- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 11, 2017

January 11, 2017

The Quincy Herald-Whig

Charging four with hate crime was right decision

The decision to charge four young adult African-Americans in Chicago with hate crimes and other felonies for the abduction and torture of an 18-year-old white student with special needs was the correct one.

The case is especially notorious because of the depravity of the crime and the brazenness of the perpetrators. The victim was cut on the scalp, burned with cigarettes and beaten repeatedly while gagged and bound. They also heckled the victim with anti-white racial epithets and denunciations of President-elect Donald Trump.

The images of the beating show a terrified man who will be feeling the mental effects of the trauma for years to come. He was reportedly beaten for hours by the merciless quartet in a residential apartment building.

The assailants broadcast 30 minutes of the torture sessions on Facebook Live. In doing so, the four sadists lost the advantage of anonymity that criminals usually strive to maintain. Getting caught means losing not only their personal freedom but also access to the social media that made them feel fulfilled.

Today Jordan Hill, 18, Tesfaye Cooper, 18, Brittany Covington, 18, and Tanishia Covington, 24, are facing charges that could send them to prison for the next 30 years.

They’re young, but they’re also old enough to understand the implication of their actions and go to prison for it. After all, they tortured an acquaintance and tried to generate fame from his humiliation and pain. Now they have more fame than they can ever deal with.

The fact that the four perpetrators are African-American doesn’t exempt them from hate crime charges. It shows that even racial minorities can be charged with hate crimes, especially when they make an issue of the victim’s race. Was the victim chosen solely because of his race, or did the fact that he has developmental issues play into why he was kidnapped? Either way, it looks like a hate crime to everyone but the most cynical defense lawyer.

Fortunately, prosecutors in Chicago recognize a hate crime when they see one and have charged the four accordingly.


January 8, 2017

Rockford Register-Star

We all lose if Illinois budget games don’t end soon

Hey, Mike! It’s your move.

Speaker of the House Mike Madigan and Gov. Bruce Rauner have been playing a political game of chess ever since Rauner was elected in 2014.

There has been no winner, and you could reasonably argue that Illinoisans have been the losers. Exhibit A is that the state is not paying its bills in a timely manner, and the bill backlog is up to more than $11 billion.

That backlog not only affects human service agencies, as has been well documented, but any vendor who has been contracted to do work for the state.

So Senate President John Cullerton and Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno have taken the chess board away, at least momentarily, and put pieces in play to reach an agreement on a budget.

Illinois has been without a budget for two years. A stopgap budget approved in June expired Dec. 31.

Details of the Cullerton-Radogno plan are expected to be unveiled when the General Assembly reconvenes for a brief lame-duck session. Early reports indicate there are enough provisions in the proposal to please - or upset - just about everyone.

But none of that will matter unless Madigan acts. He could alter the proposal, kill it or sit on it until it dies a natural death. None are appealing options. If Madigan doesn’t make a move, then the governor won’t get to make one either. Stalemate!

Meanwhile, the financial outlook for the state is abysmal. According to a study from the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois, it will take a decade to get Illinois back on track.

That’s kind of good news. Some of us were beginning to think that there was no hope whatsoever.

The study proposed four steps to fix Illinois’ finances:

Those seem like needed moves, but we also would suggest that pension reform needs to be in the mix. Pension costs are nearly 25 percent of annual state spending and unless those are contained, there won’t be any money for anything else.

Maybe it’s time to resurrect Squeezy the Pension Python, the cartoon snake commissioned by former Gov. Pat Quinn in an effort to explain just how bad Illinois’ pension debt is.

The pension deficit is $130 billion, up 17 percent from 2015. Illinois households are now on the hook for $27,000 each in state pension debt, $4,000 more than last year. That’s bad.

The state’s fiscal outlook was bleak before Rauner was elected, and the situation has gotten worse because the governor and lawmakers could not agree on how to make the necessary fixes. Rauner wants reforms that he thinks will make the state more business friendly and prosperous. Madigan seems to think things are fine just the way they are. Most Illinoisans probably disagree.

Those who are moving out of Illinois at a pretty good clip don’t think things are fine. Illinois had the second-highest percentage of outbound moves behind New Jersey, according to analysis of shipment data by United Van Lines. Illinois’ No. 1 export should not be residents.

It will be if things don’t change. It appears as if Cullerton and Radogno have done the needed work. Now it’s up to Madigan, arguably the most powerful politician in the state, as to whether that work is rewarded with a vote in his chamber.

The speaker’s move will determine how this game plays out.


January 6, 2017

Chicago Tribune

Get lost, voters: Once again an Illinois lawmaker steps down, and party insiders pick the successor

Voters on Chicago’s South Side didn’t have a choice last year in the race for the 27th House district. Longtime Rep. Monique Davis, D-Chicago, briefly faced a challenge from Justin Slaughter, but he dropped out before the primary. Davis ran unopposed in the November election.

Then just before Christmas, she filed paperwork to retire from the seat she has held since 1987. But voters won’t pick her replacement. Local Democratic leaders did it for them. A handful of Chicago aldermen and suburban township committeemen met privately Thursday and selected Slaughter, a Chicago resident who works for the Cook County Board, to fill Davis’ seat. Surprise, 27th District voters! You have a new state rep.

It’s a maddening pattern repeated by lawmakers from both parties: They resign midterm or just before or after an election when it’s too late for someone else to compete for the seat. The timing triggers a process that allows local power brokers to choose the next lawmaker.

Roughly one-third of the 177 lawmakers serving in the House and Senate first got their seats in the General Assembly because they were appointed, not elected. An appointed lawmaker still has to run for the seat in the next election cycle, but he or she gets a head start, sometimes nearly a full term, in Springfield. They gain access to staff, campaign donors and special interest groups. Their political patrons prop them up by giving them popular, noncontroversial bills to sponsor. They have all the benefits of incumbency, including campaign lawyers, advice and money.

That is, they have a built-in advantage over challengers. Which is why more than half of states require a special election when a lawmaker steps down. That gives voters the opportunity to choose their representatives, and it discourages elected officials from stepping down midterm.

Switching to that system in Illinois would require a change to the state constitution. Fat chance. Legislative leaders and insiders have influence over who gets appointed, and they aren’t eager to cede that power to voters. That’s why they’ve refused to let voters weigh in on other constitutional changes, such as term limits or redistricting reform.

One legendary example of the state’s appointment process gone awry was a 1997 case. Larry Walsh, a local Democratic official who is now Will County Executive, held the heaviest weighted vote to fill a vacancy in the state Senate. He chose himself. Walsh served in the Senate until 2005. The Tribune story describing the appointment began this way: “Will County Democratic Chairman Larry Walsh stands before the mirror and points to his reflection. The figure in the mirror smiles and thanks Walsh for his confidence, and the 43rd District has a new state senator.”

During the past two years, nearly a dozen lawmakers have stepped down from their seats. Some sought new jobs. A few decided to retire. One was under criminal investigation. In each case, local political leaders got to choose their replacements. The handoff is rarely fair or transparent.

Some party organizations accept applications, interview candidates and conduct the appointment process in the open. Others only pretend to. Too often, the selection of a new lawmaker is a backroom transaction. Slaughter may well be a fine representative, but did anyone else have a chance to compete? Did local Democratic officials openly and transparently advertise the job opening and interview candidates? No.

The result is a General Assembly populated by so-called representatives who owe their jobs to party bosses, not to voters. No one should be surprised when they act like it.

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