Statehouse

Peggy Boyer Long
WUIS/Illinois Issues

It’s tough being a governor these days. There’s no question about that.

Nationwide, states are facing their worst fiscal crises in more than 50 years. And some say Illinois is facing its worst ever. That’s a bit of political hyperbole, perhaps, but not far off the mark. Times are grim.

Going into his first state budget, Gov. Rod Blagojevich is staring down a $1.2 billion hole. His estimate. By the end of the budget year that begins this summer, he’ll have to fill another $3.6 billion hole. Again, his estimate.

Aaron Chambers
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Lawmakers resurrected a classic phrase to express their wonderment over Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s approach to dealing with the ailing state budget: Where’s the beef?

No, they’re not hoping for bigger hamburger patties, as burger lovers were in the Wendy’s commercials that made the saying famous. They want to know just how the Democrat intends to deal with a deficit he estimates at a combined $4.8 billion for this fiscal year and the one that begins July 1.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

The NCAA men’s basketball Final Four showdown is just days away, and the NBA playoffs start in a couple of months.

A key element for successful hoopsters at any level, knowledgeable fans know, is the transition game — how well a team makes the shift from offense to defense and vice versa. Does it get back on defense fast enough to thwart an opponent’s fast-break hopes? Is it quick enough going the other way to score easy baskets?

Out of Hiding: Poverty is on the rise in Illinois and increasingly visible

Mar 1, 2003

It would be an easy bicycle ride down Lincoln Highway from the Lincoln Mall in Matteson to Rick’s Food & Liquors in Ford Heights. Just a tad over six miles, though the traffic in this far south suburban region of Chicago would be busy at the start. 

In Matteson, middle-class shoppers buy cosmetics at Carson Pirie Scott, motorists gas up SUVs at Mobil, Citgo or Shell, parents fill shopping carts at Jewel and Cub Foods and executives dine at Olive Garden, Red Lobster or Fazoli’s.

The sign on the door used to read “Men Only.” A woman could be at the top of her law school class, but she wasn’t getting into the judiciary. In recent years, though, women have chipped that figurative sign off the door of the Cook County Circuit Court, and a growing number of them are becoming judges.

This increase is attributed largely to the creation of judicial subcircuits within that county, and to a rise in the sheer number of women lawyers.

Peggy Boyer Long
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Sally Jefferson arrived at Alton Penitentiary on September 11, 1835. A prison clerk’s brief notation in the Convict Register marked the occasion. “No. 23,” the clerk wrote, had been sentenced by the Peoria County Circuit Court to 12 months of confinement for arson, including two weeks in solitary. She was 24 years old. “Her left hand and arm had been considerably seared by a burn when young.”

Aaron Chambers
WUIS/Illinois Issues

The video poker machines found in bars around Illinois are perfectly legal. What’s not is the widespread practice of gambling on those games.

So when bar owners collect money their patrons lose while betting on the machines, that cash goes unreported. And state government comes up empty — to the tune of an estimated $350 million each year. That’s an impressive sum for a state drowning in red ink and looking for a quick fiscal fix. At the same time, the deficit could be video poker gambling’s ticket to come out from under the table.

Mike Morsch
WUIS/Illinois Issues

The Statehouse press corps is a little cranky these days, and the problem can’t be traced to the coffee.

Seems what’s got everyone’s knickers in a bunch is the lack of a clue exhibited by the new administration’s communi-cations staff. Specifically, administration representatives aren’t returning phone calls to the media in a timely fashion. Actually, they’re barely returning phone calls at all.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix it’s not, but the late January release of The Master List created as great a stir in Illinois political circles as news that J.K. Rowlings’ fifth book about the boy wizard is coming in June.

Since its role in the Enron financial scandal was revealed in 2001, the once-mighty Chicago-based Andersen accounting firm has been reduced to a shell of its former self. Last October, home appliance maker Maytag announced it will pull its refrigeration production out of Galesburg in the northwestern section of the state and move it to Reynosa, Mexico, to cut costs. In December, United Airlines, headquartered in the Chicago metro region, filed for bankruptcy.

Peggy Boyer Long
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Changing governors isn’t as simple as calling the movers. For good or ill, departing residents of the Executive Mansion always leave something behind. 

Pundits will debate the relative pluses and minuses of George Ryan’s four-year tenure as Illinois’ chief executive — and there is an impressive trunkful of stuff to rifle through. Historians will assess the legacy of this endlessly complex politician. Even philosophers might weigh in on the stunning personal transformation of this confounding and complicated man. 

Aaron Chambers
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Birds of a feather flock together. This adage rings true for businesses in city centers. But it’s not necessarily the case in rural areas, where companies with similar interests don’t congregate naturally.

Unlike in Chicago, where some industries are magnets for suppliers or distributors, entrepreneurs tend to consider other factors when deciding to locate in less populated areas, including proximity to a waterway or highway, or access to a labor base. This certainly is true in the vast reaches of southern Illinois. 

Taking a page from former Gov. Jim Edgar’s first days in office 12 years ago, Gov. Rod Blagojevich launched his term by cutting personnel and imposing a hiring freeze.

Blagojevich fired Scott Fawell, the $190,000-a-year head of the Chicago Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, shortly after taking the oath as governor. Fawell faces charges of political corruption. The next day, Blagojevich fired 35 of outgoing Gov. George Ryan’s last-minute appointees.

Hawkinson named to Blagojevich team

Feb 1, 2003

Gov. Rod Blagojevich tapped his election opponent’s running mate to join his administration.

Former state Sen. Carl Hawkinson of Galesburg, who ran for the lieutenant governor’s job in November on the GOP ticket led by former Attorney General Jim Ryan, will serve as Blagojevich’s deputy chief of staff for public safety. 

Lincoln Library and Museum advisory board in place

Feb 1, 2003

Before leaving office, Gov. George Ryan named individuals to serve on an 11-member advisory board for the new Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. 

• Marilyn Boria of Elmhurst, director of the Elmhurst Public Library, who will serve through 2005.

• Charles Bryan Jr. of Richmond, Va., director of the Virginia Historical Society, who will serve through 2005.

• Warrick Carter of Chicago, president of Columbia College, who will serve through 2006.

• Bill Kurtis, Chicago television producer and former news anchor, who will serve through 2004.

New governor issues pink slips

Feb 1, 2003

On his first full day in office, Gov. Rod Blagojevich fired 35 state workers and hired Springfield labor attorney Mary Lee Leahy to find “unnecessary and unqualified personnel.”

“Our state is facing an unprecedented budget crisis,” he said in a printed statement. “The days of taking care of insiders first and taxpayers last are over.” 

Obituaries: Kim Knauer, Douglas Hoeft, & Timothy Osmond

Feb 1, 2003

Kim Knauer 
For two decades, she was the person who could answer just about any question put to her about this state’s schools. Kim Knauer served as public information officer of the Illinois State Board of Education, which sets policy for elementary and secondary schools. She also served as assistant to the state schools superintendent, director of communications and manager of public affairs and communications. 

She died of cancer on January 2 in Springfield. She was 45.

Mike Morsch
WUIS/Illinois Issues

During the 2002 campaign, Kris Cohn, the Winnebago County board chairwoman and Republican candidate for secretary of state, complained that Illinois citizens are frustrated with long lines and an unresponsive bureaucracy at driver’s services facilities. 

Nothing was mentioned about long lines at the post office, the grocery store, the restrooms at Bears games in Champaign or at the offices of prosecutors who want to question anyone who ever worked for former Gov. George Ryan.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

"I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.” Repeating that optimistic mantra, a bouffant-haired figure shovels coal into the firebox of a speeding locomotive bearing a “Hot Rod Express” nameplate.

Looming ahead, a gargantuan figure wearing a “Budget Deficit” T-shirt sprawls, bound, across the tracks. “Think again,” says the behemoth.

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.

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