Fracking Decision Time Extended
At its September 16 meeting the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) extended the timeline for making a final decision of rules to implement rules for hydraulic fracturing. The rules will be considered once again at JCAR’s meeting on October 14.
Since the late August release of the final draft rules by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources there has been howling from both sides of the issue. Environmental groups have complained that the new rules do not provide enough protection while industry groups argue that the rules go beyond what was negotiated in May, 2013 when the legislation received final legislation approval. The big question is whether or not JCAR and its staff can cobble together a compromise that can quell the disagreements. The answer to that is probably no. Some environmental groups are unalterably opposed to fracking and will find nothing acceptable except an outright ban and they are livid at the Sierra Club, who participated in the original negotiations, for compromising in 2013. With that as a backdrop it’s difficult to imagine any new compromise from being reached.
If JCAR does not act within the appropriate timeline the Departmental rules issuance process must start from scratch. That’s something they do not want to happen again. During the first go round opponents submitted over 35,000 comments. And since state law requires that each comment be addressed individually it delayed the process by months. JCAR staff, after receiving the draft rules, will begin discussions with all parties to see if some accommodations can be reached. They won’t be finding much in this case. Another possibility is that JCAR could approve the rules as submitted but also recommend changes in the Act to the General Assembly that could be considered during the post-election veto session. That scenario seems more likely. Knowing that there is no chance for compromise, JCAR can put together a list of what they feel are reasonable amendments that, in their opinion, are fair and could be considered reasonable by the legislature. But, even so, the battle is far from over.
With November 4 just over a month away legislative candidates are out on the hustings trying to drum up votes for themselves as well as their respective party candidates for governor. In fact, most General Assembly incumbent candidates are probably focusing on the latter because there are so few hotly contested races for those offices. A look at the roster of target legislative races shows that only four Illinois Senate and 13 Illinois House races are those that are given any chance to see a party switch. What it means is that regardless of who wins the race for governor Democrats are almost assured to retain their majorities in both legislative chambers. Whether they maintain veto-proof majority may be in play but, in reality, except for elections slogans and rallying cries having a veto-proof majority in the Illinois legislature means, and has meant very little, regardless as to which party controls the governor’s chair. Controversial issues seldom advance in the legislature unless there is compromise which gives a governor very little to veto, so veto-proof is just a term.
Looking at the legislative chambers, Democrats will be trying to avoid what happened to them in 1994, one elections cycle after huge legislative victories in 1992. After Republicans drew the legislative maps in 1992 they took control of the Senate and kept it through that decade. In the House, however, Democrats shocked everyone by winning in places no one expected in 1992 and retained their majority. In 1994 a Republican tidal wave swept away most of the 1992 surprise winners and a few others and the GOP captured control, only to lose it two years later and for the rest of the 1990s. That and the 2010 GOP tidal wave both served as a sober reminder to Democrats as they were preparing to draw legislative maps in 2011. And the difference between 2014 and 1994 is that the districts being contested were drawn by Democrats, not Republicans as in the 1990s and you can bet that great care was taken to make sure that any damage from electoral tsunamis was minimized.
In the Illinois Senate Democrats currently enjoy a 40-19 margin. A "veto-proof” margin is 36. Of all the Senate races this fall only four Democratic seats are on target lists and only two of those would rise to the level of potential switches. That being the case, when the dust clears on November 4 Democrats should hold at least 36 seats with maintaining the current level of 40 a distinct possibility.
In the Illinois House, Democrats have a 71-47 margin. A loss of one seat would relinquish their "veto-proof” majority. Eleven Democratic seats and two Republican seats are considered top targets. But, even if all 11 of those targeted Democratic seats are lost they will still maintain their majority by two votes. That’s the advantage of being able to control the process of drawing legislative district maps, and especially when their 1994 nightmare reoccurred in 2010, just as they were getting their cartographer pens ready. The best estimates are that when the dust settles on November 4 Democrats will most likely hold between 65-69 seats..
Playing "Keep Away”
History often repeats, or tries to repeat itself. That’s especially true in election campaigns where an effective strategy that benefits one candidate can carry on for years or even decades, or can be resurrected at an appropriate time in an attempt to provide some candidate advantage. For example, in 1980 Ronald Reagan was fighting for the Republican presidential nomination but he had a slight problem. He was a terrific communicator, certainly one of the best ever … when sticking to talking points and relating his message. But during more casual press interviews his remarks periodically caused varying degrees of controversy that required his campaign to respond, put out those fires, and that shifted the focus from the true objective. The strategy that the Reagan campaign adopted to quell this dilemma was fairly simple … if those press conversations were the cause of the problem then limit the candidate’s access to the press. The strategy worked. The press was often frustrated at not being able to get close to the candidate for one-on-one interviews, the campaign was able to keep its message focused, and Ronald Reagan served two terms as President of the United States.
Fast forward to 2014 and the race for Illinois governor and you’ll notice that the same strategy being utilized. Bruce Rauner is a first-time candidate, unused to being in the public eye and certainly not used to the kind of grilling from reporters that can put campaigns and candidates on the defensive. He and his campaign have developed specific talking points, have determined that they want to stay as far away as possible from controversial issues, and have decided that too little information is better than too much information (a common non-incumbent strategy). They have concluded that the best way to make the strategy work is to adopt the 1980 Reagan plan.
From the beginning, Rauner has severely limited access to reporters. His campaign schedules periodic press conferences where the candidate can make a statement; focus on whatever talking points are related to the issues du jour; maybe answer a few questions, and then he is shuttled away. If the questions asked by reporters at the press conference are unrelated to the subject matter the candidate pecks at his talking points and ignores the question (also not uncommon among all candidates). But, when reporters try to try to do post press conference follow up with the candidate? No can do. And, if they are able to beat the odds and corner him? Ignore the questions or provide some oblique response and move along. For instance, when asked about specifics with revenue and budget plans beyond the general outline provided previously the answer is always, "soon” or "in due time”. All this avoidance, while not new, has been taken to the atmospheric levels over the Rauner campaign’s extreme paranoia about the possibility of off-the-cuff remarks bringing down the house of cards.
Throughout the campaign thus far Rauner has been considered the frontrunner and, therefore, does what frontrunners do … play it safe, attempt to run out the clock, and keep debates to a minimum so the opponent, even if it happens to be an incumbent, doesn’t have the opportunity to "beat you up” in joint appearances. In that regard, then, the strategy with five weeks left in the campaign seems to be working. But, over recent weeks polls have shown the race tightening, either as individuals start to move back to their traditional party "homes” or the opponent criticisms begin to stick. If it tightens further the Rauner campaign will be faced with a huge decision, stick with the talking point program to the exclusion of everything, or begin to respond to the Quinn campaign’s allegations and assertions, as well as other potentially negative stories that have arisen. Whatever decision they make may be the critical factor as to who wins or loses on November 4.
There is one adage that political candidates take very seriously … "define your opponent before he defines you”. It’s the golden rule of candidacies and has caused multitudes of candidates to experience the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat, sometimes expected, sometimes not. Sometimes candidates get right to the task and other times they wait a wee bit too long. And those that wait often suffer the consequences.
Once again, taking the "Way Back Machine” to the 1994 Illinois gubernatorial race, Democratic candidate Dawn Clark Netsch claimed victory in her party primary with a stunning victory and a reputation as a "straight shooter” on issues. Jim Edgar was the Republican candidate running for re-election. Edgar’s 1990 race against Neil Hartigan was close and coming off the 1992 election season that was dubbed the "Year of the Woman” he was right be a bit uneasy to be facing a female candidate with a stellar reputation and very positive polling numbers following her primary election victory. In those days statewide candidates didn’t begin television advertising until the end of summer but the Edgar campaign wanted to get an early start so they scheduled their television spots to begin just after the legislature adjourned (at the end of June back then). Coincidentally, fate intervened and handed the Edgar camp an assist.
A week after the legislative session adjourned Edgar had quadruple bypass surgery that kept him out of commission for a number of weeks. For Netsch, regardless of the circumstances and how it would be perceived, it presented a golden opportunity to get a jump on Edgar. She would have had a number of weeks on the campaign trail by herself, getting her story and vision before the voters. But upon hearing the news of Edgar’s health problem Netsch announced that she would suspend her campaign until Edgar was back on his feet. In response, the Edgar campaign said thanks and then proceeded to unleash at volley of television spots aimed at defining all that they perceived as why candidate Netsch was wrong for Illinois. Netsch never saw it coming and failed to respond with any fervor. Polls that showed the race to be close in May/June of that year were lopsided by Labor Day, showing Edgar with a 2-1 lead that he never surrendered. 1994 was a Republican tidal wave year so it was unlikely that Netsch would have won anyway, but her decision to suspend the process of trying to define her opponent during those critical early months proved fatal.
In that regard, it was curious that the Rauner campaign seemed to take an advertising hiatus and stayed relatively silent this past summer while the Quinn campaign took full advantage of the candidate definition process. Early polls this summer showed Rauner with a nice lead in the race so maybe their plan was to save their resources for the heat of fall. That might have been an error. The one thing the Rauner campaign is not lacking is resources. The candidate has self funded his effort with at least $12 million and has the capability to raise as much as might be necessary. They spent heavily from the campaign’s inception throughout the primary election but then took a breather from the airwaves. So, while the Quinn campaign was hurling "Billionaire Bruce” barbs and other charges with the tagline, "Did Bruce Rauner really think no one would find out?”around, the Rauner camp did very little by way of retort. In the meantime polls have shown the race narrowing significantly. If the Quinn camp’s efforts over the summer to "define” Rauner with only a meager response has caused a shift of momentum that results in a Quinn victory it will prove once again that that old adage has proven to be correct.
Session Schedule/Deadline Dates
Here are relevant dates for the legislative session:
·November 19, 20, 21 – first veto session week
·December 2, 3, 4 – second veto session week