Illinois Issues

Charlie Wheeler headshot
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Property taxes are excessively high and oppressive and the legislature should do something about it.

Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner, explaining his call for a property tax freeze, whatever that means?

Lame duck Gov. Pat Quinn in his budget address last spring, urging lawmakers to send every homeowner a $500 refund check?

Good guess, but nope.

Archives: 1995 Judy Baar Topinka Profile

Dec 10, 2014
Comptroller website

The following article ran in the March 1995 Illinois Issues magazine:

In a convention center filled with thousands of blue-suited, straitlaced Republicans, leave it to Judy Baar Topinka to tell a fart joke.

The elite of Illinois' GOP were gathered in Springfield for the January inauguration of the six constitutional officers. Having swept the state's top posts, the partisan crowd was in a celebratory make that downright giddy mood for the day's pomp and circumstance.

This story first appeared in the March 2014 issue.

Taxes suck.

That, it seems, is the only truism. Nobody wants to render unto Caesar. But, at least in Illinois, Caesar needs to get re-elected, and so stuff can get complicated.

Illinois Supreme Court
Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

A version of this story first appeared on the Illinois Issues Blog in July 2014.

After years of trying to find a solution to the tackle the state’s $100 billion unfunded pension liability, lawmakers approved pension changes in December of last year. Illinois was SAVED! Crank up the tunes, call up the bond rating agencies, put Squeezy the Pension Python out to pasture — happy days are here again!

Preventable Deaths

Dec 1, 2014

This story first appeared in the March 2014 issue.

For years, they’ve shuffled across Illinois’ front pages, a parade of tragedy.

There was Christopher Valdez, 4, of Chicago’s southwest side, whose mother’s boyfriend allegedly beat him to death in 2011. Earlier, Christopher’s mother had been convicted of abusing him, but the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and the courts had nonetheless allowed him to remain in her home.

Doing Right By The Kids

Dec 1, 2014

This story first appeared in the June 2014 issue.

Special monitoring visits to the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice recently found youth detainees mowing lawns and building shelves rather than attending educational courses. Monitors discovered youth being given medication with inadequate consent and living in rooms that were improperly maintained. Facilities were found to lack the proper staff to treat juvenile offenders with mental illnesses.

Impoverished in Illinois

Dec 1, 2014
Vacant apartment building.
Robert Loerzel / WUIS/Illinois Issues

This story first appeared in the January 2014 issue. Statistics have been updated where new numbers were available.

In some pockets of Illinois, where one in every three people live in poverty or close to it, the need is visible in the landscape: empty lots where buildings once stood in Cairo; abandoned houses marked with X’s in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood; families living in ramshackle trailers in Kankakee County’s Pembroke Township.

This story first appeared in the April 2014 issue.

Gone are the days a candidate can make a campaign appearance before a friendly crowd of party faithful, nearly a year before an election, and think his remarks will fade from memory as fast as the mass-produced fried chicken or roast beef the audience was likely served during the event.

Jamey Dunn
mattpenning.com 2014 / WUIS/Illinois Issues

Election season cast a long shadow on 2014. We saw the most expensive and one of the ugliest fights for the governor’s office in the state’s history. Now Illinois has a Republican governor for the first time in more than a decade. Meanwhile in the legislature, House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton were both able to hang on to veto-proof majorities in their respective chambers, despite some aggressive challenges mounted by Republican candidates.

Charlie Wheeler headshot
WUIS/Illinois Issues

Is Illinois still a “blue” state?

Will Mike Madigan work with a Republican governor?

Those were among the “insightful” questions being posed by national pundits and talking heads after Bruce Rauner’s solid victory last month over Gov. Pat Quinn in one of the country’s most closely-watched, bitterly contested gubernatorial contests.

Folks here at home know the answers, of course: clearly yes, in both cases.

screenshots from candidate TV ads

Unfortunately, even if the winner of the contest for governor is able to resolve what are arguably the two most pressing fiscal issues the state faces, Illinois’ budget would still be in deep trouble.

Graphic courtesy of Kenneth Olson, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Illinois became a state in 1818, but figuring out its shape was not a simple process. While most people hear Illinois and think Chicago - it could have been without the city, if not for advocacy and politics. An article in the current edition of Illinois Issues magazine (and below) explores the issue. Rachel Otwell sat down to talk with the author, Eliot Clay, about it:

 

'How Illinois might have looked' by Eliot Clay

Photograph by Alex Wroblewski

The shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri has brought to national attention the obstacles that many young black males face - including racial profiling and a world where media portrayals of their peers are often less-than-flattering. Maureen McKinney took a look at the topic in Illinois. She joined Rachel Otwell for this interview: 

Sexual Assault: The Nationwide Campus Crisis Hits Home In Illinois

Nov 1, 2014

Veronica Portillo Heap became an advocate for sexual assault survivors as a sophomore at the University of Chicago. She got an email from a group of students organizing The UChicago Clothesline Project, which offers survivors a chance to tell their stories on T-shirts in an annual art installation. Portillo Heap was not a survivor herself, but she thought getting involved as an organizer with The Clothesline Project would be worth her time.

Not long ago, attempts to raise criminal penalties in Illinois were met with a standing joke. All such legislation had to make it through the Senate Judiciary Committee, where by informal agreement, it could only advance if it satisfied the sole criterion of the Cullerton Rule. On April 20, 2005, Sen. Edward Maloney, a Democrat from Chicago, presented House Bill 2699, a bipartisan measure that sought to raise the penalties for identity theft.

News Analysis — One of the best-known sayings about politics is missing something. In a 1985 speech at Yale University, former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo said, “We campaign in poetry, but when we’re elected, we’re forced to govern in prose.”

But that formulation omits one of the dominant aspects of modern politics: fundraising. Intermingled with campaigning in poetry and governing in prose, one might charitably say candidates raise money in the language of sales and marketing. Less charitably, one might say they fundraise in psychological manipulation.

Ugly Election Brings Home Need For Campaign Finance Reform

Nov 1, 2014
Charlie Wheeler headshot
WUIS/Illinois Issues

That mighty “whoosh!” you’ll be hearing in a few days will be a collective sigh of relief from Illinoisans as one of the nastiest election seasons in recent memory blessedly draws to a close.

In the marquee event, of course, voters will decide the state’s next governor, choosing between Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees — oops, I mean Democratic incumbent Pat Quinn or Republican challenger Bruce Rauner, must have seen one too many campaign hit pieces — or opting for Libertarian Chad Grimm, standing in for “neither of the above.”

State representative candidate Mel Thillens
WUIS/Illinois Issues

 Republican Mel Thillens is a first-time candidate for the Illinois House, but his name has been carried across the state on the sides of large trucks for years.

The third-generation owner of the armored truck company that bears his name, Thillens is one of dozens of GOP candidates trying to reverse the damage his party suffered two years ago.

Pollsters this spring predicted Bruce Rauner would have a 17-point lead over then-state Sen. Kirk Dillard, but Rauner’s victory was by less than three percentage points.
WUIS/Illinois Issues

 In the final month of the 2010 campaign, the political career of Gov. Pat Quinn appeared to be nearing its end. Poll after poll showed him down by four, six or even eight percentage points. The mathematical models of stat-geek superstar Nate Silver — fresh off correctly predicting the outcome in 49 of 50 states in the 2008 presidential election — gave Quinn just an 18 percent chance of winning. You know how that turned out.

Jamey Dunn
mattpenning.com 2014 / WUIS/Illinois Issues

  A recent change in regulatory rules meant to encourage fracking well operators to recycle wastewater in drought-stricken Texas could be contributing to a newly detected threat to public health.

Brian Mackey
mattpenning.com 2011 / WUIS/Illinois Issues

   Twenty-fourteen was going to be a banner year for direct democracy in Illinois. At one point, it was possible voters would be asked to weigh in on as many as seven different ballot questions, including four constitutional amendments. But as the election draws near, two of those ideas are off the table: Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner’s push to impose legislative term limits failed to meet the requirements of the Constitution, and a separate attempt to change the way House and Senate districts are drawn failed to gather enough valid signatures.

End And Means: Term Limits Wouldn't Shake Up Springfield

Oct 1, 2014
Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

 

To hear the bluster of Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner and his lackeys among the state’s editorial writers and punditry class, the court decisions tossing his proposed initiative to impose term limits on lawmakers was a shocking slap in the face of Illinois citizens and a huge victory for the Dark Lord of Illinois politics, House Speaker Michael J. Madigan.

Marilyn Escoe and her children — Kayla, Kyla and Kyle Escoe and Kaleyah Wesley — were homeless until November.
WUIS/Illinois Issues

For Kaleyah Wesley, thoughts of her family’s life in a Chicago homeless shelter made it difficult to focus on school, particularly in math, the subject she found hardest.

The then-sixth-grader woke at 5 a.m. on weekdays to take a pair of trains from the north side Rogers Park shelter to her school in the North Lawndale neighborhood, which is on the west side. She says she had a negative attitude that rubbed off on her three younger siblings.

Race & Education: The Real Issue is About Justice

Sep 1, 2014

 

"Once you learn to read, you will be forever free."

— Frederick Douglass

 The balls in this Illinois lottery bounced inside a clear bowl as the number-holders anxiously watched. I was among them in a middle school commons in Matteson, a south suburb of Chicago. Our daughter’s number was 10. But would it be our lucky number tonight? 

A computer lab at North Elementary School in Marshall
WUIS/Illinois Issues

 Benjamin Churchill has been spending extra time with his daughter at the computer lately. Quinn, 8, will be taking her first state exam this school year, and unlike the tests her dad took, this one won’t require a No. 2 pencil. 

Senn High School students Delvon Woods and Dewayne Thomas participated in a restorative justice training program at Alternatives, a youth center in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago.
WUIS/Illinois Issues

If a student happens to have been born black, he’s three times more likely to be suspended or expelled than his white classmates. That statistic comes from the U.S. Department of Education, and it’s often repeated by people who favor changing the way students are disciplined. But as with all averages, it obscures the rough edges that become apparent only when looking more closely at the numbers, and Illinois has some of the roughest edges around.

Jamey Dunn
mattpenning.com 2014 / WUIS/Illinois Issues

It’s no secret that many Illinois Democrats have been reluctant to throw their full support behind President Barack Obama’s signature health care law. And Republicans at the state level are not going to get behind a law that their party counterparts in the U.S. House have voted dozens of times to repeal. As a result, those seeking insurance in the state have been handed a mixed bag of policy.

 

Charles N. Wheeler III
WUIS/Illinois Issues

While the fat lady may not yet have sung for the new law slashing pension benefits for public workers, she certainly seems to be warming up in the wings, courtesy of the Illinois Supreme Court.

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