Feel that sting? It's the power brokers slapping you

When human beings are slapped in the mouth, again and again, by a political class that laughs at them, at least one thing should happen.

Those getting slapped should have the decency to wince.

So wince, Chumbolone Nation. Wince.

Because they're slapping you and slapping you and they're loving it because you don't do anything about it.


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It's all contained in the explosive memo obtained and posted online by the Tribune, the once-secret memo written by ousted Metra Chief Executive Officer Alex Clifford.

It cost at least $700,000 in public money to keep that memo quiet. By the time this one is over, it will cost even more.

Clifford says he was ousted because he didn't play ball with Boss Madigan, speaker of the Illinois House and chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party. He's the guy who runs this state.

Madigan, in carefully lawyered statements, insists he did nothing wrong, only tried to help a friend. And the Illinois attorney general, the people's lawyer, the top law enforcement official in the state, doesn't seem all that bothered.

She's Lisa Madigan, the boss's daughter. She's positioning herself to run for governor. Which only makes sense because this is Madiganistan.

If you're a taxpayer, or one of the thousands upon thousands of commuters who rely on Metra service to get to work — and end up being late because of chronic delays — you've probably been paying strict attention as the Tribune has been peeling away the layers of this scandal.

It's been smelling for days. It's like that scent you can't identify in your garage, when you open the door and wonder, "What the hell is that stink?" Later you realize it was a dead bird in the eave, or seafood that fell behind the refrigerator. Only now you know it's neither fish nor fowl. It's got Boss Madigan's name on it.

Clifford wanted to testify about his memo in legislative hearings last week, but couldn't, because Metra threatened him with the loss of his severance package, that $700,000 I call hush money.

On Page 3 of Clifford's memo, he writes that in 2012 he was asked by Metra officials to give a pay raise to a longtime Madigan political guy named Patrick Ward, a labor relations specialist making $57,000 a year.

Clifford refused. He says Metra board members Larry Huggins and Chairman Brad O'Halloran put on the pressure. Madigan apparently was upset.

"I told Mr. Huggins that I could not accede to that request under the law. An argument with Mr. Huggins ensued over my failure to do so," Clifford writes.

"Mr. Ward said that his family had supported Mr. Madigan for many years and worked on his political campaigns," Clifford writes, noting that Ward had given Madigan more than $17,000 in political contributions. "(Ward) said that he had discussed employment with Mr. Madigan at a Madigan political event, where he told Mr. Madigan that he felt underpaid. I told Mr. Ward that his conduct in this regard was inappropriate."

Angering Boss Madigan isn't wise because he controls the purse strings to the agency. Clifford writes that O'Halloran was upset, and that "he needed to arrange a meeting with Speaker Madigan to assess 'what damage I have done' to Metra and its future funding by my refusal to accede to Speaker Madigan's requests."

Assess the damage, Mr. O'Halloran? Why, because you didn't spend enough of our money to take care of Madigan's politics?

Clifford put together his memo, and O'Halloran and others got their shorts in knots because of the Madigan mention. The hush money was arranged.

At least there is a happy ending. Ward ended up with a new state job, reportedly making $70,000 for another agency. He's not alone. There are thousands like him. They do what they're told. They expect reward.

Days ago, O'Halloran repeatedly denied to the Tribune that he was ever named in the memo. But it's right in front of me, and it turns out that O'Halloran was mentioned 27 times.

Please, sir, may I have another?

The Metra board will become targets of easy outrage. But they're pawns, mere functionaries. Not Boss Madigan. He's the Khan. His pet mouthpieces and lickspittles will say this is just politics. But here's the thing, my fellow chumbolones.

Madigan makes millions as a private attorney reducing the taxes of wealthy real estate interests. He represents much of the real estate in downtown Chicago, and much of that real estate is owned by Republicans who subsidize the Democratic boss.

If Madigan wanted to take care of a political toady, why didn't he just hire him in his private business and spend his own cash?

Why would Madigan insist Ward get a nice public raise at public expense?

Because he can. Because he thinks it's his money. And that attitude, that arrogance, is the biggest slap of all.

They take our taxes and use public money to build political control. Then they leverage that control to make private fortunes.

Our state is broke, drowning in red ink. Jobs run across the border, but our politicians sure live well, don't they?

They receive incredible, six-figure pensions. Their spouses always seem to get great jobs. Their kids go to the best schools and develop lucrative business connections.

And you and your kids? Just ask yourself about it, next time you're near a mirror. But please, at least have the decency to wince.

Trees don't wince. Stones don't wince. And livestock doesn't wince. The herds just calmly move through the chutes as they trot toward the hook.

It's not our state anymore, my fellow chumbolones. The pols run it. We just pay.

It's called Madiganistan for a reason.

jskass@tribune.com

Twitter: @John_Kass

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