Sunday, April 29, 2007

Power to the People?

There are a few readers of this blog with whom I exchange e-mails on various topics from time to time.

One of whom, whose identity I have agreed to withhold, has given me the okay to print their e-mail last week regarding the issue of changing the status quo and addressing many of the complaints that the public has about government.
John I cannot disagree with you and other politicians who blame voters for not instituting change by the use of their vote. Incumbents have made it near impossible for upstarts or independents to get on the ballot let alone when a race. Add to that the passing down of political positions to family and friends and their are even fewer seats to be had.

Real change can only be made through guys like you taking political risks and holding other politicians to higher standards of ethical behavior and more importantly to serving the public rather than themselves.

The day of grass roots change has been over for years and you guys keep telling us the voters thats the only way things will get done but with so few challengers being able to crack the political machines in the cities and in the states far too few reformers get in at any one time to make effective changes and by the time the next election rolls around many have been sucked in to the game and just want to keep their jobs. Cynical but true.
You guys, the insiders have to make changes not voters. Voters cant pass a bill on term limits or campaign reform or patronage hiring or chauffers for political hacks etc. Only you guys can, so tell the fence sitters to stop waiting on voters to make the change and do some of the hard work we elected them to do.
So the question I have is, political theory aside, but as a realistic matter, do you think that the real power to effect change rests with the men and women who have the votes on legislation, or with the men and women who put us there?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Rep. Sacia and the GRT

One of the best things about the Legislature is that you have 177 men and women who bring a wide range of life experiences to the process, which is essential to the notion of a representative democracy.

If you know Rep. Jim Sacia, you may know that he is a former FBI agent, a man of integrity, and a man not prone to hyperbole. What you may not know, and I didn't know until speaking with him last night, is that he is also a business owner, selling farm equipment. The point of this is that he brings a unique first-hand perspective to the debate about the Governor's GRT proposal.

The following is a letter from Rep. Sacia to the Governor, which I believe is also going to be published by the Chicago Sun-Times. No rhetoric, no posturing, just one man's story, and one worth hearing.
April 12, 2007

Dear Governor:

In 1997 my wife, my son, and I started a farm equipment business against all logic in the world. “Ag is a faltering economy” I was told. We asked for no perks, we struggled and we made it go. Today we provide fourteen good jobs and each employee is making between $26,000 and $60,000 per year. Each get their health insurance paid and fifty percent of their dependent’s paid. Each has a 401K plan. Not a bad place to work.

Last year our sales were $5.2 million and our bottom line was $32,000 in the black. That makes me a “corporate fat cat” according to you Governor. Why do we do this when the GRT will take that bottom line plus thousands more?

Here’s a promise Governor, I won’t do it next year if this tax is imposed. (You just lost $200,000 in sales tax.) Northern Illinois Tractor and Equipment (NITE) will become Southern Wisconsin Tractor & Equipment.

Very truly yours,

Jim Sacia

State Representative

Discuss as you see fit.

Pay to Play Gets its Day

Just a few years ago, getting a bill like this called for a vote would have been an impossibility. Funny what a few years of headlines and scandal can do to help move reform forward in our state. The following is a press release sent out by Comptroller Dan Hynes.

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- “This is the beginning of the end for play-to-play politics in Illinois,” Comptroller Dan Hynes said today, after the Illinois House of Representatives approved an ethics reform bill that will reduce the corrupting influence of campaign contributions on the awarding of state contracts.

House Bill 1, drafted by Hynes and sponsored by Rep. John Fritchey, D-Chicago, prohibits business owners with more than $25,000 in state contracts from making campaign contributions to officeholders awarding those contracts, requires contractors to disclose previous contributions and prevents individuals with conflicts of interest from receiving fees from state bond sales.

“The House sent a very clear message today that Illinois government is not for sale and business-as-usual will not be tolerated,” Hynes said. “These reforms will act as a strong deterrent to backroom deals and quid pro quo governance. It is my hope that they will also help restore public faith in government.”

Fritchey said passage of the bill would allow the Legislature to focus on other important issues. “For too long, headlines have been dominated by corruption and pay-to-play politics, rather than key issues such as education funding reform, property taxes, and affordable health care. This legislation will not only put an end to this practice which has no place in state government, but will allow us to focus upon issues that are important to the people of Illinois.”

Cindi Canary, Director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, called on the Illinois Senate to follow suit and pass House Bill 1. “The House, by this solid vote, has recognized the concerns of Illinois voters and has stood up and done the right thing. It is now squarely in the hands of the Senate to respond in kind.”

Jay Stewart, Executive Director of the Better Government Association, applauded House passage of the reform bill. “This will help establish a separation between campaign contributions and lucrative state contracts. Given the contracting scandals that have beset the State of Illinois in recent years, the reform is long overdue.”


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Worth a Thousand Words

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Duke of DuPage

The Daily Herald has a great in-depth interview with State Sen. Dan Cronin (a great guy*) who is taking over the reigns of DuPage County Republican Party Chairman from State Sen. Kirk Dillard (another great guy*).

The article starts off talking about Cronin's evolution from 'renegade outsider' to party leader (gotta like that), but then gets into a number of interesting tidbits.

As DuPage Chairman, bashing Governor Blagojevich is essentially obligatory, and Cronin doesn't disappoint:
I think what's happening now with Governor Blagojevich and the gross receipts tax is a gift. I hope that everybody realizes that this is what happens when you elect Democrats. I gotta say the people who are out there talking about change and the need, I don't know why...

I guess to people who believe government provides all the answers, Rod Blagojevich is probably their hero. But for those who understand that it's the individual's ability and work ethic and it's commerce and it's business and it's jobs and it's raising taxes through a robust economy, people who understand that view of this world are probably really disillusioned with this governor.
When asked about potential Republican gubernatorial candidates, Cronin added:
We've got some bright young people coming up. I think that a (Sen.) Chris Radogno or a (Sen.) Bill Brady or (House GOP leader) Tommy Cross, a lot of these guys offer really attractive candidacies...Sometimes I think it's somebody from the business community. I know we saw Ron Gidwitz make a run at it, but maybe the timing wasn't right or maybe his presentation wasn't exactly right. But I think somebody like a Mike Koldyke kind of guy...Maybe a Grant DePorter from Harry Caray's. If he didn't want to be outed as a Republican, and I'm not even suggesting he is. I'm just saying that someone who has taken an unconventional route ought to be considered along with the people that are already in the business of politics.
I grew up with Grant, and count him as a very good friend to this day. But I'm guessing that nobody is more surprised to hear his name thrown into the ring than Grant is.

In any event, the interview is pretty interesting and worth a read. Congrats Dan.

*for a Republican :)

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Lord of the Rings

You have to give credit to Mayor Daley - when he puts his mind to something, he doesn't mess around. The latest example is Chicago's selection as the USOC candidate for the 2016 Olympics.

When the idea was first floated months ago, several people thought that it was simply a means of taking attention away from other, less favorable, items competing for media attention. But as time moved on, and the presentation team and ideas coalesced, the seriousness of the Mayor's intentions became more evident.

Now whether or not Chicago actually getting the games is a good thing is a legitimate subject for debate. On one hand, it could be not only a spectacular experience for Chicagoans and visitors alike, but a catalyst for developing lagging areas of the City in an exponential version of what the Democratic Convention did for portions of the West Loop and surrounding environs.

The flip side is that it could be a budget-buster leaving taxpayers on the hook for billions of dollars (see London and Beijing).

Conventional wisdom is stating that the odds of Chicago getting the games are a long shot, to say the least, with Rio de Janeiro and Madrid appearing to be the leading contenders. But as the old axiom goes, 'make no small plans'.

One thing is essential - the drive toward getting the games must be done with an openness not usually seen in Chicago projects. Red flags have already been raised for many watchdogs with the late disclosure that the City (read 'Chicago taxpayers') was going to have to act as a surety in the event the games lost money. Even though this fact had been know for quite a while, it was not made public until City Council action was necessary to ratify the reality.

The stakes are too high, and the potential for public exposure too great, for any attempts at playing hide the ball with any material aspects of the bid.

But if things are done right, (and looking at the semblage of people put together to prepare the City's proposal, the talent is there is do things right), win or lose, Chicago can further solidify its standing as a true world-class city.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Singing a Different Tune

I found the perfect thing to post about as I try to wind down for a couple of days. Not political, and the only controversy surrounds differing musical tastes.

They have released the lineup for this year's Lollapalooza concert in Grant Park on August 3-5. You can go to the article for the full lineup, but here are some of the acts that I think merit highlighting (emphasis on certain bands are mine):
  • Pearl Jam
  • Daft Punk
  • Iggy and the Stooges
  • Modest Mouse
  • Yeah Yeah Yeahs
  • The Roots
  • Patti Smith
  • Lupe Fiasco
  • TV on the Radio
  • Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
  • Femi Kuti and The Positive Force
  • Stephen Marley
  • Peter Bjorn and John
  • The Wailers
  • Roky Erickson & the Explosions
  • Rhymefest
  • Cold War Kids
  • Charlie Musselwhite
It's not the strongest lineup they've ever had, nor the most diverse, but it's solid enough to make for a few great days of music in a one-of-a-kind setting.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

When E.F. Hutton Speaks...

I am swamped today, so I can't elaborate on this one as much as I would like, but...I can't believe that this story isn't getting more play.

(Unlike me), Speaker Madigan is a man of few words - but when he speaks, watch out. Leaving little to no room for equivocation, he laid it out yesterday for all to hear:
House Speaker Michael J. Madigan said Wednesday education in Illinois will not improve without a tax increase.

“Before we finish the budget in May or June, Illinois is going to need a tax increase,” Madigan said. “You’ve heard it many, many times — we need more and better education. That takes money.” (emphasis added)

Madigan held an open forum for about 100 students, faculty and the general public Wednesday at the College of Lake County’s Lakeshore Campus in Waukegan.

Wish I could delve into this more, maybe I can in the next day or so, but in the interim, feel free to weigh in.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Mighty Quinn

Over the last several years, I have had countless conversations with people asking me about the dynamic between Gov. Blagojevich and Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn. As anybody familiar with Illinois politics can tell you, Pat Quinn is a populist's populist. He historically was never one to shy away from taking on a fight on behalf of the citizens.

And at the same time, over the last four+ years, there have been countless issues emanating from the Governor's office that one would think would have Quinn champing at the bit to comment on.

Which is exactly why some folks have been at a loss figuring out how and why he had been relatively quiet since becoming Lt. Gov. Was he cajoled, brainwashed, drugged? Worse yet, had he just lost the fight in him?

Now don't get me wrong, I am hardly saying that Quinn has not been active. Quite to the contrary. Illinois veterans do not have a more sincere friend in our state than Pat Quinn, who has solemnly, and unfortunately, attended countless funerals for fallen soldiers - without fanfare or grandstanding.

Furthermore, he is always one ready to weigh in on a panoply of issues. Some have argued that God invented Sundays to give Quinn a day for his press conferences :)

But on the big ticket stuff, Pat just hasn't been, well, Pat.

That's definitely been changing of late, and people are taking notice. Chris Wills from the AP has a story out about the resurgence of the Old Pat.
After four years of playing down any disagreements with Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Quinn is suddenly speaking out, resurrecting the populist approach that originally brought him political success.

"If you overemphasize being on the inside, then when something is just haywire you don't speak out enough," Quinn said in an interview last week with The Associated Press. "My view is that it's time to speak out because there are a couple of things that are haywire."

He called Blagojevich's proposed $7.6 billion business tax "the absolute worst way" to increase state revenues. He accused the governor of standing by while skyrocketing electric rates hit working people.

And he said Blagojevich should be doing more to fight government corruption, especially now that he has won a second term.

This is the stuff that people want to see when they elect Quinn into office. A guy with an opinion, a guy ready to take on the powers that be. Well, most people at least.

But in a recent interview with WBBM-AM, Blagojevich didn't seem to take Quinn seriously. He insisted Quinn isn't part of his administration, although the governor and lieutenant governor are elected as a team.

"Lieutenant Governor Quinn is known as a gadfly. That's one of his charming qualities," Blagojevich said.

I wouldn't be so dismissive of Quinn if I was the Governor. Pat has an uncanny ability to connect with the public and if I had to pick having the approval numbers of one of the two of them, I know whose numbers I'm taking.

Furthermore, as I was quoted saying in the article:

"It's a welcome re-entry to the political arena," Fritchey said. "Media, pundits, politicians alike often look at Pat's agendas as being somewhat quixotic, but I think history has shown that much more often than not, he has been on the right side of the issues."

Hell, just last week a Tribune commentary proffered Quinn as a guy to help end the game of Springfield Roulette between Blagojevich, Jones and Madigan. Not sure that I see that happening, but it would seem to reinforce the notion that Quinn is seen as a guy capable of being above the fray.

We independently elect our Gov. and Lt. Gov. candidates, and in so doing, we are entitled to expect independent leaders with unique perspectives. Good to see we're starting to get what we bargained for. Welcome back Pat.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Paying Respect

While the Cubs are already giving me agita, here is one of the best PR moves baseball has pulled off in a while.
The world champion St. Louis Cardinals have decided to give Jackie Robinson an unprecedented tribute when Major League Baseball celebrates the 60th anniversary of the ground-breaking Hall of Famer's Major League debut.

For the first time in franchise history, the entire St. Louis roster will be wearing Robinson's No. 42 when the Cardinals host the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday, April 15...

Reds outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. lobbied MLB for permission to wear the number for this year's 60th anniversary celebration, and other teams were encouraged to take part.

The entire Dodgers team will also wear No. 42 on Jackie Robinson Day. Other confirmed participants include the Giants' Barry Bonds, the Tigers' Gary Sheffield, the Astros' Carlos Lee, Bill Hall of the Brewers and the Cubs' Derrek Lee.

I think that I read someplace else that Jermaine Dye is also taking part in the tribute.

Although I wonder what Jackie Robinson would think about the state of the game today, especially with a guy like Bonds closing in on Hammering Hank.

Happy Easter