Wednesday, October 31, 2007


As a momentary diversion from the ongoing legislative chaos, I give you the following:

Never let it be said that I don't have Halloween spirit!
(I'm the one on the right)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Executive Decision - Updated

Every time that I think that I might be being overly critical of the Administration, something like yesterday happens.

No, I'm not talking about the Governor's press conference to bring us in for (another) special session in December to do nothing that couldn't be done in January.

I'm talking about yesterday's rendition of the Springfield Shuffle. As I have previously explained in a post about the games being played to prevent the passage of HB1, legislation aimed at ending pay-to-play politics in our state:
Those who pay attention to Springfield politics are well-versed in what should be known as the 'Springfield Shuffle', the art of trying to bottle up ethics legislation by saying something along the lines of 'it doesn't go far enough' or 'we don't have time to deal with it' or 'we have a better idea'.
Yesterday, Comptroller Dan Hynes unveiled Open Book, a website database that will allow the public (and press) to cross-check state contract holders with campaign contributors. It's an excellent idea that is being understandably well received and for which Dan gets mad props, um I mean, deserves a lot of credit.

BUT then, in keeping with Shuffle tradition, comes the following:
In response to Hynes’ statement that House Bill 1 could be the first step with more legislation following, (Blagojevich spokesperson Rebecca) Rausch said, “Why not do it right the first time? Why set the bar low? It’s taken many, many, many years to pass the first round of ethics reform in 2003. We shouldn’t squander the opportunity to do something sweeping and across the board now.”
For the life of me, I just don't get how somebody can make that statement with a straight face. Why set the bar low?! Are you kidding me? The bill could be a centerpiece of good p.r. for the Governor at a critically needed time, and more importantly, would be the most substantive item passed by the Administration this session. Why set the bar low?! Wow. (And I'm not even going to go into the whole 'rock the system' thing and all of the other reasons why HB1 should be JOB1.)

But at the same event, Kent Redfield, director of the Sunshine Project at the University of Illinois at Springfield, hit on something that I had been mulling over for some time now.
“The governor could do what the comptroller has done through executive order this afternoon. It should not be sufficient for the governor’s spokesman to say, ‘Well, we’re in favor of broad reform.’ These are the sorts of things that should be in law, that can be done by executive order.”
Redfield's statement provides a solution that can quickly satisfy a couple of issues at once - and quickly. Taking the Administration at its word - that HB1 is too narrow, that they want to end pay-to-play politics, but want to do more - it can put its (proverbial and literal) money where its mouth is.

Follow the lead of the every other Constitutional officer and issue an executive order banning campaign contributions from people holding state contracts that are worth more than some minimal threshold.

That way the Governor can demonstrate his commitment to campaign finance reform by leading by personal example and we won't have to let the pesky pay-to-play issue get in the way of even bigger reforms.

And it doesn't get much easier to do. He could borrow a copy of the Executive Order issued by any of the other office holders on the second floor of the Capitol. Plus, he doesn't even need the Legislature to do it.

All he has to do is sign it.

UPDATE - The Tribune editorial board comes out swinging (again) in support of HB1, and against the nonsense preventing its passage. Read the whole thing, but here's the punch line:
So what's going on in the Senate now? Jones argues it's all about noble intentions. So does Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

They say they don't want to settle for the House bill because they are cooking up a much better ethics bill.

Just wait and see.

We're waiting. The House voted in April. And what have we seen from the Senate? Nothing but the same excuses the Senate leaders were mouthing in August, the last time this page wrote about their failure to call a vote on the House ethics bill.

That's what they said in August. Wait! We have a better idea!

Many Democratic senators at this moment are doubtless printing up campaign fliers that boast they have sponsored ethics legislation. And those campaign fliers will be a crock.

Every Democratic senator should be asked two questions:

Why haven't you screamed for your leaders to call a vote on the ethics bills that passed the House 116-0?

Why are you protecting the Illinois culture of corruption?

Yep. But in the meantime - sign an Executive Order.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

One Fish, Two Fish, Rod Fish, Kingfish

While working on my last post, I started thinking back on former Louisiana Governor and U.S. Senator Huey Long. And the more I thought about it, the more something struck me.

People have compared our present Governor to various past leaders, both local and national, but I think that the most apt comparison may well be to the Kingfish.

While there were some invocations of Long brought up by people following Gov. Blagojevich's class-dividing budget address last year, I'm not sure that anybody has really thought about the extent of the similarities. Or if they have, I may have missed it.

I'll let you judge to what extent the following items seem eerily similar. They are not all negative, by the way. In fact, some may well find the comparisons to be a reaffirmation, not a repudiation, of the current administration. I'll let you be the judge, I'm just throwing this out there for thought.

So here you go, from the background of Huey Long (all emphasis added):

Even during his days as a traveling salesman, Long confided to his wife that his planned career trajectory would begin with election to a minor state office, then governor, then senator, and ultimately election as President of the United States.

As governor, Long inherited a dysfunctional system of government tainted by influence peddling. Corporations often wrote the laws governing their practices and rewarded part-time legislators and other officials with jobs and bribes.

Long moved quickly to consolidate his power, firing hundreds of opponents in the state bureaucracy. Like previous governors, he filled the vacancies with patronage appointments from his own network of political supporters.

In 1929, Long called a special session of both houses of the legislature to enact a new corporate tax, in order to help fund his social programs. The bill met with a storm of opposition. (can you say GRT?)

Denying that his program was socialistic, Long stated that his ideological inspiration for the plan came from the Bible. (where have we heard this recently?)

Long became ruthless when dealing with his enemies, firing their relatives from state jobs and supporting candidates to defeat them in elections.

After impeachment, Long surrounded himself with armed bodyguards at all times. (Although I don't think they had SUV's back then.)

Long’s radical rhetoric and his aggressive tactics did little to endear him to his fellow senators. Not one of his proposed bills, resolutions or motions was passed during his three years in the Senate. During one debate, another senator told Long that “I do not believe you could get the Lord’s Prayer endorsed in this body.”

I'll be the first to admit that I'm not sure that there is any real point or relevance to the above, some of the aspects can readily be attributed to administrations around the country at various points in time, but I still found it to be somewhat interesting and thought-provoking.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

They've Come a (Huey) Long Way

Some interesting news came out of my birth state of Louisiana on Saturday where U.S. Rep. Bobby Jindal is poised to become the nation's youngest governor and the first nonwhite to hold the post in Louisiana since Reconstruction.

The 36-year-old Republican took 53% of the vote in a twelve way race. (More than any candidate took in our state in a 3 way race btw.)

But while the rest of the country might focus on Jindal's age or ethnicity, Illinoisans may be drawn to this aspect of his candidacy:
He pledged to fight corruption and rid the state of those "feeding at the public trough," revisiting a campaign theme.

"They can either go quietly or they can go loudly, but either way, they will go," he said, adding that he would call the Legislature into special session to address ethics reform. (emphasis added)

Now that's why you call a special session - to actually get something substantive accomplished. I'm going to predict that he'll even have legislation ready for the legislators to debate when they get called into session. (Maybe I'll send his transition team a copy of HB1 to review.)

So let's see, for quite some time now, we've had the dubious honor of trailing the entire country when it comes to the gap in per-pupil education spending.

Now Louisiana is going to give us a lesson in ethics and campaign reform.

Does anybody else see a problem here?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Return of PQ v1.0 (The Honeymoon's Over)

I've got a post swirling inside me about the state of the Democratic Party in our state and county and city, but until I can get that post from my head to my keyboard, I'll give you this latest gem.

If you already read my post from Monday about HB1, which would ban pay-to-play politics, then you know the backdrop of this story. If you haven't, go read my post.

Well, the chorus of calls for doing the right thing is about to get louder. I was given a heads-up by a reporter that this afternoon, only hours before Governor Blagojevich's big-ticket fundraiser ($1000+), Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn is scheduled to hold a press conference calling on the Governor pass and sign HB1 into law before the passage of any capital bill. (Disclaimer - I knew nothing about the press conference until being told about it Wednesday afternoon, and I have not discussed it with the Lt. Gov.)

Quinn's message echoes that contained in a letter sent to leaders last week by the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, which correctly recognizes that, in addition to infrastructure repairs, a capital bill also means big dollar contracts that heighten the need for a law that makes sure that those contracts are not dependent upon political contributions.

I obviously agree with the Lt. Gov. on this issue and am glad that he is trying to put more light (heat) on the issue. So no real story there.

But I think that the bigger issue is that the press conference appears to be the latest chapter in the re-emergence of PQ v1.o.

To the praise of many, and disdain of others, Pat Quinn earned his stripes over decades by being the populist's populist. I've worked with Pat on numerous issues and will attest that his passion is as sincere as it gets. And I can think of no other elected official who comes even close to Pat in showing an unwavering dedication in honoring our veterans and fallen soldiers.

But after his election as Lt. Gov. in 2002, the old Pat just wasn't as evident. The fire and belief was there, but in a much more muted version. Hence, PQ v2.o. (The stories behind Pat's silence are a story unto themselves, and aren't mine to discuss.)

But lately, shades of renegade Pat are popping up with increasing frequency. A couple of weeks ago, he was talking about the need for a recall provision, which I'm sure went over big with his running mate.

And now, he fires a shot directly across the Governor's campaign juggernaut just as the tables and chairs are being set up for the Governor's fundraising event.

So now, in addition to: the Governor vs. the Speaker; the Speaker vs. the Senate President; and the Governor + Senate President vs. the House Democrats; you can add the Lt. Governor vs. the Governor.

Welcome to the Democratic Party of Illinois.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Bad Rapping the Bible (Word up...His Word up)

I was thinking about the 'Moment of Silence' bill, um, law that we passed last week, which has gotten off to an 'awkward' start in schools around the state. The bill's sponsor maintained that it wasn't a way to try to get prayer into the schools, which if true, would make the law make even less sense. (If religion was at the crux of it, there would have at least been a purpose, albeit unconstitutional, to this ambiguous mandate. Taking the sponsors at their word, the purpose of the law is to let kids listen to birds chirping and leaves rustling.)

But despite all of the other issues that I had with the bill, I'm not sure that in today's age, a moment of silence is even the best way to get kids to focus on religion. (Not that that was the purpose of the bill, of course.)

Then I was watching Nightline and they had a short piece about a website called GodTube, essentially a religious version of YouTube. I guess that it strikes me as a logical way to use technology to reach the younger generation, to bring mass to the masses if you will.

But I'm not so sure if this video is what the site creators had in mind. Then again, maybe it's just what they had in mind.

I'm curious about other people's thoughts as to whether a video like this one helps promote religion in a modern era or if it trivializes the subject. My mind isn't made up yet.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Ethics Delayed, Ethics Denied

Carol Marin did a nice job on Sunday in shining a new light on a piece of legislation that I introduced, and then passed out of the House on April 25th.

She sums it up pretty well, so here you go:
It's Day 172 of a hostage drama playing out in Springfield. You may not have been aware of it given all the other crises looming on the landscape down there.

The hostage in question is House Bill 1. It's a straightforward piece of legislation. A simple declaration that would make "pay-to-play" politics illegal in Illinois.

HB1 would throw an obstacle in the path of that kind of politics. It would require anyone who bids on a state contract of more than $10,000 to disclose whether they've given campaign contributions in the last couple of years to the public official handing out the contract.

It would stop businesses that hold more than $25,000 in state contracts from making political contributions to the state officeholder with whom they made a contract deal...

It passed the House 116-0. And in the Senate, 46 of the 59 members are co-sponsors.

Free HB1. Free it now.

Those who pay attention to Springfield politics are well-versed in what should be known as the 'Springfield Shuffle', the art of trying to bottle up ethics legislation by saying something along the lines of 'it doesn't go far enough' or 'we don't have time to deal with it' or 'we have a better idea'. And sure enough, that's the dance being done with this bill.

Never mind that every major paper in the state supports HB1, that it passed the House unanimously, that 4 out of every 5 Senators are co-sponsors of the bill, or that it has likely been the biggest campaign issue in the state for years.

Never mind that it would do wonders to not only to bolster public confidence in state government, but would actually improve the honesty and integrity of a state government that could drastically use the help about now.

The bill remains bottled up in the Senate.

Earlier this summer, the Governor called a special session to demand that the Speaker call a gun bill in the House, even though the bill's own House sponsor didn't want the bill called because the votes weren't there to pass it. The Governor's position was that it was positively un-American to bottle up a bill in one chamber that was passed by the other.

At a budget meeting at the Governor's Mansion, I brought up the untenable nature of the Governor's argument to him as it related to not pushing for Sen. Jones to call HB1. The Governor's reply? Essentially, 'it doesn't go far enough', 'we don't have time to deal with it', and 'we have a better idea'. This from the office that promised to 'rock the system' of state campaign laws over two years ago.

I'm far from naive, but I truly find it difficult to fathom that there is still a belief that the political damage that results from refusing to call HB1 and end pay-to-play politics in Illinois is justified by the fundraising permitted in its absence.

Yet here we are 173 days later.

And counting.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Well Said Senator

You just don't hear U.S. Senator Dick Durbin weigh in that often on local issues, especially those involving state government. But weigh in he did the other day, and he didn't waffle.

The Senator was asked about the latest plan to fund state government operations.

At a Chicago appearance, Durbin, D-Ill., said he is not morally opposed to gambling or the idea of adding a "couple" of Illinois casinos "here and there." But Durbin voiced concern that lawmakers could become overly reliant on new gambling.

"I really, really think we ought to stop and catch our breath and say, 'Is this the future of Illinois - that every time we want to do something, we'll just build more casinos?'" he said. "When that becomes the answer to every question, I start to worry about it."...

"Most of the people who go in are low-income people and elderly people who lose money that they can't afford to lose," Durbin said. "That to me seems like a wrong way to finance the important programs that we need in this country."

Very well said, Mr. Senator.

In what appeared to be a backhand aimed at the Governor, the Senator added this:

Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich has said he supports the Senate casino expansion as a preferable way to generate capital funding, rather than raising taxes on working families. Asked what other revenue sources the legislature should consider besides gaming, Durbin suggested leaders should be "honest." (emphasis added)

"I think they should be more honest with people," he said. "Selling off state assets and building casinos will only take you so far."

Blagojevich, in his first term, suggested selling or leasing the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago to offset budget problems - an idea that was widely panned.

And in closing, he added this sad but true nugget,

"I wish I could blame the Republicans, but I can't figure out how to do it," Durbin joked. "I hope that they'll come to their senses and that the Democratic leaders down there will get together and compromise."

I hope that he's right.

Sunday, October 07, 2007


I guess this just wasn't our century.

Thursday, October 04, 2007


I don't really have the energy to recap the bizarre political and procedural paths that the property tax legislation (the '7% bill) has taken over the last year, but suffice it to say that solving a Rubik's Cube is easier than pinning down the issues surrounding this legislation.

When you take an inherently complicated issue that resonates LOUDLY with constituents, and then mix in some pointed policy differences, and add some competing political agendas, you have a recipe for fireworks.

Yesterday's debate and vote was enough to give you a brain cramp. I was proud to be a sponsor of the underlying bill, and while I may consider it imperfect, I don't belief that there is any 'perfect' answer to this legislative quandary. The bill was the product of a lot of work by a lot of people, and represented a compromise agreed to by the interested parties. (Why the Governor unraveled all of that work through his amendatory veto is a whole story unto itself.)

But the situation was created in which a vote for the motion to override was technically a vote to reduce relief for homeowners, since the Governor's AV provided more relief that does the underlying bill. Further compounding the situation is President Jones' claim that he won't call the override motion if it was passed by the House. And if the two chambers don't agree on a single course of action, then the bill dies and homeowners get no relief.

At the same time, the amendatory veto is very likely constitutionally infirm and would almost assuredly be subject to a court challenge. Plus, I am not comfortable with making the bill permanent since I think that lessens the pressure to fix the underlying issues of how we assess property.

Accordingly, many of us were faced with a dilemma in that there was no real 'right' vote. After a pretty substantive, and respectful, debate, a number of us voted no, with the hope of furthering some additional discussions and a new compromise in the coming days.

The motion to override carried with over 20 votes to spare. But that didn't prevent something from happening that I don't recall seeing in my legislative career. Very shortly after the vote, the bill's sponsor had me removed from the bill. And today, in a move that either makes it better or worse, depending on how you look at it, my colleagues who also voted no on the motion were also removed from the bill.

10/3/2007HouseOverride Amendatory Veto - House Passed 092-019-000; MOTION #2
10/3/2007HouseRemove Chief Co-Sponsor Rep. John A. Fritchey
10/4/2007HouseRemoved Co-Sponsor Rep. Harry Osterman
10/4/2007HouseRemoved Co-Sponsor Rep. Sara Feigenholtz
10/4/2007HouseRemoved Co-Sponsor Rep. Greg Harris
10/4/2007HouseRemoved Co-Sponsor Rep. Jay C. Hoffman
10/4/2007HouseRemoved Co-Sponsor Rep. Julie Hamos
10/4/2007HouseRemoved Co-Sponsor Rep. Elizabeth Coulson
10/4/2007HouseRemoved Co-Sponsor Rep. Kathleen A. Ryg
10/4/2007HouseRemoved Co-Sponsor Rep. Karen May

Sure, I can hear the argument that 'if you're not going to vote in support of the override, you shouldn't be a sponsor', but that argument doesn't really hold in a situation like this one that had a lot of convoluted components to it. Sponsorship of a piece of legislation is most often used to indicate a legislator's support for, or commitment to, an issue. And by and large, it is something usually handled with professionalism and courtesy.

Now I have seen sponsors removed at times with some political considerations at play, but I've never seen a member remove eight colleagues from their own party from a bill in an act of retribution. Let alone in an instance when their motion still carried by an overwhelming margin.

Does it make a real difference at the end of the day? Of course not.

But it sure doesn't win any teamwork awards either.

You Gotta have Art

I've long been a supporter of the arts and believe that the arts play a vital role in education, culture and even our economic development.

I am proud to represent a district that has a thriving arts community, and have regularly sponsored events aimed at supporting local artistic endeavors. So...

If you have, or are involved with, a:

Theater Company, Educational Arts Program, Dance Troupe, Arts Group, Production Company, Musical Ensemble, Cultural Organization, or other entity involving any aspect of the arts,

Then don’t miss my 11 th Annual Arts Funding Seminar

Saturday, October 6 th 9:00am
Hamlin Park Fieldhouse
3035 N. Hoyne, Chicago

Representatives from the Illinois Arts Council and the City of Chicago Dept. of Cultural Affairs will be on hand to discuss what types of funding are available & how to apply for grants.

All artists and organizations are encouraged to attend!