Democrats upset in Chicago neighborhood town hall meeting, 2013

Sen. Don Harmon, Rep. Camille Lilly in Galewood, Sept. 12, 2013: Citizens speak out.


A woman said her health insurance was rising yearly. The premium had doubled.

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.”

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

He had been the sympathizer, feeling others’ pain. Now he was the grim realist, talking about what “we” cannot afford. If he should expand on that, he would find himself before long on the dark (Republican) side.


Turning to the populist, Harmon  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. You want taxes? We got taxes.

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

Harmon defended himself further: “I am [also] chief sponsor of a fair income tax.” Progressive.

The state of Illinois:

More frustration. A man in the back asked angrily, “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 mantra-like, “This great state . . .” She was shouting now. Hands were raised all over the room.

Pervasive uneasiness:

“It’s discouraging,” said Harmon, as if to concede the sad state of things, if not his and Lilly’s being accused of not listening. “What have we not heard?” he asked.

The man was possessed of an uneasiness which he seemed unable to identify, possibly from a sense of impotence in the face of the political process — the pervasive Chicago sense that the fix is in, one’s vote does not matter, etc., helped not at all 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 kept saying, to people who didn’t think so or thought it beside the point.

General frustration:

“We need fresh blood,” said someone else. Appointed and since then electorally opposed only once, when House Speaker Michael Madigan poured money into her cause, Lilly was a case in point. 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?” Harmon asked again, unwilling to concede the problem lest he concede 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.

More to come, from Illinois Blues: How the Ruling Party Talks to Voters— available in paperbackepub and Amazon Kindle formats.

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