Charles N. Wheeler III

Analyst

The director of the Public Affairs Reporting (PAR) graduate program is Professor Charles N. Wheeler III,  a veteran newsman who came to the University of Illinois at Springfield following a 24-year career at the Chicago Sun-Times.

Wheeler covered state government and politics for the Sun-Times since 1970, when he covered the Sixth Illinois Constitutional Convention. For the last 19 years of his Sun-Times tenure, Wheeler was assigned to the newspaper’s Statehouse bureau. During that time, he was elected to 16 consecutive one-year terms as president of the Illinois Legislative Correspondents Association and served for many years on the PAR program and admissions committees.

Since 1984, he has written a monthly column for Illinois Issues magazine, which has won five Capitolbeat awards for magazine commentary/analysis. In 2006, the Illinois Associated Press Editors Association inducted him into The Lincoln League of Journalists, which honors men and women who have provided exemplary service to other journalists and to daily newspapers published in Illinois. In 2013, he was chosen as the Journalist of the Year by the Journalism Department at Eastern Illinois University.  He is also a regular on the panel for State Week, WUIS' weekly political analysis program that airs on public radio stations across Illinois.

Before joining the Sun-Times in 1969, Wheeler served more than three years as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in the Republic of Panama. He is a graduate of St. Mary’s University, Winona, MN, majoring in English, and received a master’s degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

Wheeler draws on the talents of many UIS faculty with expertise in such fields as public budgeting, political science, and communication, as well as professional journalists and state officials, to present students with a well-rounded program to bridge the academic and professional areas.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

“Wait ’til next year,’’ for more than a century the lament of long-suffering fans of the Chicago Cubs, aptly describes the approach Illinois leaders are taking to the state’s budget woes heading into the fall legislative session this month.

Consider the setting:

• The bills keep piling up, to the tune of $2.8 billion and counting at the end of the last budget year, according to the state comptroller’s office.

• Thousands of state workers face layoffs, adding to a jobless total already at its highest level in 26 years.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

As the legislative session gets under way each January amid a blizzard of bill introductions, Statehouse watchers have modest expectations: All lawmakers really have to do is pass a budget.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Is the glass surprisingly near full or virtually bone-dry empty?

That’s the underlying question for those who would rate the General Assembly’s response to the calls for fundamental changes in how Illinois government works in the wake of the corruption scandal involving former  Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Some reformers and editorial boards — joined by partisan Republicans — were quick to give the Democratic-controlled legislature failing marks for not adopting all the recommendations from Gov. Pat Quinn’s blue-ribbon reform panel and other change advocates.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Imagine a substance that can relieve excruciating pain for those with terminal cancer. A substance that can ease nausea and restore appetite in AIDS patients. A substance that can reduce the muscle spasms and movement disorders associated with multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Sounds like a miracle drug, right? A medical breakthrough?

In fact, the substance has been around for at least five millennia and was a staple of medical practitioners throughout most of this nation’s history, until being outlawed some 70 years ago.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

As the General Assembly gears up for a deadline dash to its scheduled May 31 adjournment, conditions cer-tainly seem favorable for uprooting the state’s long-standing culture of political corruption.

Restive citizens haven’t taken up pitchforks and torches yet, but all indications are the populace wants strong action to restore integrity to public service and to put an end to Illinois’ role as the laughingstock of the nation.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Gov. Pat Quinn is no Rod Blagojevich. Most obviously, he’s not just days away from being indicted by federal prosecutors on political corruption charges.

More importantly for the state’s fiscal well-being, Quinn has the courage to remind Illinoisans of a basic truth his disgraced predecessor preferred to ignore: If you want government services, you have to be willing to pay for them.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

  Sunshine is the best disinfectant. The oft-quoted observation attributed to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis offers sound advice for Illinois policymakers as they strive to restore some modicum of public trust in elected officials following the ouster of the disgraced Rod Blagojevich from the governorship.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

In recent weeks, the Gov. Rod Blagojevich sideshow has attracted an international audience, with its latest twists and turns now regular fare on the BBC’s world news broadcasts.

While becoming an international laughingstock is certainly embarrassing, the unwanted attention also has created an unwelcome distraction from the grave problems facing the state and its citizens.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Pat Quinn, governor of Illinois.

Thirty years ago, the notion that the gadfly populist someday would be the state’s chief executive was laughable.

Traipsing around the state back then on a quixotic mission to change Illinois politics, Quinn was viewed widely as a burr under the saddle of the powers-that-be, but certainly not a serious prospect for high office.

Even after his 1990 election as state treasurer, political insiders still saw Quinn as the quintessential outsider, disliked by many for his role in cutting the size of the Illinois House by one-third.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

A few weeks ago, Congress and the George W. Bush administration cobbled together a $700 billion rescue plan for Wall Street, in hopes of avoiding economic catastrophe for Main Street.

Too bad the plan’s architects didn’t worry about Capitol Avenue and Statehouse Square as well, as state governments from California to Rhode Island struggle with sagging revenue growth that is jeopardizing their ability to provide needed services.

Noted Stateline.org, a nonprofit, nonpartisan online news site last month:

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

As a news writing exercise, Advanced Public Affairs Reporting students at the University of Illinois at Springfield set out last month to discover what area folks thought about holding a constitutional convention to revise — or rewrite entirely — the state’s 1970 charter.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

When Gov. Rod Blagojevich unveiled his “Rewrite To Do Right” campaign last month, the temptation was to see the governor’s latest public relations brainchild as just another way of sticking a finger into House Speaker Michael Madigan’s eye.

Blagojevich promised to issue amendatory vetoes to 50 pending bills “to make them better” and force lawmakers to accept ideas that didn’t make it through the normal legislative process.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

best is the enemy of the good. Many years ago, a wily legislative veteran shared that venerable wisdom with a rookie reporter, trying to explain why an admittedly flawed piece of legislation still merited passage.

More than three decades of watching state government convinced the cub — now a grizzled columnist — that the old-timer was right.

His insight comes to mind now, listening to Gov. Rod Blagojevich promising to “improve” the most significant campaign finance reform measure ever to clear the Illinois General Assembly.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Is the glass half full or half empty? In Illinois these days, the optimist might be tempted to say that while the glass is still half full, it's also leaking its noisome contents through that crack down its side. 

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Take a deep breath and count to 10. Illinoisans would do well to keep that axiom in mind as they ponder whether the state Constitution should be changed to allow disgruntled voters to oust elected officials. 

Sparked by widespread dissatisfaction with Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a proposal to add recall powers to the Constitution is under consideration in the General Assembly. 

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

 

As Illinois lawmakers return from spring break for what everyone fervently hopes will be the last two months of the legislative session, one grim fact overshadows all others: The state is flat-out broke. No, even worse, it’s plunged deep in debt, the result of years of living beyond its means.

Consider a smattering of news items that appeared before the General Assembly left Springfield in mid-March:

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

 

Was it a fluke? A one-time phenomenon triggered by a charismatic favorite son?

Or do the results of last month’s primary election signal a tectonic shift in regional party strength in Illinois?

Certainly no one was surprised that U.S. Sen. Barack Obama easily outpolled U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Democratic presidential contest. After all, hadn’t party leaders intentionally engineered the primary vote six weeks earlier than usual, just to boost Obama’s national fortunes?

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

 

It's déjà vu all over again. Illinoisans can be forgiven if Yogi Berra's celebrated observation comes to mind as the public corruption trial draws near of Antoin "Tony" Rezko, formerly one of Gov. Rod Blagojevich's top fundraisers and key advisers.

Rezko was indicted in October 2006 on 24 counts of using his insider role to extort kickbacks and campaign contributions in return for state contracts and investment business, as part of Operation Board Games, a federal investigation into corruption involving state regulatory and investment panels.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

 

Read the letters to the editor in the daily newspaper or listen to local talk radio, and you can't help but conclude that citizens seem pretty darn unhappy with the job performance of the Illinois General Assembly and Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Given such apparent public dissatisfaction, one reasonably might expect to see a groundswell of challenges to sitting lawmakers in the 2008 elections, mounted by disgruntled citizens hoping to oust incumbents they see as incompetent at best and downright crooked at worst.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

 

If you were scratching your head when the word JCAR popped into the news a few weeks ago, don't feel too bad.

Chances are, few folks outside the inner workings of state government had heard of the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, or, as most reporters describe it, the "obscure" arm of the General Assembly.

Most Illinoisans don't pay close attention to the behind-the-scenes, nuts-and-bolts machinery that produces public policy, any more than they consciously think about the inner workings of the cars they drive or the TVs they watch. 

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

 

Dark clouds could be on the horizon for state coffers, as the slumping national economy appears to be eroding the upbeat revenue forecasts used to craft this year's state budget. The bad news came in reports last month from state Comptroller Dan Hynes and from the legislature's Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability. The findings include the following:

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

 

In the abstract, two suits now pending in Sangamon County Circuit Court pose interesting questions involving the constitutional tenet of separation of powers and the proper roles of the executive and legislative branches in lawmaking.

In the surreal world of here-and-now Illinois politics, the suits are among the latest signs of the toxic environment infusing government under the control of the state's dysfunctional Democratic leaders.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

As the seemingly interminable spring legislative session drags on through the dog days of summer and lawmakers begin circulating petitions for re-election, Democratic lawmakers can't be enthusiastic about the record compiled by their leaders.

Despite controlling all the levers of the lawmaking machinery — the governorship and majorities in both the Senate and the House — the dysfunctional Ds set new standards for governing incompetence.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Things could be worse, of course. National surveys taken at roughly the same time found even fewer people seeing things going in the right direction nationally.

Most Illinoisans think the state is headed in the wrong direction.

Almost two-thirds believe state government has a lot or quite a bit of impact on the day-to-day lives of state residents, but three-quarters say state government can be trusted to do what is right hardly ever or only some of the time.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Most significant for GOP hopes, more than 98 percent of the estimated net growth, or almost 405,000 new residents, occurred in the five collar counties, historically Republican strongholds.

The party of Abraham Lincoln has fallen on hard times in the Land of Lincoln, but a recent U.S. Census report may hold a ray of hope for beleaguered Illinois Republicans.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

"When two elephants fight, it is the grass that gets trampled." 

 African proverb

In the legislative battle now under way between two heavyweight industries — the telephone companies and the cable television providers — what's at risk of getting trampled is the public interest.

Grim Prognosis: Illinois' fiscal health is in a sorry state
WUIS/Illinois Issues

"Run government like a business." We've all heard the familiar refrain, typically as a pledge from a political candidate or as a demand from a government critic.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

"Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood... ."

Daniel H. Burnham

In his State of the State/budget address last month, Gov. Rod Blagojevich quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and cited Hercules' struggle to kill the many-headed Hydra.

But the $60 billion spending plan he presented also seemed to embody the advice of the famed Chicago architect, for it was truly super-sized. Blagojevich called for:

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Everybody knows that holding Illinois' presidential primary in mid-March virtually assures that a front-runner will have all but locked up both major parties' nominations by the time Illinoisans cast ballots.

The 2008 presidential campaign figures to be the most wide-open contest for the White House in decades. Not since 1928 has neither a sitting president nor a sitting vice president sought his party's nomination for the top spot.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

His Inaugural Address featured fairy tales such as the budget he supposedly balanced (he's yet to do so) and his election "mandate" (most voters marked someone else for governor).

Since the late 1980s, "I'm going to Disney World!" has been the happy proclamation of Super Bowl winners, becoming one of the most recognizable advertising slogans in marketing history.

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