- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 16, 2014

EDITORS:

NEWS DIRECTORS:

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Sauk Valley Media

December 11, 2014

Succession advice: What would Judy do?

Straightforward. Honest. Transparent. Spunky. Outspoken. A person who likes people, and who loves Illinois.

Those words have been used to describe the late Judy Baar Topinka, the 70-year-old state comptroller who died unexpectedly Wednesday of complications from a stroke.

As Illinoisans mourn her death, politicians ponder who should replace her, and how that process should work.

The Illinois Constitution provides for the governor to make the appointment. But which governor? Lame-duck Gov. Pat Quinn serves until Jan. 12, when Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner takes the reins of power.

And how long should the replacement serve? Until Jan. 12, 2015? Until January 2019? Or for some other time frame?

Topinka was known for cutting through the clutter and making smart, common-sense decisions.

What would Judy do?

We think Judy would have instantly recognized that two vacancies exist here.

The first is the unexpired one month that remains of her first term that runs from early 2011 to early 2015.

Clearly, Gov. Pat Quinn has the authority, and should exercise it, to appoint a replacement for that one-month vacancy. The bills will be piling up, and a comptroller must be put into office to approve payments.

The people elected Topinka, a Republican, but Quinn is a Democrat. In past statewide office vacancies, according to an Associated Press survey, governors of both parties have appointed replacements of both parties. Precedent, then, would allow Quinn to pick anyone he desires for the last month of Topinka’s first term.

But on Nov. 4, Topinka was elected to a second term, which begins Jan. 12 — the same day that Bruce Rauner, a Republican, is inaugurated as governor. As Topinka’s death also leaves a vacancy at the start of her second term, it should clearly be Rauner’s choice — perhaps in his first act as governor — to appoint a replacement. No ifs, ands, or buts.

However, 4 years is a long time for an unelected appointee to serve in a statewide elective office. Topinka strongly believed in people and democracy. We think she likely would have approved efforts to pass a law to schedule a special election, concurrent with the 2016 primary and general election schedule, to let the people choose someone to fill the final 2 years of her second term.

That is what we think Judy would do.

And that’s what we think Illinois should do.

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December 8, 2014.

The (Springfield) State Journal-Register

Keep chipping away at clemency requests.

It was encouraging to read in Sunday’s State Journal-Register that governor-elect Bruce Rauner intends to make clemency and pardon decisions a priority for his administration.

Clemency decisions are an important responsibility for every Illinois governor.

Unfortunately, former governor Rod Blagojevich didn’t see it that way. Citizens seeking clemency under his administration desperately waited for responses from his office, but in hundreds of cases, responses never came.

After Blagojevich was removed from office and sent to federal prison, Gov. Pat Quinn inherited a staggering backlog of more than 2,500 petitions from the Blagojevich administration.

To his credit, Quinn effectively eliminated the backlog. Since becoming governor in 2009, he has made 3,358 clemency decisions and issued 1,239 pardons. Even as he worked to clear the Blagojevich-era backlog, additional requests continued to flood in.

Every year, the state’s Prisoner Review Board sends the governor hundreds of screened petitions from people who committed nonviolent crimes at some point in their lives and wish to clear their criminal records. They do so for such sound reasons as school admissions, enlisting in the military, employment, licensing, and adopting children.

It would be regrettable for any future Illinois governors to allow clemency requests to fall hopelessly to the bottom of their to-do lists. Clemency decisions are a critical part of the state’s criminal justice system and should not be relegated to the bottom of the to-do list.

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December 9, 2014

(Decatur) Herald and Review

Some lessons from video gambling growth

Video gambling has proven to be a big business in Illinois, but there are also some lessons to be learned from the law passed two years ago.

The gaming machines were first installed in 2012 and since then, more than $3 billion has been wagered at the machines. That has meant $210.8 million in revenue for the state and $42.2 million for local governments, according to the Illinois Gaming Board. As of October, there were 18,699 terminals scattered across 4,570 businesses in the state. The gaming board said several hundred machines are added each month.

While those are good numbers, at least some of that revenue has come at the expense of the state’s other gambling outlets, most notably casinos. In addition, the law has made it possible for the terminals to show up in all sorts of unexpected places and has launched new storefront bistros and cafes geared toward nontraditional gamblers.

The video machines aren’t necessarily creating new gamblers, but are siphoning customers away from the state’s casinos, according to a report by the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability. In the fiscal year that ended in June, eight of the state’s 10 casinos had revenue drops of at least 9 percent. Those sorts of revenue drops equal lower tax payments, meaning the state revenue from video gambling is at least partially offset by losses at the casinos.

The video gaming bill approved in 2009 included several requirements for installing the machines, including the ownership of a liquor license. The intent of the bill was to legalize and regulate a business already operating illegally in many bars and social clubs.

The liquor license requirement hasn’t stopped the terminals from showing up in a few odd places, such as beauty parlors, a florist shop and, in Champaign, an apartment complex.

The law has also spurred new storefront gambling operations that are designed to attract a higher-end demographic and appeal to people who may not be comfortable visiting a bar.

That’s not what the law intended, Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, and one of the bill’s chief sponsors, said. “It was never our intent to turn florists’ shops into places for gambling. And, so, it’s something that needs to be looked at, for sure.”

It may be difficult to remove gambling machines from businesses that have invested heavily in the practice. Local and state governments will also be reluctant to give up gambling revenue.

There are at least two lessons that legislators should keep in mind. First, new gambling outlets do not automatically create new gamblers.

Second, legislation opening up gambling will often have unintended consequences.

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December 12, 2014

(Danville) Commercial-News

Make holidays less stressful

As Christmas and New Year’s Day move closer, it seems as those everyone’s stress levels spike higher and higher. Before you know it, a time that features joy and peace becomes a season of frustration and anger.

The local American Red Cross chapter recently offered a few ways to make the holidays less stressful for everyone. The list includes:

(asterisk) Eat healthy and get plenty of rest - Good advice during a season of carry-ins, potlucks, office parties and candy - so much candy! - everywhere. Sleep can be difficult to come by when gift lists grow longer and longer.

(asterisk) Set priorities - The Red Cross suggests accomplishing big to-do lists by breaking chores into smaller tasks so completing them takes less effort and makes them less daunting. And weed the list. Do you really need to track down a present for Aunt Mildred who lives 1,000 miles away? Or would she rather enjoy a lengthy phone call or a real, honest, hand-written letter from you?

(asterisk)Be patient with others and yourself - Great advice, but difficult to accomplish. Take deep breaths. Think happy thoughts - and keep your foot ready to hit the brake.

(asterisk) Stay connected to family and friends - This is what the holidays are all about, not who gets the most stuff.

Not a bad list, but we have a few of our own to add.

(asterisk) Escape the frantic pace of the season by carving out just a bit of time to enjoy a school concert - any school concert. Being around all those kids jazzed about Christmas is sure to put you in a better mood. Catch a couple of holiday specials on TV, too. Watching “A Christmas Carol” always helps.

(asterisk) Try giving more to others. It doesn’t have to be a lot. The Salvation Army, Toys for Tots and other organizations all offer opportunities to be more generous. It’s one of the easiest ways to feel better.

(asterisk) When you’re really frazzled, step outside on a cold, quiet winter’s night to sort your thoughts and enjoy the simple peace. Hopefully, you’ll feel the stress melt away.

Creating a perfect holiday season is impossible. Creating a meaningful and memorable holiday season is easy. Pay attention to the suggestions from the Red Cross - and even those we offered - to beat back the stress and enjoy this special time of the year.

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