- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 1, 2015

August 30, 2015

Belleville News-Democrat

Boys in black coming back

Three middle-aged, white male judges from St. Clair County are resigning. Good news, because that means fresh blood at the scandal factory?

Nope, it means they’ve learned to do the Lloyd Cueto dipsy-doodle.

Chief Circuit Judge John Baricevic squeaked by in the last election to keep the job that paid him $185,500 last year. He needed 60 percent of the voters in the five-county 20th Judicial Circuit to agree to retain him, and 62.5 percent did.

But if Baricevic and judges Robert Haida and Robert LeChien quit and then run for their seats, they only need 50.1 percent of the vote to get six-year terms. That’s what Cueto did in 2006.

Baricevic argues that this is better for the voters because it allows him to discuss the issues, whereas judicial ethics prevent that during a retention campaign.

That assumes there is an opponent to ask him about being clueless that he supervised a heroin-addled judge who welcomed a new associate judge by throwing a cocaine party that killed the new guy. Or that the judges’ preferred drug dealer was from the probation department. Or about his very lawyerly non-refusal refusal when challenged to take a drug test to prove that he was clean.

Judges should be taken at their word. They resigned. Maybe we should keep it that way.


August 30, 2015

The (Joliet) Herald-News

Public cries ‘uncle,’ but no relief

As Illinois’ budget stalemate surpasses its 60th day, evidence is mounting that more and more people are suffering the consequences.

The inability of the governor and Legislature to resolve their differences doesn’t seem to distress them, apparently, but it is distressing to more and more average Illinoisans.

Just this past week, Gov. Bruce Rauner used his amendatory veto on a bill that would have helped to fund treatment for people addicted to heroin. Cost is the reason, Rauner said, maintaining the state’s Medicaid system just can’t afford it.

Perhaps he’s right. Illinois’ cash-strapped finances are rickety, at best. But that lack of affordability has festered in part because of the state’s unsound financial footing; billions of dollars of debt and deficits don’t do a state’s finances any good. Without an agreed-to budget, things certainly can’t improve on that front.

But it also means that local people addicted to heroin - and we know all too well many in Will and Grundy counties struggle with an addiction to this often deadly drug - might not be able to get the assistance they need.

The whole standoff between Rauner and legislative leaders (House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton) is an unfunny version of old-time comedy routines where antagonists trade blows but bystanders absorb the worst of the punishment.

“Won’t pass my agenda? Take that! I’ll ground your planes.”

“Veto our bills? Take that! We’ll vote to override.”

“Oh, yeah? I’ll close a state museum. I’ll slash budgets and so on and so on.

No one is ready to cry “uncle” in this political brawl.

The antagonists, you see, aren’t really suffering much.

But we see examples of everyday Illinoisans - their arms figuratively pinned behind their backs - crying “uncle” louder and louder.

Unfunded programs. Facilities in danger of closing. Financial threats to human services.

As more people cry “uncle,” maybe leaders will do what it takes to relieve the pressure on those twisted arms.

But if the past 60 days is any indication, the pain will get worse before it gets better.


August 29, 2015

The (Springfield) State Journal-Register

Drop in Illinois State Fair attendance not such a mystery

If officials really want to know why attendance at the Illinois State Fair was down this year - and anyone who set foot on the grounds could see it was down - they ought to go straight to the people to find out. They might be surprised by what they learn from the visitors, exhibitors and vendors who are there year in and year out.

According to attendance estimates, more than 411,000 people visited the fair during its 11-day run this year. That’s down by more than half from 2014’s reported attendance of more than 844,000.

Fair officials long have used an imprecise formula to calculate attendance based on tickets sold at the gate, free admissions, mega pass use and more. It’s difficult to count every head, so they estimate the best they can. This year’s formula was different from the one used in the past.

First-year fair manager Patrick Buchen said he couldn’t make sense of some of the figures reported last year compared to this year in terms of overall attendance.

Number-padding by the past administration is a harsh conclusion to jump to, although the state has been caught doing it before.

Still, while the discrepancy is puzzling, it also was evident to longtime fairgoers and vendors this year that attendance was down. When children can hop off Midway rides and get right back on them, and when fairgoers can walk up to the counter at Vose’s corn dog stand on a Saturday evening without having to wait in line, something’s up.

Some guesses as to what it could be:

(asterisk) It’s hard to muster enthusiasm for a fair when state government is in disarray, layoff notices have gone out to state workers, labor contracts are in limbo, and locals are wondering what the future holds. And Gov. Bruce Rauner indicated early on that some fair exhibitors and performers may not get paid on time.

(asterisk) Students went back to school in many central Illinois districts during the middle of the fair’s run.

(asterisk) This year’s Grandstand acts offered a fine lineup, but it lacked the type of current A-list musical acts that draw fans and fill the Grandstand, as there has been in years past.

(asterisk) The Springfield Mass Transit District decided to cut its long-time dedicated fair bus route, a change that was not communicated well to the public and that probably was a factor in attendance.

(asterisk) Every few years the fair re-adopts agriculture as a theme. That’s great, but is it something that attracts people to a fair? Not necessarily.

(asterisk) A mainstay of the Illinois State Fair, harness racing has long been a draw for fairgoers and horse owners. Last year purses for the championships ranged from $30,000 to $52,000, but this year they dropped to between $5,000 and $10,600.

(asterisk) There wasn’t much new at the fair this year to bring people in, and fair officials may not have done enough to generate buzz and get people out to the fairgrounds.

(asterisk) Upgrades to fair facilities are long overdue. It’s hard to convince people the fair is family friendly when restrooms are dark, dirty and lack diaper-changing facilities.

(asterisk) A fight the first Thursday of the fair may have kept some people away. The fair is a generally safe place, but three teenagers stabbed opening night is enough to convince some people to stay home.

(asterisk) Face it: The fair can get expensive for families who pay for admission and parking, as well as the things that make going to it a fun and interesting experience.

Buchen would be wise to poll people, vendors and exhibitors to find out what went right, what keeps them away and what they want to see in the future. Officials might be surprised by what they learn; they were in 1991 when a similar survey showed patrons wanted more beer tents, more shade and better promotion of the fair.

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