Illinois Issues

End and Means: Neophyte Lawmakers Face a Bunch of Tough Issues

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

When the 98th Illinois General Assembly takes office in a few days, almost one out of every five lawmakers will be a newcomer with no previous legislative experience, the largest batch of rookies in more than a decade.

So many new faces — 11 in the Senate and 22 in the House — might be expected in the aftermath of the first election following redistricting, when candidates for all 177 legislative seats are running under a new map. Ten years ago, 32 newcomers were sworn into office in the wake of the 2001 remap and the 2002 election.

Heaven Sutton and her mother, Ashake Banks
Cook County Sheriff's Department

It felt like summer in Chicago, but it was barely spring. In mid-March — a time of year when the highs are usually in the upper 40s — temperatures hit the 80s on eight days during one nine-day stretch. And in some parts of the city, bullets began flying.

Day after day, headlines delivered the grim news: “1 dead as shootings erupt around city”; “Chicago shootings leave 7 dead, 33 hurt”; “CHICAGO COP SHOT”; “Shooting death of girl, 6, marks lethal weekend. ‘She didn’t deserve this,’ mother says”; “49 people are shot citywide, 10 fatally.”

What's a Bond Rating Worth?

Nov 1, 2012

At the very least, downgrades lead to negative press; at the worst, taxpayers pay a price.

When it comes to Illinois’ bond rating, what’s past is prologue.

Joan Walters was director of the Bureau of the Budget under Republican Gov. Jim Edgar, whose administration is fondly thought of by some at the Statehouse as the last truly fiscally responsible gubernatorial administration. 

Former Dixon Comptroller Rita Crundwell with one of her horses.
American Quarter Horse Association

Even the most optimistic citizens of Dixon don’t think they’re ever going to get their $53 million back.

At this point, they just hope they’ll at least get their pound of flesh. 

“The citizens are anxious to see what kind of sentence she gets” if she’s convicted, says Mayor Jim Burke, referring to his city’s former comptroller, Rita Crundwell. “There isn’t a day that goes by when someone doesn’t call and say, ‘If she gets off with a slap on the wrist ...’”

The Illinois Senate in session.
Jamey Dunn / WUIS/Illinois Issues

Legislative sessions scheduled after a general election but before a new General Assembly is sworn in are historically a time when things get done. 

Recently in such sessions, Illinois lawmakers approved civil unions for same-sex couples, abolished the death penalty and passed the only income tax increase the state has seen in 20 years. 

Dana Heupel
WUIS/Illinois Issues

The Chicago area is the most corrupt region in the nation, according to a research paper presented at a recent statewide ethics conference, and Illinois is the third most corrupt state.

Jamey Dunn headshot
mattpenning.com 2014 / WUIS/Illinois Issues

Now that the election is over, several movements advocating for major changes in the state are gaining momentum. Same-sex marriage

After three states approved same-sex marriage in November’s general election, gay rights advocates in Illinois say it may be the right time to pass a bill legalizing same sex marriage in the state.

Charlie Wheeler headshot
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Unprecedented.

An often overused term, prone  to hyperbole, but a spot-on summary of last month's votes  for the 98th General Assembly, for never before in Illinois history has one political party captured veto-proof majorities in both legislative chambers in the same general election.

Democrats did so, winning 40 Senate seats — the party's most ever — and 71 House seats, leaving shell-shocked Republicans to wonder if anyone caught the number of the bus that hit them.

Margie Wade in an undated photograph
Belleville News-Democrat

Since 2003, the deaths of 53 disabled adults were reported to, but not investigated by, the Illinois Department of Human Services - until a newspaper probe shed light on those stories.

 Margie Wade was trapped. She was too weak to move. Even to close her eyes.

The 59-year-old disabled woman, critically ill from severe diabetes, lay unconscious; face down on a plastic mattress cover that adhered to her body so tightly it would have to be cut away. She wore only a shirt.

Under the new Medicaid eligibility requirements, Oliver Wellman’s parents make too much money to qualify for the 24-7 nursing care he needs because of his tracheostomy, but not enough to be able to afford to pay for the care themselves.
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Maria, the mother in a family of four living in Willowbrook, doesn’t want her real name or that of her family made public. A private, proud woman, Maria would rather keep her problems to herself and solve them herself.

But Maria is in a Catch-22 that might force her to quit her job. Her daughter needs expensive medical care, and Maria and her husband don’t make enough money to cover the costs but make too much to get help. Out of frustration, she shares her story.

Welfare Chart
WUIS/Illinois Issues

When Illinois passed legislation in 1997 to help implement the federal overhaul of the welfare system, then-state Sen. Barack Obama voiced concerns about poor residents falling through the cracks.

Dana Heupel
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Elsewhere in this issue, you will find a graphic photograph of Margie Wade taken by sheriff’s deputy a few hours before the 59-year-old woman died in 2003 in a Hillsboro hospital. It is not our normal practice to publish shocking images, and we seriously weighed the pros and cons before I decided to use it because it tells the story of her last moments in a way that words alone cannot.

Jamey Dunn headshot
mattpenning.com 2014 / WUIS/Illinois Issues

Though I never met him, Paul Simon has had a profound effect on my life. Some years ago, a fateful visit to the Public Policy Institute he founded at my alma mater, Southern Illinois University, solidified my choice to shift my career path from public relations and take a gamble on journalism, regardless of my fears about finding a job in a struggling industry.

Is Mike Madigan the Darth Vader of Illinois government, a sort of Dark Lord responsible for all the woes besetting the Prairie State, from its lowered bond rating to its mountain of unpaid bills, maybe even this summer’s devastating drought?

That’s the narrative Republican leaders hope will persuade Illinois voters on November 6 to support GOP candidates up and down the ballot, but most importantly for the Illinois General Assembly.

William Holland was first appointed as auditor general in 1992.
Lane Christiansen

Illinois Auditor General William Holland, recently appointed to an unprecedented third 10-year term in that office, occasionally gets invited to speak to college accounting classes. When he does, the students are in for a surprise.

Holland typically opens by telling his audience that he isn’t a trained auditor and that he has no auditing experience. Next, he adds: “You’re thinking, then, I must be an accountant. I’m here to tell you I am NOT an accountant.”

Education Inequality
WUIS/Illinois Issues

It’s been a decade since a blue-ribbon panel outlined an ambitious plan designed to finally force the state to provide an adequate level of funding for Illinois schoolchildren.

But, just as they’ve failed in the past, Illinois policymakers have again fallen far short of the goals laid out in the 2002 Education Funding Advisory Board report. The state’s recently approved budget will leave many school districts having to dip into their reserve funds, take out loans or, if labor contracts allow for it, cut personnel and programs to deal with a $161 million cut in general state aid.

U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts
WUIS/Illinois Issues

While many states are pushing back against President Barack Obama’s signature health care reform plan, Illinois is moving forward with the law since it was upheld by the U. S. Supreme Court. But even in the president’s adopted home state, the path to making the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act a reality is not without its pitfalls and political battles. 

Dana Heupel
WUIS/Illinois Issues

We’d like to thank those of you who took the time to complete our recent reader survey. We’ve been poring over the results for more than a month now, and as promised, we want to share some of them with you. (I apologize in advance that this column will be what we call “number heavy,” but that’s pretty much the nature of this beast.)

Jamey Dunn headshot
mattpenning.com 2014 / WUIS/Illinois Issues

When it comes to addressing the issue of racial profiling, Illinois has a data collection system that is a model for the nation. However, the state has done little to make use of that information to eliminate the discriminatory practice. 

A 2000 report from the U.S. Department of Justice defines racial profiling as “police-initiated action that relies on the race, ethnicity or national origin rather than the behavior of an individual or information that leads the police to a particular individual who has been identified as being, or having been, engaged in criminal activity.”

Charlie Wheeler headshot
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Could it have been the scorching, record-setting heat besetting Illinois in July? Or maybe fevered anticipation of the chance to renew his downstate bona fides by cutting the ribbon to open the Illinois State Fair?

Perhaps it was, plain and simple, a paranormal phenomenon. Whatever the explanation, Gov. Pat Quinn sure looked like he was channeling his disgraced predecessor on a number of high-profile, mid-summer occasions.

Here’s a sampler of Quinn actions that smack of Rod Blagojevich:

Rod Sellers

On the banks of the Calumet, in the neighborhood of 103rd Street, are large swamps capable of being developed into fine parks; the country is gently undulating with plenty of woodland, and the view across Calumet Lake is fine. 

— Plan of Chicago, 1909
by Daniel Burnham 
and Edward Bennett

Design for an offshore wind turbine and platform.
National Renewable Energy Laboratory

The wind off Lake Michigan is legendary. It most famously contributes to the “Windy City” image of Chicago, provided a name for an ill-fated 1975 football team called the Chicago Winds and was immortalized as the “hawk wind” in the first line of Steve Goodman’s song “A Dying Cub Fan’s Last Request.”

In fact, the wind blows across a largely uninterrupted expanse of 22,400 square miles of water, Lake Michigan, which is slightly smaller than West Virginia and larger than nine of the United States. 

Photo Essay: The River and Us

Jul 1, 2012
Kayaking the Cache River State Natural Area in southern Illinois. Recreation, such as boating and fishing, is a way to enjoy and explore the state’s rivers.
Chris Young

Nature photographers, especially this one, are fond of using their long, telephoto lenses to isolate their subjects and eliminate anything that distracts from the beauty of the image.

We make sure utility poles and wires don’t show up. We leave out roads, cars and other evidence of civilization when we are focusing on nature.
That’s fine, except that sometimes we eliminate an element from the picture that looms large over our rivers and other natural areas — us.

Yes, people are an integral part of our landscape, our natural areas and our rivers.

Dana Heupel
WUIS/Illinois Issues

One political party in Illinois is bound and determined to slash health care for poor people and retirees while waging attacks on organized labor and teachers — at the same time giving tax breaks to huge corporations like Sears and CME Group, which operates interests, such as the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Chicago Board of Trade.

 

And then there’s the other political party, the Republicans …

Jamey Dunn headshot
mattpenning.com 2014 / WUIS/Illinois Issues

Americans’ opinions about global warming are ever-changing and seem to be shaped in part by their political beliefs, the economy and their perceptions of the scientific community. 

Charlie Wheeler headshot
WUIS/Illinois Issues

“All newspaper editorial writers ever do,” the late Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Murray Kempton once observed, “is come down from the hills after the battle is over and shoot the wounded.”

Whether Illinois legislators are wounded may be a matter of debate, but they certainly were the targets of a heavy barrage of scorn and disdain from the state’s media mavens in the aftermath of the spring session’s turmoil.

Gov. Pat Quinn has called for the closing of Tamms Correctional Center.
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Gray, bleak and desensitizing. Hope-draining and soul-crushing. That is how some who have entered the walls of the state’s super-maximum-security prison in Tamms describe it. 

“The doors are like a rust-red color with thousands of perforated holes. And you look outside, and you don’t see nothing but a gray wall,” says Brian Nelson, a former Tamms inmate. “My biggest fear is that this is all happening in my head, and I am going to wake up and I’m in that cell. And that scares the s--- out of me.” Nelson has been paroled and now works as a paralegal in Chicago. 

Richard Calica, executive director of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Richard Calica’s Illinois Department of Children and Family Services is beset with problems. One Chicago Tribune investigation this spring found that investigators into suspected cases of abuse are spread too thin, putting the agency in violation of a 1991 federal consent decree that resulted from a series of lawsuits. Later, another of the newspaper’s probes showed that more than half of the day-care operations in the state weren’t inspected within a three-year licensing period.

The situation of helplessness and abuse in which traffickers keep their victims makes it difficult for them to break away and hard for them to adjust when and if they gain freedom.
WUIS/Illinois Issues

In July 2010, Corey Allen Lockett, 23, of Springfield was arrested on federal prostitution charges after he placed ads on Craigslist to solicit sex with minors and admitted to pimping other girls. In October 2009, Cook County sheriffs, officers broke up a sex trafficking ring that involved three women from Thailand. In the three weeks the women spent in America, they were shuffled between New York, Dallas, San Francisco and Chicago for prostitution. Passports were taken from the women, who did not speak English. Threats toward their families from an unknown woman kept them in Chicago.

WUIS/Illinois Issues

All Kathy Zimmerman wanted to do was look up the history of her own home. But one thing led to another. Today, 14 years later, the former religious educator and real estate agent is executive director of Pittsfield’s Abe Lincoln Project — and one of 22 members of a steering committee that is on the verge of defining the future of the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area, a 42-county swath of central Illinois stretching from the Indiana border to the Mississippi River. 

 

Surprisingly enough, that’s exactly how the process is supposed to work.

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