Friday, September 30, 2005

George and Me

(If you don't like long posts, don't even bother starting to read this one. But I think that it's worthwhile.)

So this is a tricky post to write, but it's something that I've been wanting to weigh in on, so here goes. As the trial of Governor Ryan gets underway, I've read a lot of comments on Rich Miller's blog and numerous other sites discussing George Ryan the person and whether or not he was a culpable participant that knowingly broke the law or simply a back-slapper that went along with helping his pals.

Being a firm believer in our legal system, I agree that Gov. Ryan is presumed innocent. And unless you are seated in the jury box, none of us is in a position to cast an worthwhile opinion on whether or not that presumption is accurate. So instead, I will just share with you my experiences with the man when it came to the issue of campaign finance reform.

George Ryan never liked me. Probably still doesn't. Here's part of the reason why. You make whatever judgment you deem appropriate.

In the mid 1990's, before my election to the House, Pat Quinn had been working with some legislators in trying to push a bill known as the Inspector Solicitation Misconduct Act. Without going into all of the details, suffice it to say that the bill prevented state inspectors from seeking campaign contributions from individuals or entities whom they oversee. The bill was borne of a series of news stories about car dealers being shaken down by inspectors on behalf of the Secretary of State. But when you realize that state inspectors oversee everything from driving schools to day care centers to nursing homes to nuclear facilities, the public safety and public health implications of cutting the ties between fundraising and inspection approval become clear.

Even though Democrats controlled the House, the bill was killed in committee after all of the Republicans voted against it, as did a couple Democrats wanting to 'help out George'. Quinn tried several times to push for passage of the bill to no avail.

Quinn apprised me of the legislation in 1998. Having been working on other pieces of reform legislation, I was interested in pursuing this worthwhile initiative. That year, there was a heated election for Governor brewing between Ryan and Glenn Poshard. News outlets were buzzing about stories concerning licenses for bribes and whether Ryan was the target of an investigation. I thought that the time was right to get some leverage on my issue.

On October 21, 1998, about two weeks before the election, I faxed a letter to both men seeking their support of the measure. The letter reads in relevant part, as follows:

Dear Gentlemen:

I am sending this letter to you to advise you of proposed legislation that I am announcing at a press conference this morning. The legislation, entitled the “State Inspector Misconduct Act”, would prohibit state agency employees responsible for oversight of businesses or activities in the State from soliciting or receiving campaign contributions on behalf of a candidate or political committee from any person or business regulated by that agency.

As you are aware, state inspectors oversee a wide range of activities ranging from nursing homes to day care centers to landfills. I trust that you would agree with me that there should be no link between public safety and political fundraising. Even the appearance of such a nexus is enough to undermine public confidence in our state government.

Accordingly, I am respectfully asking each of you to join me in supporting this measure, thereby letting the people of Illinois know that their next governor will lead in a manner in which they can trust and have respect.

Thank you both for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you. Best wishes on November 3rd.

In my opinion, it would have been smart for Poshard to get on board to further drive home the issue in the public mind. But at the same time, I thought it would be smart for Ryan to support it in an effort to get out in front of the issue and take the bat out of his critics' hands.

That afternoon, Poshard called me himself to tell me that, if elected, he would do everything in his power to get the bill to his desk. A couple of hours later, Scott Fawell called me and before even saying hello, blurted out "What the f**k are you doing?" I'll leave the rest of the conversation alone, although it was colorful.

So George won and I was persona non grata in the Governor's office for the next four years. And although I had managed to pass the bill out of the House almost unanimously, (I still respect the Speaker letting the bill out of Rules), Pate had no intention of letting it move in the Senate.

After repeating my futile efforts, and with media pressure still building about license for bribes and the Guzman/Willis matter, I decided to again try to plea my case to the Governor. Since he wouldn't return my repeated phone calls, I sent him a letter on the subject. The following is my June, 2000 letter to Gov. Ryan (I omitted a paragraph that describes what the bill does in more detail):
Dear Governor Ryan:

For too long now, the news has been overrun, and Illinois’ reputation tarnished, by the scandal surrounding the activities of the Office of the Secretary of State. Because I am hopeful that you share my belief that something must be done to address both the substantive issue as well as skyrocketing public cynicism of State government, I am sending this letter to you in an attempt to enlist your support for legislation that I have successfully worked to pass out of the House of Representatives during each of the past two legislative sessions by a near unanimous margin.

In essence, House Bill 530, the “State Inspector Misconduct Act”, would prohibit state agency employees responsible for oversight of businesses or activities in the State from soliciting or receiving campaign contributions on behalf of a candidate or political committee from any person or business regulated by that agency. The logic and need underlying this concept are beyond question.

As you are aware, state inspectors oversee a wide variety of activities ranging from drivers license facilities and nursing homes to day care centers and landfills. Given this fact, House Bill 530 is every bit a public safety measure as it is a campaign finance reform issue. One need to look no further than to the grief of the Willis family to fully comprehend the devastation that can occur when our regulatory measures are circumvented for financial motivations. (Emphasis added)

I trust that you would agree with me that there should be no link between public safety and political fundraising. Even the appearance of such a nexus has proven to be more than enough to undermine public confidence in our state government. Despite this, and the unequivocal message sent by the House, the Senate has failed to take any action to advance this measure to your desk. Accordingly, I am respectfully asking you to publicly support this measure, specifically by calling for its passage by the Senate during the upcoming Veto Session, and working to secure the same

Thank you for your time, consideration, and anticipated assistance. I look forward to hearing from you.

The Governor's response? When a couple of my colleagues went to see him the next day on an unrelated matter, Ryan held up the letter and stated, "Look what this c**ksu*ker sent me." I don't know about you, but those words just didn't really strike me as the words of a guy wanting to 'get to the bottom of corruption', as he was fond of telling the press those days. He never responded to me personally. Probably for the best.

The point of this whole post? While I am sure that George is a great guy to have as a friend, you would be sorely mistaken to think that he was unaware of what was going on in state government or to think that he wanted it corrected. He was very content with the way things were, and directly or through associates, he lashed out at anybody who tried to mess those things.

As for my bill, it took me two more years to get it done, but it's Public Act 92-853. I believe it was the last bill of the last regular session under George Ryan to become law. And not a moment too soon.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

That's Why They're Called the Fighting Illini

When it rains, it pours. Some time ago, much was made about the Governor being heartily booed at a Champaign appearance. In an opinion piece in today's Daily Illini, a columnist covering the installation of the University's new President, B. Joseph White, kicked it up a notch. It started with an observation of the Governor's presence at the event:
In all the pomp and circumstance of the inauguration, however, I couldn't help but be embarrassed and angered at the same time. Several key elected officials sent their greetings to the President via video recording, and they were played at the beginning of the event. Senators Obama and Durbin and Speaker Hastert, flanked by American flags and formally dressed, were eloquent and cordial in their welcoming of President White. Yet, our esteemed Gov. Blagojevich, in a clearly unrehearsed speech, wearing a plain blue polo shirt, standing with hands on hips, succeeded in perpetuating his own decline.
Then it got interesting as the article turned into a pretty damn strong diatribe against the re-election of the Governor (emphasis added):
Those affiliated with the University, even you College Democrats, must not support Gov. Rod Blagojevich's campaign for re-election. The University is the state's greatest asset. Our faculty brings in over 500 million dollars annually from out-of-state research sources, which in turn creates more jobs and grows our economy. Yet, this governor has leeched off of our institution, allowing our buildings to crumble, our tuition to soar and our good name to tarnish. We cannot afford four more years of the same.

This is my call to political arms for our campus. In about 13 months, we will have an opportunity to install new leadership in Springfield who will give Illinois the funding and recognition we deserve. Read between the lines: our new president is calling for a change. We should give him all the help he needs.
Now I'm guessing that the Daily Illini leans left. And I realize that they are motivated by selfish, albeit legitimate, concerns. But if this article reflects more than just the sentiment of one reporter, there is a bumpy road ahead.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Justice DeLay-ed but not Denied

The Chicago Tribune just reported that a Texas grand jury on Wednesday charged Rep. Tom DeLay and two political associates with conspiracy in a campaign finance scheme, an indictment that could force him to step down as House majority leader.

Everything else may be bigger in Texas, but (unfortunately) we still have them beat hands down in indicted elected officials.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

We'll Leave a Light on for You

Channel 5 News ran a story Monday night on the vacant Thomson Correctional Center. And while the piece didn't lay the blame for having an empty $140 million prison at anybody's feet, I think that it's safe to say that the piece doesn't do much to bolster anyone's confidence in state government.

The maximum-security prison was completed in 2001. It has languished empty near the Mississippi River, at the Illinois-Iowa border since its completion. The facility holds 1,600 cells in eight cell houses and a 200-bed minimum-security unit on 146 acres of former cornfields.

Illinois Auditor General William Holland released a report in April showing the unused state prison cost the state $1.8 million last year. According to the audit, the funds were spent on staff, utilities and telecommunications. I'm not sure that I understand that, given that the NBC story said that the facility only has one employee, who is essentially a caretaker. A lot of that could be the result of the fact (as I understand it) that the state is covering the bond payments owed by the town as the result of sewer and water improvements made in conjunction with the construction of the hoosegow. (There's a word you don't get to use too often.)

In addition to a construction price tag of $140 million, an estimated $50 million annually is needed for the state to operate the prison, funds we have been unable (unwilling) to appropriate for Thomson. The folks in Thomson aren't so much upset by the wasted state money as they are about missing out on the 700 jobs that the prison was supposed to create.

Which brings me, in a roundabout kind of way, to my actual point.

There is something fundamentally wrong with us when we look at prison construction as economic development. Common sense would dictate that nobody would want a prison in their backyard. But we watch these mostly rural communities fight tooth and nail with each other to try to get some of the baddest guys Illinois has to offer as their new neighbors. Why? Construction jobs, guard jobs, cafeteria jobs, hotel and restaurant business, etc.

We struggle as a state to spend just over $5000/year to educate a child, but don't think twice about spending $20,ooo/year to incarcerate an adult, and we don't see the connection between the two. The Thomson debacle aside, there is something very wrong with this picture and it has to do with our priorities.

Maybe if our classrooms weren't so crowded, our prisons wouldn't be either.

Coupled with increasing global competition for jobs, if more legislators don't stop thinking in terms of election cycles and start seeing the big picture, we are all going to be in for a very rude awakening.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Score One for the Domers

Given my undergrad degree from The University of Michigan (yes the "The" is capitalized), coupled with the unforgiveable loss a couple of weeks ago, to say that I am not a Notre Dame fan is an understatement.

But it is impossible to read this story about Coach Weis and a young cancer victim and not think that it is one of the most moving sports stories out there. What a class act.

(Nevertheless, I cannot believe that I have an ND logo on my blog.)

Don't Hold Back - Updated

(Media guru Rich Miller was kind enough to point out to me that the piece I read online was not a SJ-R editorial, my apologies for the mistake.)

In the wake of the Trib's lashing of the Governor about the whole ICC issue, today's State Journal Register ran a guest column by Illinois State Chamber of Commerce President Doug Whitley in which Whitley decided to go after not only the Governor, but the Lt. Gov and the AG as well. Among the tidbits that they put into today's article is this:
If there is to be no regard for either fact finding or objective judgment by independently appointed commissioners with quasi-judicial status and staggered terms intended to insulate the institution from undue gubernatorial influence, then let’s forgo the charade, abolish the commission and let the governor rule unilaterally.

There is a dangerous political game afoot that has significant long-term implications for the future of our state. What Blagojevich, Quinn and Madigan seem to be saying is that populism trumps reason and economics. The economic consequences of such political decisions may not be in the best interest of our state or the nation.
Damn. I will say though that I ran into another very influential person in the business community last week, who has also been around state government for a long time, and to say that the biz folks are pissed is a vast understatement.

I think that the Governor's folks should have seen this backlash coming. And not even on substantive grounds mind you, I have known Marty Cohen for a long time and think a lot of him (and not only because he is a constituent), but purely from the procedural appearance of the Governor's actions. With a second appointment looming, I would think that they would want to tread very carefully in the selection process. I have heard one name in particular, and while I don't know the guy, suffice it to say that would only seem to fan the flames.

This situation reminds me not so much of the gaming board issue, but more of the stem cell funding issue. Even people that were happy with the outcome were a little skittish about how we got there.

Boarding Call

In response to a coulple of e-mails, I have posted a poll for the previously discussed Cook County Board Presdent election. I mulled over the thought of adding Assessor James Houlihan to the mix, but to try to keep it more relevant, I am only including candidates who have said that they are in the race. I will keep the poll live until the end of the week. Have at it if you want.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Thoughts From Texas

So my dad, who lives just outside Houston and just got done dealing with Rita, had recently shared his thoughts with me on the Katrina aftermath. The following are his thoughts in their unedited version.On Friday night before the storm (Katrina) hit Max Mayfield of the National Hurricane Center took the unprecedented action of calling Nagin and Blanco personally to plead with them to begin MANDATORY evacuation of New Orleans and they said they'd take it under consideration.

This was after the NOAA buoy 240 miles south had recorded 68' waves before it was destroyed. President Bush spent Friday afternoon and evening in meetings with his advisors and administrators drafting all of the paperwork required for a state to request federal assistance (and not be in violation of the Posse Comitatus Act or having to enact the Insurgency Act).

Just before midnight Friday evening the President called Governor Blanco and pleaded with her to sign the request papers so the federal government and the military could legally begin mobilization and call up. He was told that they didn't think it necessary for the federal government to be involved yet.

After the President's final call to the governor she held meetings with her staff to discuss the political ramifications of bringing federal forces. It was decided that if they allowed federal assistance it would make it look as if they had failed so it was agreed upon that the feds would not be invited in. Saturday before the storm hit the President again called Blanco and Nagin requesting they please sign the papers requesting federal assistance, that they declare the state an emergency area, and begin mandatory evacuation.

After a personal plea from the President, Nagin agreed to order an evacuation, but it would not be a full mandatory evacuation, and the governor still refused to sign the papers requesting and authorizing federal action. In frustration the President declared the area a national disaster area before the state of Louisiana did so he could legally begin some advanced preparations.

Rumor has it that the President's legal advisers were looking into the ramifications of using the insurgency act to bypass the Constitutional requirement that a state request federal aid before the federal government can move into state with troops - but that had not been done since 1906 and the Constitutionality of it was called into question to use before the disaster. Throw in that over half the federal aid of the past decade to New Orleans for levee construction, maintenance, and repair was diverted to fund a marina and support the gambling ships. Toss in the investigation that will look into why the emergency preparedness plan submitted to the federal government for funding and published on the city's website was never implemented and in fact may have been bogus for the purpose of gaining additional federal funding as we now learn that the organizations identified in the plan were never contacted or coordinating into any planning - though the document implies that they were. The suffering people of New Orleans need to be asking some hard questions as do we all, but they better start with why Blanco refused to even sign the multi-state mutual aid pack activation documents until Wednesday which further delayed the legal deployment of National Guard from adjoining states. Or maybe ask why Nagin keeps harping that the President should have commandeered 500 Greyhound busses to help him when according to his own emergency plan and documents he claimed to have over 500 busses at his disposal to use between the local school busses and the city transportation busses - but he never raised a finger to prepare them or activate them.

This is a sad time for all of us to see that a major city has all but been destroyed and thousands of people have died with hundreds of thousands more suffering, but it's certainly not a time for people to be pointing fingers and trying to find a bigger dog to blame for local corruption and incompetence. Pray to God for the survivors that they can start their lives anew as fast as possible and we learn from all the mistakes to avoid them in the future.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Come Fly with Me

Perhaps the only thing more baffling than the midnight pillaging of Meigs Field is the fact that the City is now going to likely spend more money contesting the FAA fine than the amount of the fine itself is actually for. I don't know, maybe they figured that they hadn't gotten enough bad press on this issue. Don't get me wrong, I love green space as much as the next person, and then some. And before you say that I'm acting in self-interest, let me tell you that I drive to Springfield, not fly. But the airport should have stayed put.

I have a lot of childhood memories of watching planes take off and land downtown and think that Meigs was a gem on the lakefront. Plus, at a time when we are fighting to keep and attract conventions, it didn't really seem to make sense to do away with what was viewed by the business community as a great perk and convenience of doing business in Chicago.

But everything else aside, how the hell can it not look bad to rip up an airport in the middle of the night, while shining a truck-mounted light to blind the nearby camera to keep the public from seeing what was transpiring? If they wanted the land for park space, notwithstanding the additional acreage picked up by Millenium Park and the Soldier Field redesign, say so. And even if you wanted it to prevent an aerial assault by a fleet of Cessnas, then make that argument to City Council. (On an aside, in what other City would the Council stand aside and not say boo about something of this magnitude?) Many things may be best done in the middle of the night, tearing up an airport is not one of them.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Bored President?

Apparently not. But for the announcement, it's essentially official that Cook County Board President John Stroger is running for re-election. The President has been around since old school was new school, and it looks like he's not done yet. The following is from the History Makers website about Stroger's long political history:
At his mother's urging, Stroger moved to Chicago in 1953 where he became involved in Chicago's South Side Democratic Party. There, he met Congressman William L. Dawson, Ralph Metcalfe, and Harold Washington. Stroger was appointed as an assistant auditor with the Municipal Court of Chicago in 1954 and served as personnel director for the Cook County Jail from 1955 to 1961. He then worked for the financial director of the State of Illinois while earning a law degree from DePaul University Law School in 1965. In 1968, Stroger was elected 8th Ward Committeeman. After his election to the Cook County Board of Commissioners in 1970, Stroger went on to chair every major committee including finance, health, building and zoning. In 1994, he became the first African American to be elected president of the Cook County Board and Forest Preserve District.
This sets up what should be a barnburner of an election. Commissioners Forrest Claypool and Mike Quigley have both declared their candidacy, and I would anticipate at least one more person throwing their hat in the ring just to make it 'interesting'. Some people are also suggesting that Claypool and Quigley may wind up with challengers for their board seats in an effort to keep them closer to home. Throw Republican Commissioner Tony Peraica in the mix and you've got all the makings of an entertaining campaign. There is going to be a lot of coalition building and busting on this one and I could see this getting nasty before it's all over.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Maybe We're Just Light Blue

There's all kinds of talk about the just-released SurveyUSA poll on the Governor's job performance. And while nobody can really be happy about 36% approval/56% disapproval numbers, the breakouts actually look even worse. The only positive-breaking demographics for the Governor are among blacks (46%-43%), self-identified Democrats (48%-44%), self-identified liberals (53%-38%) and Cook County residents (49-46%).

Without passing any judgment, I think it's troubling that, given the relevant margin of error of 4.1%, there may not even be support for the top of the ticket by self-identified Dems. There is a lot of messaging to be done over the next several months and I hope that an offshoot of that will be a better definition of a Democratic agenda that can connect with and inspire the voters. Our party has too often been about candidates rather than ideas. If we don't act like we live in a blue state, pretty soon we might not.

Somebody, anybody?

So the first of two scheduled Democratic Party slating meetings was held this past Sunday and nobody stepped up to the plate in the Treasurer's race. I have had conversations with a couple of people who were mulling over a run, but I still think it's an interesting statement about our party that in a proverbial blue state, there is a dearth of candidates wanting to take a shot at picking up the only seat the Dems don't control. Under ordinary circumstances, you would think that somebody would at least be throwing their name out there.

I have my thoughts on the vacuum, and some of it is obviously related to potential candidates waiting to see what Edgar and Topinka are going to do, but I think that it would have been smart for somebody to get out front and say that they present a better alternative to any Republican candidate.

I'm curious about other people's thoughts on why, on the eve of the start of petition season, nobody has declared, and who people think should get into the race. I'm also curious to see what happens at the next slating meeting in Springfield.

And the Winner is...

...Bulworth - for the best political satire ever made. I just got done watching it for the umpteenth time in the seven years since it was released and its message still resonates. The movie has the ability to simultaneously be funny and poignant and really drives home some valid points about the Democratic Party and the political process in general.

Essentially Warren Beatty is a suicidal disillusioned Democrat who has an urban epiphany, thanks in part to Halle Barry. If you haven't seen the movie, you should.

"You got to be a spirit, you can't be no ghost"

I started thinking about other movies in the political genre, and will say that The Candidate stands the test of time. Recent entries like Wag the Dog or Primary Colors while good, pale in comparison.

Monday, September 19, 2005

It Got My Vote

This past session, we passed a package of what I consider to be some of the most substantive and comprehensive changes to Illinois election law ever. Yet for some reason, the press and public have failed to pay adequate attention to the new laws. Running against that tide is today's State Journal Register, which has an article today on the fact that Illinois will now allow for early voting.

Unlike absentee voting, which required you to state that you would be unavailable to cast your ballot on election day, we have now made it easier for more people to take part in the electoral process. And with what I consider to be good anti-fraud measures contained in the law, I don't know how this could be anything but a good thing.

The new law also reduces the signatures needed to run for Mayor in Chicago by 50% to 12,500, (which I still think is too high), allows for statewide registration by deputy registrars, gives time off work for election judges, and does a host of other good things.

There are a couple of provisions in there which I will admit to still being at a loss about why they were included, but cynicism aside, the new law is a good step in the right direction.


Okay, perhaps (or maybe not) the least substantive post I'll ever do, but just too good to pass up. As reported in today's Southern Illinoisan TODAY, not tomorrow, not yesterday, but TODAY is International Talk Like a Pirate Day.
For tips on how to talk like a pirate, dress like a pirate, have a party like a pirate, or donate to the victims of Hurricane Katrina not-so-much-like-a-pirate, visit the official website at
So I envision all kinds of conversations like, "Avast, methinks I spy Fitzgerald and his maties storming the offices. Man the shredders boys!"

Too funny.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Skool scores are in

And while they're not getting worse, there is a lot of room for improvement. According to the results, roughly one-quarter of Illinois schoolchildren failed to meet expectations in most categories of the latest round of statewide testing, and the failure rate approached 50 percent in some cases. As our economy continues its rapid globalization, we are going to get left in the dust by a lot of countries that are focusing on the fundamental skills needed to compete today and into the future.
Elliot Regenstein, Blagojevich's director of education reform, acknowledged the scores reveal some problems, but he said the governor's programs - especially increased preschool programs - will help.

"It takes time to change the system. We know there's a lot more work to be done," Regenstein said.

How about fixing how we fund schools as a good starting point?

Jim's in!

Durkin that is. As has been widely reported, Former State Rep. Jim Durkin is going to run for the seat being vacated by Rep. Eileen Lyons. And while I will miss having Eileen around - she is a sharp, straightshooting legislator, it would be nice to have Jim back. He and I worked together in the AG's office many moons ago and then served together in the House until his ill-fated Senate bid.

It's Oh Say, Not Jose!

In the weeks after 9/11, this country was justifiably festooned in flags and patriotic resolve. But then you read something like this in the Southern Illinoisan and it just makes you wonder if people appreciate what we have going for us in the country. Not that memorizing lyrics makes you a good citizen, but come on. If you don't feel like going to the site, the gist of the article is this:
Today is the 191st anniversary of the writing of the National Anthem of the United States of America, the "Star-Spangled Banner" by Francis Scott Key. A recent Harris Interactive survey showed two out of three Americans don't know all the words.
You would think that, if for no other reason, you would want to be able to sing it so you can truly appreciate the rush of being in the middle of a crowd of tens of thousands of people filled with patriotism for a couple of minutes as they belt it out before a sporting event.

Dems in Training

I've long been a staunch supporter of getting younger people involved in all aspects of the political process. For those people who happen to be Democrats, there is a great opportunity coming up this Saturday for a crash course in the nuts and bolts of campaigns.

DL21C's 3rd Annual Campaign Training

Learn what goes on behind the scenes in politics, brush up on your campaign skills, and get ready for the 2006 Election Cycle!

Keynote Speaker: State Rep. John Fritchey (11th House District)

Panelists include:

* Ken Bennett, State Director, Senator Barack Obama
* Pat Botterman, Wheeling Township Committeeman and Campaign Manager
* John Corrigan, Lobbyist/Campaign Manager - Garrett for State Senate
* Daniel Dennison, Kerry Traveler Coordinator
* Marissa Garciosa, Organizer, ICIRR
* Sarah Gersten, Finance Director, Schakowsky for Congress
* Pete Giangreco, Partner, The Strategy Group
* Mike Kreloff, Northfield Township Committeeman
* Kevin Lampe, Partner, Kurth/Lampe
* Ann Liston, Partner, Adelstein/Liston
* Vasyl Marcus, Research Director, SEIU Hospital Accountability Project
* Mia Phifer, Freelance Fundraiser
* Brenden Reilly
* Leticia Reyes
* Dan Shomon, Political Director, Obama for Illinois
* Erica Summer

September 17th, 2005 10 AM - 3 PM

Registration begins at 9:30

UNITE HERE Building 333 S. Ashland Chicago, IL 60607

Registration Fees (lunch included):
$10 Student
$20 Non-Member
Free for Members
* Proceeds from the training will go to Hurricane Katrina Relief

RSVP to Alex at

There will be a post-training party at Jak's Tap,
901 W. Jackson Blvd.

By Car:
The UNITE HERE building is located at the corner of S. Ashland and W. Jackson, near the Ashland Exit of the Eisenhower (290). Parking is available on site.
By Bus:
The #9 Ashland Bus stops right outside the UNITE HERE building
By El:
Blue Line (Forest Park) to Medical Center stop. Walk E on Jackson, to Ashland.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Community Calendar

I guess that one of the (only) benefits of having a blog is that, in addition to sharing my thoughts on various topics, it gives me an additional outlet through which I can disseminate information. So to that end, I am pleased to announce that, before the Illinois Legislature reconvenes for the Fall Veto Session, I will be hosting the following events in district:

Arts Funding Seminar
co-hosted with 1st Ward Alderman Manny Flores

Saturday, September 17
Hamlin Park Fieldhouse
3035 N. Hoyne

Town Hall Meeting
with Comptroller Dan Hynes

Tuesday, September 20
Chicago Public Library - Lincoln Park Branch
1150 W. Fullerton Avenue

Town Hall Meeting
with State Senator John Cullerton

Monday, September 26
Sulzer Regional Library
4455 N. Lincoln Avenue

I hope you will be able to join me at any or all of these events.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

You Won, Now What?

The Governor's signature is barely dry on the med-mal bill, but things may start to get interesting. As reported in Crain's, ISMIE, the state's largest med-mal insurer, is being called in for a hearing about its latest rate increases.
Some of the increases were “problematic,” says Susan Hofer, a spokeswoman for the state’s insurance regulator.
Many people, myself included, wondered if the proponents of the measure were so intent on getting the caps provision passed that they set themselves up for a whole lotta trouble down the road. More to the point, I wonder if the docs and/or ISMIE got so caught up in the U.S. Chamber's rhetoric that they themselves may wind up regretting the other regulatory reforms contained in the law. Some may say that this just shows how fair and balanced the law is. Maybe, but I think that this may be just the first taste of what's to come.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Teach a Man to Fish - Updated

You know, I wasn't quite sure about what I originally had up here when I posted it last night. In case you missed it, it was a doctored picture of the President fishing in New Orleans. I thought that it might bring some levity to a really bad situation, but on second thought, it just wasn't appropriate and I'm not sure that any of us are quite ready for levity just yet.

Things have been busy the last several days, and I haven't been able to take on some of the substantive issues that I have wanted to address. But I will do my best to get to them in the very near future. In the meantime, please feel free to throw any ideas my way for discussion.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Paying the Piper

So I had the opportunity on Wednesday afternoon to participate in a conference call with Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack who gave an update on the situation surrounding the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. After a brief status report, Vilsack proceeded to tear into FEMA Director Michael Brown like it was nobody's business. Vilsack said that Brown completely fumbled a earlier briefing with Governors and other leaders.

More to the point, he said that Brown 'didn't have a clue', 'was in way over his head', and then stated that he had 'no confidence in Brown's ability' to handle this type of situation. Vilsack praised the Governors of the various states as extraordinary leaders, but said that they were 'stymied' in the efforts to help by incompetence at the federal level.

When the inevitable hearings take place, you can expect Governors (of both parties I think) to do everything short of laying the corpses at Brown's doorstep. He is the clear frontrunner in the race to wear the jacket on this one. (But Barbara Bush should get some type of honorable mention for her inane and offensive comments.)

When it comes to dealing with the displaced storm victims, we are in uncharted territory. There is no question that other states are going to permanently absorb some of these folks and questions will have to be answered about the costs of so doing. Latest word is that Congress is going to authorize an additional $51.8 Billion later this week to deal with the situation.

Issues from education to housing to employment are hard enough to deal with already, but now many states are going to find themselves with thousands of new residents with thousands of additional needs. The quick focus is going to be on pouring money into the disaster areas, but attention (and resources) must also be paid to the other states that are stepping up in this time of crisis. We are all in this together.

Was this avoidable? Katrina obviously wasn't. But the aftermath...look at my last post and decide.

In the You Reap What You Sow Department

Here's a timeline that outlines the fate of both FEMA and flood control projects in New Orleans under the Bush administration. I received this in an e-mail and thought it was worth passing on. Feel free to comment.

January 2001: Bush appoints Joe Allbaugh, a crony from Texas, as head of FEMA. Allbaugh has no previous experience in disaster management.

April 2001: Budget Director Mitch Daniels announces the Bush administration's goal of privatizing much of FEMA's work. In May, Allbaugh confirms that FEMA will be downsized: "Many are concerned that federal disaster assistance may have evolved into both an oversized entitlement program...." he said. "Expectations of when the federal government should be involved and the degree of involvement may have ballooned beyond what is an appropriate level."

2001: FEMA designates a major hurricane hitting New Orleans as one of the three "likeliest, most catastrophic disasters facing this country."

December 2002: After less than two years at FEMA, Allbaugh announces he is leaving to start up a consulting firm that advises companies seeking to do business in Iraq. He is succeeded by his deputy, Michael Brown, who, like Allbaugh, has no previous experience in disaster management.

March 2003: FEMA is downgraded from a cabinet level position and folded into the Department of Homeland Security. Its mission is refocused on fighting acts of terrorism.

2003: Under its new organization chart within DHS, FEMA's preparation and planning functions are reassigned to a new Office of Preparedness and Response. FEMA will henceforth focus only on response and recovery.

Summer 2004: FEMA denies Louisiana's pre-disaster mitigation funding requests. Says Jefferson Parish flood zone manager Tom Rodrigue: "You would think we would get maximum consideration....This is what the grant program called for. We were more than qualified for it."

June 2004: The Army Corps of Engineers budget for levee construction in New Orleans is slashed. Jefferson Parish emergency management chiefs Walter Maestri comments: "It appears that the money has been moved in the president's budget to handle homeland security and the war in Iraq, and I suppose that's the price we pay."

June 2005: Funding for the New Orleans district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is cut by a record $71.2 million. One of the hardest-hit areas is the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, which was created after the May 1995 flood to improve drainage in Jefferson, Orleans and St. Tammany parishes.

August 2005:
While New Orleans is undergoing a slow motion catastrophe, Bush mugs for the cameras, cuts a cake for John McCain, plays the guitar for Mark Wills, delivers an address about V-J day, and continues with his vacation. When he finally gets around to acknowledging the scope of the unfolding disaster, he delivers only a photo op on Air Force One and a flat, defensive, laundry list speech in the Rose Garden.

I am not offering the above to kick our country's leader in the wake of a national disaster. And while it is easy to Monday morning quarterback this thing, I do think that there are countless valuable lessons to be learned at every level of government about prudence and priorities. Whether it's disaster preparedness or a rainy day fund, the time almost always comes to pay the piper.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

No Running in the Hall

So the woman appointed by a federal judge to monitor city hiring practices issued her preliminary report yesterday, and she did not pull any punches. As reported in the Sun-Times, Noelle Brennan found the city has been "substantially" noncompliant with the Shakman Decree for "a significant period of time."

The bombshell comes not in the findings, but in her recommendations (uncontested by the City - for now) for future hiring policies. The new directives include a purging of all applications presently in the hiring pipeline, and most notably, a requirement that the individuals doing the hiring sign a sworn statement that a hire was not based on politicial considerations.

If this is implemented on a going forward basis, it is going to be a new day in City Hall. The mere possibility that somebody may be seen as a 'political hire' will likely be enough to keep any department head from being willing to fall on the perjury sword. Interesting times indeed.

EZ Does It

Just a quick aside to congratulate my friend and colleague Rep. Lou Lang on the birth of his grandson Ethan Zachary Lang last week.

Word has it that the youngest Lang has already visited 95 of our 102 counties in his efforts to decide on what to do with his future. (You're the best Lou!)

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Who You Calling a Clown?

So people often deride many proposed laws as being unnecessary or overreaching. And while I can see their point at times, I tend to be of the position that it is better to be safe than sorry. One example of this is a bill that my friend Rep. Kevin Joyce had that would make us the first state in the country to background check carnival workers. Today's Daily Herald has a story on the issue here.

In my opinion, the need for the checks is further bolstered by this tidbit from today's Chicago Tribune story on the same subject,
In running background checks at five events, the Illinois attorney general's office and Cook County sheriff's department found that among 179 carnival employees, there had been 556 arrests and 125 convictions, according to a letter sent to law enforcement agencies.
The industry predictably says that the bill is unfair to them, but history would dictate a need for knowing who is coming into contact with our children. As Rep. Bill Black, a co-sponsor of the measure stated,
"I hope we get through this without somebody being killed or getting raped. I'd recommend you stay with (your children) every ride and every attraction on the midway. Your child could be getting on a ride that is run by Charles Manson."
Yes I understand that we can't, and shouldn't, micromanage every potential danger in life. But say what you will, I am sure that, god forbid another child gets attacked at a carnival or fair, legislators will be tripping over themselves to file the same bill that Kevin did. I say let's act rather than react.

Isn't That Special

So there have been rumors of a Special Session floating around for a couple of weeks now, but nothing definitive has yet to emerge. I would imagine that the session would be called to do some type of bonding bill in order to come up with the matching money needed for the big dollars we have coming our way under the recently signed federal transportation bill. While I tend to be wary of bonding bills, conceptually this one would seem to make sense based on the long-term benefits to our state. (In the CMA department, the session could be called for something altogether different, (or not called at all), but I doubt it.)

The more interesting question is if they simultaneously try to tack on some type of additional bonding to do a capital bill for projects of local importance to constituents and thereby to legislators. I could be missing something procedurally, but this would seem to be doable under the 'it's just as easy to bond a lot as it is to bond a little' theory.

If there is a capital bill, it could turn into a feeding frenzy as groups come out of the woodwork trying to satisfy their unrequited desire for funding for their projects. Since the proverbial capital well has dried up, it has been a number of years since we have seen that type of frenetic activity around the capitol.

From a timing standpoint, it would seem to make more sense to do a Special Session later that would run right into Veto Session (which is very early this year) rather than to convene the legislature in a few weeks and then bring us in again a few weeks after that. I guess we'll find out soon enough.

Farm Fresh

Some of my friends from the Edgar County Farm Bureau were kind enough to drive up last Friday for a visit. We had lunch at a restaurant by my district office and then took a walking tour around the neighborhood. Speaking for myself, it was a great couple of hours talking about local issues (mine and theirs), politics, and planning for a fall visit that I plan on taking down there in October.

I've said it before, but it's worth repeating - the legislature and the state would each be a better place if we all spent more time getting to know more about areas other than those we represent.

Monday, September 05, 2005


So I went to the Jimmy Buffett concert today, and while I've always been somewhat ambivalent about him, I will say that the show was an enjoyable way to spend a beautiful afternoon. Despite some concerns leading up to the concerts, the City did a great job with crowds, traffic, any garbage, etc. And to that end, the crowd deserves a lot of credit too. A lot of people having a lot of fun without causing any real problems. It would seem to set the proverbial stage for future concerts at Wrigley Field. (We need something to look forward to in September/October.)

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Happy Labor Day

From the people that brought you:

The weekend

Workplace safety rules

Child labor laws

And so on.

I'll probably take it easy for the next couple days unless there's some good stuff that comes out over the weekend. Til then, enjoy the holiday weekend, thanks for checking in, and feel free to let me know (either here or via e-mail on the right) if you have some topics that you'd like to see covered.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

A Little Goes a Long Way

Having been born in Louisiana, and having lived in Alabama and Florida (Air Force brat), my thoughts go out that much more to the victims of the hurricance and its still-escalating aftermath. Not to preach, but even if you're not one that ordinarily gives to charities, now would be a good time to start.

Second Harvest Food Bank:
(100% of donations to Katrina victims)

Operation Blessing:

Episcopal Relief & Development:

United Methodist Committee on Relief:

Salvation Army:


Catholic Charities:

FEMA Charity tips:

National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster:

Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals:

Where there's Smoke...

I'm doing a press conference this morning calling for a ban on smoking in university housing in Illinois. The bad news is that smoking is one of the leading causes of fires in student housing. Plus, given what we know about the dangers of second-hand smoke, it's hard to justify requiring students to live in an environment that we know to be unsafe. The good news is that most Illinois universities already have the ban in effect. Some notable exceptions are the University of Chicago, University of Illinois-Chicago, and Eastern Illinois. Lisa Donovan has a story on the bill in today's Sun-Times.

This is as much a public safety issue as it is a public health issue. And while the bill won't be heard until the next session, I'm announcing it now to increase awareness and caution as students around the state are returning to school.