Illinois Issues

Jamey Dunn
mattpenning.com 2014 / WUIS/Illinois Issues

While most of the focus on environmental issues this legislative session was on fracking, conservationist groups quietly celebrated the passage of a bill that would potentially open up more land in the state for recreation.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Everyone knows Illinois has the largest pension debt and worst credit rating in the nation, right? So obviously its elected officials, especially Gov. Pat Quinn and the Illinois General Assembly, have to be absolute bozos, folks who should be sent packing at the earliest opportunity.

That’s been the clamor since lawmakers adjourned the spring session on May 31 without cutting pension benefits for public employees, a din raised particularly loudly by editorial boards, online commentators, and folks firing off angry (and often ill-informed) letters to the editor.

Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon
WUIS/Illinois Issues

History shows the political winds can change dramatically in Illinois.

 

Just ask Sheila Simon.

Simon, the daughter of the late U.S. Sen. Paul Simon, had a well-known pedigree but little statewide exposure when she was drafted to run for lieutenant governor in the 2010 election. 

“It was not,” Simon says, “something I’d spent a lifetime planning on.” 

A doctor examines a patient at the Planned Parenthood Clinic in  Chicago’s Loop.
NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

After automatic federal spending cuts known as the sequester caused a week of delayed and canceled flights that annoyed travelers nationwide, Congress quickly passed legislation to fix that problem. 

Brian Clauss, director of The John Marshall Law School Veterans Legal Support Center, trains pro bono attorneys.
WUIS/Illinois Issues

In a sluggish Illinois economy, one group is finding it surprisingly difficult to find work: veterans of post-9/11 conflicts.

Because the federal government invested millions of dollars into their training, one would think experienced combat veterans would be ideal candidates to fill jobs. But when they leave the military, many find themselves struggling to find work, taking lesser paying jobs or any menial work where they can find it.

Dana Heupel
WUIS/Illinois Issues

I ran into a friend at a conference recently, a former journalist whom I greatly respect. “You know,” he said to me, “you guys need to do something on how the state treats its employees — what that does to morale, productivity, that sort of thing.”

He’s right, although we have dealt with that subject several times, among the most recent being an essay by Robert Bruno in the September 2012 Illinois Issues. But the idea bears further examination.

Jamey Dunn
mattpenning.com 2014 / WUIS/Illinois Issues

Most adults, especially parents, likely think it would be best for teenagers to abstain from sex until they are old enough to deal with the potential outcomes, such as pregnancy, sexually transmitted infection or emotional trauma. Nevertheless, teenagers are having sex.

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

A few weeks ago, the University of Illinois Springfield celebrated its 42nd commencement, a joyous occasion for the more than 750 graduates who participated in the ceremony at Springfield’s downtown convention center.

Abraham Lincoln is surely the most famous Republican from Illinois.
WUIS/Illinois Issues

There’s a sure-fire way to bug Republicans in Illinois: Call them up every two years and ask them why they can’t win elections. You almost can hear them wince as they explain what’s gone wrong and what they need to do to win over voters in the future. 

Add to their anxiety the ticking clock that is the 2014 Illinois gubernatorial race.

Enrollment projections for Illinois Health Insurance Marketplace
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Heidi Massey hasn’t been to the doctor in several years. At 52 and unable to afford health coverage, the Chicago resident hopes her situation changes when a key feature of the federal health care reform law begins in 2014.

But whether Illinois’ health-insurance exchange, similar to those being set up in other states, reaches its goal of eventually providing 1 million or more people and small businesses a cheaper way of getting good coverage remains to be seen.

WUIS/Illinois Issues

President Barack Obama’s promise in his State of the Union speech to push for universal, voluntary preschool invigorated early childhood advocates nationally and across Illinois. Could it help the state regain lost ground in building a system of preschool for all?

“Very, very much,” predicted Theresa Hawley, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Development. “We don’t know a lot of details, [but] what they’re thinking about at the federal level matches well with what we have set as our priorities here in Illinois.”

If a 17-year-old were caught stealing an iPod in Illinois, he or she would likely end up in the juvenile justice system. However, if the same teenager were caught stealing the newest iPhone, he or she would land in adult court, be held with adult inmates and end up with a record that would follow him or her into adult life. Advocates argue that it is time to change that disparity in the system.

Dana Heupel
WUIS/Illinois Issues

“Moderates are on their way to becoming extinct on both sides of the aisle, and if you happen to be one, you better not tell anyone because you will be gone in your next primary.”

So writes former Illinois Congresswoman Debbie Halvorson in her recent book titled Playing Ball with the Big Boys: And Why the Big Girls Better Get in the Game.

Jamey Dunn
mattpenning.com 2014 / WUIS/Illinois Issues

Illinois should provide mental health care and addiction treatment to those who truly need it instead of incarcerating thousands of the addicted and the mentally ill, making taxpayers shell out for care in the much costlier settings of prison and jails. 

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

During this spring’s debate over same-sex marriage, a recurring theme among opponents has been the dire societal consequences they said would result from its legalization.

Jesse Jackson Jr.’s star was still rising when he spoke at the 2008 Democratic Convention.
WUIS/Illinois Issues

When Jesse Jackson Jr. walked into a Washington, D.C., federal courthouse in February to plead guilty to federal charges of looting his campaign fund of $750,000, Capitol Hill insiders held a similar reaction.

What could have been?

From the time the Chicago ex-congressman took office, bets were wagered on how high his star would rise: Mayor of Chicago? U.S. Senate?

“I have no other office in mind besides where I’m at now,” Jackson insisted in 1996. “This is my magnificent obsession.”

WUIS/Illinois Issues

The question of the state’s obligation to provide affordable public higher education is easy to shove aside these days, as our disgraced and dysfunctional state government grapples with more fundamental issues of fiscal survival. Truth be told, it may be a moot point.

Let’s go back one generation.

Flickr/ Mark Byzewski

 

“We have an impossible situation. If we solved pensions, then we would be looking at only $6 billion worth of debt with a dramatic drop of revenue taking place in 2015. That’s the best-case scenario.”

Kent Redfield,
emeritus political science professor 
at UIS

As lawmakers spend countless hours debating gun control measures and changes to the public employee pension systems, the next potential budget disaster in the state is on its way. 

Dana Heupel
WUIS/Illinois Issues

As I grow older, I reflect more on the past and worry more about the future, not just for myself but for my grandchildren, whose ages range from 2 months to 10 years. 

Jamey Dunn
mattpenning.com 2014 / WUIS/Illinois Issues

Illinois Democrats controlled both chambers of the General Assembly and the governor’s office when it came time to redraw the state’s congressional districts in 2011. The resulting map painted the state’s congressional delegation in blue. However, in most other states where lawmakers played a role in redistricting, the results were decidedly redder. 

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

For someone with a penchant for stream-of-consciousness speechmaking, Gov. Pat Quinn’s budget address last month was notable for its laser-like focus on the need to address the state’s mounting pension debt, now approaching $100 billion.

The oft-repeated theme: Ever-mounting pension obligations are crowding out funding for education and other core services.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began using heavy equipment to remove nearly 900 cubic yards of limestone from the navigation channel at Thebes in Alexander County in December.
WUIS/Illinois Issues

The Army Corps of Engineers blew up part of a levee in 2011 to divert rising Mississippi River floodwaters away from Cairo. Now, in early 2013, Corps engineers find themselves in completely opposite circumstances, cautiously taking measures to ensure that commercial shipping can continue as water levels drop. 

 

Recent severe drought conditions that destroyed crops across Illinois also threaten to shut down barge traffic on the country’s most important waterway for commercial shipping. 

Mark Heyrman, a University of Chicago law professor, says the state is not using all the money from the facility closures on community care, as required by law, and he is heading up a lawsuit against Illinois.
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Recent high-profile tragedies, including a school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut that took the lives of 20 children and six adults, have prompted states to reassess their mental health care systems. After almost $2 billion in cuts nationwide, many of them, including Illinois, are finding their support systems for the mentally ill in tatters. 

Advocates and providers say cuts to mental health funding in the state have left the system decimated, but they say the implementation of federal health care reform offers hope for those who are unable to access services now. 

Venkat Srinivasan is a researcher for the U.S. Battery and Energy Storage Hub based at Argonne National Lab.
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Venkat Srinivasan has a relatively short list of requirements when shopping for a car. With a young baby at home, safety is important. “My wife is very clear,” he says. “We want to have a car where I can put my baby in the center seat in the back.” He also needs a fair amount of trunk space for all the baby gear. But what Srinivasan really wants is an environmentally friendly, plug-in hybrid. And that has been a problem.

Dana Heupel
WUIS/Illinois Issues

“People assume, because I was so sort of early in all this, that I was heavily discriminated against — and I probably was — but I’d always claim I was too dumb to realize that I was being discriminated against.”

Jamey Dunn
mattpenning.com 2014 / WUIS/Illinois Issues

McGraw-Hill, the parent company of the world’s largest credit rating agency, Standard and Poor’s, was slapped with lower bond ratings than the state of Illinois in February. 

End and Means: Gov. Quinn's Speech Didn't Avoid Pension Subject

Mar 1, 2013
Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Listening to lawmakers’ reaction and reading the pundits’ commentary after Gov. Pat Quinn delivered his State of the State speech a few weeks ago was even more entertaining than the governor’s 38-minute performance.

A random sampling, with sources not identified to spare any potential embarrassment:

Quinn “made a campaign speech,” complained various lawmakers, most but not all of them Republicans.

Adam Walsh
WUIS/Illinois Issues

In 2005, Joseph Duncan tied up Brenda Groene, her 13-year-old son, Slade Groene, and her husband, Mark McKenzie, and beat them to death with a hammer in the family’s home in Idaho. Duncan kidnapped Brenda’s 8-year-old daughter, Shasta Groene, and 9-year-old son, Dylan Groene. He took them to remote campgrounds in Montana and over several weeks, he sexually assaulted both children and eventually murdered Dylan. Shasta survived the ordeal after a waitress at an Idaho Denny’s restaurant recognized her and called the police. 

While he waited for the concession call from Mitt Romney, the president worked on his acceptance speech with Jon Favreau, director of speechwriting, and campaign adviser David Axelrod at a Chicago hotel.
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Collin Corbett is a Republican whose job it is to elect Republicans. His company in Chicago’s northern suburbs, Cor Strategies, has worked with presidential contender Mitt Romney, gubernatorial hopeful Sen. Bill Brady and dozens of lesser-known politicians vying for offices such as city council or circuit clerk. 

After President Barack Obama won re-election in November, Corbett says his Republican clients immediately wanted to copy the Democrat’s campaign tactics, especially when it came to technology. 

Before 2010, Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood was split into five state House districts and three Senate districts.
Ashlee Rezin / WUIS/Illinois Issues

Latinos added more than a half-million people to the state of Illinois in the last decade, becoming the state’s second-largest ethnic/racial group.

But the increase from 12 percent of Illinois’ population in 2000 to 16 percent in 2010 was not adequately reflected in the state’s most recent drawing of its legislative map, some Latino advocates say.

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