Saturday, March 29, 2008

New and Improved

I was going to look at something on the Board of Elections site and noticed that they have a brand new website.

It's not the easiest thing on the eyes, but it looks to be much more comprehensive than the old site. (Plus, it's refreshing to see a state website that doesn't have the Governor's name placed all over it.)

Lights Out

On Saturday, March 29, turn out your lights to show your support and commitment toward taking action to combat climate change. Earth Hour started in Sydney, Australia in 2007 and this year cities across the globe, such as Tel Aviv, Bangkok and Copenhagen, are taking action. The City of Chicago is partnering with World Wildlife Fund as the U.S. flagship city for Earth Hour.

This year's effort has been receiving a tremendous amount of press, so it should be interesting to see how the response turns out to be. I was thinking about live-blogging the event, but it seemed kind of paradoxical (not to mention boring).

So tonight, grab a candle and a book and relax old-school style. (really old-school)

When: Saturday, March 29

Time: 8:00p.m. - 9:00p.m.

What: Turn out your lights in support of taking actions to combat climate change

Who: You

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Where the Sun Don’t Shine

So here I was, all ready to give the CTA kudos for a good green initiative - and they had to shoot themselves in their mass transit foot.

First, the good news. The CTA had the foresight to purchase a new Big Belly Solar Compactor. According to the BigBelly website, the new high-tech trash can is a:
“compacting trash receptacle that is completely self-powered. Instead of requiring a grid connection, BigBelly uses solar power for 100% of its energy needs. The unit takes up as much space as the "footprint" of an ordinary receptacle—but its capacity is five times greater. Increased capacity reduces collection trips and can cut fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions by 80%. BigBelly also provides cost efficiencies from labor savings, fuel cost and maintenance savings, as well as environmental benefits from reduced emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants. Safe, easy to use, and designed to keep out pests, the BigBelly has already proven its worth in urban streets, parks, colleges, arenas—and in all weather conditions.”
So far, so good, right? A spiffy-looking trash can, with a big fat solar panel on top, that will help keep stations cleaner and be environmentally friendly at the same time.

What could be wrong with that?

Well nothing, except for the fact that this solar-powered uber-trash can is located
at the underground Red Line State/Lake subway station.

Sure, the Lake street station has been spiffed up, with more fluorescent lighting added in recent months, but someone should tell the CTA that the sun don’t shine 30 feet under the intersection of State and Lake.

Big Belly can, of course, be plugged in for indoor use.

Hat tip: David Naunton

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Budget Hearing

Even though the details of Illinois’ approximately $58 Billion budget impact almost every aspect of our lives, many people don’t understand the issues involved in crafting the budget or don’t get an opportunity to share their thoughts on how the budget should look.

To hear about the budget or provide your input, please join me along with State Representatives Rich Bradley, John D'Amico, Greg Harris, Lou Lang, Joe Lyons and other community leaders, business owners, labor officials, service providers, advocacy organizations, health care facilities, school districts, colleges and local residents to learn more about the state budget and share your views about funding priorities, ways to reduce costs and means to improve government efficiency.

For more information, please contact Jon Paul Valadez at: 312.814.4887.

WHEN: Thursday, March 27th

TIME: 6:00p.m.

Illinois Masonic, 836 W. Wellington

Friday, March 21, 2008


In the You Saw This Coming From a Mile Away Dept.: News outlets around the country ran a story the other day about the fact that a federal judge in Illinois is on the verge of expanding the pending lawsuit regarding the Silent Reflection and Student Prayer Act (aka, the 'Moment of Silence' law) into a bilateral class action.

What that means in simple terms is that the pending suit filed on behalf of one student against one school district will now include all Illinois public school students as plaintiffs and all Illinois school districts as defendants.

In the interest of brevity, I'm not going to delve into all of the underlying arguments about the law, but rather, try to point out that this tremendous waste of resources could be easily avoided but for a move that really undercuts the integrity of our legislative process.

In sum, last year Sen. Kimberly Lightford introduced a bill that amended a law that permitted schools to start each day with a moment of silence, (a law that itself was unnecessary, but one that nobody on either side took issue with during the entire time that it was on the books), and made it mandatory. Amazingly, not only did the bill pass both chambers, enough legislators in both chambers even voted to override the Governor's subsequent veto of the bill. (And in case you're wondering, I voted against the bill and against the override.)

Before session reconvened, I filed HB4180, which would fix a number of deficiencies in the law. I believed that enough of my colleagues, having heard from school superintendents, teachers, parents, the media, and now cognizant of the lawsuit, would understand that, despite having had what may have been good intentions, they had passed a very untenable, unnecessary and unworkable law.

The committee debate was a thorough and good one, and on March 4, HB4180 passed the full House by a vote of 72-31-6. What is notable about the vote is that over 30 legislators who had supported the current law viewed HB4180 as a better alternative and voted for it. The intention had been that Sen. Jeff Schoenberg would be the Senate sponsor and that we could continue to advance the legislation.

So it seemed that everything was on track for the Legislature to fix the situation and moot the pending lawsuit, right? Nope.

Without my knowledge, on the same day that my bill passed out of committee, Sen. Lightford filed a slip with the Senate secretary to take sponsorship of the bill if and when it got to the Senate. By so doing, she now has control of moving and/or amending the bill.

In fact, Sen. Lightford has recently stated her intentions to amend the bill to take the word 'prayer' out and substitute it with 'meditation' and to set the moment of silence at 60 seconds. Not 61, not 59, 60. Most importantly, she also plans to amend the bill to remove the permissive language and keep the law as a mandatory one. This despite the fact that there are not even penalties for violating the law.

In sum, she has amazingly found a way to take a bad law and make it potentially more inane. Worse yet, she is arrogantly depriving her Senate colleagues the same opportunity that House members had, namely to rectify a vote that they may wish they had not cast in the first place.

Had Sen. Lightford attempted to make these changes by filing her own bill, that would have obviously been her prerogative. But to try to do it in the manner that she is egregiously violates an inherent trust between colleagues and creates an environment of distrust where treachery reigns over process.

I spoke in person with Sen. Lightford about the situation last week, and told her that while I had no personal animus toward her, I truly had no respect for what she had done. I also asked her to do the honorable thing and relinquish the bill to a sponsor of my choosing. I received no response (which speaks volumes in and of itself).

What will happen now is that even if she is able to pass her bill, there is zero chance that I will call it for concurrence when it returns to the House. In that scenario, as she is well aware, the bill dies and the present law stays on the books.

Which brings us full circle to the pending court case. The expansion of the lawsuit to cover every school district as a defendant means that at a time when everybody talks about wanting to increase education funding, dollars that should be going into classrooms will instead be going into courtrooms. All because one legislator gave more importance to her personal agenda than to the will of the Legislature.

When the Governor took the same approach last year, the General Assembly wound up in a record-long session costing taxpayers millions of dollars. It wasn't right then, and it isn't right now.

None of the recent events have been lost on Judge Gettleman, the federal judge overseeing the pending lawsuit:
"I was hoping, frankly, this was further along in the legislative process," the judge said at Wednesday's hearing. "I was hoping we'd avoid spending resources on all sides."
So did I Judge. So did a lot of us.

Note: I am out of town right now, so I may be a little slow in posting comments and/or replies.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

To Pat

I know that for various reasons, there hasn't been a lot of politics, or much else, discussed here lately, and for that I apologize. But I have to write a post that I simply never imagined writing. Earlier tonight, I was informed that one of my closest friends, Pat Botterman, had a heart attack and died. Just writing that is simply surreal.

Most of you might know Pat as the Wheeling Township Democratic Committeeman, and as the foundation and conductor of numerous campaigns, big and small. Pat won some big ones and lost some big ones, but if you spoke with him the day after a campaign, he would be the same after a loss as he was after a win. It was not that he didn't care, far from it. He just had an ability to put things in perspective that I will always envy.

Pat is the one person in politics who I have ever met who would NEVER back away from a fight, big or small, as long as he believed in it. For that trait, many loathed him. For that trait, I will always respect him.

But if you really knew him, you knew that he was as genuine, as solid, a person as you could ever hope to meet. Stoic, loyal, fiercely independent, unflappable, he was great at what he did in politics, and loved doing it.

More importantly, he had a contentment and perspective on life that never ceased to amaze me. We traveled to political events around the country, and each trip gave me the chance to know him a little better. And while I never saw him laugh hard, his absurdly dry humor made him as funny a person as I ever met.

When I was driving to Springfield this afternoon, Pat called me, as it turns out, shortly before he died. I was on the other line, and I told him that I would call him back in a little bit. I never did. I'm so sorry.

God bless you Pat. You'll be missed.