SPRINGFIELD - When the most powerful politician in Illinois has a meeting with the gubernatorial candidate of the competing party, the results are usually newsworthy, especially when it is the normally tight-lipped House Speaker Mike Madigan that talks about the relationship.
House Speaker Madigan rarely does press conferences like the one he held last week, so State Capitol reporters used the opportunity to pepper him with a variety of questions on a number of topics. When asked if he had ever met with the GOP gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner, Madigan said yes, and told reporters:
"We've met over the years, it's not that we've had a recent meeting. We've known each other for several years. The first meeting we had was concerned with education. We met concerning a group called Stand For Children which he was involved with, he was involved in fundraising for Stand for Children. When I learned of his interest in education and Stand for Children, I asked for a meeting with him. We had a very lengthy discussion about education, education funding."
Bruce Rauner, the GOP's 2014 gubernatorial candidate is credited with bringing the state chapter of Stand for Children to Illinois in 2010. Right away the group became actively involved in Illinois political campaigns. During the 2010 election cycle, the bipartisan group - funded by donors including members of the Lester Crowne family, the Pritzkers and the Chicago Tribune owner Sam Zell - raised nearly $5 million, of which $110,000 went to Madigan-backed candidates. In 2011, the group gave $50,000 directly to the Illinois Democratic Party of Illinois, of which Madigan is chairman.
"I made an effort to explain that there were plenty of Republicans in the Illinois legislature that were interested in the positions of people in the Illinois Education Association, the Illinois Federation of Teachers. I gave him some documents showing that, so he was appreciative of the information," Madigan said of his meeting with Rauner.
Madigan's reference to Illinois Republicans that take money from teachers unions was strategic. Any reforms that affect teachers - collective bargaining, striking limitations and pensions - would have alerted Rauner to the fact that his own party was divided in their allegiance to unions.
In 2011, Stand for Children's executive director Jonah Edelman boasted (HERE) that his group's support of Democrats was key in almost passing legislation that would raise the hurdle for Chicago Teachers Union's right to strike. He referred to Speaker Madigan and the group's strategy in Illinois:
I'm being quite blunt here. The individual candidates were essentially a vehicle to execute a political objective, which was to tilt toward Madigan. The press never picked up on it. We endorsed nine individuals - and six of them were Democrats, three Republicans - and tilted our money toward Madigan, who was expecting ... that all our money was going to go to Republicans.
That was really a show of - indication to him that we could be a new partner to take the place of the Illinois Federation of Teachers. That was the point. Luckily, it never got covered that way. That wouldn't have worked well in Illinois - Madigan is not particularly well liked. And it did work.
If you show them the capability to actually enact collective bargaining reforms, they're logically going to give on everything short of that to pull back the barricades.
Indeed, the organization was successful in getting the Chicago Teacher's Union to agree to new rules about layoffs, teacher effectiveness and other issues, although Stand For Children was not successful limiting the collective bargaining rights as they hoped they would be able to do.
The group remains active in Illinois politics, despite the departure of Edelman shortly after his controversial comments recorded on video hit the web. The day after Illinois primary elections last week, the group posted the following:
"Eleven of the twelve candidates that Stand for Children endorsed won last night! That brings the total count to 51 candidate victories since we started our elections work in late 2010."
There are indications that Stand for Children intends to ramp up its political involvement.
Just last week the organization responded to Speaker Madigan's 3% millionaire tax hike for education proposed at his press conference. The group's response sounded of the theme raised by GOP gubernatorial Bruce Rauner - and it focused more on the need for adequate pension reform than it did increasing revenue through higher taxes.
“We commend Speaker Madigan’s focus on the desperate need to increase education funding. Schools have lost almost a billion dollars in the last five years, which hurts the education that our children receive and the professionals in the classroom. However, Illinois schools need adequate funding invested effectively -- increased funding alone is not the silver bullet to improving schools.
Stand for Children supports increased early childhood education opportunities, equitable funding and accountability for public schools -- whether they are traditional or public charters, interventions for struggling schools, and continued pension reform that directs more dollars to the classroom.”
The group's national website supports Common Core curriculum and standards and is focused on public charter schools, choice and reform, more than mixing in private schools.