- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 3, 2015

October 29, 2015

The (DeKalb) Daily Chronicle

Public should know what Hastert did

We saw Hastert on Wednesday shambling though the Dirksen Federal Building in downtown Chicago, the weight of his years and his fall from grace evident. Hastert, of Yorkville, was the longest-serving Republican U.S. Speaker of the House, and in a twist of fate, was ensnared by bank reporting rules he helped expand through the Patriot Act.

Hastert, who was questioned by federal officials after making repeated large cash bank withdrawals, admitted to lying to the FBI. In federal court Wednesday, Hastert told a judge he lied because he didn’t want them to know how he was spending the money

According to The Associated Press, New York Times and other national media outlets, the cash was hush money paid to cover up sexual misconduct during Hastert’s time as a teacher and wrestling coach at Yorkville High School, where he worked from 1965 to ‘81.

What did Hastert do?

It must have been serious. After all, not only was he willing to pay $3.5 million to hide it, but he was later willing to lie to federal investigators and then plead guilty to a federal crime to keep the public from knowing. After his guilty plea, Hastert could face a federal prison sentence of months or even years when he is sentenced Feb. 29.

But Hastert’s obligations go beyond serving time.

The America he helped to lead has a right to know what original sin is at the center of this web of crime, lies, and hush-money. We have a right to know where this allegation came from and whether Hastert, who for eight years held one of the highest political offices in the United States, was stalked by it during his career in public life.

The victim was taking Hastert’s money in exchange for silence - was there a settlement reached between the two, or was it extortion? If it was extortion, we question why the unnamed person has not been called to account for their role in this scandal. Is it because Hastert is the “big fish” that investigators wanted to land?

During his time in Congress, Hastert became tremendously wealthy, and later parlayed his connections into a lucrative lobbying career. He has the public to thank for that.

He owes us honesty, and some effort to make amends beyond months or years behind bars. An apology - one made publicly, with specifics - would be an excellent start.


October 30, 2015

Chicago Tribune

Gov. Rauner, ignore the Surrender Illinois Caucus

Insurrections disrespect the established order and agitate its protectors. So it’s logical that, as the war for the future of Illinois gets tough, some formerly friendly voices would go wobbly on Gov. Bruce Rauner and his revolutionary vision of a solvent, prosperous, jobs-friendly state:

First, former Gov. Jim Edgar told The State Journal-Register of Springfield that Rauner shouldn’t “hold the budget hostage” by pushing for term limits and policy reforms that could stop other states from stealing Illinois jobs. Former Gov. Jim Thompson then fretted to the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, “This is the worst position the state of Illinois has ever been in.” Crain’s Chicago Business editorialized, “Rauner, even your allies are losing patience” - although the only “ally” cited was the backsliding Edgar.

To which a more resolute Rauner ally, Illinois Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Maisch, retorted: “The chamber recognizes that the current budget stalemate is causing real pain across our state. … Four months is a long time to go without a budget. But it pales in comparison to a 12-year wait for state government to return to fiscal sanity, basic competency and a partnership with business that allows both to prosper. Those things are more than important. They are vital. They are also hard and worth the wait. Hang in there, Governor.”

Feel free to marvel at the Rauner critics who had a hand in creating Illinois’ financial debacle. We’ve noted that Edgar and House Speaker Michael Madigan created the so-called “Edgar ramp,” a failed pension rescue plan. Thompson had approved an earlier ineffective pension funding scheme - even as he aggravated the problem by sweetening retirees’ benefits. As this page noted in 1991, “Thompson, meanwhile, got a deal that doubled his own pension.”

Just as peculiar: critiques of Rauner from the Democratic leaders who for decades pushed the pension and other legislation that devastated Illinois finances and drove employers to fiscally stable, less taxing states. In some cultures, leaders accept responsibility for their failures and humbly go away. In Illinois, the leaders cling to power and blame newcomers for the havoc they wrought.

The fruit of their long dereliction? One poisonous toxin and two useful tonics:

.Rauner inherited their noxious brew of intentionally unbalanced budgets, lousy credit ratings, unfunded pension obligations and truly enormous taxpayer debts.

.Yet all that Springfield bungling, and Rauner’s pledge to shake up the town, also put him in the governor’s office. His reward for keeping his word: a relentless, often personal assault against him from some formerly protected interests that see Rauner as the incarnate threat to their primacy and power. As other states modernize labor laws and scramble to attract new jobs, so perhaps will Illinois.

.The mismanagement of Illinois has been so egregious that, paradoxically, it gives Rauner leverage. For decades Springfield politicians enacted and enabled the pension and other costly laws that ruined Chicago’s finances. The city is so desperate for cash that, even as Mayor Rahm Emanuel imposes $755 million in new taxes and fees, he’s asking Springfield for more than $800 million to balance his City Hall, schools and transit budgets. Much of that would come from the nonexistent budget of a broke state with billions of dollars in past-due bills.

Though they can never admit it, this surely frustrates Madigan & Co.: Springfield, by letting Chicago deteriorate, has driven Chicago to rely on Springfield. To rely, that is, on … Rauner’s signature.

But the Surrender Illinois Caucus, yearning for the stability it undermined, wants Rauner to cave to the Democrats on budgets and leave reforms for a day that, until now, has never, ever, arrived.

Governor, ignore the Caucus. You’d betray voters who elected you if you didn’t secure economic and other reforms to help rescue Illinois. Here’s why: This state cannot tax or cut its way to prosperity. Illinois instead must grow more jobs, more taxpayers and thus more revenues.

That means making Illinois less hostile to employers. The faster Madigan, Senate President John Cullerton and Emanuel acknowledge how Springfield raised the cost of Chicago government (and of burdened taxpayers doing business here), the faster all of you can settle on spending and revenue for Springfield and Chicago.

Some in the Surrender Illinois Caucus huff that because your agenda would diminish labor’s clout, you want them to violate their “core principles.” As if what they hold dear is sacramental, untouchable and so cannot possibly change.

Remind your critics that they don’t have a monopoly on “core principles.” Remind them, too, of Madigan’s words on Feb. 8, 2011, when he warned House members that the state’s predicament would force unpopular votes: “Again, tough decision-making, telling people, ‘You’re not going to get everything you thought you were going to get,’ telling people, ‘You may have to pay in more.’ Not easy stuff. So we all better get ready for it.”

And remind them, Governor, of the core principles on which all of us should agree:

Everyone in this discussion is less important than the overspent, overpromised and imperiled future of Illinois.

Everyone in this discussion should want Illinois restored to government solvency and economic prosperity.

And everyone - Republicans and Democrats in the Surrender Caucus included - ought to put Illinois’ future ahead of his or her interests and pride.


October 24, 2015

The (Sterling) Daily Gazette

Voters want open primary, competition

Reduce red tape. Save money. Increase voter participation.

What’s not to like about an Illinois senator’s bill to adopt automatic voter registration when people apply for driver’s licenses and state identification cards?

State Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, told a Senate subcommittee last week that the current process, where voters must register with election officials, “creates an unnecessary barrier for citizens to exercise their fundamental right to vote.”

Perhaps Manar’s bill has merit, but we haven’t heard many people clamoring for it.

What we have heard from many voters, primary after primary, is their absolute disdain for having to declare their political party.

That requirement, forced by politicians, keeps area voters away in droves. The 2012 primary in our five-county region saw between 70 percent and 83 percent of voters refuse to vote. In 2014, between 69 percent and 85 percent of voters did not vote.

What we also have heard from many voters, general election after general election, are complaints about the lack of competition. Why vote if there’s no choice? Sounds like the old Soviet Union, doesn’t it?

Get this: In the November 2014 general election, nearly 60 percent of statewide legislative races (House and Senate combined) were uncontested. No wonder voters stay away.

If Sen. Manar is serious about increasing voter turnout, he should draft and introduce two specific bills.

Bill No. 1 would create an open primary, where voters would receive one ballot with all the races; no party declaration required.

Bill No. 2 would enact the redistricting reform measures contained in the Independent Map Amendment so that politicians could no longer draw uncompetitive, gerrymandered House and Senate districts. A nonpartisan commission would take over those duties.

Enact those two bills to protect voter privacy and halt redistricting abuse, Sen. Manar, and we have no doubt that voter participation would rise - dramatically.

And Illinois just might get better government, too. We need it.


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