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

Health care is an essential safeguard of human life and dignity, and there is an obligation for society to ensure that every person be able to realize this right. ... Universal coverage is not a vague promise or a rhetorical preamble to legislation, but requires practical means and sufficient investment to permit everyone to obtain decent health care on a regular basis.

Cardinal Joseph Bernardin
October 1995 pastoral letter

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Making a campaign stop in Bloom-ington the Sunday before last month's general election, Republican Judy Baar Topinka suggested her Democratic opponent, Gov. Rod Blagojevich, should switch jobs and run for manager of the Chicago Cubs.

"They're a bunch of losers, too, and need some help," she explained.

 Ouch. The gratuitous slap at Wrigley's Lovable Losers left even hard-core Cardinal fans in central Illinois scratching their heads.

"What was she thinking?" as the governor's spinmeisters would put it.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Reporters are a talkative lot, so when a bunch of them get together, they swap a lot of war stories. For those covering state government, a favored venue is the national conference of Capitolbeat, the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors. And when Illinois scribes recount the misdeeds of our elected leaders to their colleagues from elsewhere around the nation, the reaction is pretty standard — eyes open wide, jaws drop and expressions of incredulity abound.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

As Campaign 2006 heads into the homestretch, a refresher course in Civics 101 might help Illinois voters separate fact from fiction amid the campaign blather flooding the airwaves and clogging their mailboxes.

Let's begin by turning a critical eye to one of Gov. Rod Blagojevich's favorite themes: Just about everything that's currently wrong in Illinois is the fault of 26 years of Republican governors, in particular the last four under George Ryan.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Like dry rot slowly undermining a home's floor joists, an insidious trend is eating away at the nation's historic underpinnings.

The peril comes not from the chance that more governments will recognize formally committed relationships between same-sex couples. Neither is it the possibility that the national anthem will be widely sung in Spanish, nor even growing support for smoke-free environs. Rather, the danger is the spreading shroud of government secrecy that elected and appointed officials are pushing to cloak their actions from public scrutiny.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Like a high-rolling homeowner pawning the family silver to prop up an extravagant lifestyle, Gov. Rod Blagojevich wants to sell or lease the state lottery to bring in a quick $10 billion or so for education.

State Sen. Jeffrey Schoenberg, meanwhile, is pushing privatization of the state's 274-mile toll road network to garner upwards of $15 billion for transportation projects and pension funding.

Both plans hold out an almost irresistible lure for politicians in an election year — a promise of lots of cash in a hurry, virtually pain-free in the short term.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

"This spending plan reflects our values. This spending plan responds to working families ... [and the] unfortunate in our state." 

Sen. Jeffrey M. Schoenberg, an Evanston Democrat.

 "This is a fiscal fiasco that is staring the taxpayers in the face. What we have is a champagne and caviar budget when we can't afford it." 

Rep. Dave Winters, a Shirland Republican.

"We found just the right level of funding to make this budget work." 

Rep. Gary Hannig, a Litchfield Democrat.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

If ominous winds are sending chills up and down the spines of the muckety-mucks frequenting the 16th floor of the James R. Thompson Center and the 5th floor of Chicago's City Hall, don't blame vagrant breezes off Lake Michigan.

Instead, look south a few blocks to the Dirksen Federal Building, where a few weeks ago a federal jury found former Gov. George Ryan and Chicago businessman Larry Warner guilty on all counts in a marathon public corruption trial.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

The stereotype is familiar — the factory worker who used to earn $19 an hour before his job was shipped to Mexico now earns minimum wage making Big Macs.

All too often, though, it's true. The new millennium has been tough on Illinois workers and their families, as the state's changing economy has seen the loss of thousands of high-paying jobs with good benefits, replaced by new jobs with lower pay and fewer benefits.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

A couple of weeks ago, Gov. Rod Blagojevich formally announced what most folks thought has been pretty apparent since the day he took office — he is seeking another term as the state's chief executive.

The governor's statewide flyaround followed by a few days his budget address to a joint session of the Illinois legislature, in which he unveiled a $55.3 billion spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Gov. Rod Blagojevich's State of the State address had a familiar ring for devotees of late-night television, where infomercials reign supreme. Sounding like a video pitchman, the governor extolled the "significant progress" the state has made during his tenure and promised even greater achievements in the future.

In the 39-minute address, Blagojevich touted his record in health care, school funding and job creation, pushed a $3.2 billion public works plan, and offered new initiatives to help pay college tuition costs and to provide veterans health care.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Close your eyes and envision your workplace — the office, the shop floor, wherever. Now mentally rate your co-workers. Are they all doing an OK job? Or is there someone who's not up to the task, whose performance is sub-par?

If your answer is no, everyone's work is at least satisfactory, perhaps you're a tenured Illinois public school teacher, a category in which almost no one does a poor job, if you believe the ratings prepared by administrators in the state's 876 local school districts.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Had your flu shot? Some public health officials are expecting a record number of Americans to receive the influenza vaccine this fall, with demand for the shots driven by people's recollection of last year's shortage and their concern about the virulent avian flu slowly making its way toward the western hemisphere.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

He's trying to score political points for next year's gubernatorial election. He's hoping to draw voters' attention away from ongoing federal investigations into possible ethical wrongdoing in his administration. He's looking to impress Beltway pundits to stoke his national aspirations.

Detractors found no end of ulterior motives in Gov. Rod Blagojevich's ambitious plan to provide health insurance for all Illinois children, unveiled last month and ticketed for legislative approval in the fall session now under way.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

"Never look a gift horse in the mouth," cautioned the Roman theologian St. Jerome in a 5th century biblical commentary. Despite such sound advice, Illinois policymakers could hardly be blamed if they were to feel a tad concerned about the massive windfall of federal dollars — an estimated $9.4 billion over five years — the state could receive under the new transportation bill President George W. Bush signed in August.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Thirty-five years ago this month, the Sixth Illinois Constitutional Convention finished crafting a document designed to bring state government out of the horse-and-buggy era and into the space age.

Meeting one final time in the historic chamber of the House of Representatives in the Old State Capitol in Springfield for a formal signing ceremony, this remarkable group of 116 men and women commended their handiwork to Illinois voters, who ratified it two and one-half months later.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Heading north on Interstate 39 on a summer day as the land rises from the Illinois River valley, a motorist sees a strange sight ahead on the horizon to the west: a shimmering company of slender figures, languidly spiraling their arms in a slow-motion ballet. The vision is not that of magical dancers on an enchanted prairie, however. Instead, it's a peek at what might become a commonplace sight in rural Illinois and a significant part of the state's energy future: a wind farm.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

As Democratic leaders prepared to ram a $54-plus billion budget through the Illinois legislature on May 31 — thus avoiding another overtime session — Gov. Rod Blagojevich was ebullient. "I feel real good about the session," he told reporters following cameo appearances in the Senate and the House. "My only regret is that it has to end now."

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

The passing in recent weeks of Terri Schiavo and Pope John Paul II has helped popularize a new slogan for conservative activists and Republican strategists: "culture of life."

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Let's play a game of word association. You know, what image pops into your head when you see a certain word? And the word is — GUNS.

If those four letters evoke memories of a crisp, fall day in the woods, rifle at the ready, hoping for a trophy buck, chances are you're from downstate Illinois. If the same four letters produce pictures of a seedy street corner, a speeding car, pistol flashes and a bleeding child, odds are you live in the Chicago area.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

In his 1817 autobiography, British poet Samuel Coleridge wrote of a "willing suspension of disbelief" that enables a reader to become caught up in a work of fiction.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich must have been hoping for a similar state of mind among legislators and other Illinois citizens last month when he presented his proposed budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Don’t expect the glitz of a rock concert or the fervor of a tent revival, but the Illinois House’s Budget 2006 road show could be a top draw in coming weeks.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Among the time-honored traditions of the holiday season, perhaps none is as hopeful and yet as depressing as the practice of making New Year’s resolutions.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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