From his prominent perch on the second page of the Chicago Tribune, columnist John Kass regularly dishes on local and state politics, and skewers elected and appointed government officials for enriching themselves at the expense of ordinary people.
Democrats hold lopsided majorities in the governments of Chicago, Cook County and the state of Illinois, so they are the most frequent targets of Kass’ blistering critiques and satire. But during a January 15 breakfast talk at Elmhurst College, Kass also shot several arrows at Republicans, whom he described as complicit with Democrats on the local level and, as a party nationally, in search of an identity.
“Democrats buy votes with social programs. They spend, spend, spend and buy votes. How do Republicans buy their votes? With defense contracts,” he said. “Democrats are the big government party. The Republicans, I don’t know what they are. Figure out what you are, boys and girls, and then come talk to me.”
He has ticked off—and is ticked off with—both parties, but says it doesn’t matter.
“The reason I’m here and the reason I do this is because of you,” said Kass, who was battling the flu, to an enthusiastic audience of nearly 300 in the Frick Center. “I don’t care about being on anyone’s list, I don’t care about being their friend, I don’t care if they like me and I don’t care what they think of me. The only thing I care about is that you got up at five or six o’clock in the morning to be here, and I’m going to tell you what’s really on my mind.”
He once was a liberal Democrat and later became a conservative Republican, “but then George Bush cured me of that,” he said. “Now I’m a man without a country, and it feels exhilarating.”
Kass maintains that he speaks for the masses of law-abiding, ordinary citizens, whom he describes as “chumbolones.” He adopted the term about five years ago to characterize those who play by the rules and get little in return, while the politicians they elect thrive under a different set of standards.
During his breakfast talk, Kass took particular aim at the most powerful politician in Illinois, Michael J. Madigan—speaker of the Illinois House for 28 of the last 30 years, chairman of the state Democratic Party and father of Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who Kass says has been anointed by her king-like father to become the next governor.
“The Lord of Madiganistan,” as Kass describes Madigan, also is a prominent real-estate tax lawyer who uses his political power and connections to obtain property-tax reductions for his clients, making him an even more powerful figure. And, Kass, added, his clients aren’t just Democrats.
“I clearly hold the Democrats responsible because of the Democratic machine, but I also hold Republicans responsible. The Republicans don’t provide any alternative because they’re the same Republicans who are paying Mike Madigan to reduce their taxes.”
Kass also blamed politicians for Illinois’ huge pension liability and high taxes, which have cast dark clouds over the future of the state and are driving away young people.
“There’s something wrong. They have taken our money and spent us into oblivion,” he said. “I just wish they could say the truth when they’re talking to people because they treat us all like chumbolones. Enough with the BS. They’re stealing your money, your children’s futures. They’ve all got it lined up so that no matter what the deal is, they come out okay.”
Despite his predictions of gloom and doom for Illinois, Kass said it isn’t too late to save the state from financial ruin, though he offered no prescriptions.
“This is a great state. We have great people. I look around this room and see people who play by the rules, who pay their taxes, who work and take care of their kids,” he said, urging citizens to become politically involved, starting at the local level.
“We’re not done. Just focus. I don’t know how we’re going to do it, but we have to.”