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The Rules of the Game: Justin Oberman and the Illinois Economy

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Chasse Rehwinkel

I gamble, therefore I write...or I write, therefore I gamble...honestly, they're pretty similar professions…

"The Rules of the Game" is a new segment with the Windy City Rounder, where the Windy City Rounder interviews interesting public figures about an important topic facing Chicagoans while simultaneously playing a traditional hustling game. The goal is to create a new interviewing experience that will, hopefully, get to the bottom of some of the tough issues that effect Chicagoans on a daily basis.

Justin Oberman is a Democratic candidate for the Illinois State Treasurer's office. His extensive managerial career cross both the public and private spheres, including stints in the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Transportation.

Running as a "reform candidate" for State Treasurer, Oberman was able to take a short break from campaigning to talk with the Windy City Rounder and play a little poker.


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Excerpts from a Texas Hold'em freeze out played against Justin Oberman on Saturday, January 16, at his campaign headquarters in Chicago.


Windy City Rounder:
Let's first talk about the unemployment rate we have in Illinois right now, the highest since 1983 I believe. We started the the decade with an unemployment rate of something close to 4.3 percent and now we're hovering around eleven. How does Illinois get back to where it was at the beginning of the decade?

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Justin Oberman: I think that it's pretty obvious the unemployment rate will not improve unless the amount of jobs available to Illinoisans increases. Right now I believe that it is the job of every public official to promote Illinois to outside investors. Without attracting new capital to our state we cannot create these jobs, the government simply doesn't have the money to invest in all the new projects that we need right now. That's why I find the State Treasurer's office so attractive. It is the public office that interacts the most with the banks and potential investors; it's the office that can have the most impact in helping to alleviate the unemployment problems we have.


After seven rather nondescript hands, where the Windy City Rounder took down most of the pots pre-flop, the WCR finds himself with a slight chip lead heading into hand eight.

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WCR: How, then, did we get to this point?

Oberman: It's actually a combination of things. First, of course, the general state of turmoil and downturn in the national economy post-2007 deeply effected our own state economy, like it has with almost every other state in the nation. I think beyond that though, in Illinois you have an unwillingness among the political class to make tough decisions regarding spending. And as a result spending has increased at a far greater rate than that of revenue collection. Couple that with our reputation--pay-to-play-- and as an investor, why would you come here? Why not go to Iowa, Indiana, Wisconsin or Minnesota if you want to invest in the Midwest? I mean every state has its problems, but not like the reputation for corruption we have here. It has become a really big problem. And I'd like to stress that these problems are not accidental. Illinois has a very early primary, with no restriction on campaign finance, so you end up with a system that doesn't function very well.


After some back-and-forth pre-flop raising, the WCR takes the betting lead on the flop and turn in hand eight, with Oberman calling each time. The river brings a third spade, the WCR checks and Oberman puts out a half-pot sized bet. The WCR calls and shows the wheel straight, but it proves to be not enough as Oberman exposes his made nut flush on the river. Oberman scoops the large pot and action moves to hand nine.
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WCR: How, then, do you think our political system devolved to this point?

Oberman: Obviously there is a range of sociological answers you can get at with a question like that but, I think most basically Illinois has an extremely protected political class. Illinois has the most units of local government in the nation, per capita or not. I believe there is something like 5,800 units of government statewide. So, you've created a protected political class, there are very few restrictions on campaign finance and the way contracts are written, and you get a self-perpetuating system of corruption.  It's not enough to simply change our leadership, I believe. Illinois needs to elect someone who is willing to lose an election.


After losing a big pot in hand eight and a few smaller pots in hands 12, 14 and 15, the WCR is left with 120 chips heading into what would prove to be the final blind level of the match, 5-10.


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WCR: Okay, getting back the economy, what do you think is Illinois's economic future?

Oberman: Obviously alternative energy--green projects and such--is a possible major growth industry in the coming years for Illinois. We're number eight nationally in wind power, so there's definitely a possibility there. I also think that there's a tremendous opportunity in Illinois for a resurgence in mechanical mass-transit. I just came back from a meeting with workers in Rockford, where we discussed the possible job creation that would come from an Illinois light rail system and really believe that there is a future there. Lastly, of course, I think Illinois's politicians needs to continue to help our service industry. It's an important part of our economy right now, and should be for the foreseeable future.

In hand 21, with only 80 chips left, the WCR raises all-in over the top of Oberman's standard opening raise. Oberman calls and shows Jack Ten. The WCR is slightly ahead with his Ace Six, but after four spades hit the board Oberman takes down the match with another river made flush.

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I'd like to thank the Oberman campaign, even if I did lose, for their participation in this, the first installment of the "Rules of the Game" feature. 

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2 Comments

Goose said:

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I have an idea on how to pump some money into the state, just have the Rounder play poker against all the government officials...

Chasse Rehwinkel said:

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You can play me anytime buddy...anytime

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