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.

Bruce Rauner at Inauguration 2015
Brian Mackey/WUIS

Click above to view a slideshow of images from the 2015 Illinois Inaugural Ceremony.

WUIS Just Turned 40

Jan 3, 2015
State Week 1976

A new radio station came into the world at noon on January 3, 1975. The first voice broadcast on WSSR-FM was that of Dale Ouzts, director of broadcast services for Sangamon State University, reading technical specifications about the station. Next was a newscast from Rich Bradley, who would continue to be the station's news director for 35 years.


Illinois has a clear ambition for what it would like to do with members of its criminal class, and it’s right there in the name of the state agency set up to deal with them: the Department of Corrections. But there is a wide gap between ambition and practice. This is not to blame the department: politicians enacted the policies that have swelled the prison population, and politicians are largely responsible for the dire financial condition of the state that has squeezed agencies like the DOC.

2014 General Election Total Votes
WUIS/Illinois Issues

News Analysis — We’ve all had this experience: you’re asked a question, give your opinion, then watch your interlocutor ignore the answer.

If you didn’t care what I thought, why’d you ask?

That would be a fair question among the 2,339,173 Illinois voters who cast a ballot in favor of a higher minimum wage in November.

Brian Mackey headshot / WUIS

Editor's note: January marks a new phase in our journalism. Following the merger of WUIS and Illinois Issues, we now have enough journalists to enable reporting on a beat model. This allows a reporter to learn events and people more thoroughly than general assignment reporting. Each reporter is focusing on key issues in the state.  We're calling it the "Illinois Issues Initiative."


Voices in the News 2014

  As we get ready to welcome 2015, we thought we’d take a few minutes to reflect on the past year in Illinois state government and politics. Most of the action was in the campaign for governor, in which Bruce Rauner became the first Republican to win that office since the late 1990s. Here now are some of the voices that made news in 2014.

Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale: “If you’re a Democrat or an independent, there’s no action coming up on your side of the ballot on March 18. Come on over to ours and save your state.”

Logan Correctional Center
Google Maps

Illinois’ main prison for women has nearly 2,000 inmates. An outside monitor says that’s the result of poor planning when Illinois closed the prison at Dwight nearly two years ago.

The majority of Illinois female inmates are incarcerated at Logan Correctional Center in central Illinois.

John Howard Association director John Maki says the state ought not be housing 1,985 women in a prison built to hold 1,106.

Amanda Vinicky/WUIS

Illinois state Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka has died from complications following a stroke. She was 70.

Topinka’s career spanned more than three decades in Illinois government. It was not without controversy, but her distinctive personality won the support of voters time and time again.

Topinka worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter before first running for office in 1980. She served in the Illinois House and Senate until 1995, when she was sworn in as treasurer.

Bruce Rauner
Brian Mackey/WUIS

Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner was back in Springfield Tuesday. He spoke with reporters and — not surprisingly — says Illinois’ finances are in terrible shape.

Last spring, Democrats acknowledged they passed a budget that’s badly out of balance. It spends way more money than the state will collect from taxes — a multi-billion-dollar shortfall. Now Rauner says the problem is even worse than it seemed.

Bruce Rauner
Brian Mackey/WUIS

Even as Chicago aldermen were voting Tuesday to raise the city's minimum wage, Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner issued a warning on the subject.

Rauner had a simple message for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

"My recommendation to the mayor is he keeps in mind competitiveness for the city of Chicago," Rauner says.

Rauner says he would support a statewide increase — if lawmakers also pass restrictions on lawsuits and other legislation favored by the business community.

Bruce Rauner
Brian Mackey / WUIS/Illinois Issues

Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner visited the Executive Mansion during his trip to Springfield Thursday.

Bruce Rauner
Brian Mackey/WUIS

Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner visited Springfield on Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014. He met with legislative leaders and other elected officials, and held his first Statehouse news conference. Listen to the full audio:


Democratic state Senator Mike Frerichs appears to have won the race to be the next state treasurer.

If the current totals hold, this will go down in history as one of Illinois' narrowest general election victories.

According to the independent Illinois Election Data website, Frerichs won by fewer than 10,000 votes — a fraction of a percent of the 3.5 million votes cast.

No matter, a win is a win, and Republican state Rep. Tom Cross conceded the race.

Gov. Pat Quinn
Brian Mackey/WUIS

Governor Pat Quinn is giving up on his bid for re-election. On Wednesday afternoon, he conceded to Republican Bruce Rauner.

  Most media outlets called the election on Tuesday night. Rauner was up by five percentage points, and declared victory.

Quinn, however, told supporters he wasn’t ready to concede. Some Chicagoans waited into the early morning hours to vote.

Bruce Rauner
Amanda Vinicky/WUIS

Republican investor Bruce Rauner will be the next governor of Illinois — probably. He declared victory over incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn and is up by five percentage points, but the Democrat is refusing to concede.

Rauner made hundreds of millions of dollars as a private equity investor. Lately, though, he’s been investing in himself — spending $27 million of his vast fortune on a quest to become governor of Illinois.

Not long ago, attempts to raise criminal penalties in Illinois were met with a standing joke. All such legislation had to make it through the Senate Judiciary Committee, where by informal agreement, it could only advance if it satisfied the sole criterion of the Cullerton Rule. On April 20, 2005, Sen. Edward Maloney, a Democrat from Chicago, presented House Bill 2699, a bipartisan measure that sought to raise the penalties for identity theft.

News Analysis — One of the best-known sayings about politics is missing something. In a 1985 speech at Yale University, former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo said, “We campaign in poetry, but when we’re elected, we’re forced to govern in prose.”

But that formulation omits one of the dominant aspects of modern politics: fundraising. Intermingled with campaigning in poetry and governing in prose, one might charitably say candidates raise money in the language of sales and marketing. Less charitably, one might say they fundraise in psychological manipulation.

screenshots from candidate TV ads

After months of campaigning and seemingly endless TV ads, the election is nigh. Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn and Republican challenger Bruce Rauner are fighting for every vote, and shattering the state spending record to do it.

Hannah Meisel/WUIS

This story first ran in the October 2014 edition of Illinois Issues magazine.

Bruce Rauner and Pat Quinn
Brian Mackey/WUIS

Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn and Republican challenger Bruce Rauner met for their third and final debate this week. As in previous debates, both candidates spent much of their time attacking each other and dodging questions they didn't want to answer.

Ferguson demonstrators
Chris McDaniel/St. Louis Public Radio

The idea of requiring police to wear body cameras has been a hot topic after the protests in Ferguson, Missouri. On Friday, a group of Illinois lawmakers will take up the issue.

Advocates of body cameras say they can clear up the muddle of facts that often accompany police shootings, like the one in Ferguson. They also say police will be on better behavior if they know they're being watched.

Lisa Madigan
Amanda Vinicky/WUIS

This story first appeared as Illinois Issues' State of the State column in the October 2014 edition of the magazine.

Pat Quinn and Bruce Rauner
Illinois Public Broadcasting

The two leading candidates for Illinois governor met Thursday night in Peoria for the first debate of the election season. Both men stuck closely to the ideas they’ve been honing for months on the campaign trail.

Democratic Governor Pat Quinn and his Republican challenger, Bruce Rauner, are running carefully scripted campaigns.

Quinn has a populist message: That he’s a friend of the working man, always looking out for the little guy.


A watchdog group says whoever wins the race for governor is going to face difficult choices about Illinois’ prisons. The group on Wednesday is laying out what it’s calling a “roadmap” for overhauling crime and punishment — and wants to know where the candidates stand.

The non-partisan John Howard Association says decades of “tough on crime” policies have led Illinois to lock up 49,000 people in a system designed to hold 32,000.

Pollsters this spring predicted Bruce Rauner would have a 17-point lead over then-state Sen. Kirk Dillard, but Rauner’s victory was by less than three percentage points.
WUIS/Illinois Issues

 In the final month of the 2010 campaign, the political career of Gov. Pat Quinn appeared to be nearing its end. Poll after poll showed him down by four, six or even eight percentage points. The mathematical models of stat-geek superstar Nate Silver — fresh off correctly predicting the outcome in 49 of 50 states in the 2008 presidential election — gave Quinn just an 18 percent chance of winning. You know how that turned out.

Brian Mackey 2011 / WUIS/Illinois Issues

   Twenty-fourteen was going to be a banner year for direct democracy in Illinois. At one point, it was possible voters would be asked to weigh in on as many as seven different ballot questions, including four constitutional amendments. But as the election draws near, two of those ideas are off the table: Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner’s push to impose legislative term limits failed to meet the requirements of the Constitution, and a separate attempt to change the way House and Senate districts are drawn failed to gather enough valid signatures.

Bruce Rauner and Pat Quinn
Brian Mackey/WUIS

As a candidate for governor once again tries to make political hay over a prison early-release program, a group of state lawmakers met in Chicago Tuesday to consider drastic changes to Illinois’ criminal justice system.

Republican Bruce Rauner is trying to remind voters about a botched, secret early release program that dates to Gov. Pat Quinn’s first year in office.

Campaign ad: “Two-hundred thirty violent criminals, secretly released early by Pat Quinn.”

Rahm Emanuel

  Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday called on state lawmakers to reduce penalties for drug possession.

  Two years ago, Chicago began allowing its police to issue tickets for possessing small amounts of pot, rather than immediately making an arrest.

Emanuel says the change is working: "We have seen about 4,100 fewer arrests in that area."

Quinn campaign

This story first appeared as Illinois Issues' State of the State column in the September 2014 edition of the magazine.

Bruce Rauner
Brian Mackey/WUIS

Republican candidate Bruce Rauner continues trying to soften his image when it comes to government employees. This comes after he won the nomination in part by relentlessly attacking public employee unions.

Rauner has called for all current state employees to have their pensions frozen and be put into 401(k)-style retirement plans. Many consider that even more harsh than the pension reductions Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law last year.