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

In a few weeks, the U.S. Census Bureau is scheduled to deliver to Illinois and our sister states detailed demographic breakdowns on the populace’s age, gender, race and other characteristics, virtually on a block-by-block basis.

The fruits of last year’s federal census, the vast amount of information will become the raw material for the decade’s most intensely political endeavor, drawing new district maps for the Illinois General Assembly and the state’s congressional delegation.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

As the 96th Illinois General Assembly returns to Springfield early this month for its final days, an unusually crowded agenda could await lawmakers: gambling expansion, abolition of the death penalty, approval of medical marijuana, clean coal, maybe even a vote on higher taxes.

Even if none of these high-profile issues come to a vote before the new legislature takes over at noon on January 12, the outgoing General Assembly already ranks as one of the more productive in recent memory.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

The Republican tsunami that swept the nation last month was little more than a gentle comber when it reached Illinois. Indeed, one might argue the GOP wave did about as much damage to Illinois Democrats as the annual Nile flooding did to ancient Egyptians, who depended on the overflowing river to enrich their fields for the coming planting season.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Years ago, a group of legislative back-benchers dubbed themselves “The Mushroom Caucus.” The moniker was apt, they explained, because leadership “keeps us in the dark and feeds us horse [manure].”

If Illinois voters are feeling a strong sense of kinship with those old-time lawmakers just a few days after the November election, they certainly can’t be blamed.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

In the first 36 years after the Illinois Constitution took effect in 1971, state lawmakers introduced 829 resolutions proposing amendments to the new document. Exactly one of those would have given voters the power to recall elected officials, and that 1979 effort died in committee.

In contrast, in the four years following former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s second inauguration in 2007, legislators offered 161 proposed amendments, including 14 to add recall to the charter.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Ten years after former Gov. George Ryan declared a moratorium on executions in Illinois, death penalty opponents say efforts to repeal capital punishment here are gaining momentum.

The guarded optimism is fueled in part by recent polling data they believe shows public support for capital punishment eroding, as Illinoisans reflect on a decade without executions.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Does the Illinois Constitution mandate that the state budget be balanced each year?

One’s initial inclination is to respond, “Yes, of course, it says so in the Finance Article.” But a quick check of the actual record in the four decades since the charter was ratified suggests the answer is a bit less straightforward.

The question gained new interest a few weeks ago after House Speaker Michael Madigan acknowledged to reporters that the spending plan newly minted by legislative Democrats was not balanced.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

The fiscal fiasco otherwise known as state budget-making has a lot of Illinoisans searching for descriptive terms harsh enough to fully express their disdain for state legislators.

Lawmakers left Springfield a few weeks ago without accomplishing the only chore they really needed to do before their self-imposed May 7 adjournment deadline — fashion a spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Can Illinois finish in the money in Round II of Race to the Top?

The answer could hinge on budget decisions that state lawmakers will make in coming days.

At stake is as much as $400 million to underwrite efforts to improve Illinois schools under Race to the Top, the education centerpiece of the Obama administration.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Illinois faces its worst fiscal crisis in eight decades, a daunting challenge for the state’s purported leaders. So how have they responded?

In a word, abysmally. Indeed, the leadership deficit almost rivals the state’s dollar shortfall. Consider:

In his budget memo last month — at 21 minutes, too short and devoid of specifics to merit being called an address — Gov. Pat Quinn essentially punted.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

The Illinois State Board of Elections will meet soon to officially proclaim the results of last month’s primary, thus ending (maybe) the latest, never-seen-before episode in the state’s storied political history.

Total liability $126.5 billion
WUIS/Illinois Issues

To say Illinois faces a hole in funding its public employee pension systems is like saying the Grand Canyon is an impressive ravine or the Mindanao Trench a good-size gully.

Indeed, “hole” is hardly an appropriate word. “Abyss” and “chasm” come readily to mind, with “bottomless pit” not too far away.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

In a few days, conscientious Illinois residents will bundle themselves up and trudge through midwinter weather to their nearest polling places, intent on doing their civic duty for the February 2 primary election.

Indeed, tens of thousands already have done so, taking advantage of an early voting period that opened before the Christmas lights were down and the decorations put away for another year.

One suspects many of them will be asking the same question: Why are we doing this NOW?

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

As Election Year 2010 dawns over Illinois, who can blame Republicans for being enthusiastic — maybe even salivating — over their prospects in November?

After being skunked in statewide elections four years ago — and losing two congressional seats in 2008 — the GOP seems to have good reason to be upbeat, thanks to Rod Blagojevich and the miserable record Democrats have compiled at the reins of state government.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

  Illinois made the Top 10 last month.

Not Bruce Weber’s Fighting Illini, a disappointing 4-2 and unranked through the first six games of the young basketball season.

Rather, the Prairie State itself, tied for ninth with Wisconsin in a national ranking of states on shaky financial footing. The top spot went to California, so Illinois’ elevated status is nothing to brag about.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

The new millennium has not been kind to many Illinois families who are struggling to make ends meet, pushing almost a quarter million more residents into poverty, researchers reported recently.

About 1 out of 8 Illinoisans — more than 1.5 million total, 526,000 of them children — were living below the poverty line last year, the U.S. Census Bureau reported. The poverty guideline, set by the federal government, was $21,200 for a family of four in 2008. 

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. 

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