- Associated Press - Monday, February 8, 2016

February 7, 2016

The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan

Mr. Speaker: Here’s your chance

“I think we’ve got to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters and not the other way around. Let a bipartisan group do it.”

President Barack Obama, January 12, 2016 State of the Union address.

“Just two weeks ago at his State of the Union Address, President Obama pressed for non-partisan redistricting reform. I agree, and the people of Illinois agree. The only reasons not to do this are pure partisan politics, and a desire to cling to power.”

Governor Bruce Rauner, January 27, 2016 State of the State address.

You read those two quotes correctly; the Democratic President of the United States and the Republican Governor of the State of Illinois agree on something. And it’s absolutely the right thing to do.

When the President is in Springfield we would hope and expect him to include the call for independent redistricting. The push to place the Independent Map Amendment on the November ballot in Illinois is again sailing along with support from voters throughout the state.

Ironically, when the President addressed the topic at the State of the Union, Democratic Congressmen stood and cheered while Speaker Paul Ryan and his faithful Republican colleagues took a sudden interest in staring up at the heavens.

In Illinois the party loyalties are quite obviously reversed. Talk about underscoring the truth of the 150-year-old adage “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

On Wednesday the President will provide perfect political cover for House Speaker Michael Madigan to reverse his tenacious and self-serving opposition to the independent redistricting initiative. Madigan can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Obama on the very spot where the President launched his national campaign and simply state “I was wrong.”

Those three short words would signal a cataclysmic change to the Illinois political landscape. They would immediately catapult the public perception of the Democratic Speaker, completely bewilder his fellow Democrats and force Governor Rauner to immediately find an olive branch to extend in return.

We can envision the Speaker’s words already: “Mr. President - and most importantly - voters throughout the great state of Illinois; I believe in the tenants of the Democratic Party and trust voters throughout the state to choose Democratic Party representatives over their opponents in an honest contest on a level playing field. I have fought for years to control power and exert influence as if I was afraid of a fair fight. I am not. I am thankful to the President of the United States for pointing this out.”

But of course this will not happen. It will not happen on Wednesday. It will not happen ever.

But what a story it would be if it did.

Mr. Speaker, here’s your chance.

___

February 6, 2016

The (Joliet) Herald-News

Caucus, schmaucus - more voter options here in Illinois

Pity those poor Iowans on Caucus Night.

If they didn’t reach their appointed caucus precinct location by 7 p.m. on the dot, they lost out on their opportunity to make their voices heard on which presidential candidate they support.

Not much room for error there. Not much allowance for emergencies or sickness or scheduling problems or vacations, either.

That’s the way the caucus system works - it’s first in the nation, but it offers minimal options when it comes to voter convenience.

Contrast that with Iowa’s neighbor to the east: Illinois.

Thursday was the first day of early voting in Will County for the Illinois primary. Grundy County did not have early voting and vote-by-mail ballots by Feb. 4 due to several contest objections that had not been decided yet. Will County is going ahead with printed ballots as is; any vote in favor of a candidate who is later kicked off the ballot will be null and void.

On Illinois’ Democratic ballot, Hillary Clinton (the Iowa winner), Bernie Sanders (who ran a close second), and Martin O’Malley (who has since dropped out of the race), are joined by Willie Wilson, Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente and Larry (Lawrence) Cohen.

On Illinois’ Republican ballot, Ted Cruz (the Iowa winner), Donald Trump (No. 2 in Iowa) and Marco Rubio (No. 3 in Iowa) are joined by Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Rand Paul (who dropped out Wednesday), Carly Fiorina, Mike Huckabee (who has also dropped out), Rick Santorum (who also dropped out Wednesday), John Kasich and Ben Carson.

Indeed, Illinois voters have plenty of options between now and March 15, the actual date of the primary, to make their opinions known on the presidential candidates, as well as other races.

Along with exercising the early voting option, registered voters may apply for a ballot by mail and vote absentee; no reason is required.

If they haven’t registered to vote by the traditional registration deadline of Feb. 16, people may do so afterward through grace period registration, which must be done in person at the county clerk’s office. However, they must cast their ballot immediately afterward.

Many county clerks offer expanded hours for early voting and voter registration on the Saturday before the primary; check with your county clerk for details. And, of course, people can vote the “old school” way by actually showing up and casting ballots at their local precincts between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Election Day, March 15.

In the wake of Monday’s Iowa caucuses, the field of candidates has begun to narrow, as inevitably happens in presidential campaigns.

But it’s quite possible that real contests in both parties will still exist by the time we reach our “Ides of March” primary.

As Illinoisans prepare to weigh in on who should be on the November presidential ballot, we encourage them to take full advantage of all the options for making their voices heard.

If Illinois can’t beat Iowa in having the first presidential contest, at least our state shows its superiority in voter convenience.

___

February 5, 2016

Belleville News-Democrat

Backlog of billions and billions in bills

Welcome to Illinois Held Hostage: Day 221 without a state budget, and we find ourselves court-ordered and auto-piloted into a $6.2 billion hole.

If the boys in Springfield continue to dither - and there’s no reason to believe they won’t - in another 145 days when this fiscal year ends we will have spent $10 billion to $12 billion more than we have, according to Illinois Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger.

She said at present there is $100 million available and a bill backlog of $7 billion. That would be the same as having $100 in your checking account and bill collectors hounding you over $7,000 in debt.

Munger notes that Illinois could tax its way out of the mess, but that would require boosting the state income tax rate from 3.75 percent of your income (remember when it was 2 percent B.B. - Before Blagojevich?) to somewhere between 7 and 8 percent.

“I don’t know (of) any legislators that would vote for that, and I don’t know many businesses that would stay in Illinois for that,” Munger said. “And so, as a result, we must look at some reforms - some that will help our business be more competitive so that they can absorb some increase in taxes and still put people back to work and bring jobs.”

The claxon keeps sounding, the fire bell keeps ringing, the siren keeps blaring, but no one in the statehouse seems to get that you can’t allow spending to rage without a budget to get it under control. House Speaker Mike Madigan’s familiar response is to again blame Gov. Bruce Rauner - blah, blah, hurt middle class, blah, blah, gave a $4 billion deficit budget in May, blah, blah, blah.

“It is what it is,” Madigan’s spokesman said.

What it is, is a $6.2 billion-and-growing deficit. Munger said that is more than enough money to buy both of this year’s Super Bowl teams, Chicago’s former Sears Tower and two round-trip tickets to the moon.

Maybe the solution is to just buy two one-way tickets to the moon: “Paging passengers Cullerton and Madigan.”

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