An astonishing thing just happened. A freshman Democrat dared to say no to the state's most powerful politician, Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan.
State Rep. Scott Drury, a Highwood Democrat, was one of a few Democrats who killed Madigan's millionaire tax. He was the only freshman Democrat to oppose the speaker. Drury put out a release declaring his opposition and Madigan's spokesman, Steve Brown, declared it dead for this spring minutes later, blaming Republicans.
Just after the primary on March 20, Madigan announced a major political masterstroke designed especially to stick it to pro-schools, multimillionaire GOP governor candidate Bruce Rauner. His millionaires' tax was to be a 3 percent surcharge on income over $1 million, with proceeds directed toward schools. The speaker, his eyes twinkling, held a rare press conference, implying he had the 71 votes needed from his supermajority. Less than three weeks later, it was dead.
Who is this Drury guy anyway, and is his political future now dead, too?
A North Shore resident, Drury probably has more millionaires in his district per capita than most. But, in talking to him, that seems beside the point. Drury is a former federal prosecutor who's worked a few political corruption cases. Just as Madigan was revealing his tax, Drury was taking a drubbing from Democrats and Republicans for his proposal to require the state to pay its bills on time. There probably are many reasons why that bill failed, but he did succeed in helping stop the millionaires' tax.
Drury said he couldn't get past all the revenue plans floating around, piecemeal, without any corresponding look at spending or the bottom line. Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn is pushing to make permanent the temporary 5 percent income tax. Many Democrats are pushing for a progressive tax system that raises rates as income rises. And then there's Madigan's millionaires' tax.
Drury is one of a few in his party who believe tax rates, revenue, spending and budgeting should be laid out for the public together. "If a constituent came to me and said, 'What's my tax rate going to be if this passes, I couldn't tell him.'"
So the freshman told the speaker he couldn't vote for a tax increase when he didn't know the whole picture. "There wasn't a whole lot of reaction," Drury said of the speaker.
Last election, Drury ran with support from the party, but says he broke things off when he became uncomfortable with the party's handling of his messaging. He got about $80,000 in party support, but returned an unsolicited check for $20,000 from Friends of Michael J. Madigan. He doesn't expect one of those any time soon, though Madigan does back his incumbents. Drury will face Mark Neerhof, a Lake Forest Republican. Drury says he always thought of his candidacy -- as a newcomer with a prosecutorial background -- as an experiment.
As for the tax hike, it came down to "it doesn't pass the sleep-at-night test. If I'm going to do this job and do it well, if there's a political risk to me," he said, "I'd rather do it and see what happens."
Will Drury get any more legislation enacted? Will he become a party pariah?
"I don't know what tomorrow is going to bring," Drury said, "but I hope the public sees there's someone being independent and they appreciate it. To me, success isn't getting re-elected. Success is more people like me getting re-elected."
• Madeleine Doubek is chief operating officer of Reboot Illinois, an organization devoted to reform in Illinois government. This column is taken from the Reboot website, rebootillinois.com, with permission.