Statehouse

Retrospective Part 4: Three decades of public affairs journalism

Dec 1, 2004

Illinois Issues has evolved dramatically over the past three decades. One of the more popular innovations was our annual midwinter arts issue, an effort to highlight the importance of the relationship between policy and culture. Incredibly, this is our ninth issue devoted to the arts. Yet the magazine has always sought to draw a connection between quality of life in Illinois and public support for imagination in all its forms.

Peggy Boyer Long
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Someone in China opened Illinois Issues. Someone in Mexico did the same. Add France and Israel, South Africa and Japan. In fact, over the course of the past several months, individuals in 38 countries spent some time with — the term of art now is “visited” — an electronic edition of the magazine.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Are the majority of Illinoisans indifferent to virtue? That inference might be drawn from post-election punditry that credits President George W. Bush’s re-election to the rising up of righteous voters alarmed by the nation’s decades-long slide into perdition.

Analysts pushing the vote-for-godly-living scenario point to exit polls indicating moral values was the key issue for a plurality of voters — some 22 percent — four out of five of whom marked for the president over his Democratic challenger, U.S. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts.

The 6,300 citizens of Round Lake Park, a working class village near the Wisconsin border in far northern Lake County, have been affected by the recent economic slump just like everyone else in Illinois. They've watched jobs evaporate at nearby Baxter International and Motorola. They've seen fuel prices and health care costs go up. Some have put off needed repairs on their homes until finances look better.

Peggy Boyer Long
WUIS/Illinois Issues

The late state Sen. Aldo DeAngelis may have put the matter most succinctly. In the summer of 1989, he was listening none-too-patiently to criticism of the state's decision to grant Sears, Roebuck & Co. a $61 million financial incentive package, sweetened by tax breaks and development benefits, when the company threatened to move its Merchandise Group to North Carolina or Texas. Critics, we reported then, were suggesting to the Legislative Audit Commission that Sears might have snookered the state out of a good deal of public cash.

Pat Guinane
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Once again, November presents legislators with a cornucopia of issues steeped in urgency. And, as in past years, lawmakers say it will be the leftovers that fill their plates on six session days this month.

Last year, major policy overhauls spilled into the fall session as legislators rewrote death penalty and government ethics reform packages. This year, old business is again on the agenda.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

After seeing colleagues in target legislative districts roasted throughout the just-concluded campaign season for supposedly voting against their constituents’ local interests, Illinois lawmakers may be tempted to approach their work from a decidedly parochial perspective.

That’s understandable, of course. No incumbent wants to provide ammunition to a future challenger intent on playing to the long-held regional animosities that characterize Illinois politics.

If next month's election turns out the way just about everyone expects, Illinois will send one Harvard-educated African American to Washington, D.C., and another back to Maryland.

In education and race, Barack Obama and Alan Keyes share common backgrounds. But the similarities stop there with these two competitors for the state's open U.S. Senate seat.

Illinois Republicans were in a bind. Their Senate candidate had dropped out of the race, and now the party was scrambling to find a replacement or face disaster in a critical election. 

Sounds familiar, right? But this wasn't the U.S. Senate race featuring a GOP import from Maryland. Instead, it was a state Senate race in western Illinois. The Republican nominee had decided he didn't have the stomach for a tough campaign against first-term state Sen. John Sullivan of Rushville. 

By most political measuring sticks, Illinois' 8th District race between the nation's longest-serving U.S. House Republican, Philip Crane, and Democratic upstart Melissa Bean shouldn't be a close one.

Peggy Boyer Long
WUIS/Illinois Issues

An echo from the 1964 Republican National Convention has reached Illinois. The state’s Republican right controls the party podium; voters face a clear ideological choice in the U.S. Senate race; and, though there is little doubt as to the outcome, the campaign promises to become one of the more fascinating set pieces in Illinois’ already-storied past.

It was partly a matter of chance.

Pat Guinane
WUIS/Illinois Issues

As an especially close election enters its final stage, George W. Bush and John Kerry are courting a small but increasingly significant minority: undecided voters. In most polls, they make up about 5 percent of likely voters, comparable to the single-digit gap between the two presidential candidates.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Is justice for sale in Illinois? A lot of people think so. That worries folks like Cindi Canary, and it ought to worry all of us.

“I think there’s a growing perception that’s the case,” says Canary, director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. “In 2002, people expressed a lot of concern about conflicts of interest, about the players in the campaign ending up being the players in the courtroom.”

Don’t go near guns. This is sound advice for ambitious politicians eyeing state office. 

The November election for the Illinois Supreme Court’s Fifth District will be about more than filling the high court’s sole vacancy.

To the lawyers, doctors, insurance companies and representatives of other special interests who have lined up on either side, it is perhaps the most important battle yet in the ongoing war over tort, or civil law, reform — a war in which the front lines were drawn through the rural towns and rust-belt river communities of southern Illinois long before this Supreme Court campaign began.

Peggy Boyer Long
WUIS/Illinois Issues

In late 1982, Carolyn Marvin, a professor in the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, was working on her book about how people of the 19th century imagined the communications of the future. But when Illinois Issues invited her that fall to write an essay for our pages, she responded with what is still one of the more thought-provoking analyses of the communications technology that emerged in this era.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

As Labor Day approaches, and with it the traditional beginning of the fall campaign season, Illinois Republicans might be tempted to replace the party’s longtime elephant symbol with Joe Btfsplk, the Li’l Abner character always drawn with a dark cloud over his head.

Already on the wane, GOP fortunes took a real nosedive after Jack Ryan, the party’s nominee for U.S. Senate, bowed out following disclosure of embarrassing allegations of sexual high jinks contained in child custody records.

News: Election 2004

Jul 1, 2004

Protracted budget dispute produces positives for prison workers, state colleges and business

Fifty-four days and 17 special sessions after its scheduled May 31 adjournment date, the Illinois General Assembly approved a $45.5 billion state budget for the fiscal year that began July 1. 

Obituary: Ronald Reagan

Jul 1, 2004
Ronald Regan
WUIS/Illinois Issues

The conservative icon, the only native Illinoisan to become president, died June 5. He was 93.
Reagan, who was plagued by Alzheimer’s disease in his final years, energized the country with his 
man-of-the-people image and love-of-country message.

U.S. House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, whose district covers the region of Illinois where Reagan was born and raised, said it was there that Reagan “learned the common sense values and virtues that helped him reshape not only our nation, but also the world. 

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Since the 1870s, the Democratic donkey and the Republican elephant have symbolized the nation’s two major political parties, both the handiwork of Harper’s Weekly cartoonist Thomas Nast.

As the spring legislative session dragged on past its scheduled adjournment with Gov. Rod Blagojevich and legislative leaders unable to craft a budget, however, some analysts wondered whether a more fitting image for lawmakers might not be a chicken.

The status of Illinois labor can be read between the lines of a single piece of legislation advancing through the Democrat-controlled General Assembly. Pushed this spring by Service Employees International Union, House Bill 4241 would protect janitors and security guards from being fired for three months after a private firm buys or assumes management of an office building or commercial property.

Peggy Boyer Long
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Hard to believe. A few years back, state leaders mailed property tax “rebates” to homeowners. They gave motorists a pass on the sales tax at the pump and scattered thousands, no millions, of state dollars across Illinois’ myriad towns and hamlets so locals could dedicate statues, decorate parking garages and deliver tutus to tiny ballerinas. It was quite a time. 

Pat Guinane
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Gov. Rod Blagojevich announced the biggest compromise of his tenure in a way only he could, by declaring victory. He left the proposed Department of Education, his “top legislative priority,” dead on the side of the road, accepted a stripped-down compromise and declared it a “sweeping education reform agreement.”

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

  A behavioral ecologist might see an uncanny resemblance to a struggle for alpha male status in a pack of timber wolves. Political scientists and headline writers prefer a titanic clash of egos to determine who’s the No. 1 Democrat in Illinois.

Whatever one’s frame of reference, the failure of the state’s Democratic leadership to produce a budget on time for the coming fiscal year is clearly a source of considerable embarrassment for the party faithful.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

To Chicago White Sox fans of the 1950s, “Friendly Bob Adams” was as familiar a name as Minnie Minoso or Billy Pierce.

While Minoso and Pierce labored in White Sox pinstripes, Friendly Bob was the guy to call for a bill consolidation loan from the finance company that sponsored the Sox’s radio broadcasts.

“We are seeing a gang migration out of Chicago. The vast majority of it is heading south, some west. Black gangs, Hispanic gangs, some whites. It started three years ago when a number of big gang leaders wanted to get out from the watchful eye of the Chicago police. So they moved out to places where nobody knew who they were and the police departments were small and ill-equipped. They figured they could get away with more out there without being caught.” 

Peggy Boyer Long
WUIS/Illinois Issues

A couple of months, give or take. That’s all that’s left on the calendar before lawmakers close business at the Capitol and head home to a summer of fish fries, county fairs and music fests.

For now, there’s still plenty to chew on in Springfield. The governor wants control of education. Doctors want lower insurance bills. And local officials want better odds they’ll win something in the casino sweepstakes. Yet it’s likely lawmakers have their eyes fixed on November 2 as much as on May 21. 

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

State Sen. Carol Ronen says she’s “getting a little impatient,” and who could blame her for being restless?

The Chicago Democrat is the lead sponsor of the so-called “gay rights” bill, legislation that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation in connection with employment, real estate dealings, access to financial credit and availability of public accommodations.

Peggy Boyer Long
WUIS/Illinois Issues

The Democratic senator from Massachusetts won the debate without breaking a sweat. Literally. No, not John Kerry. That was John Kennedy, who went head-to-head with Republican Richard Nixon on Chicago television. 

It was the first of four debates, the most ever between presidential contenders. Kennedy scored because he looked young and energetic under the studio lights. Nixon suffered from a knee infection and a bad make-up job. The year was 1960. And it was the beginning of a new era of presidential campaigning.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

For many years, Elvis Presley was a Las Vegas mainstay, drawing admiring legions to casino showrooms. His No. 1 fan in Illinois — Gov. Rod Blagojevich — may be no match for The King vocally, but the governor’s proposed budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 would do credit to another Strip headliner, magician David Copperfield.

“Illusion,” Copperfield says, “is the art of creating the impossible, making fantasy a reality.”

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