State Rep. Scott Drury was the only Democrat in the state legislature who did not vote earlier this year to reelect the powerful Rep. Michael Madigan to be House speaker for the 17th time.
The move cost him dearly. Drury was stripped of his chairmanship of the judiciary committee, which oversees legislation on legal issues, a topic he’s well-versed in as a former federal prosecutor.
After taking on Madigan, Drury is taking on Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. Earlier this month, he became the latest Democrat to throw his hat into the ring.
“The public understands that Illinois government has been hijacked by Bruce Rauner, the Republican governor on the right, and by Mike Madigan, the all-too-powerful speaker of the House on the left, who continuously put their self-interest ahead of the public interest,” Drury said Monday on WBEZ’s Morning Shift.
Drury spoke with Morning Shift host Tony Sarabia about what he would do if he were the chief executive of the state of Illinois.
On not voting for Madigan as House speaker
Rep. Scott Drury: I think my vote reflected the majority of the people in my district who I represent, and my title is representative. And, in fact, my vote represents the majority of the people in the state of Illinois.
I think the mess in Illinois has been a bipartisan mess, and we have to look at all of the problems if we’re going to move the state forward. And I think what I did with that vote was give hope to the many hopeless people in Illinois who think there is no way out.
Tony Sarabia: So you see Michael Madigan as part of the problem?
Drury: I think the public does, and I think, like I said, for too long the state has been defined by this malaise of “we’re not doing anything.” We have a pension debt that’s now estimated to be $250 billion. That happened over a long period of time.
And I want to see the Democratic Party thrive. And I see what’s dragging it down is the status quo of the past, and our movement is going to break through that status quo and put an end to what people see as the problem in the state of Illinois by bringing a real, honest change to our state for the first time in decades.
Sarabia: If you were to become governor, he would still be speaker of the House. Wouldn’t that make things a little difficult for you as governor?
Drury: Look, I’ve been in the House for almost five years now. I’ve been able to work with the speaker of the House in the past — monumental legislation in areas of criminal justice reform before anybody was really talking about that issue. So I know how to work within the state and within the channels that are the General Assembly, but I also know what the public wants.
So yes. Would the speaker and me have disagreements? Absolutely. Would we have a budget, which is currently one of the biggest problems we have in the state? We would have a budget. I’m not going to be rolled over like some of our former Democratic governors, but we would take care of the people we’re supposed to take care of, we would move the state forward, and we would make people understand that Illinois has a plan to get out of the mess and that Illinois is moving forward.
On why he left his role as a federal prosecutor to become a state lawmaker
Drury: I worked on a lot of public corruption cases — some at the state level, some at the municipal level — and you would see the worst in Illinois government close up in interviewing these people. And I’m not talking about the governors at the top — not Gov. Blagojevich or Gov. Ryan — but people who were lower level. [I would ask], “Why are you wrapped up in this?” And their response all the time was, “Because that’s the culture. If I don’t take, if I don’t cheat, if I don’t do what I’m told, somebody else is going to do that and get ahead.” And I was like, “That’s just wrong.”
So you can continue on the prosecution side, which is kind of reactionary — the crime has already happened and you’re trying to send a message — or I said maybe I could join government and bring something different and try to change it from the inside. That really spawned this whole movement that the campaign is about.
On legalizing recreational use of marijuana
Drury: It’s interesting. I’ve actually done a 180 on that. On medical marijuana, I voted against it partly because of my days in the federal government. Saying — there are a lot people over there trying to prosecute and enforce those federal laws — should Illinois be a state that’s violating the law?
But it’s interesting that as my children have been growing up and their friends are growing up and you start to see what kids are doing, you start thinking, “Was it better that when kids were younger, did you want them hanging out with Al Capone to get their liquor? Or was it safer to be regulated?”
And so I don’t look at it so much from a tax standpoint. Everyone talks about this from the money point of view. For me, there is a good reason to legalize it because kids are using this product and we want them to be safe. We don’t want them one step away from dangerous gang members, who are the ones dealing this on the street right now. So for a host of reasons, I’ve come around and do support the legalization of it for recreational use.
On solving the state's pension problems
Drury: The first thing we need to do is see if people voluntarily want to get out of the [pension] system. We can’t force them to do that, but would they take a cash buyout of some percentage on the dollar? Some people would.
I’ve talked with people. They’re scared their pensions won’t be there. See how many people get out of the system. We can offer people health care benefits. We can’t make them take it, which is what Gov. Rauner is trying to do. … So we can offer them that and we can see then where the debt is at and then go after the real problem.
And I believe that if the public sees that we’re making real strides towards dealing with this issue, they will be much more inclined to go along with the rest of the plan and provide certainty for the state going forward. Because that then becomes the second biggest driver of Illinois’ problem, which is that no one has any confidence in the state. And that’s what’s driving people and businesses out of here: The lack of any certainty of any future.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. Click the “play” button to hear the entire segment.