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Reeder: Right-to-work answers speak volumes

Published: Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

SPRINGFIELD – Usually, professional politicians view taking a position on an issue as a means to getting elected – not a reason to get elected.

In other words, they ask themselves, “What can I say – or not say – to please enough voters to win an election?” But what they ought to be asking themselves is “What are my core beliefs, and how can I persuade voters of the rightness of my cause?”

That’s why so often our elected officials end up being followers rather than leaders.

It’s one of the most annoying things about Springfield: the politician with the whetted finger in the air trying to discern which way the political winds are blowing.

In such cases, voters find themselves not voting for a set of principles but for a candidate who is nothing more than an amalgamation of political calculations.

But what’s even sadder is that politicians often refuse to take a stand on an issue.

For example, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin have passed forms of right-to-work legislation in recent years, and Missouri and Kentucky are considering moves in that direction. And Iowa, the Land of Lincoln’s only other neighbor, has had one for many years.

Essentially, a right-to-work law prevents people from being forced to join or pay money to a union as a condition of their employment. Without such a law, workers can be forced to financially support a union they may not agree with – such is the case for many workers in Illinois.

It is possible Illinois will become an island of forced unionism in a sea of right-to-work states.

If that happens, there will be enormous economic consequences. Not the least of which is that employers looking to expand may choose our neighbors over us.

So along with my colleagues at Illinois News Network, I contacted each of the Illinois gubernatorial hopefuls and asked how they stood on this issue.

Yes, I realize that such legislation would founder in the current Illinois General Assembly. Legislative bodies change over time, however, and, with the proper leadership, lawmakers can be persuaded to vote differently.

Also, voters deserve to know not only what a candidate says he will do – but what he believes. After all, political environments change and a bill that would never pass now may stand a fighting chance down the road.

If a candidate has stated a position early on, he can say “the voters knew this when they elected me, and I have a mandate for change when the opportunity presents itself.”

For the record, Gov. Pat Quinn opposes right-to-work laws.

GOP gubernatorial hopeful Bruce Rauner supports the concept of allowing individual Illinois counties and municipalities to vote on whether they want to keep the status quo or adopt a local right-to-work ordinance.

But the three other Republicans running for governor wouldn’t commit to a position.

State Treasurer Dan Rutherford and state Sens. Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard all said the political reality in Illinois is such that it would be impossible to pass a right-to-work law in Illinois.

Such comments show a certain lack of confidence in their political party’s ability to eventually claim a majority in the General Assembly. And it shows a lack of assurance in their own abilities to lead a disparate Legislature.

But there’s value still in asking questions like these, because they help shed light on a politician’s values and opinions.

More importantly, they act as guide stones for where a politician may lead in the future.

Where candidates stand on an issue such as right to work is important to know – after all, it has the potential to be one of the most important economic issues facing the state.

Answers like the one given by Brady are not helpful.

The state senator from Bloomington said the reality is that the Democrats control the General Assembly and, therefore, right-to-work laws are irrelevant. He told me I was “wasting his breath” to pursue the questioning.

“The reality is that the Democrats aren’t likely to allow anything,” he said.

Therefore, he said, his campaign “is not focused” on the issue.

Don’t voters deserve to be fully informed about how he and the other candidates stand before they enter voting booths?

Instead, we have politicians dodging questions.

Voters deserve better.

• Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse reporter and the journalist in residence at the Illinois Policy Institute. He can be reached at sreeder@illinoispolicy.org.

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