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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Ray Nelson /

In episode 5 of the State of the State podcast, we look at moral luck. In the context of the law, moral luck is the notion that chance outcomes can play a significant role in how one is treated — think of the different punishments for attempted murder versus actual murder.

Michael Madigan
Brian Mackey / WUIS/Illinois Issues

The Illinois General Assembly should have been done with its business at the end of May. Instead, lawmakers are set to return to Springfield Tuesday.

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner is still clashing with the Democratic leaders of the legislature. House Speaker Michael Madigan says Rauner's focus on pro-business changes is misplaced — that he ought to be more worried about getting the state’s finances in order.

This week, Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic lawmakers continued to spar over the state budget and the governor's legislative agenda.  Rauner dismissed the legislature's proposed changes for workers' compensation as "phony reform" and Democrats criticized the governor paying his top education aide, Beth Purvis, a $250,000 salary from Department of Human Services funds.  John O'Connor of the Associated Press joins the panel discussion.

Brian Mackey / WUIS

The Illinois House met in Springfield Thursday for an unusual June session. Democrats took a series of votes on changes to the workers’ compensation system.

Illinois just enacted a big, bipartisan overhaul of workers’ comp a few years ago. But Gov. Bruce Rauner says costs are still too high, and that more changes are needed.

Rauner cabinet meeting
Brian Mackey / WUIS/Illinois Issues

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner issued a budget warning to members of his cabinet on Wednesday.

Rauner told top officials get ready in case Illinois doesn’t have a budget in place by the state of the new fiscal year on July 1.

Brian Mackey headshot 2015 / WUIS/Illinois Issues

ILLINOIS ISSUES - In state government, there are issues, ideas and talking points that recur through history. Take, for example, this line from a State of the State address: “The sentencing and parole system that we now have in Illinois and throughout the nation is a dismal failure. It does not deter, it does not punish, it does not rehabilitate and it should be scrapped.”

Those comments would not have been out of place in this year’s State of the State, but that was actually the late Gov. Dan Walker, speaking in 1976. Thirty-nine years later — this winter — Gov. Bruce Rauner said something similar: “Our criminal justice system in Illinois needs comprehensive reform.”

Bruce Rauner
Brian Mackey / WUIS/Illinois Issues

The Illinois General Assembly ended its regularly scheduled spring session Sunday, without passing a single piece of Governor Bruce Rauner's so-called Turnaround Agenda.

Back in February, in his State of the State address, Rauner gave little indication he was willing to compromise on his pro-business platform: "We should consider it as a whole, not as a list of individual initiatives."

The current situation at the Illinois Statehouse as lawmakers and the Governor enter the scheduled closing weekend of the legislative session.  Rick Pearson of The Chicago Tribune joins the panel this week.

Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno
Brian Mackey / WUIS/Illinois Issues

As the Illinois General Assembly’s spring legislative session comes to a close, Gov. Bruce Rauner has failed win passage of his "Turnaround Agenda." Brian Mackey has this assessment of three of the most common theories as to why.


The Illinois House has approved a proposal to revamp the management of the state-run Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

State Sen. Kwame Raoul
WUIS/Illinois Issues

The Illinois Senate on Wednesday began taking up parts of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s pro-business agenda. They’re just as quickly taking them out.

Las Vegas in the 1970s

The politics of "tough on crime" were born of a culture of fear in the 1960s and '70s. In Illinois, that was exemplified by the public statements of then-Gov. Dan Walker, who both described aspects of Illinois prisons that are still problems today, while at the same time arguing for policies that would leave Illinois’ criminal justice drastically overcrowded.

As the May 31st deadline for passing a new budget looms, Governor Rauner and the Legislature continue to bicker.  John O'Connor of the Associated Press joins the panel this week.

Victor Bezrukov /

The Illinois Supreme Court on Tuesday once again heard arguments over the largest judgment in the state's history. For the second time, Philip Morris is fighting a $10-billion award to people who say they were tricked into thinking "light" cigarettes were healthy.

The class-action lawsuit has been before various courts in Illinois for a decade and a half.

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.