Friday, August 30, 2013

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Thursday, August 29, 2013

House Republicans pick new leader

By Jamey Dunn 

 Illinois House Republicans chose Western Springs Rep. Jim Durkin as their new leader today.

Outgoing House Minority Leader Tom Cross plans to vacate his leadership position to run for a statewide office. It is presumed that Cross will make a bid for state treasurer. He would not confirm that today, only saying that he would make an announcement soon. Cross, who has served in the House since 1993, was considering a run for the attorney general’s office if Attorney General Lisa Madigan ran for a different office. But she decided to run for reelection. Members of Cross’ caucus have been jockeying for his position for months.

Today, Durkin won the job. He was up against Springfield Rep. Raymond Poe, who has served in the House sine 1995. Over the last few days, Poe took hits from critics over his history of receiving campaign support from unions and his stance on pension reform. Poe was one of several Republicans who voted against changes to the pension systems backed by House Speaker Michael Madigan and Cross. “I represent my district well,” Poe said. “I think I’m on the right side of that issue.” Republicans were hit hard in last year’s election, as Democrats won supermajorities in both chambers. Today, party members emphasized unity. During today’s Springfield meeting, which lasted less than an hour, Poe withdrew his bid and made the motion to nominate Durkin for minority leader. According to Republicans who were in the closed-door meeting, no members voted against Durkin. “I didn’t have the votes here today,” Poe said. “One thing about every legislator, we can count. We count over on the House floor every day. We know where our votes are. I knew today that it so happens my vote weren’t here. There’s seven people missing. I think a large part of those was mine. And for the welfare and the unity of the party, I don’t think we need these scrapes, scrabbles whatever you want to call them. I think what we need to be is unified, and the message today is 47 strong.”

Durkin was first sworn into the House in 1995. He served until 2003. He made a failed bid against U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin for Durbin's Senate seat in 2002 and returned to the Illinois House in 2005. “The task is to unite our party in that we are one, we are a solid group of 47 Republicans, and that we are unified. To me that is the most important job that I have right now with our members. We have had some divisiveness in the past, but the fact is, it’s over. And that’s what we heard in this meeting.”

Durkin played a key role in recent high-profile ethics proceedings in the chamber. He served as co-chair of the special House impeachment committee that determined there was enough evidence to move forward with the impeachment of now-incarcerated former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Durkin and Skokie Democratic Rep. Lou Lang made arguments for expelling Chicago Democratic Rep. Derrick Smith before another special House committee. After Smith was charged with accepting a bribe, the House voted to remove him. But he won the seat back in last year’s election and is now a House member again.

Durkin did not talk much about policy after the vote today. He did reaffirm his opposition to same-sex marriage when asked about his stance. Durkin had once been viewed as a potential “yes” vote by same-sex marriage supporters. He also said that he would not take a stance on pension ideas that are trickling out from a special committee now working to create proposed pension changes until the group has settled on a proposal. "We will work to try and find resolution to the pension problem. I believe it is a priority.” While unity seemed to be the word of the day, Durkin acknowledged that not all House Republicans will share his views, and he said he does not expect them to vote as a bloc on every issue. “We have a very diverse caucus, but we’re going to use that diversity to our advantage this next coming [election] cycle. I’m excited about the prospects of the future,” Durkin said today after the vote.

Durkin said another priority is rebuilding the House Republican election funds, which he said are “limited.” But he acknowledged that it could be a challenge in the short term. “Were talking about an election cycle where you have a very heated governor’s race. There’s going to be a lot of money that’s going to be placed in the governor’s race, so we have to make the best use of every dollar that we have in our campaign operations." Durkin did not name new House leadership today. He said he needs time to decide who will serve in those roles. Poe said he is not seeking a leadership job, which comes with a pay bump, but he would like to play a role on Durkin’s “advisory team.” Poe said his top goal is overcoming the Democrat’s veto-proof majority in the House and electing a Republican governor. “If that combination would happen, we are back at the table as Republicans. And right now they [Democrats] don’t even invite us to the table.” Both Poe and Durkin said they support Sen. Kirk Dillard in the Republican gubernatorial primary.

The competition between Durkin and Poe was framed by some as an upstate versus downstate battle. But after today’s vote, downstate lawmakers said that they were happy with the results. “Being a downstater myself, I think there will be great representation for downstate and issues important to downstate under leader-elect Durkin’s tenure,” said Rep. Dan Brady, a Republican from Bloomington. He said he thought a shake-up could do that caucus good. “He can energize our base more. He can reach out to those that have been supporters in the past that maybe are lukewarm. He can help to calm some of the concerns over the social issues that we all find ourselves in from time to time,” Brady said. “Most importantly, he can take the House Republican organization and move it forward, start building on increasing funds and different things that we need. And he can do that in a variety of ways by bringing in some new people and new ideas.”

 Cross, who is from Oswego, retains the minority leader title. He and Durkin are going to meet over the coming weeks in order to make a smooth transition. Then Durkin will take over the job later next month. Brady said the swap is planned for September 20, but Durkin said it could come sooner. “It will be relatively soon. We’re all working together which is very, very nice,” said Cross. He has said he plans to serve out the rest of his House term. “We’re going to have a transition. It’s going to be orderly. It’s all going to be good. ... I think you’re going to see a good united front when we leave here today.”

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

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Monday, August 26, 2013

Union leaders blast new outline for public employee pensions

By Jamey Dunn

Union leaders today publicly rejected a public pension reform outline that a special legislative committee is considering.

On Friday, the Capitol Fax blog and the Associated Press released details of a framework the bipartisan conference committee has been working on. The plan would toss out the 3 percent annual compounded cost-of-living adjustment retirees currently receive. Instead, cost-of-living adjustments would be half the rate of inflation. The rates would have a base level and cap set, but the outline obtained by the two outlets did not include those limits. The change would likely result in smaller COLAs for retirees.

Proposals in the past have called for retirees to contribute a larger portion of their paychecks to their retirement, but this concept would reduce the amount employees chip in by 1 percentage point. The retirement age would not change under the framework, but the way that retirement benefits are calculated might be changed to consider pay over several years of employment instead of the final typically higher-paid years. The changes in the outline are estimated to reduce the almost $100 billion unfunded pension liability by $18.1 billion and save the state $145 billion over 30 years.

The decreased contribution from employees would likely be used as consideration for reductions in benefits elsewhere. Several lawmakers believe that the state Constitution requires any cut in retiree benefits to come as part of a trade for something of value. However, there has been broad disagreement in the past on how consideration would be achieved and whether it is even necessary to cut future benefits that employees have not yet earned.

Union officials do not believe that the new plan would meet constitutional requirements. “Published reports suggest the legislative conference committee on pension reform is ready to rehash the same unfair, unconstitutional attacks on retirement security,” said a statement from the We Are Once Coalition. “Teachers, police, nurses, caregivers and hundreds of thousands more working and retired public servants earned their pension, never missed a payment, and in most cases aren’t eligible for Social Security. They deserve better from the conferees. So does the Illinois Constitution, which lawmakers are sworn to uphold and which provisions of the committee’s outline would directly violate.” The statement calls for lawmakers to reconsider the union-backed Senate Bill 2404. Senate President John Cullerton sponsored that bill, which was approved in by the Senate. But House Speaker Michael Madigan refused to call the bill for a vote because he said it did not save enough money. Supporters of SB 2404 said it could have easily passed in the House if called for a vote. The union support of the bill definitely helped to bolster its popularity among lawmakers.

Committee members have been saying for weeks that they are making progress toward a proposal for changes to the public employees' pension systems. However, they say the outline obtained by members of the press is not necessarily their final proposal. “The committee has not come to a consensus,” Committee chair Sen. Kwame Raoul, a Chicago Democrat, told the AP. “Our work is not done.”

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Sunday, August 25, 2013

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Saturday, August 24, 2013

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Friday, August 23, 2013

Quinn signs law to protect
the liability of landowners

By Jamey Dunn

Gov. Pat Quinn today signed a law that could open up more land to the public for recreation.

Senate Bill 1042 will limit the amount of liability landowners will face if they open up their property to the public. After an Illinois Supreme Court ruling in the early 2000s, the legislature rewrote the law, known as the Recreational Use of Land and Water Act, to specifically protect people who allowed hunters onto their land. However the rewrite left everyone else out. After the change, Illinois was the only state in the country that did not grant some liability protections to property owners as an incentive for them to allow people to enjoy their land. Landowners would potentially be liable for any accident on their property, such as a hiker twisting an ankle.

“We should make it easier for generous people to open their lands to the public — not harder. This new law should create opportunities for rock climbers, hikers, kayakers and other outdoors enthusiasts across the state,” said Oak Park Democratic Sen. Don Harmon, a sponsor of the bill.

Proponents of the new law say the current regulations have a chilling effect on property owners. “There are some private landowners who simply could not afford to continue to allow public access because of rising liability insurance costs or concerns about litigation,” Illinois Department of Natural Resources Director Marc Miller said in a prepared statement. Landowners will still be liable if they know of dangerous conditions on their property and fail to warn the public. “If you know that there is something on your property that is inherently dangerous, you shouldn’t make your land open without adequately notifying,” Harmon told Illinois Issues. “You don’t want to invite Timmy and Lassie on there with the open well.”

A coalition of environmental groups and advocates for public open spaces have been lobbying lawmakers for years on the issue. “Openlands worked with its partners for seven years to reinstate protections for generous private landowners who open their land to the public for recreation,” said Lenore Beyer-Clow, public policy director for Openlands, a conservation group with a focus on protecting land for public use. “We are excited that this law will offer new opportunities for people to connect to nature and enjoy Illinois’ beautiful open spaces.”

The bill passed through the legislature with no opposing votes. The new law will go into effect on January 1, 2014. “Our state is full of natural treasures, and many of those fall on private land,” Quinn said in a prepared statement. “Increasing landowner protections will boost the confidence of our residents who want to allow public access but have reservations about their own liability. This new law is a win-win for landowners and outdoor enthusiasts.”

For more on the law and what it could mean for those who enjoy the outdoors in Illinois, see the 2013 environmental issue of Illinois Issues.

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Cross considers bid for treasurer

By Jamey Dunn

House Minority Leader Tom Cross is mulling a run for state treasurer.


Cross was considering running for attorney general but scrapped that idea after Attorney General Lisa Madigan decided to seek reelection. Madigan had said she was considering a run for governor but later announced she would not seek the office as long as her father, House Speaker Michael Madigan, retained his leadership position in the legislature.

Cross reportedly held a conference call this morning to discuss his plans with members of his caucus. Cross told his members that he plans to serve out his term in office, but he would give up his leadership position this fall. He has been minority leader since 2002.

“As I consider the challenge of serving Illinois at a higher level, I did ask my colleagues in the House Republican caucus to begin the process of a succession plan so that a new leader may be chosen in preparation for the 2014 elections,” Cross said in a prepared statement. He said he will officially announce his plans in the next two weeks.

 Champaign Sen. Mike Frerichs, whose candidacy for treasurer was recently endorsed by the Cook County Democratic Party, did not waste time striking out at Cross.

“State House Republican Leader Cross has been a Springfield insider for over two decades, during which he contributed to many of the most hazardous fiscal decisions leading to our current financial crisis,” said a statement from Frerichs’ campaign. “Leader Cross has championed a Republican caucus which has lost touch with the middle class and has sought to cut to the core the very programs that working families across Illinois depend on, like public schools and programs to protect Illinois’ seniors. I look forward to a vigorous and exciting debate about how best to protect the retirement security and college savings of working- and middle-class families.”

DuPage County Auditor Bob Grogan and DuPage County Board Chairman Bob Schillerstrom, both Republicans, are also exploring bids for treasurer. Chicago businessman Michael Scott Carter, a Republican, is also running.  A request for comment from Grogan was not returned, a campaign staffer for Schillerstrom declined to comment and Carter could not be reached for comment.

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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

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Monday, August 19, 2013

Quinn signs bill to increase
top speed limit to 70 mph

By Jamey Dunn 

Despite opposition from members of his own administration, Gov. Pat Quinn approved increasing the speed limit on some state highways to 70 miles per hour.

Senate Bill 2356 will increase the speed limit on divided four-lane highways from 65 to 70 miles per hour. Local officials in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, Madison, McHenry, St. Clair and Will counties can vote to opt out of the increase. The new limit will also apply to Illinois tollways. However, the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority will have to power to designate other limits in some areas. The new law will take effect on January 1, 2014.

“This limited five miles-per-hour increase will bring Illinois’ rural interstate speed limits in line with our neighbors and the majority of states across America, while preventing an increase in excessive speeding,” Quinn said today in a prepared statement. “I encourage all motorists to continue to respect our traffic laws, avoid distractions and exercise common sense behind the wheel to protect the safety of themselves and others.”

The Illinois State Police oppose the change, and Quinn’s own transportation secretary lobbied against the legislation when it was up for consideration in the General Assembly. “The higher the speed limit, the more likely you are to be in a crash. And if you’re in a crash, the more likely you are to be killed,” Anne Schneider, secretary of the Illinois Department of Transportation, said when the Illinois House was still considering the bill. Despite her stance, the bill passed both legislative chambers with bipartisan support. The new law will also lower the speed at which drivers can be charged with excessive speeding from 31 miles per hour over the limit to 26 miles per hour.

While Quinn may be swimming against the opposition of some in Illinois, he is going with the national flow — something that is pointed out twice in a news release issued by his office upon his signing of the bill. “Illinois joins 36 other states with speed limits of 70 mph or higher, including Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming.”

However, some national experts say the move toward higher speed limits does not necessarily indicate that they are safe. “The politics is that the public wants to go faster; they don't see it as a safety issue, so it's no surprise that legislatures have followed,” Jonathan Adkins, deputy executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association told the Associated Press last week. “Unlike with drunk driving and seat-belt use and even distracted driving ... the public just doesn't see speeding as a safety issue.”

On Friday, Quinn signed another bill that bans talking on hand-held cell phones while driving. The measure allows for the use of hands-free devices. That ban will also go into effect at the start of 2014.

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Sunday, August 18, 2013

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Saturday, August 17, 2013

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Friday, August 16, 2013

Quinn signs ban on drivers
using handheld cell phones

By Jamey Dunn

Starting next year, drivers will have to put down their cell phones before they get behind the wheel.

Gov. Pat Quinn today signed House Bill 1247, which bans the use of cell phones while driving, unless drivers use hands-free devices to talk. “Distracted driving is not only dangerous — it’s deadly,” Gov. Quinn said in a prepared statement. “Too many Illinois families have suffered because of accidents that could have been prevented. Anyone driving a car should be careful, responsive and alert behind the wheel. These new laws will save lives.”

Illinois joins 11 other states and the District of Columbia in banning phones behind the wheel. The state already prohibits texting while driving. The ban on chatting while driving will go into effect on January 1, 2014. “When people get behind the wheel, they have a responsibility to themselves and to others to drive safely,” Chicago Democratic Sen. John D’Amico, who sponsored the bill, said in a prepared statement. “When motorists are on the phone, they are not giving their full attention to the most important task they have. This law will help reduce traffic accidents and make Illinois roads safer.”

Drivers using hand-held cell phones are four times more likely to get in accidents that cause injuries according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. “We want drivers to keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel,” Sen. John Mulroe, who sponsored the bill, said in a prepared statement. “The phone call can wait.”

Opponents say the ban is an overreach by government into people’s lives. “This kind of stuff is the ultimate, ultimate in Big Brother,” Rep. Mike Bost, a Murphysboro Republican, said when the bill passed in the House. Bost noted that drivers do many other things behind the wheel — such as applying makeup, disciplining children or eating — that can be distracting and dangerous. “I know it is dangerous, but there’s a lot of things that we do every day while driving in our cars that become dangerous. ... Where do we stop [on bans]?”

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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Republican governor candidates all proclaim they are electable

By Jamey Dunn

Republican candidates for governor touted their electability at political events centered on the state fair today.

Four candidates are taking a shot at winning the Republican nomination this year. Three are familiar faces, and one is a newcomer. Businessman Bruce Rauner rode his Harley motorcycle into Springfield for today’s party breakfast and Republican Day at the fair. Talking to reporters on his way into breakfast, the first-time political candidate refused to get specific on a number of issues, including same-sex marriage and whether motorcyclists should be legally required to wear helmets. Rauner would only say that he always wears one. There is no law in Illinois that requires helmets, but there have been several attempts to pass one in recent years. Each time, the efforts have been defeated by the influential motorcycle lobbying group ABATE. “Today, it’s about victory and unifying the party,” Rauner said when asked to comment about his stances on social issues.

He was only willing to get specific on one issue. “We’re going to get term limits put on everybody in Springfield. All the legislature, as well as the governor, both today and in the future.” Rauner said that lawmakers and the governor should be restricted to serving eight years in office. Rauner would not say if he would support making Illinois a right-to-work state. But he did say he looks to former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels as a political role model. Daniels, whose name was in circulation as a possible presidential challenger to Barack Obama in 2012, signed legislation in 2012 making Indiana a right to work state.

While Rauner may look up to Daniels, the priorities he listed today did not sound too different from those in speeches given by Democrats on their political day yesterday. He said he wants to help grow jobs, employ veterans, address corruption by bringing efficiency and transparency to state government and improve education. Rauner highlighted the fact that he is somewhat of a political outsider who would bring business experience to the job. “I have never run for office in my life, but I love our state passionately, and I cannot stand to watch us go down the drain the way we are. I will not sit by and let it happen,” he said. “I’m going to bring business talent, business success, to the governorship in Illinois.”

Rauner said of himself, “I’ve been a leader at everything I’ve touched throughout my career.”

Treasurer Dan Rutherford pointed to his win for his current office as proof that he can defeat a Democratic opponent in the general election. “I’m the only candidate running for governor that has actually run a statewide race. I know how to win.” Rutherford has attributed much of that that victory to outreach efforts in minority communities. “I know how to win. I know that going into communities of diversity is imperative for us as Republicans to earn the right to governor — communities of diversity of ethnicity and religion. I’ve done it. A great part of success is just showing up.” He said he could appeal to the independents and even bring over some Democrats. Rutherford said he would be able to garner solid support in Cook County.

He took a veiled swipe at Rauner’s lack of political experience in his speech to party leaders this morning. “It is good to be back at the state fair. This is not my first time here.” Rutherford highlighted his own hands-on style of politicking. “I’ve been to every single [one of the]102 counties,” Rutherford said.

Bloomington state Sen. Bill Brady, who lost the 2010 race to Quinn, said that his failed bid for governor has helped him to gain name recognition across the state. He said that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, brother of former president George W. Bush, encouraged him to run again. Brady said Bush told him that his own failed bid for governor of Florida helped him to eventually win the office.

Some political observers say that Brady’s conservative stances on social issues helped sink his campaign in 2010 because he was unable to gain the support of upstate moderates. But Brady said today that candidates have to make their opinions clear, come what may. “People have to know what you stand for. They know what I stand for. I stand for less government, lower taxes more private sector business. Regardless of who your candidate is, if they don’t know what you stand for, they don’t know what their supporting or not supporting.” However, Brady said that he thinks the focus of the 2014 race should be economic issues and not social policy.

Brady and the other candidates will likely not be able to match the wealthy Rauner’s ability to spend on his campaign. “We’ve conceded the fact that we’ll probably be outspent,” Brady said. “I don’t think there’s any question the people of Illinois regret their choice in the last election, and we’re going to win this time around.”

When asked what his biggest misstep in 2010 was, Brady did not have an answer. “I don’t know that I can point to that. What I can point to is that we’re going to run a strong campaign, build on what we’ve done and finish the job we started.”

Hinsdale state Sen. Kirk Dillard lost the primary to Brady in 2010 by fewer than 200 votes. Dillard noted that many pundits have since speculated that if he had beat Brady, he would be governor today. Dillard said to Republicans today that he could be the “unifier between the conservatives and moderates of our party.” Dillard said that he has appeal throughout Illinois and the “right profile” to win a statewide office. “I’m a suburbanite with strong downstate agricultural roots. I will be a governor for all of Illinois. I am not a regional candidate.”

Dillard pointed to his time as former Gov. Jim Edgar’s chief of staff as proof of his ability work with lawmakers and get things done. “I have experience that money cannot buy. ... I once worked for the last clean and competent governor of Illinois.” Edgar is again supporting Dillard’s bid for office. “I am the one candidate that is electable statewide. I know how to govern a Democrat legislature to get it to do things, and I’ve proven it as state senator as well as a gubernatorial aide — to get that Democrat legislature to live within its means,” Dillard said today. “I’m tested. I’m proven. And I’m committed to reinvigorating the Republican Party, but most importantly, making this great state of Illinois, the capital of the Midwest, work again.”

House Minority Leader Tom Cross was not in attendance today. The official line is that he had a prior family commitment and would be seeing his daughter off to college. However, rumors were circulating all day that he is considering a bid for treasurer. Cross had been planning a run for the attorney general’s office if Attorney General Lisa Madigan vacated the position. However, Madigan passed on a bid for governor and instead decided to seek reelection. While Cross was mulling his run, other members of his caucus were stepping forward in hopes of filling his leadership position. Since the revelation that Cross might stick around, he has been met with hostility from some of his members who were eyeing his job. Today, people close to the leader speculated that he may not have wanted to field questions from the press about a possible run for a different statewide office until he had made up his mind.

Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno was on hand. She said she would not be endorsing anyone in the elections. “I could imagine endorsing all of them; consequently, I will endorse none of them. ... I think all of them could do a good job, so I am going to be 100 percent behind whomever wins.” Radogno urged all Republicans who will be out campaigning during the 2014 election season to “remind our voters to keep focused on the result of 10 years of Democratic control.” She added, “People in this state I hope are smart enough to realize at this point, 10 years of one-party control has not been good for them.”

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Democrats say party unified, despite breaks in tradition

By Jamey Dunn

Illinois Democrats stuck to the script of party unity today during annual political events centered on the state fair, even as primary rivals gave dueling speeches and the state party chairman, House Speaker Michael Madigan, was nowhere to be found.

Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton recently sued Gov. Pat Quinn over his veto of the funds for lawmakers’ salaries. “It’s something that will be resolved in court. It’s in litigation right now. It’s a major constitutional issue. And we have a resolution probably in a month, and we’ll now what the court says,” Cullerton said this morning at the party's annual breakfast. Cullerton and Madigan have argued that Quinn’s veto of lawmakers’ pay sets a dangerous precedent that would give the governor too much power over legislators. But in his speech at the breakfast, Cullerton likened the dust-ups among members of his party to the arguments he and his eight siblings had as children. “You’re still in a family. There’s never any doubt that you’re all in it together. That’s true of the Democrats. We share the same goals and the same values.”

Madigan was notably missing from the day’s festivities. When asked about the absence, Cullerton said on his way into the event that he was not aware the speaker was not attending. Quinn brushed aside the idea that the powerful House speaker was snubbing him. “I don’t know why he’s not here. But I talked to him this week, and I think he’s fired up and ready to go for [the] 2014 [election],” Quinn said. A call to Madigan's spokesman for comment was not returned.


Musicians sit behind Quinn on the stage that has held party leaders in past years.
Sen. Andy Manar, a Bunker Hill Democrat, got a joke in about the pay freeze as he gave his speech this morning. “I saw some of my colleagues here this morning enjoying their breakfast, but I don’t think you got the memo from the governor’s folks that you’re not allowed to eat until there’s pension reform.”

But the digs that Quinn and primary opponent Bill Daley traded in each of their speeches were far from lighthearted. Daley painted Quinn as an ineffective leader and a candidate who can’t win the general election. “We have a pension crisis and a job crisis. Our most serious crisis is the crisis of confidence in Springfield’s ability to get things done.” Daley touted his experience and the connections he made while working with former President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama “We need a leader who can call business people and labor leaders throughout the country and the world to build support for investment and job creation here in Illinois.”

Meanwhile, Quinn pointed the finger at “bankers” and “big shots” for wrecking the country’s economy. Daley has worked in the banking industry — job experience that he mentioned in his own speech.  Quinn closed his remarks with a populist appeal that has become one of his signatures on the stump. “There may be some things you haven’t agreed with me over the last four years on, but I think everybody agrees that I work as hard as I can every single day for the common good and the public interest, and that’s what we need in a governor,” he said. “We need somebody who understands everyday people, who knows how to work together with folks who don’t have lobbyists in Springfield, who don’t have necessarily big-shot friends. But they understand that they’re the heart and soul of America. They volunteer for tour military. They work hard on their job. They’re raising their kids. That’s what Illinois is all about, and that’s how we’re going to make the will of the people the law of the land.”

Quinn was greeted by enthusiastic applause and cheers from the crowd of Democratic county officials and other party members. In contrast, Daley was met with measured applause that came across as more of a courtesy than an endorsement. Daley said the reaction did not worry him. “It’s Springfield. He’s ... got a lot of people that work for the state,” Daley said after the speeches. “I think there may be a lot of people who obviously have known or worked for Pat, or work for Pat now or over the years, and they’re appreciative of those jobs.” He called Quinn unelectable in the general race. “Pat Quinn will not win if he’s the nominee of Democratic Party.”

Quinn said that many did not believe he could win in 2010, and he plans to use a similar strategy to pull off a victory next year. “I won an election in the primary in 2010, and I won again in the general election in 2010. There were a lot of folks who counted me out, but I won the election because I had everyday people on my side. And I’ve been doing that my whole life. That’s the only way you run an election: You organize your supporters and the people of Illinois and I think that we can come through again.”

Both Quinn and Daley could face another primary opponent. Chicago Democratic Sen. Kwame Raoul is considering jumping into the race. Raoul had planned to make a bid for Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s job if she ran for governor, but Madigan has decided to stay put. Raoul said people have been reaching out to him about the possibility of challenging Quinn. “There are a lot of people asking me the question, and so I have to consider those questions that are being asked, quite frankly, from all over the state.” He said the idea of running is new. “I didn’t enter this year, I didn’t enter this summer, I didn’t enter this month thinking that I was going to be running for governor or even considering running for governor.” Raoul said he thinks some people want more “options” in the primary.

Raoul and Quinn have publicly disagreed about some of Quinn’s recent headline grabbing moves, such as trying to use his veto pen to rewrite a bill dealing with concealed carrying of firearms. The General Assembly voted to override Quinn’s changes. “I like him as a person. I just wish he would embrace a different leadership style," Raoul said of the governor.

Raoul has been a key player in some of the biggest pieces of legislation to come out of the General Assembly in recent years, including the abolition of the death penalty and concealed carry legislation. He is now the chairman of a special committee working to hammer out an agreement on changes to public employee pension systems that can pass in both legislative chambers. He said that job comes first. “The top priority is pension reform. It’s the most important issue that our state is facing.”

Raoul said he does not want his political considerations to interfere with the committee’s work. “It’s a very delicate balance. You don’t want to do anything to undermine the work that we’ve done in a bipartisan, bicameral basis.” He said that there is a possibility that the committee’s timeline on presenting a recommendation to lawmakers could keep him from running for higher office. “There are time challenges, and certainly I anticipate the conference committee will be coming out with something soon,” he said. “We’ve moved the ball way forward from where we were as a legislature at large in a stalemate in June.”

Cullerton said that he has talked to Raoul about a potential bid for governor but is not encouraging him one way or the other. He said that he expects that neither he nor Madigan will endorse any primary candidate. But he said he does think that Raoul is up to the job. “Kwame’s very capable. He’s qualified to be the governor. There’s no question about it.” Raoul said he will not run unless he thinks he can be a viable candidate. “I wouldn’t put myself out there on a political suicide run.”

So far, Quinn has not received endorsements from any prominent Democrat — not even Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, who will not be Quinn’s running mate for 2014. Simon’s own race for the state comptroller office got a little bit easier today when her primary opponent, Will County Auditor Duffy Blackburn, announced in his speech this morning that he was suspending his campaign and endorsing her for the office. There are no other Democrats running for comptroller, but Simon faces a difficult race against well-liked and well-funded incumbent Judy Baar Topinka.

Instead of giving more stage time to a group of Democrats who have not endorsed him, and potentially even his challengers, Quinn opted to break tradition at the Governor’s Day rally at the Illinois State Fair after the breakfast. The governor made a brief speech, and the rest of the time was filled with musical acts and entertainment. Historically, party leaders have given speeches at the event. However, their addresses were often just shorter versions of the remarks they gave at the morning event.  Quinn said that the political breakfast, which lasted about three hours today, provides plenty of time for public speaking. “I don’t think we need to double up on political speeches at the state fair,” he said. “I think it’s a great opportunity to have fun.”

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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Federal officials will increase their oversight of Metra

By Jamey Dunn

The federal government will provide more oversight for Chicago’s commuter rail service as the number of board members dwindles.

The action from the Federal Railroad Administration is just another development in the ongoing fallout from allegations of political influence being asserted over hiring decisions and contract terms at the agency. Alex Clifford, the former chief executive officer of METRA, has said that lawmakers, including House Speaker Michael Madigan, tried to wield clout over the agency. His claims come as the Regional Transit Authority has launched an audit of Clifford’s severance settlement, which could leave him with more than $700,000. Legislative Inspector General Thomas Homer is investigating Clifford’s allegations, and Madigan has said publicly that he did nothing wrong. 

After the resignations of four Metra board members — including former chair Brad O’Halloran — the board lacks enough members to name a new chair. U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin wrote a letter asking Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph Szabo to intervene while Metra’s “current leadership issues are being resolved.” Durbin wrote in the letter sent to Szabo earlier this month: “I know the professional, non-political staff at Metra is dedicated to running this railroad in the safest way possible, however the lack of permanent leadership at the board and management levels creates a situation where accountability is hard to find and priorities like safety could become neglected.” In response, the Federal Railroad Administration will increase the number of train inspections and increase oversight of Metra’s testing and inspection program. The administration also plans to communicate directly with top Metra officials, reach out to labor leaders and attend meetings between labor and management. “Safety is our first priority,” Szabo said in a written statement. “Historically, Metra has had an exemplary safety record, in large measure due to the dedicated career personnel who oversee and perform the daily operations. Our goal is to ensure that legacy of safety does not erode during this period of transition.”

According to a statement from Metra, the agency plans to welcome the additional federal involvement. “Safety is our number one priority at Metra, and while we believe we are operating as safely as possible, we appreciate the efforts of Sen. Durbin and the FRA to provide additional oversight.”

Gov. Pat Quinn has also called for increased state involvement at Metra and RTA. He said he plans to bring together a group of experts to work up changes that would be ready to present to lawmakers when they return to the Statehouse for the fall veto session in October. “I think we need to have a little bit more direct action on behalf of the public,” he said. “Right now, the role of our department [of transportation] and our state is basically to just hand the money over to RTA and Metra. I think we need far more oversight under law of these entities.”

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Saturday, August 10, 2013

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Friday, August 09, 2013

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Thursday, August 08, 2013

Former Public Health chief of staff charged with corruption

By Jamey Dunn

An indictment released today alleges that the former chief of staff for the Illinois Department of Public Health accepted bribes and kickbacks for directing grants and contracts to certain providers.

Quinshaunta Golden is accused of taking $433,000 in kickbacks from state grant and contract funds. Golden, who is the niece of U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, is charged with bribery, theft and fraud. Golden was chief of staff to from 2003 to 2008, serving for most of that time under Department of Public Health Director Eric Whitaker. The indictment does not indicate that Whitaker knew of Golden’s alleged misdeeds. “At this point the evidence has taken us to Quinn Golden, and the evidence has not taken us farther,” Jim Lewis, U.S. attorney for the Central District of Illinois, said at a Springfield news conference. Golden is also accused of witness tampering/obstruction of justice because prosecutors say she tried the influence a witness in an attempt to cover up the alleged crimes.

Today’s indictment stems from an investigation that has led to charges against 12 other people, including former Chicago Democratic state Rep. Constance Howard. She pleaded guilty in July to one count of wire fraud. Howard is accused of spending money from a scholarship fund on personal and campaign costs. She faces a sentencing date in November. Prosecutors have said they will seek a six-month prison sentence and six months home confinement for Howard. “Charges filed against these 13 defendants collectively allege the misuse of more than $16 million in taxpayers’ money intended to provide a wide range of health care, student assistance, job training programs and services to disadvantaged citizens. These include programs to promote wellness and improve health care; to prepare for major health and natural disaster emergencies; to provide health care advocacy programs and student job training assistance; to provide skill training and apprenticeships; and to provide statewide HIV prevention plans and HIV/AIDS facilities to assist African-Americans,” stated a news release from Lewis’ office.

The IDPH did not respond for a request for comment, and Golden could not be reached. Her first court appearance is scheduled for August 23. Lewis said that the investigation continues. However, he said that the charges do not indicate that the corruption touched all the programs at the IDPH. He said that so far, the focus has been on about $16 million in grants and contracts. “That’s a fraction of the money that was used [by the department]. My assumption is that a lot of the money for job training went to job training, that a lot of the money for education went to education; a lot of the money for health went to health. What we’re saying is that certain individuals, either grantees or contractors or an individual in the department, would occasionally steer some of the money into their private pocket.”

However, Lewis said he did not want to downplay the severity of the charges. “Public corruption makes my blood boil. It strikes at the heart of who we are as a people, how we govern ourselves. And do we live up to the contract, the agreement, that we have with each other?” Lewis called on state workers and the public to blow the whistle if they suspect corruption. He said anyone who suspects wrongdoing can call his office at (217) 492-4450. “I encourage everybody, if you see something that’s wrong, say something. Say it to the authorities, and let’s see if there’s something there.”

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Wednesday, August 07, 2013

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Monday, August 05, 2013

Quinn wants state to have larger role in oversight of Metra, RTA

By Jamey Dunn

Gov. Pat Quinn said today that he wants to present lawmakers with a plan to address oversight at Metra and the Regional Transit Authority by the legislature's fall veto session, scheduled in October.

“I think it really needs fundamental overhaul,” Quinn told reporters in Chicago today. Four Metra board members have stepped down, including former board chair Brad O’Halloran, after allegations surfaced that lawmakers were pressuring board members about personnel and contract decisions. Former Metra CEO Max Clifford says that legislators, including House Speaker Michael Madigan, made suggestions to the board about hiring and employee compensation. Board members have also been called on to explain a severance package given to Clifford that could be worth more than $700,000. Clifford signed a confidentiality agreement as part of his severance settlement. The Regional Transit Authority, which oversees the Metra commuter rail service, is conducting an audit of the severance agreement.

Legislative Inspector General Thomas Homer has launched an investigation. O’Halloran has denied any wrongdoing and said he stepped aside because media attention has made it impossible for him to continue in his leadership role. Madigan also said he did nothing wrong. “I have reviewed the facts surrounding the issue, and I am confident that my actions were not inappropriate or violative of any applicable law or ethical rule,” he wrote in a letter to Homer in July. 

Quinn said today that he wants to bring together a group of transportation experts, whom he described as “not political,” to make reform suggestions for Metra and the RTA. The governor talked today about “restructuring” the two entities. “Clearly, the current system doesn’t work, and we need to find a system that does work.” He said he wants to have a proposal ready for lawmakers to consider by the time they are scheduled to return to the Statehouse on Oct. 22 for the veto session.

Quinn noted several times that he does not have the authority to appoint or dismiss Metra board members. The 11 board members are appointed by the county boards of counties that fall in the Metra service area. “I do not have the appointment power of Metra or RTA — there’s not one person I appointed at RTA or Metra — and I think that’s something that needs to be looked at very carefully.” Metra and RTA did not respond to requests for comment on the governor’s statements today.

Quinn said that because the state provides funds to both entities, he thinks it should have a role in oversight. “I think we need to have a little bit more direct action on behalf of the public,” he said. “Right now, the role of our department [of transportation] and our state is basically to just hand the money over to RTA and Metra. I think we need far more oversight under law of these entities.”

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Sunday, August 04, 2013

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Saturday, August 03, 2013

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Friday, August 02, 2013

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Thursday, August 01, 2013

Quinn signs off on legislation
to legalize medical marijuana

By Jamey Dunn

Illinois became the 19th state to legalize medical marijuana today as Gov. Pat Quinn signed legislation that proponents say are some of the strongest regulations of the drug in the nation.

House Bill 1 creates a four-year pilot program for medical cannabis in the state. The Illinois Department of Public Health will screen patients seeking medical marijuana permits. With the approval of their doctors, patients with one of 35 debilitating illnesses listed in the new law or their caregivers would be able to purchase up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana every 14 days. The new law will take effect on January 1, 2014.

Growers would be licensed by the Illinois Department of Agriculture, and only 22 permits will be issued — one for every state police district. The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation will license 60 dispensary operations. Patients, caregivers, owners and employees of growing operations and dispensaries will all be required to pass background checks. Owners of growing operations or dispensaries will be banned from making campaign contributions.

“This bill is a very carefully drafted bill,” Quinn said in Chicago today. He did not openly support the bill as it moved through the legislature but said he would keep an open mind if it reached his desk. “Our law enforcement will be involved, our Department of Public Health, our Department of Agriculture. And the reason I’m signing the bill is because it is so tightly and properly drafted.” Last week, New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan signed a medical marijuana bill into law. Medical cannabis is also legal in Washington, D.C.

Skokie Democratic Rep. Lou Lang, sponsor of SB 1 and a longtime advocate for medical marijuana, said he has been trying to get a medical cannabis bill passed in Illinois for years because of stories he hears from the patients who are turning to an illegal solution for their pain. “Are we really going to be a state where we’re going to allow a 74-year-old granny with colon cancer to have to search for a remedy for her pain and her nausea? I don’t think that’s the kind of state we want to be,” he said. Lang said he is already getting calls from lawmakers in states that do not have legalized medical marijuana “asking for copies [of the legislation], asking how we did it.” Lang said the drug should be an option for patients who know have to rely on powerful pain killers such as oxycodone, which can leave patients dazed, unresponsive and ultimately addicted. “Those medications, which are designed to help them feel better, actually ruined their lives,” he said.

Marijuana is illegal at the federal level. But Lang said that growers and sellers who follow the rules in Illinois run little risk of getting arrested by the feds. He said that when the federal government has intervened in other states, it was when growers or sellers were “breaking state law,” “selling product out the back door,” or when the “grow sites are way larger than they need to be.”

The bill has the support of several prominent groups in the legal and medical communities, including the Illinois State Bar Association and the Illinois Nurses Association. However, opponents have voiced concerns that the law would send the wrong message to young people about the drug or may open the door to the eventual legalization of marijuana for recreational use. Last year, voters in Colorado and Washington voted to legalize the drug for recreational use. But Army veteran Jim Champion, who has been advocating for the new law, says that it is a template for other states looking for a way to tightly regulate medical cannabis. “They’re looking at Illinois and saying, ‘That is the right way to conduct a legitimate medical cannabis program,’ and it makes me proud. Illinois gets dissed on a whole lot, but I’m proud to stand here today to say that this isn’t a Cheech and Chong bill. We’re an actual model for the rest of the United States,” said Champion, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 25 years ago. Champion said he is proud of his service in the Army, but he says, “I have always been ashamed that I was criminalized by the actions that I was forced to take for my pain relief.”

It is likely that Champion's story, along with input from other veterans whom Quinn talked to, played a significant role in the governor’s decision to sign the bill. Quinn is known as a passionate advocate for veterans’ issues. Under the new law, patients must have longstanding relationships with the doctors who prescribe them marijuana. However, there is an exception for veterans because presumably they will not be able to obtain prescriptions from doctors working for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans who have been treated by a military doctor for one of the illnesses listed under the law would be able to seek approval from a civilian doctor.

Sandy Champion, Jim's wife, said that at first she was opposed to him using the drug, until she saw how much it helped relieve his pain. She is her husband’s caretaker and also obtains marijuana for his treatment. “When I go out to the streets to get this medicine, I risk my life, I risk my career future and I risk getting him bad product because any of us know that there can be some chemicals put in this stuff and it can be really bad for them,” she said today. “So this bill is going to help me to be able to go into a dispensary legally, walk in and buy it with no fear.”

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