You know things have changed in Wilmette when you glimpse former Wilmette Trustee Lali Watt (of NotWatt fame when she ran unsucessfully for reelection following her earlier Mallinckrodt development scams) acting as M.C. at the League of Women Voters forum for village president candidates. Happily, both of the current candidates for president of Wilmette, Mike Basil and Bob Bielinski, proudly wear the fiscal conservative label as they campaign – but does the small print bear out their claims?

As one of the unsuccessful campaigners against the 2011 tax increase referendum for Wilmette schools, conservativeBrand might be forgiven for wondering how both of these candidates could tout their support for the large property tax hike in the schools bill during the League forum last week. Mike Basil has been fighting during his six years on the village board to curtail budget obligations to pensions for public village employee unions; but even the good fiscal record of the Wilmette board only affects property taxes by a couple of percentage points. Teachers’ union contract liabilities (salaries, pension and health care benefits) make up 80 percent of the costs in District 39 budgets, and public school expenditures (New Trier and Wilmette) represent 80 percent of every property tax bill in New Trier Twp., including Wilmette.

Why are local candidates, whether for school boards or other local boards, loathe to play hardball against public school taxes? First and foremost is the power of teachers’ unions over Illinois governing units from top to bottom; and the very bottom line is the children – not their education or well-being of course, but the fact that many local elected officials have children (or grandchildren or neighbors or friends) in the system, hostages-in-waiting. If you missed Dr. Benjamin Carson‘s national Prayer Breakfast speech recently, this might be a moment to consider what he said about free speech in 2013 America, and how fear of reprisal is taking the place of one of the foundational values of our Republic.