Statehouse

Rod Blagojevich spent last year promising pretty much everything to everybody. So when he’s sworn in this month as Illinois’ chief executive, there’s no doubt the occasion will be marked by a massive celebration.

But the mood is likely to turn sour all too soon. Over the next 18 months, the new Democratic governor will face a hole in the state budget that’s been pegged by some at more than $3 billion because anticipated revenues aren’t covering anticipated spending. 

Illinois’ political cosmos was aligned to enable Democrats to seize the House, the Senate and the Executive Mansion for the first time since Dan Walker was governor in the 1970s. That’s generally considered to be good news for this state’s organized workers. And the new General Assembly’s freshman class does appear poised to transform the Statehouse into a union-friendly domain. 

Peggy Boyer Long
WUIS/Illinois Issues

By all appearances, Paul Douglas seems an odd choice to have represented moderate-to-conservative Illinois in the U.S. Senate during the post-World War II era, a time when equal rights for blacks was still an open public question, a time when political demagogues were claiming to find traitors in every nook and cranny. 

For that matter, Douglas seems an odd choice to have served on the Chicago City Council, his first official post, during the reign of a Democratic Machine that brooked little or no dissent on its less-than-progressive turf.

Aaron Chambers
WUIS/Illinois Issues

The death penalty reform torch passed from Gov. George Ryan to Gov.-elect Rod Blagojevich early last month during a joint appearance outside the executive suite in the state Capitol.

The two discussed capital punishment only for a moment. But during that time, Blagojevich, a Democrat, made clear, as he stood beside the Republican governor who turned reforming the system into something of a crusade, that he intends to follow that legacy.

Transition Team: Shifts at the Top

Jan 1, 2003

Shifts at the top of the Ryan Administration

William Dugan, president and business manager of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150, was appointed to the Illinois Gaming Board to replace outgoing member Tobias Barry

Mike Morsch
WUIS/Illinois Issues

I have the answer to Illinois' budget woes and it's quite simple, really. 

The state should win its own lottery. 

After all, according to the lottery's Web site (www.illinoislottery.com), ?You don't have to be good with numbers to play the lottery.?

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

With the New Year comes a New Era in Illinois state government. When the 93rd General Assembly takes office on January 8, Democrats will control the Senate for the first time in a decade. Five days later, Rod Blagojevich will be inaugurated as the first Democratic governor in 26 years, bringing a commitment to change the way things are done in Springfield.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

As one of his 12 labors, Hercules had to clean out the Aegean stables, a task he completed without dirtying his hands by diverting two rivers through the vast and noisome barnyard.

But the mythic Greek hero might have met his match had he tried to clean up the mess from the political campaigns that mercifully ended here last month, even with the Mississippi and Ohio rivers at his disposal.

Paralyzed by scandal, yet one of the most active Illinois governors in recent memory. A political version of Donald Trump in his love of the deal, yet unable to focus on the all-important details. Loved by political insiders, yet increasingly mistrusted by much of the public. These are a few of the paradoxes that define George Ryan. The most poignant, though, is that this lifelong public servant had waited an entire career to become governor, yet was never able to become the leader he had hoped after moving into the Executive Mansion.

Peggy Boyer Long
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Charles Walker went first. Each of us who watched him die on that September morning in 1990 had our own reasons for being there.

As a Statehouse reporter for public radio some 14 years earlier, I had watched legislators approve, and the governor sign, the 1977 law reinstating capital punishment. Walker’s execution was the first under that law, and the first in Illinois in 28 years. I had, I reasoned, reported on the policy as it was approved; I should be willing to report firsthand as it was carried out.

Aaron Chambers
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Edward Spreitzer doesn’t contest the guilty verdict against him. Nor does he dispute the horrid nature of the murder that landed him on Death Row. He simply argues the justice system that tried and convicted him is broken, just as Gov. George Ryan says it is, and that, therefore, his death sentence should not stand.

This is a bold legal argument, to say the least. But the courts won’t be deciding this case: The governor will. And if any argument should persuade Ryan to grant relief to Spreitzer, this evidently is the one.

Mike Morsch
WUIS/Illinois Issues

  The state could well be Illinois’ biggest bookie. In fact, gambling is big business here, and has been for quite some time. 

So much so that recent legislation signed by Gov. George Ryan increasing riverboat gambling taxes will raise an estimated $134 million for the state, according to the Illinois comptroller’s office. That money is expected to help offset a big budget shortfall.

How often does Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan chuck his suit, tie and precise lawyerly prose, don a loud, canary-yellow polo shirt, and get plain lippy? Not often, which is why a $3 ticket to the Illinois State Fair during one sultry day last August was such a bargain.

Jim Ryan is in fight mode. He wants to govern the fifth-largest state in the nation, so that’s to be expected. What’s surprising is that he’s playing defense.

Aaron Chambers
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Politics begins and ends on the streets. It’s where party functionaries and public officials organize the votes that put them into power, and where they send government services. It’s where they must prove themselves, and where they’ll be measured.

This is certainly true in Chicago, where local wards make up the building blocks of a citywide Democratic power base. That these wards also constitute an age-old map of contending neighborhood alliances is something most Chicagoans know instinctively.

Mike Morsch
WUIS/Illinois Issues

I’m not sure anyone realistically thinks the St. Louis Cardinals will move across the river if Missouri lawmakers don’t meet the team’s demand for a new stadium. But that doesn’t mean Illinois shouldn’t have asked.

That’s just what Carlyle Democrat Rep. Kurt Granberg did last year. And Gov. George Ryan hasn’t let the idea get past him. Ryan met late in the summer with Cardinals president Mark Lamping to explore the possibilities of a Cardinals move.

La Colline is a restaurant a few blocks from the Capitol, a popular place for political fundraisers. On one July morning, about 40 lobbyists show up to breakfast with U.S. House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert and write checks to his leadership fund.

Aaron Chambers
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Nuance can be everything in lawmaking. That’s certainly the case for federal welfare reform, which is still on the negotiating table. 

Five years after it redefined public assistance as temporary, rather than an open-ended entitlement, the reform law is set to expire at the end of this month. When lawmakers return to Capitol Hill from their Labor Day break, they must decide what the next five years will hold — for needy families and for the states that administer the welfare program. 

Mike Morsch
WUIS/Illinois Issues

I’m the new guy here. As such, it falls upon me to give advice to someone who is going to be the new guy where I used to be, which is southeastern Pennsylvania.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Cal Skinner is trying to do something no one has ever accomplished — become the first person elected governor of Illinois as a third-party candidate.

Since statehood in 1818, every Illinois governor has been a Democrat or a Republican, a tradition Democrat Rod Blagojevich and Republican Jim Ryan are battling to continue.

Illinois’ largest energy producer, Exelon, generated a buzz in April when the company revealed it is studying the feasibility of building a nuclear reactor in the small downstate community of Clinton.

Such a proposal would have been unheard of in Illinois just five years ago. That’s when Exelon’s corporate predecessor, Commonwealth Edison, was a lightning rod for worries about its poor safety record and inefficient production. 

Peggy Boyer Long
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Put simply, this magazine couldn’t exist without the extraordinary above-and-beyond dedication of a tiny but talented editorial team — and an extended family of writers, artists and photographers. 

Thanks aren’t enough. Yet the end of the publication year does give me a chance to do this much at least. So here’s a few kudos for the folks who devote much of their time and energies to getting a lot of useful information and insight into your hands each month.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Like Alice returning from Wonderland, Illinois legislators faced up to fiscal reality just in time for the state’s new budget year.

Their wake-up call came from Gov. George Ryan, who vetoed $565 million from what lawmakers claimed was a sound financial document, then summoned them back to Springfield to produce “an honest and balanced” budget for FY 2003.

Prisons are the economy in Vienna. Just ask Paul Gage. 

At age 82, he’s been mayor of that southern Illinois community of 1,500 for 35 years and is himself a former lieutenant at the nearby Vienna Correctional Center. “We don’t have any other industry,” he says. “They are good jobs at the prisons. People count on retiring from there. They buy cars and they buy houses.”

When Gov. George Ryan suspended Illinois executions more than two years ago, he cited the failure of this state’s capital punishment system to prevent innocent men from landing on Death Row. At the same time, he charged a special commission with suggesting reforms. Last April, the 14-member panel offered 85. 

Matthew Bettenhausen wears lots of hats, all of them tall. Increasingly, this top adviser to Gov. George Ryan is a central figure in some of the state’s most contentious issues. He wants to keep a low profile — he’s an aide, after all, not an elected official. Nonetheless, he manages to cast a long shadow across Ryan’s agenda, including the governor’s ongoing efforts to reform the death penalty.

Should capital punishment be banned for mentally retarded defendants? Of course it should. 

And policymakers at the state and national levels now have an opportunity to make that happen. 

Peggy Boyer Long
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Crisis can cloud judgment. Or it can foster creative thinking. 

And Illinois may have reached just this critical juncture in its correctional policies overall, and in its procedures for imposing the death sentence in particular. 

Aaron Chambers
WUIS/Illinois Issues

There’s the ideal. There’s reality. Then there’s politics.

When Gov. George Ryan two years ago put a hold on Illinois executions and formed a commission to consider improvements in capital punishment, he inspired visions of perfection. The public, which had been juggling images of innocent people clogging Death Row, was suddenly contemplating a regenerated, error-free death penalty.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Facing perhaps the worst fiscal crisis in state history, Illinois lawmakers chose an equally unprecedented remedy — selling long-term bonds — to help fill a $1-billion-plus hole in the state’s day-to-day operating budget.

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