, State Rep. Lilly continued in an earnest, enthusiastic vein.

An audience member asked if a rise in property tax rates was to be expected. A “really, really good” question, she offered, adding that she herself had asked it in a legislative committee meeting in Springfield.

But really good question or not, she instead addressed the related but separate issue of allocating state funds for public schooling. “No way is education to be funded equitably across the state,” she said, meaning shouldn’t or won’t? The “equitably” called up the haves-vs.-have-not state funding of public schools? So “it won’t happen, as God is my judge?” Was she throwing the gauntlet to Oak Park homeowners?

The senator, an Oak Parker and a homeowner, said he was “very sensitive” to the property-tax issue and let go at that.

A man wondered if a “teeny tiny” income tax increase might be imposed. This gave the senator a chance to bring up the temporary “sixty-seven percent” tax increase. He signalled quote marks, adding, “We Democrats say two percent.” He was not quite ready to let that one go.

He ruled out cutting back. “We have already cut too much,” he said, indicating his apparently firm belief in salvation through taxes.

The problem began “fifty to sixty years ago,” said Lilly, which might have meant overspending but probably meant under-taxing. She was clear on one thing, however, that the state’s money shortage was “really, really testing” the state’s financial capacities. Yes it was!

It’s about revenue, a man said, ringing a Democrat bell. “The rich should pay more.” The senator had it right when he wrote in the Wednesday Journal about a “so-called” crisis, he said. (The senator had written “crisis,” in quotes.) “Some are too rich” to need help from the government, the man said.

“Let ’em run for governor,” the senator interjected, drawing laughter. Bruce Rauner had already announced, was to win sixteen months later.

These are “super-rich people,” the man continued.

The senator did not disagree, said he had proposed a “fair tax, not a flat tax, as we have now.”

A man in the front row corrected him: “It’s graduated.”

“No,” The senator said with a small grin. “Call it fair. Stay with me on this. People get confused otherwise.” Let the people not be confused. The audience loved it.

Not all. A man asked why had it taken so long to do something about the pension issue when the Civic Federation of Chicago had raised it five years ago.

The senator said he shared the questioner’s “frustration,” having seen the “desperate look” on the faces of people who fear losing pensions. He had looked into the abyss, and God help him and us, he blinked. He felt the exact same frustration his questioner was feeling — and same with all you wonderful folks out there too! We’re in this togethah!

Not a syllable about why it had taken so long to do something about it.

Another man complained that in response to Illinois’ lowest-in-nation bond rating and one of its highest unemployment rates, citizens get nothing but “rhetoric.” It was the first question about fiscal issues as such. The man stayed with his complaint, enlarging on it. The senator listened up to a point, then called “Next,” choosing not to engage him.

Lilly gloriously missed this and in a moment of comic relief, picked up with the persistent questioner, entering into a spiel of her own, walking back and forth, gesticulating, in general speaking as if to settle the question in an earnest, forceful, however cheery a manner.

The man knew when he was licked and gave way to the next question, about a much-protested pawn shop on economically limping North Avenue and related matters.

Lilly hopped on this with more pointing and waving. North Avenue issues are “what I call ‘on the docket’” for action or at least consideration, she declared, without specifying which issue or whose docket.

Then came an enterprising suggestion, that even with a fair tax (“graduated”) there still won’t be enough money. “So how about the proposed tax on stock trades?” a man asked.

Lilly, laughing: “Actually, I saw that proposal, among so many that I didn’t read.” Dismissing it as not worth her time?

The senator, not dismissing it, noted that an Oak Parker (a local socialist, energetic proponent of a mandated “living wage” for village employees) had testified in favor of this tax. But gently pouring cold water on the idea, Lilly next to him nodding vigorous agreement, he added, “There’s the fear that this legislation would push the Chicago Mercantile Exchange out of the state.”

This may have carried no water with the socialist, but the publicity would have been bad, which the senator seemed to realize. In any case, it was a nod by him to the role of taxation in damaging the economy — a rare enough nod from a Ruling Party member.

The Democratic Party of Oak Park (DPOP) committeewoman and hard-working head volunteer asked Lilly how “marriage equality” (state recognition of same-sex marriage) was coming along, setting her up with a softball she could hit out of the park for this Oak Park audience.

Lilly connected, proclaiming, hand on chest, ““It’s my heart that it will pass, now that it’s really got momentum. Our great state” will do this. (It did pass and became one of the jewels in the Democrat crown for 2014.)

— to be continued —