- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 7, 2017

November 5, 2017

The (Champaign) News-Gazette

Covering up for harassers

The position of legislative inspector general has been vacant for four years. But appointing someone to be the “toothless watchdog” will not tame sexual harassment in Springfield.

There’s a new scandal in Springfield, one that has legislators ducking for cover, pointing fingers of blame and promising to do better.

No, it’s not the sexual-harassment hysteria that already has cost one legislator his party-leadership post, although that’s a big part of it.

The “scandal” is the fact that legislators have, for several years, forgotten to appoint a legislative inspector general, whose job is to investigate complaints made about members of the House and Senate.

As a consequence, when individuals seek to allege misconduct, there’s no official to open an inquiry. A staff member simply files the complaint away in some musty drawer.

That means when a female lobbyist sought to file a sexual-harassment complaint against state Sen. Ira Silverstein, D-Chicago, there was no one to look into the matter. Subsequent news reports indicate that numerous individuals have sought to make complaints about legislators’ conduct with the same ineffective result.

How convenient for our legislators and the anything-goes culture they have embraced for decades.

It is, of course, no secret that there is no legislative inspector general and no official interest in appointing one. After all, the only thing better than a toothless legislative inspector general is not to have one at all.

But the vacancy represents the epitome of official indifference, and that looks especially shameful in the aftermath of complaints by female lobbyists about male lawmakers’ behavior.

Since that kind of behavior is in the eye of the beholder, it’s hard to know, specifically, what it means.

But, judging from the accusations made against Silverstein by lobbyist Denise Rotheimer, his actions reveal more than a professional interest in her. Rotherheimer asserted that Silverstein called her late at night, commented favorably on her physical appearance and engaged in lengthy Facebook discussions with her that were personal in nature.

He has adamantly denied any impropriety while apologizing if any of his conduct made her feel “uncomfortable.” But his denials have fallen on deaf ears in most quarters, where accusations are tantamount to a finding of guilt.

That’s one reason why Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan has tried to get ahead of the issue by proposing legislation that requires mandatory sexual-harassment awareness training for virtually anyone who ever sets foot in the Capitol. Unfortunately for Madigan, he’s complicit in the egregious failure to fill the legislative inspector general’s post.

Madigan, of course, denied any responsibility for the vacancy. After all, he says, he’s only the speaker.

At the same time Madigan was rejecting claims that he is responsible, his loyal first mate - Senate President John Cullerton - took the blame. Although he, like Madigan, is only one legislator, Cullerton said, “It’s our duty to fill that post. I take responsibility for my role in that lapse, and I apologize for it.”

Without any legislative changes, it makes little difference if the legislative inspector general’s post is filled or not. Former legislator and judge Tom Homer, the last full-time legislative inspector general, complained that he was a “toothless watchdog” who had little authority to do anything about wrongdoing he uncovered.

Let’s review the situation - no clear rules, no penalties and no disclosure. That sounds like a recipe for covering up misbehavior rather than the uncovering of it, and it’s no accident.


November 7, 2017

Sauk Valley Media

Prairie State’s Pat Quinn mimicking California’s Jerry Brown

Is former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn stealing a page from California Gov. Jerry Brown’s playbook?

That’s the question we asked upon hearing that Quinn, a Chicago Democrat, recently announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for Illinois attorney general in the March 2018 primary.

Quinn joins a crowded Democratic field seeking to replace the retiring Lisa Madigan.

How crowded? There are seven other announced candidates.

They are state Sen. Kwame Raoul of Chicago, Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering, former Independent Chicago Police Board Administrator Sharon Fairley, state Sen. Scott Drury of Highland, Jesse Ruiz, president of the Chicago Park District Board, Aaron Goldstein of Chicago, a 33rd Ward Democratic committeeman, and Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor.

But a former governor, who served from 2009 to 2015, running for a lower-level statewide job? Seems to us we’ve seen a similar scenario play out before - in California.

That’s where former Gov. Jerry Brown, who first served from 1975 to 1983, ran for attorney general in 2006 and won. He served a 4-year term, in the midst of which he decided to run for governor again.

Successfully using his attorney general post as a stepping stone, Brown amazingly triumphed in the 2010 gubernatorial election and took the oath of office in early 2011 - a post that, at age 79, he continues to hold.

Quinn might be looking to Brown’s example as, at age 68, he ponders his own political future.

There are other similarities.

Both Quinn and Brown are populists.

Both have widespread name recognition earned through being governor and numerous non-gubernatorial political campaigns.

Brown has run for the Democratic nomination for president several times and for U.S. Senate. He’s served as California secretary of state and mayor of Oakland.

Quinn has served as Illinois treasurer and lieutenant governor, and as a member of the Cook County Board of Tax Appeals, and he ran unsuccessfully for secretary of state, treasurer, and U.S. Senate.

And Quinn, early in his career, led a successful petition campaign to put the Legislative Cutback Amendment on the 1980 state ballot, which voters approved. The result was a reduction in the number of Illinois House seats from 177 to 118.

Quinn’s comeback bid suffered a setback last week when Cook County Democratic Party leaders chose to endorse Sen. Raoul.

But with his widespread familiarity to voters, and amid a large field of candidates, Quinn might well pull it off. The only announced Republican candidate for attorney general, by the way, is attorney Erika Harold of Urbana.

Whether Quinn will be as successful, or as ambitious, as Brown remains to be seen, but his bid will be one more reason to keep an eye on the 2018 campaign.


November 5, 2017

The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisian

Public officials held to higher standard on social media

It’s difficult to imagine American life without social media.

How did we survive without instant access to photographs of our neighbor’s grandchildren? Isn’t life better now that everyone can provide political commentary by pushing the “share,” ”send” or “retweet” buttons?

Snark aside, social media has opened a broad new avenue in dialog and communication.

There are practical applications that benefit us all. Schools can use Facebook and Twitter to announce closings for inclement weather. Municipalities can use social media to publicize boil water orders. And, police agencies can let the public know about road closures.

Ah, if only life were that simple.

As President Donald J. Trump demonstrates nearly every day, public figures using social media can be double-edged sword. Prior to the advent of Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and other social media platforms, Americans heard from their elected and appointed figures through press conferences, newspaper stories, and radio and television interviews.

Those traditional media platforms provided plenty of potential pitfalls for political figures. But, in today’s world, the opportunity for elected officials to make regrettable statements has increased exponentially. Now, more than ever, words need to be chosen carefully.

The recent controversy surrounding Harrisburg Police Chief David Morris is a prime example.

Morris used his Facebook account to comment on NFL players protesting police brutality. He shared a meme circulating widely on the internet that facetiously stated Chicago police have replaced their vehicles’ sirens with recordings of the national anthem.

The “punch” line is that suspects will quit running and kneel when they hear the national anthem.

Morris steadfastly maintains he wasn’t making a racial statement.

However, concerned citizens, including people of color in Harrisburg, have pointed out logical progressions of the meme that can clearly be interpreted as racial in nature. And, therein lies the paradox of social media.

Only Chief Morris knows what his intentions were in making the post. At this moment, there is a larger point than what is happening in Harrisburg.

Public officials throughout Southern Illinois and the country as a whole need to take note. What you do on social media has wide-reaching implications.

The use of social media provides insight into a person’s psyche, their viewpoints and their underlying motivations. In the past, it was possible for politicians and public figures to blame verbal missteps on a slip of the tongue.

Social media makes that excuse less plausible. Posting something to Facebook or Twitter can be a reflexive action, but it’s also not instantaneous like blurting an answer to question. It takes time to formulate the message, and there is that crucial moment where you can decide not to hit “send.”

Asking our mayors, school superintendents, police and firemen to consider the greater implications of their social media posts doesn’t seem to be too much to ask. That extra moment of reflection can save a great deal of trouble in the long term.

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