I was elected the Chair of the Chicago GOP in April 2020. This is a personal view, not a statement of the Party, and this was offered as an op-ed to the Chicago Tribune on March 13, 2023. I believe my observations reflect much of what I hear addressed in several Republican circles.
32nd Ward GOP Committeeman
Chair - Chicago Republican Party
A REPUBLICAN VIEW OF THE MAYORAL RUNOFF
Contrary to some campaign literature, Republicans view neither Runoff candidate as one of their own. Republicans instead note that both candidates speak of being Mayor of the entire city, when by their words that plainly that does not include Republicans, despite the Republican vote being 15-20 percent in Chicago, sometimes higher. We return to the same Republican issues raised in an earlier Opinion published on January 8, 2023.
1. Pension Debt Solution.
We are impressed that the runoff candidates have plans, but neither is credible. Mr. Vallas promises welcome changes in investment management, but his main solutions are questionable. Diverting annual TIF excess income is unreliable and a major funding increase from Springfield strikes us as unlikely. Mr. Johnson simply wants to tax his way out with huge increases and new levies on an already overburdened city with a fragile post-pandemic economy. That strikes us as counter-productive.
Neither candidate will face the twin elephants in the room: the bloated pension benefits agreed to by past city leaders and the Pension Clause of the Illinois Constitution that is blocking any attempt at reform, such as a switch to 401(k) accounts for city employees. There is also the unknown effect of the recent constitutional amendment protecting union contracts, which may well have locked Chicago into a fiscally ruinous position. In the meantime, the pension debt bomb just keeps ticking away.
2. Economic Expansion
Chicago became an economic giant through capitalist Free Enterprise, not government programs. Each candidate appears forgetful of that fact, though both candidates are right in emphasizing business development in minority areas. The rest of their positions, however, simply promote more government, not more business. Brandon Johnson’s emphasis on vocational training is helpful, but the rest of his platform appears to be just more government social programs flavored by hostility to business. A new head tax is completely the wrong direction, as is his expansive new taxes, which will only benefit nearby states as business owners leave.
Paul Vallas’s approach is that of a lifelong bureaucrat: yet another public-private “authority” to lead the way. Each candidate is missing the mark, for the answer is not more government, but less. Like hungry dogs presented with a full dish, Chicago businessmen and entrepreneurs will need no guidance if the government will simply remove the boot on their economic necks in the form of taxes, permits, fees, Aldermen, “expediters” and regulations. With a positive business and tax climate, Chicago’s bountiful water, transportation and labor pool will attract back national corporations while expanding the tax base. Release the hounds, and prosperity will come.
3. Police Oversight
In no surprise, neither candidate will adopt the Republican position of scrapping the new oversight structure in favor a plan emphasizing professional policing. The current structure foretells another era of “political policing” in which a demoralized CPD is a political football. But the Vallas commitment to community policing policies eliminated under Mayor Lightfoot is a step in the right direction, as is boosting CTA patrols.
Brandon Johnson has a good idea in reopening mental health clinics, as so many criminals are simply ill. We keep in mind, however, Mr. Johnson’s past statements on reduced police funding, and are struck by the contradiction of his rejection of hiring more police officers because it would take too long to train them, while proposing to promote 200 officers to Detective with no provision to replace the promoted officers on patrol.
4. School Reform
The candidates’ positions on education in Chicago are remarkable in that neither stresses improving academic achievement or school choice when a vast majority of students don’t meet grade level standards. Instead, each promotes a view of schools as social service centers, not education centers. Republicans see glimmers of reform in Mr. Vallas’ plan, such as placing control of funding in local schools rather than central administration, and allowing failing or underused schools to convert to magnet status.
Mr. Johnson’s lengthy platform strikes us a Progressive social agenda masquerading as an education policy, as it runs to housing, climate change, child care and other elements. While he proposes Sustainable Community Schools, few of the listed “guiding principles” of that plan speak to actual education. For example, the first guiding principle is “racial justice and equity” when we would rather see reading, math, STEM studies and improved education.
On the whole, Mr. Vallas’ proposals are marginally closer to Republican positions on the issues, but more because Mr. Johnson’s proposals are so far away. In our view, each platform needs less pandering and more reality. We urge journalists and citizens to demand better answers.
Stephen F. Boulton is the Chair of the Chicago Republican Party. He is an attorney in private practice with Anthony J. Peraica & Associates, Ltd.