Brian Mackey

Statehouse reporter

Brian Mackey covers state government and politics for WUIS and a dozen other public radio stations across Illinois. He was previously A&E editor at The State Journal-Register and Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin. He can be reached at (217) 206-6412.

Subscribe to Brian Mackey's State of the State podcast on WUIS' podcast page, or by copying this URL into iTunes or any other podcast app.

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Illinois Supreme Court Building
Illinois Supreme Court

A $10-billion lawsuit was back before the Illinois Supreme Court Tuesday. A group of smokers say Philip Morris defrauded them into thinking light cigarettes were safer than regular — but lost the case a decade ago. Now they’re hoping for another bite at the apple.

The case was decided way back in 2005, when a sharply divided Illinois Supreme Court overturned the record $10-billion judgment. The justices ruled that the Federal Trade Commission had approved marketing “light” cigarettes as safer.

Michael J. Madigan headshot

This week, Illinois House Democrats defeated Governor Rauner's "Right to Work" agenda.  Also, with the Illinois Supreme Court's decision last week, the future of state pension funding is still in question.

State Week logo
Dan LoGrasso / WUIS

This week, the Illinois Supreme Court struck down the 2013 pension legislation that would have cut retirement benefits for state wokers.  Meanwhile, the House began debating the governor’s "Turnaround Agenda."  And Governor Rauner personally addressed the Chicago City Council.  Illinois Issues Executive Editor Jamey Dunn joins the panel discussion.

Lloyd Karmeier
Brian Mackey / WUIS

The Illinois Supreme Court has struck down legislation that tried to cut retirement benefits for thousands of state workers.

In a unanimous decision, the high court says lawmakers overstepped their power when they sought to cut pension benefits for state employees, university workers and public school teachers.

Illinois pensions are protected by the state Constitution, but the state argued a financial emergency meant those protections could be disregarded.

Govs. Dan Walker, left, and Bruce Rauner.
file / WUIS

If you follow state government long enough, you start to hear the same things over and over again. That holds even across four decades.

Last week, I produced an obituary for the late Gov. Dan Walker, who died at the age of 92. In listening to several of his speeches from 1975 and '76, I was struck by the similarities to the sorts of things we hear from politicians today — particularly Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Both of these men came in after unpopular tax hikes, and both downplayed their wealth with folksy images. So I'm asking the question: Are they essentially the same guy?

Dan Walker
file / WUIS/Illinois Issues

This week, Governor Bruce Rauner restored $26 million in funding for some of the social service programs that were cut in April.  Also, former Illinois Governor Dan Walker died at the age of 92.  Kurt Erickson of Lee Enterprises' Springfield Bureau joins the panel discussion.

construction zone
dmitri_66 /

News Analysis — Imagine two nurses, Jane and Dan, finishing long, overnight shifts at a hospital. Like many medical professionals, their shifts vary from week to week, so they’re not quite used to the nocturnal work pattern. And their jobs are demanding, with lots of walking and near-constant activity. Needless to say, both Jane and Dan are tired. On the way home, their cars approach highway construction sites. By this point, both drivers are drowsy, and have begun to nod off. Neither notices the two flashing arrow signs directing them into the left lane.

An inmate at the Illinois Department of Corrections has filed a class-action lawsuit alleging systematic abuse by hundreds of prison guards and administrators.

The named plaintiff is Demetrius Ross, an inmate at the Illinois River Correctional Center. Illinois River is a medium security prison in Canton, about 30 miles outside Peoria. Ross alleges that members of a special IDOC unit known as “Orange Crush” conducted violent, humiliating shakedowns in at least four prisons.

Dan Walker sign
file / WUIS/Illinois Issues

A former governor of Illinois has died. Dan Walker ran the state for one term in the 1970s. A Democrat, he focused much of his brief political career on fighting members of his own party.

At a time when most Democratic politicians in Illinois were cogs in a massive political machine, Dan Walker was a nobody.

Dan Walker at the 1973 Bud Billiken Day Parade
John H. White / National Archives

Former Illinois Gov. Dan Walker has died. The Democrat led the state from 1973 to 1977.

Walker came to fame in 1971 by literally walking the length of Illinois.

He spent much of his time fighting the Democratic machine. In Illinois in the 1970s, that meant fighting Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley.

Bruce Rauner at Inauguration 2015
Brian Mackey/WUIS

This week, the Illinois legislature worked to restore some of Governor Rauner's social service cuts and convened a oversight committee to examine the reasoning behind them.  Meanwhile, Governor Rauner continued his efforts to eliminate public sector "fair share" union dues.  Also, a bill decriminalizing possession of certain amounts of marijuana moves from the House to the Senate.  Jamey Dunn of Illinois Issues magazine joins the panel discussion.

graph showing collective bargaining membership
Compiled by Barry Hirsch and David Macpherson at / Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau

The future of labor depends in large part on which view prevails: that of business, so neatly represented by Gov. Bruce Rauner, seeing unions as past their prime, and an impediment to the full potential of capitalism. Or that of the unions, who've seen the decline of labor precipitate a concentration in wealth at the top of the economic ladder, and ever-increasing income inequality.

University of Washington sociologist Jake Rosenfeld, author of What Unions No Longer Do, joins me to talk about the status of labor in America — and Illinois.

Bruce Rauner
Brian Mackey/WUIS

This week's discussion includes the fallout over Governor Bruce Rauner's cuts to social services and House Speaker Michael Madigan's new budget oversight panel.  Paris Schutz, political reporter for WTTW's "Chicago Tonight" joins us for the program.

Illinois officials gathered in Springfield Thursday for the annual Holocaust memorial ceremony. As happens every year, a survivor shared her story.

Magda Brown grew up in Hungary. On her 17th birthday in 1944, she was sent to the the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Upon arrival, her mother was sent somewhere else, so after a few days she asked the more experienced prisoners when she might see her relatives again. Their hands went up, pointing to the chimneys over the crematorium.

Rep. Elaine Nekritz and Sen. Daniel Biss
Brian Mackey / WUIS/Illinois Issues

Gov. Bruce Rauner’s ideas about how to change government-employee pensions are getting extra scrutiny in Springfield.

Rauner wants employees to be moved into less generous plans for future pension benefits.

So far, it’s just something he’s just talked about. Democrats who’ve long focused on pension issues say that needs to change.

Sen. Daniel Biss, of Evanston, is calling for an actuarial analysis. He also says the idea that legislation would be passed and make it through the inevitable court challenge anytime soon is a “fantasy."

Bruce Rauner
Brian Mackey / WUIS/Illinois Issues

Illinois struggles with its prison population in part because of its political culture. For decade, policymakers enacted greater and greater penalties for lesser and lesser crimes.

Will Gov. Bruce Rauner, who has convened a new commission to reduce Illinois' prison population, have the political courage to follow through on recommendations that may well come back to bite him in future campaigns? Commission member and Loyola University criminologist David Olson joins me to talk about what it'll take.

Tammy Duckworth

Much of the focus of this week's political news centered on Washington D.C.  U.S. Representative Tammy Duckworth announced that she would seek the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Mark Kirk.   And with the upcoming retirement of U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, there are questions whether Senator Dick Durbin will continue as Minority Whip after 2016.  Also, the latest on beleaguered former Congressman Aaron Schock.  John O'Connor of the Associated Press joins the panel to discuss those and other topics on this week's edition of State Week.

Bruce Rauner at Illinois Chamber forum.
Brian Mackey / WUIS/Illinois Issues

Gov. Bruce Rauner has spent much of his first few months in office talking about labor unions. He’s shared not only policy proposals, but also his ideas about the history of the union movement. I wrote about the state of labor in the April edition of Illinois Issues magazine and decided to take a closer look at one the governor’s theories.

Brian Mackey / WUIS/Illinois Issues

News Analysis — Illinois continues to be pummeled with bad budget news. The General Assembly’s nonpartisan budget analysts at the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability say income tax receipts will be down $1.9 billion in the next fiscal year. That’s thanks to the tax cut that took effect January 1, lowering the individual income tax rate from 5 percent to 3.75 percent.

Close up of Uncle Sam's hand holding worker's and management's hands together
The Federal Government Via Northwestern University

In retrospect it seems obvious. Of course the fight to topple organized labor would eventually have to come to Illinois. It was only a matter of time. Labor’s perpetual weakness in the deep-red South would never be enough. And once the vanishing industrial base sufficiently enfeebled labor in the red states of the rust belt, the dwindling number of fat targets made a blue-state offensive inevitable.

Bruce Rauner
Brian Mackey / WUIS/Illinois Issues

The Illinois General Assembly this week approved a fix for Illinois short-term budget problems, but deeper issues remain. Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock took his final vote in Congress and gave a farewell address. Daily Herald Political Editor Mike Riopell joins the panel to discuss that and other topics on this week's edition of State Week.

Rodger Heaton
Brian Mackey / WUIS/Illinois Issues

Two Chicago-area cousins accused of trying to help the so-called Islamic State made their first appearance in court Thursday. A top Illinois law enforcement official says the state's National Guard worked with federal authorities to prevent an attack.

Bruce Rauner
Brian Mackey / WUIS/Illinois Issues

A task force meant to overhaul Illinois’ criminal justice system is meeting for the first time Thursday in Springfield.

Gov. Bruce Rauner briefly addressed the Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform, which he created last month by executive order, setting out an ambitious goal for emptying Illinois prisons.

Brian Mackey / WUIS

The Illinois House on Tuesday voted to patch a 1.6-billion-dollar hole in the current state budget.

  The budget was supposed to get Illinois through June, but already the state's running out of money for things like court reporters and prison guards. That’s in part because Democrats passed an incomplete budget last year — not wanting to raise taxes or cut spending.

Now Democrats and Republicans — including Gov. Bruce Rauner — say they’ve found a solution. But it continues to mostly avoid that difficult choice.

bankruptcy court

An Illinois Republican has proposed changing state law to let cities and towns declare bankruptcy.

As state government considers cutting back the money it shares with municipalities, Rep. Ron Sandack says it ought to give cities more tools to fix their own finances. Sandack says letting cities threaten bankruptcy would give them more leverage in dealing with unions.

Aaron Schock
Aaron Schock / Instagram

Illinois Congressman Aaron Schock resigned this week amid questions about his spending of taxpayer money. When the news broke, political reporter Chris Kaergard of the Peoria Journal Star was in the Republican's Downton Abbey-inspired office, waiting for a previously scheduled interview.

The Illinois Senate on Thursday confirmed the Rev. James Meeks as chairman of the State Board of Education. It comes over the objections of a gay-rights group.

Brian Mackey speaks with Illinois Issues reporter Rhonda Gillespie about her trip to Selma, Alabama, for the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday.

For the first time in years, legislation to raise the minimum wage is advancing in the Illinois House.

Raising the wage has been a hot topic for years. Illinois voters overwhelmingly supported the idea at last November's election. The Senate voted for an increase last month. And even Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner says he can get behind it — if it comes after a long list of pro-business legislation.

Darin LaHood
Illinois General Assembly

The State of the State Blog looks at the effectiveness and culture of Illinois government.

The day after Congressman Aaron Schock announced his surprise resignation, politicians were moving quickly to replace him. State Sen. Darin LaHood, a Republican from Dunlap, says he’s already filed paperwork to open a federal campaign fundraising account.