Wednesday, August 31, 2005

To Plea or Not to Plea

Carol Marin gives her take on the pressures mounting on former Governor Ryan as his trial date quickly approaches. After a cursory discussion of the issue, and the pressures that can be, and have been, applied by the feds, she says - "It's over."

So should George cop a plea or roll the dice? I'll try to give my thoughts later if I get a chance, busy day today.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Get to Work!

One of my friends from downstate pointed out this bit of good news for our state and the administration. The Decatur Herald & Review had an editorial pointing out that Illinois July job numbers led the nation. Coming from an area that knows a thing or two about job loss, this is some welcome reinforcement that things are trending in the right direction. They did temper the news however by stating:
There are some concerns in the July employment numbers, however. Government hires drove the month's increase, with that sector adding 5,800 job. The education and health services sector added 1,400 jobs. There were 1,900 jobs lost in the trade, transportation and utility sector, and 1,500 fewer jobs in the professional business services sectors. Those last two categories had been contributing significantly to job growth earlier in the year. While government provides much-need services, it's generally better for an economy if the job growth comes from private business and industry.

Oh Baby!

Can't believe that I didn't even realize that this had been signed by the Governor. It just goes to show what can be done when people are willing to work together. Or at least try. Back in March, the Sun-Times did a good piece on the backdrop of the Born-Alive bill. It's a little hard to read the pdf, but you can get the idea of what went down.

Kudos to my friend Rep. Brandon Phelps and everybody else that helped reach this historic outcome.

House Guest - Ed Murnane

In the spirit of a free exchange of ideas, I am happy to welcome Ed Murnane, President of the Illinois Civil Justice League, as the inaugural Dome-cile House Guest. Ed was gracious enough to take the time to share his thoughts here and I appreciate the discourse.

I must admit that the harsh anti-business rhetoric expressed during the past few days (post-med-mal signing) is disturbing; nevertheless I welcome Rep. Fritchey’s invitation to post some thoughts and comments from the tort reform “establishment” in
Illinois. (I also must take the opportunity to commend Rep. Fritchey for providing his constituents – indeed all Illinoisans – with a chance to tell him when they think he’s gone way over the edge, or maybe done something good, too.)

But first a word about the business community in general, and Chambers of Commerce (U.S. and others) in particular.

How easy it is to target “big business.” How easy it is for some to forget that it is “big businesses,” many of them in Illinois, that provide jobs for thousands of Illinois working men and women. They provide tax revenues that support local schools and municipal services; they provide paychecks that are spent in local grocery stores and dry cleaners and churches.

And for those who are looking toward retirement, they provide investment opportunities through mutual funds and 401k programs and pensions that may yield healthy returns if – IF – the businesses can remain profitable.

So don’t be so quick to criticize “big business” or the members of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. All of us need them and we need them to be healthy.

A disturbing trend in Illinois is that the number of manufacturing jobs has been surpassed by the number of people working for government, as of 2002. According to the Illinois Department of Employment Security. In 2002, Illinois manufacturers employed 740,200 people compared to 863,000 government jobs. Who puts the money into the government to pay those salaries?

But more to the issue at hand: tort reform (even we “tort reformers” would prefer “civil justice reform” since only lawyers, law students and French pastry chefs know what a tort (or torte) is.

Contrary to what some of Rep. Fritchey’s closest allies may believe (and perhaps Rep. Fritchey himself?), the Illinois Civil Justice League is not about “big business.” Although we work closely with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, we also work closely with not-for-profit organizations and local governments and health care providers (including individual doctors, as well as the Illinois State Medical Society and Illinois Hospital Association).

Local governments are strong supporters of civil justice reform because they are frequent targets of lawsuits – some/many might be considered frivolous – and the local governments would like to keep those costs down. They’re an easy target, unfortunately, because they CAN raise more money by increasing taxes, which several in the Chicago area have had to do to fulfill settlements or verdicts in personal injury cases.

Not-for-profit organizations are threatened by lawsuits, and thus by higher liability insurance costs, and so many of them have joined with us to try to reduce the costs and threat of needless litigation.

This is not a News Flash, but there are some in Illinois who did not like the medical liability reform bill signed last week by Governor Blagojevich. As a matter of fact, they included the governor himself (and Rep. Fritchey, as he has subtly indicated).

We hope the new law and the cap on damages helps cut the cost of medical liability in Illinois. There are as many state results in which “caps” have worked as those in which they have not, which is a frequent argument of the opponents of reform.

But one of the most convincing arguments we have seen in favor of the need for reform and reducing the number of lawsuits in Illinois – especially in Southern Illinois – was the result of an analysis the Illinois Civil Justice League did of EVERY medical malpractice suit filed in Madison and St. Clair Counties in 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2003. Our study of actual court records showed that more than half of the physicians in those two counties had been named in a medical malpractice suit (either individually or through their practice) during that four-year period.

And we also learned from the court records that more than 75% of those who were named were eventually dismissed from the suit and had no obligation to pay anything. Of course they had to pay legal fees, or their insurer did, and they had to take time away from patients to prepare and give depositions, and they had to live with the chilling effect of knowing that any kind of care they give a patient could possibly result in another costly lawsuit.

If the new law helps reduce the number of lawsuits, that will be a plus for patients and for doctors.

Here are three other civil justice reform proposals which make sense. They do not preclude anyone from filing a lawsuit; they do not limit what could be recovered; they should have the support of both sides of the civil justice reform issue.

Venue Reform: Lawsuits should be filed where they make sense, either where the incident happened, or where the plaintiff lives, or where the “wrong-doer” is located. They should not be allowed in a jurisdiction simply because the judges are friendly.

Consumer Fraud Act Jury Option: Illinois’ consumer fraud act should be amended to allow jury trials at the request of either plaintiff or defendant. All of us believe in the right to a trial by jury – don’t we?

Jury Service Reform: Citizens need to be encouraged to serve on juries. One way to do that is to compensate them more than the $15 to $20 per day they are paid in most counties – not enough for parking in some areas. Employers need to be encourage do allow employees to serve and there should be no job risk to the employee.

How could anyone in
Illinois oppose the concepts of fair treatment of jurors, trial by juries in consumer fraud cases, and no “forum shopping” for friendly judges?

Just watch.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Captain Kirk Sets Phaser to Stun

Okay, I know that this isn't fair for people that don't subscribe to Rich Miller's Capitol Fax, (money well spent by the way), but man, does Sen. Kirk Dillard lay into the Governor today. Rich gave Dillard a chance to respond to the Pete Giangreco attack piece on Edgar and the Senator did not squander his opportunity.

He lights into Rod for everything from his Golden Gloves record to his vote against school reform as a Rep to his approval rating...and then some.

At this rate, a Blagojevich/Edgar race is shaping up to be a slugfest.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Quick, Everybody out of the Horse!

Okay, last post on this issue for a while...

Throughout session, some of my colleagues and I maintained that the med mal bill was simply a trojan horse for the greater tort reform movement and the U.S. Chamber wasted no time in confirming that fact, as further set forth in the Illinois Leader:
At the same time the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform (ILR) recognized Illinois’ newly enacted medical liability reforms as a good first step toward solving the state’s lawsuit crisis, they announced the launch of a statewide advertising campaign to highlight the need for additional reforms to restore fairness and balance to the legal system. (emphasis added)
At the same time? They couldn't even wait a month/week/day to give some semblance that their support for the med mal bill wasn't purely an angle for what they really cared about?

Now I think that there is room for reform in our legal system, but in light of the spin they they put on the med mal issue, I am curious to watch how the U.S. Chamber tries to sell this one to the public. It looks as if the tact will be to say "We aren't trying to protect the profits of our members, we are trying to protect your economy".

They are already doing things like claiming the loss of 200,000 jobs in Illinois over the last five years as a byproduct of our judicial system. Um guys, you think 9/11 or the war or the fees that the state has imposed has had anything to do with the job loss? An issue this substantial deserves an honest debate. From all sides.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Bad Prescription

As expected, and despite past assurances to the contrary, the Governor signed the Med Mal bill today. See one of the myriad stories here.

In the interest of full disclosure of how I feel about the bill, um, law, my quote in the article was:

"This legislation is a matter of politics trumping policy and poll results winning out over public interest."

Since this was one of the first items that I discussed on this blog, I won't get into it again fully here. I just have to repeat though that I think that the people of this state, primarily in southern Illinois, are being manipulated as political pawns in a high stakes game being launched by corporate concerns. Case in point, look at this paragraph from the Sun-Times article:

'The U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for Legal Reform cheered Thursday's bill signing as "a much-needed step in the right direction." That group also plans to launch a statewide advertising campaign pitching the need for additional reforms, insisting lawsuit abuse creates a hostile business climate that puts Illinois' jobs at risk. '

Now who the hell thinks that the U.S. Chamber is losing any sleep over health care availability for Illinoisans? Not me. This isn't the chamber made up of your local Ace Hardware or Ann's Travel Agency, this is the Altria's and Exxon's of the world who don't want people messing with their bottom line regardless of the validity of the claim. This was a Doc Maarten boot in the door that is going to be used to next try to impose limitations on average citizens being able to go after corporate wrongdoing.

Personally, I think that frivolous lawsuits hurt everybody. But these folks want to make it as hard as possible to bring even legitimate claims. Average citizens are already at a tremendous disadvantage when it comes to trying to seek justice from large corporate wrongdoers. The U.S. Chamber wants to further tilt the playing field.

I want to give credit where credit is due. They did a great job of P.R. in creating and selling this issue to the masses. Once they did that, the polling numbers couldn't help but follow. At that point, the leaders were boxed in. It will be interesting indeed to see what happens when either the bill gets struck down or the bill stays intact and premiums still don't plummet or when the public reads about the first egregious case of medical wrongdoing that cripples an innocent patient who is then awarded a verdict that is a fraction of what common sense or decency dictates.

Call it non-economic damages, pain and suffering, or even punitive damages. Certain cases so offend the conscience that they deserve an eye-opening award. May God look out so that nobody that we care about becomes that victim.

Scorecard: Big Business 1; Illinois victims 0.

House Guests

In order to mix things up a bit, starting some time next week, I will be having occasional guest columns by various elected officials (from both sides of the aisle and different areas of the state) on topics of their choosing. I have some great folks lined up already and am working on persuading some more to put themselves before the masses.

Look at it this way, every day that you hear from somebody else is a day that you don't have to hear from me. Reason enough to stop by the Dome-icile.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

You Heard It Here First

Okay, based on a number of things, none of which I'm going to go into, I'm calling out the '06 Republican ticket right here, right now. If I'm right...I don't know what. If I'm not, well, I think I am, but I guess we'll see.
  • Governor - Jim Edgar
  • Lt. Gov - Christine Radogno
  • Attorney General - ok, I'm not so sure on this one
  • Treasurer - Judy Baar Topinka
  • Comptroller - Bill Brady
  • Secretary of State - Dan Rutherford
But if I am right, with this lineup, does anybody see the Republicans picking up any of the offices that they don't presently hold? The changed photo caption gives you some insight as to my thoughts on the matchups. No reflection on the candidates themselves, mind you, just calling it like I see it.

Maybe they would be better off with the lineup pictured in my post here.

Frankie Says 'No Mas'

Per the Illinois Leader, my former colleague Frank Aguilar has closed the door on seeking a return to office in the next cycle. Frank lost in an election that redefined the word fluke. Apparently, Michelle Chavez didn't get the memo that she was supposed to lose. But opting to stay closer to his home base of Cicero and his recently widowed mom, Frank said:
While I enjoyed my service in state government and was honored to represent the residents of Cicero in that capacity, today I am announcing that I will not be a candidate for state legislative office in the 2006 election cycle.
But that doesn't clear the path for the woman who vanquished Frank. Lisa Hernandez, from Pat Quinn's office, is waiting in the wings and will be a force to be reckoned with.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Some Things May be Better Left Unsaid

When you see a headline like this: Illinois Gov. Blagojevich: We’re Forced to Live in a Democracy, it just kind of gets your attention.

Now I fully support stem cell research, and I am glad that the funding is in place, but I know that I am not alone in feeling like the General Assembly got a little bit backdoored in how the deal got done. Maybe the end doesn't always justify the means, but the rhetoric in the article may still be over the top. Thoughts?


To deal with the recent proliferation of spambot comments on this blog, I have added word verification to the comment section. Small inconvenience granted, but it should hopefully deal with the issue.

Maid to Order

Today's Chicago Tribune has a front-page article here about the issues underlying House Bill 3485, which I sponsored this past session and which was recently signed into law by Gov. Blagojevich. The bill requires hotels in Cook County to provide room attendants who work a seven hour day with the incredibly extravagant benefits of...two 15 minute breaks, a 30 minute meal break, and (drumroll please) clean drinking water.

Essentially, the issue is that by virtue of increased room amenities, the room attendants have much more work to do in the same amount of time. The increased load, with insufficient rest, is resulting in increased injuries and exhaustion to the employees.

The opposition from the hotel lobby was so strong, you would have thought that I was trying to mandate $1 rooms on weekends.

Now I am a big believer in the concept that you cannot be pro-job without being pro-business. But I am also a big believer in the concept of human decency. This workforce, predominantly female, overwhelmingly minority, is as important to our tourism industry as Millenium Park or Navy Pier. They are pretty much the invisible front line in our battle to provide an enjoyable experience in your visit anyplace. I don't care how good the attractions are, if people have a crappy hotel experience, it ruins their trip.

I repeatedly told the hotels lobbyists and managers that I was willing to work with them, and not once did they come up with any compromise. Period. Because the problem is mostly one with large chains, on my own, I narrowed the scope of the bill from statewide to just Cook County. And while they kept saying that this was a naked effort to circumvent collective bargaining between HERE Local 1 (who represents the workers) and the industry, they never addressed the fact that most of the hotels in Cook County are non-union and therefore not even covered by the collective bargaining agreement (which already provides for one 15 minute break anyway).

The House battle was spirited with the bill ironically stalling in the Democrat-controlled Labor committee by virtue of the lack of support from a 'progressive' downstate Rep. After committee passage, the lead opponent of the measure was a minority Chicago Rep. who has literally hundreds of Local 1 members in his district, but instead sided with a handful of hotel operators.

It got even more tense in the Senate, where at the end of Session, the bill fell just short of the votes needed for passage. President Jones stepped up (and then some) in order to get the needed votes and the bill went to the Governor.

Now I sympathize with the plight of the hotel industry post-9/11. But as my pal Brad the Hotel Baron has told me, there are big bucks in hotels these days. Surely, giving these women (mothers, wives, etc.) a chance to rest won't stand in the way of progress. Score one for the little guy.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

The Chicago Way

Sunday's Chicago Tribune has a couple of good articles on the issue of patronage and corruption in the Windy City. Ron Grossman has an interesting piece here, while Mayor Daley's campaign wiz David Axelrod discusses the evolution of his philosophy into the acceptance of the patronage system here.

Mike Lawrence, whose writing I really respect, and who was one of Gov. Edgar's point guys, also recently weighed in on the subject here.

Daley and Edgar are two of the people that made the practice an art form, so it is interesting to read what an Edgar guy has to say about how Daley operates.

Discussions of patronage inherently encompass several subsets - jobs in exchange for political work, contracts awarded to supporters, and many nuances thereof. On its face, hiring people who you know or come recommended is a relatively benign concept that takes place in the private sector every day. The slippery slope comes when jobs or promotions depend on not only doing political work, but how good you perform at that work. By the time that the importance of political performance outweighs job performance, you are in treacherous waters indeed.

A ward committeman is technically responsible for the party operations, constituent communication and vote turnout in their turf. For years, the job of the ward committeman in Chicago was of particular importance as the ward office operated as a de facto hiring hall. As the hiring power consolidated into City Hall, the role of the committeman has waned somewhat. Nevertheless, the public still as an inate perception that politics and municipal services are inextricably intertwined. As Ron Grossman put it:
According to a long-standing pact between Chicago's voters and politicians, the ward bosses deliver basic services, seeing that garbage is picked up and potholes repaired. The electorate returns the favor at the ballot box--and pretends not to notice when office holders and their friends dip into the public trough.
It is likely that the concentration of this practice into one place set the stage for inevitable problems that appear to have followed. A little bending of the rules spread around the whole City is one thing, a lot of it under one roof is another. Compound it with a tinge of resentment by formerly influential leaders, and things just multiply.

Yes, the practice has been around forever and has its certain sense of twisted efficiency. But elected officials need to understand that the excuse that 'this is how it's always been done' just won't cut it anymore.

There is no question that some of the most powerful organizations have thrived as the result of the ability to reward political trench work with job security and advancement. But if the current federal actions truly change the way things are done in Chicago, many of these organizations are living on borrowed time. If public employees are unfettered from their political obligations, the candidates and 'organizations' that will have ability to achieve results will be those who can garner support by appealing to real believers and delivering results to the constituents. For years, the concept has been mostly rhetoric, but this is the closest we have ever come to seeing it become a reality.

Conversely, if the current round of revelations, indictments and convictions don't change the 'Chicago way' of doing things, the system our forebearers grew up with will be the same one endured by our grandchildren.

Contracts bring with them their own set of problems. On one hand, it makes sense to do business with people you know and trust. And that's fine in the private sector. In the public sector, the temptations to improperly circumvent the system have consistently proved too great. Given that virtually any system can be abused, I don't pretend to have the answers to the problem. But again, officials better understand that all deals will, and should be, more carefully scrutinized than ever. Especially the no-bid contracts.

Decades of repeated scandals appear to have finally taken their toll on both the public and the media. It appears that the masses have run out of cheeks to turn. And neither party has the claim to the high road on this issue. And that makes sense because these problems are borne of individual misdoings not partisanship philosophy.

What is going to be the most telling, especially at the state level, is which party does a better job of putting forth candidates that embrace the new tenor of the times and can instill confidence in the issue to the public. But at every level, it will no longer be enough to just talk the talk.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Happy 1/2 Birthday

Friday, August 19, 2005

Green Acres redux

As a follow-up to the conversation here, regardless of what part of the state you are from, what do you think is the biggest misconception that people from other parts of the state have about your area?

For extra credit, what impact do you think that this has on the legislative process and decisions that are made?

Fox Trot

Dane Placko and Fox News just ran a real nice piece on Dome-icile on the 9 p.m. news tonight. Titled 'Political Revolution', it focused on this blog, and more importanty, about how blogs by elected officials could change the face of politics as we know it. While I greatly appreciate the exposure, I think that getting the idea to a wider audience is going to help the very concept of political blogs and greater communication between public servants and the people they represent.

Many thanks to the Dane and the folks at Fox for reaching out to me and doing this piece.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Us vs. Them vs. Us

(I have to apologize up front for the length of this one, just kind of kept going on me.)

Downstate against Chicago against Suburbs against Downstate – and on it goes. There is much discussion, often negative, between the denizens of each region regarding the lack of understanding that the inhabitants of ‘the other area’ have about the problems that affect their home turf.

Chicagoans think that downstaters are a bunch of rubes. Folks from southern Illinois have no clue about life in the big city. Suburbanites are ignorantly ensconced behind their white picket fences and don’t care about anybody else.

And while the reality is that these views are held by a lot of people, another reality is that we could all benefit by a crash course in the culture of these other areas. Because at the end of the day, we are all joined at the territorial hip, and like it or not, none of these areas could thrive in a vacuum.

We live in a marvelously diverse state. From the coal country in southern Illinois to the rich farmland that is our midsection to the economic engine that is Chicago, Illinois has it all. But by recognizing the strengths, and needs of our neighbors, we could do even more.

Just one example – I don’t think that many downstaters fully appreciated the health and crime fallout that comes from the drug trade – until crystal meth came along. All of a sudden, no law was too stiff, and no amount of money was too much to spend on prevention and treatment. To elaborate, if theoretically, Chicago legislators tried to restrict over the counter access to Sudafed because of problems with crack dealers, it would have been decried as an unnecessary crimping of personal freedoms because of an ‘urban’ problem. But now that their communities are being stricken by the plague that is meth, it is a different story.

Do NOT misunderstand me, I have fully supported my downstate colleagues efforts on this issue, and have co-sponsored a number of the initiatives. My point is that we should not be quick to judge the travails of other regions unless we have walked in their shoes.

So how do we reduce the cross-ignorance that besets many of our residents? Education and exposure are good places to start.

The Illinois Farm Bureau has a great program that has rural counties adopt urban and suburban legislators. I am the proud adoptee of the fine folks at Edgar County and have loved our relationship; I have spent time in and around Paris, Illinois meeting with farmers, visiting an FS outlet, eating lunch with a cross-section of the folks and learning about life there and the issues that affect them. In a couple weeks, some of them will be up here spending some time with me in my district.

That these experiences produce results is evident. Shortly after my last visit there, I was inspired to send a letter to all of my House colleagues urging an extension of the Agricultural Sales Tax Incentives that were reported being eyed to be eliminated to ease budget pressures. I received notes from several downstate members who sincerely appreciated a City legislator weighing in on this important issue.

I think that the reverse of this program would be great. Various urban groups could bring downstate legislators up to Chicago, not just for a baseball game and shopping, but to visit city schools, neighborhoods and talk to families and business owners about their experiences.

I also think that it would be great to have a scaled down version of the State Fair up around Chicago, if not annually, then every other year. Pigs, goats, corn dogs and all. Many Chicagoans think that the farming takes place in a land far far away, not within a short drive. They don’t realize that geographically we are so much more rural than urban, that folks in southern Illinois (understandably) have more in common with people from Kentucky than with people from Chicago. Plus, it would be great for the FFA kids to spend some time up here and realize that they’re not going to get shot once the sun goes down.

While it may be hard to enlighten twelve million people, opening the eyes of 177 is a worthwhile investment that would pay dividends for all of us.

And in the interest of spurring some of the great conversation that we’ve been having, in addition to any comments about what I’ve said, I’d be curious to hear from folks about what misconceptions they think they people from other parts of the state have about their area.

Dawn of the Dead

Just saw some footage of Republican Day at the State Fair. If you know me, you know that I'm not a very partisan creature...but, I've got to say that I've seen a livelier cast on Six Feet Under. I mean seriously, street performers draw better than these folks did.

Memo to the Ice Cream Man: If you're going to try to verbally drill somebody right in front of their face, and in front of the media, do it with some gusto or delivery. I don't know who looked more uncomfortable after your comment, Kjellander or you.

If you would have asked me six months ago, I would have told you that the Republicans were getting themselves right back in the game. After seeing the scene today, I think I stand corrected.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Fair Catch

Just got back from the Fair with my family. Long day, but as usual, glad I went. A few observations on the trip. I spoke to the Democracy for Illinois contingent, the jist of my comments was that (in keeping with the last thread), while we are in a blue state, that could change pretty quickly if we don't pay more attention to Democratic ideals. That is, we can't just back candidates based on who they are, but need to pay more attention to the values that we are advancing.

Most Dems in IL are Dems for a reason and they need to be reminded of that. From the smallest local race to the statewide offices, we need to do a better job of messaging. The Republicans are better than us at this nationally, and after being decimated here, they are rebuilding based on this same concept.

In my opinion, there is no issue that Dems have to concede or play defense on, a lot of it is framing. A topic for another day.

Back to the point, I like the Fair. There is a certain 'land that time forgot' quality to it. A simpler time. As far as the rally is concerned, truth be told, I left right before the speeches started. Talked with some staff, friends, etc. Got a chance to chat with Barack for a bit. (You have to appreciate that the brightest star in the state party just shows up without entourage and calmly and graciously held court with media and fans alike - he is such a good guy) But I really didn't feel like subjecting my family to the speeches that they had essentially heard countless times before. Not when the Lincoln Museum was on tap.

I have been to the Museum four or five times now, and I still think it's great. What our 9 year old was able to absorb in less than two hours about national history, the struggle over slavery, and our great president is truly impressive. I know that the museum has taken flack from purists about being 'Disneyesque', but I disagree. I think that it does a great job in making a host of issues accessible and interesting to an incredibly wide spectrum of people.

The dinner at Cracker Barrel on the way home seemed to be a fitting way to top off the day. The evening was capped off by watching the fireworks over Navy Pier as we drove into downtown.

Can't wait until next year.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

So What's a Democrat Anyway?

Since Democrat Day, aka Governor's Day, at the state fair is tomorrow, I figure now is as good a time as any to take on this topic. There is always a lot of chatter about advancing 'Democratic' ideals now that Democrats control both chambers and the Mansion. But defining what that is can prove to be tricky.

I can differ greatly with my downstate Democratic colleagues on issues such as choice, gun safety, and even environmental issues. And as a reflection of regional differences in the people whom we represent, it is readily understandable. One of the beauties of our party is its diversity of ideals and tolerance of that diversity. But at the same time, it can make the formulation of a 'party' position akin to herding cats.

As a result, the agendas advanced by the Leaders are often based on political realities more than policy beliefs. Don't get me wrong, I understand it and truly appreciate being in the majority. I just wonder how you harmonize the two concepts. Case in point, the State Party has a pro-choice plank in its platform. But in 1998, the party powers went with Glenn Poshard for Governor, who I really respect and think is a great and sincere guy, but who did not subscribe to this position. As a result, many Democrats found themselves uncomfortable with the party choice and George Ryan did much better than he should have up in my neck of the woods.

Now, I understand the flipside as well when downstaters say "Why should we have to put up with all of these 'liberal Chicago candidates?" But this gets to my point, I guess.

What do you think the guiding principles of our state party should be? And is it justifiable to stray from those policies to win elections and maintain power?

And for you Republicans out there, do you see analagous issues on your side? (I do, to an extent.)

And lastly, which party does a better job of handling these issues?

Monday, August 15, 2005

Med Malady

With the Governor's signature of the medical malpractice bill looming, now's as good a time as any to share some of my thoughts on the issue. As Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, I had the opportunity to oversee the hearings on this issue last session. Lots of hearings. With a lot of testimony. Conflicting testimony. Lots of conflicting testimony. Since it's a moot point, and exhausting, to rehash the issues, let me distill them as much as possible. (And then some) Yes, I believe that doctors have left Illinois. Yes, it is a legitimate issue. Yes, I believe that many have left because of the size of their insurance premiums. But no, I do not believe that those premiums have been driven by excessive verdicts.

I think that caps on pain and suffering awards (since euphemistically renamed 'non-economic damages') will not only not solve the issue, but that they seriously undercut some of the fundamental underpinnings of our judicial system. And let me reiterate that I would have potentially still considered supporting caps I I believed that they would solve anything.

(Let me throw in a quick comment here. I know that there are very strong views on this topic and have seen that intelligent people can and do disagree about this issue. So if anybody wants to weigh in, please do, but let's try to be civil about it.)

Rather than engage in an after-the-fact substantive debate, let me throw this out there. I think that the vote on the bill, and the assistance that it received from the leaders and soon from the Governor was more a function of political concerns than policy considerations. Supporters of caps did an excellent job of controlling the message for the last couple of years and using it as a political bludgeon. The Maag/Karmeier Supreme Court scared the daylights of every Democrat within earshot.

Neither of the leaders, nor the Governor, could risk alienating Southern Illinois voters over this speeding train. But flash forward ahead a year or so. What happens, if, the bill gets struck down by the Illinois Supreme Court (My early line on that - 80%)? Do those who supported the bill still get viewed as heroes, or as parties complicit in forestalling any real solution?

For the Democrats out there, let me also toss this in the mix. If you are from southern Illinois, this is an issue that obviously hits home. But at the same time, we have traditionally been the party to stand up for victims, the disadvantaged, in short, the people most adversely affected by the bill. How do you reconcile the position that your local legislators took on the bill? In other words, at what point does political expediency trump fundamental philosophy?

I don't envy the position in which my downstate colleagues found themselves, but at the same time, it will be interesting to see what this portends for our party going forward.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Thinning the herd

The subject of what, if anything, I am running for next is one that comes up often. Not surprisingly perhaps, comments that I have heard or read run the spectrum from very encouraging to derisive. What is interesting is this, whenever a legislator works hard or takes on issues that don't just fall in their laps, people assume that they are simply doing it to try to make a move. I think that there are a number of legislators that are actually motivated by the simple desire to try to do some good things and not simply the thought of advancing to a higher office.

I look at the General Assembly as analogous to camping. Try to leave the place in better shape than you found it.

To be candid, at the urging of a number of people, I have taken a look at the State Treasurer race for 06. I think that it is a very winnable race should JBT not seek re-election, and one in which a person could take on some very substantive issues, but for the reasons stated below, I will not be a candidate in that election.

Through the quirks of geography, I am the State Rep for the Governor, Attorney General and Comptroller. Furthermore, if the wind is blowing out, I could probably hit Quinn's house and Jesse's house with a baseball from my district border. Ok, I couldn't, but maybe Osterman could, but you get the idea.

That being said, I just don't think that it is wise or a positive for the party to have another candidate from the same area. Too much campaign time would be spent dealing with a non-substantive issue rather than the issues that are important to that office. And there are many.

Many voters in this state would like to consider themselves somewhat independent. Given that the Democrats hold all but one of the constitutional offices, the Treasurer's race is an easy place for Democratic voters to show that independence by crossing over. To combat this, we need to have a candidate in that race that can distinguish themselves and bring something unique to the table. A good starting place would be some geographical diversity.

I won't get into who I think will run, but I think that we would be remiss not to field a strong candidate for what is a very winnable race. That is to say, don't just throw somebody from downstate on the ticket to say that we have balance, but support a qualified candidate who can articulate the issues and strengthen the overall party. (I'll talk more about this concept another time.)

As for myself, I have no idea what I am going to do at this stage. Every day brings somewhat different thoughts. I do know that I believe in the process and enjoy being a part of trying to make good things happen. What my future holds, if anything, I honestly don't know.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Issues on Tap

So some of the ideas put forth so far by readers that I want to address are as follows:

Property tax reform and relief

Medical marijuana

Chicago vs. Downstate (and vice-versa)

Unicameral legislatures (a la Nebraska)

I will also do something on the med-mal bill, which I anticipate the Governor will sign in the near future.

What other issues, legislative or political, do you think would make for good fodder here?

Friday, August 12, 2005

Microsoft plays catch-up

It's about time.
But I'm still sticking with Firefox.

Note: Yes I fixed the link.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

And Thus it Begins...

So the first question posed to me virtually everytime I told somebody that I was going to start a blog was, "Why in the hell would you want to do that for?" Which, when you think about it, is pretty much the right question to ask. First off, it's so much easier not to do this. Secondly, those who know me are acutely aware that I have a strong tendency to speak my mind, even if it is not the most politically expedient thing for me to do. I think it was the second issue that caused the most concern to my friends. Start a blog, they said, and you will inevitably write something that will be thrown back at you in the future. And that concept may in fact hold the very answer to their initial question. I'll get to that in a minute.

I've decided to undertake this endeavor for a number of reasons. First, I wanted someplace to express my thoughts and ideas on a wide range of issues involving politics, policy and the legislative process. More specifically, how the three items intersect and what happens when they don't. Second, I wanted to provide people with a open forum in which they can exchange thoughts with an elected official and hopefully provide readers with a unique perspective on various current events that affect all of us. Maybe most importantly, I wanted to take a step to take down the unnecessary barriers that appear to often exist between electeds and the electorate.

It is easy for public officials to talk about open government, but there still seems to exist an ironic disconnect between government and the people whom it is created to serve. I want to take a step toward repairing that disconnect that no elected official to date has yet to take. Granted it's a singular step, but hey, at least it's a start.

That gets me back to what I was talking about before. It is natural, and actually smart, for all of us to choose our words carefully before we express ourselves. But once you do say something, especially in the public arena, you essentially need to either stand behind it or admit you were wrong. I did that at the end of session when I went on a morning television talk show and apologized for my vote on the pension sweep. (An issue which will come back to bite us on our rear ends in the future, and one that I will probably write about at some point in time.) And while my apology was driven by personal and not political reasons, the aftermath was fascinating. I was contacted by countless people who told me that they strongly disagreed with my vote, but were willing to overlook it because it was so refreshing to hear an honest discussion of the matter. Now, while I don't recommend the exercise as one that should become pattern and practice for anyone, I think that elected officials could learn a lesson from my experience.

People do not expect their electeds to be perfect people, rather they expect them to reflect their views, to work hard, and BE STRAIGHTFORWARD with them. The lines between elected officials and their constituents function best when they are horizontal not vertical. Simply put, we need to speak WITH our constituents as neighbors, not TO them as children. Elected officials often make hard decisions for a variety of reasons, good and bad. Voters can understand this and they can also understand when they are being fed a load of bull. This blog is my way of putting up or shutting up. And yes, I know that there are those that would prefer that I do the latter, but I think that the time has come to step up, encourage some thought-provoking discussion, and listen to the views of those that care to share them here.

So at the end of this initial long premise, where are we at? While I have great hopes for this endeavor, I am simultaneously very realistic that it has the potential to go the way of the Tucker Torpedo. Unable to avoid the trite cliche, the whole of this site can truly be greater than the sum of its parts. That is to say, with a little quality input by a critical mass of people, this can turn into an (almost) self-sufficient entity that vacillates between think-tank and water cooler and barbershop. If, on the other hand, there is not enough interest to sustain this enterprise, than it will devolve into a home for my occasional musings and rants, which will doubtless be a lonely home indeed.

It is my hope to build momentum from now until session, at which time I hope to provide current thoughts and commentary on General Assembly proceedings from ground zero, and to elicit feedback from those affected by our actions in the Capitol. Only time will tell...

Let me set out some of the Dome-icile House Rules. 1) Obviously, I do not presume to speak for anybody other than myself. 2) Anything posted under my name will have been written by me. 3) I will strive to present issues that can be debated and discussed by my readers (assuming there are any). 4) Opposing views will be treated with respect, unless I am absolutely sure that I am right and you are wrong :) 5) Personal attacks on anybody will not be tolerated.

Seriously, I want this to be a place that can be simultaneously informal and intelligent. I also really want this to be a place where people can drop in, read some interesting things and maybe share their two cents worth. I hope that people will respect what I am trying to do here and try to make this experiment a better one rather than try to detract from it. I believe that if this works, it may bring other public officials into the realm of increased communication, and that would be better for everybody.

Welcome to Dome-icile. I hope that you enjoy your visits.