Saturday, February 27, 2010

Maybe I should run for Lt. Governor

Like many other people, I got a chuckle Friday when I checked out the Illinois Democratic Party’s website (which usually is a worthless place to go if one wants relevant information).

Seeing the place where one could download an application to be considered for the political party’s nomination for lieutenant governor made me laugh, then sigh when I read various reports that said filling out an application was not a guarantee that the Democrats’ State Central Committee would actually take it seriously.

IN SHORT, THIS is a lame attempt to make it appear that the party is being open to new ideas, when they really want nothing more than to find someone who will fill a niche within the overall impression that Democrats want to convey to voters come the Nov. 2 elections.

But seeing that I have, at times, voted for Democratic Party candidates and even cast my ballots in their primaries, I figure I have something of a vested interest in the way things turn out. So it is with that thought in mind that I hereby declare my own candidacy to be Pat Quinn’s running mate in this year’s elections.
The Chicago Skyway and Cairo are both places where Illinois borders against other states. Yet no one would ever confuse the East Side neighborhood with Little Egypt, and might have a hard time believing the two are the same state. Skyway image provided by Library of Congress collection.
I’m feeling a bit lazy in terms of filling out their application. Plus, my priority is trying to fill the space provided by this weblog I created just over two years ago to offer up my own commentary and analysis of public policy as it affects Chicago.

So following is my version of an application to the party to fill the hole created when we learned after the fact far more than we ever wanted to know about Chicago businessman Scott Lee Cohen.

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First Name: Gregory
Middle Name/Initial: M (as in Michael)
Last Name: Tejeda

Birthdate: Aug. 31, 1965

Address at which you are registered to vote: At various times in my life, I have been registered to vote in Bloomington, Chicago, Homewood, Springfield and Tinley Park. For all I know, someone has continued to vote in my name at each and every one of those addresses – long after I moved away.

Mailing address: Anybody dumb enough to let that get posted publicly on the Internet deserves to have their identity stolen. Knowing my luck, it would be someone who’s even further in debt than I.

Email & website: Look to the right-hand column of this weblog, and this weblog (and sister site The South Chicagoan) in general.

Additional questions:

1 – Why are you a Democrat?

I was born in Chicago and raised in Chicago and its inner suburbs. Which means I was taught to think that people who willingly identified themselves as Republican were not only weird (kind of like people who put ketchup on their hot dogs), but completely irrelevant. Either that, or they never knew the joys of living in the great city of Chicago.

2 – Have you previously held elected office? If so, which one(s)?

I have never been elected to anything, unless one wants to count the one year I served as secretary/treasurer of a media honorary society at my collegiate alma mater (Illinois Wesleyan University, Go Titans!!!! – both the men’s and women’s basketball teams are participating in the CCIW tournament this weekend to try to clinch an automatic berth in the NCAA Division III tournaments taking place during March).

My political experience comes from seven years hanging around the Statehouse in Springpatch, sitting in the press boxes on the chamber floors, sitting on the hard marble floors outside the governor’s office waiting for officials to emerge to say as little as possible, and occasionally making the walk across Second Street to see the Illinois Supreme Court issue a ruling that reigns in the more blatantly stupid moments of our state politicians.

I also have had lesser stints hanging out as a reporter-type at City Hall, the Cook County Building (I've seen it all from Harold Washington to Todd Stroger), assorted municipal buildings in the Chicago suburbs, and even a little stint hanging around political types in Washington, D.C. – I was in the nation’s capital back when Fawn Hall (remember her?) was all the rage.

All of this is to say that I probably understand the realities of public policy and political process more than most rookie politicos.

3 – What do you believe are the greatest challenges facing the State of Illinois and areas of greatest opportunity?

In my one serious answer provided to this questionaire, Illinois’ greatest opportunity is tied in to its greatest challenge – the degree to which we let our regionalism dominate our way of thinking. To me, that regionalism was proven yet again when I saw a new poll showing that Quinn has a huge lead over likely gubernatorial opponent Bill Brady. Looking at the breakdown, the overwhelming Chicago-area population threatens to overcome the rest of the state, regardless of what people may think about Rod Blagojevich.

This ought to be a state that combines the advantages of one of the world’s great cities, a huge suburban area that helps bolster the urban area and cover up its potential flaws, along with rural areas that combine significant history (Abraham Lincoln really did once walk the streets of just about everywhere in central Illinois) and the natural beauty of Southern Illinois (anyone ever been to the Shawnee National Forest?).

Yet we ignore each other, which means at times we are all hanging separately (who would have ever guessed Ben Franklin would be talking about Illinois, even before Illinois came into existence?) Because at times, it seems like we have two different states, if not three. There are times when the counties south of Interstate 70 are a whole ‘nother land where the people sound like Dixie and where some literally are closer to Jackson, Miss., than they are to Chicago.

Or maybe those people from Cairo (not the place on the River Nile) think we’re too close to the U.S./Canada border for their comfort. We ought to be putting the energy that we expend on distrusting each other into realizing why our state is so far superior to our neighbors such as Iowa, Missouri or Indiana.

At the very least, no one calls us anything as absurd-sounding as “Hoosier.”

4 – What strengths would you bring to the ticket?

I could provide a diversion of sorts to the political people who seriously are trying to develop policy for the good of the public (in short, the 1 percent of elected officials who seriously try to do “the peoples’ business). My sarcastic temperament (often exhibited in the commentary published on this site) would likely make me the lightning rod for press coverage as I managed to tell one of my reporter-type colleagues off for asking a stupid question. Of course, I’d be just as likely to tell my newfound political colleagues that they had provided a stupid answer. Which ultimately, is the greater offense.

5 – Please list any organizations or elected officials that have endorsed your candidacy for lieutenant governor.

None that I am aware of. In fact, I would guess that the list of government officials, past and present, who have throughout the years told me off or let me know how much they were displeased would be longer. I prefer to think that having such a list of political characters being skeptical of me means I probably am doing something right. Chances are good that you could run through the list and find the name of someone political whom you despise. What’s the old saying? The enemy of my enemy is my friend? That’s me, your previously unknown best bud.

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SO THAT’S MY application. Although the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced I serve a greater good by offering my observations of public policy through my reporting and commentary. Perhaps helping people to understand what is taking place in government is my niche within our society.

Back in the primary election, I cast my ballot for state Sen. Mike Boland, D-East Moline, out of a belief that he would provide some sense of regional balance.

However, I’m starting to come around to the idea of Raja Krishnamoorthi getting the nomination for lieutenant governor. He is a Peoria resident, which means he technically offers the same advantage of a non-Chicago-area candidate on the Democratic ticket.

I realize he lost his bid for Illinois comptroller (http://www.rajaforillinois.com/free_details.asp?id=1). But his campaign came very close to beating David Miller for that nomination, and he scored a lot of popularity points during the primary. Besides, the candidate whose ethnic origins lie in India would add that other sense of diversity to the Democratic ticket that would appeal to Chicago-area voters more than picking a rural white guy just because of his home address.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Go file your own (http://www.ildems.com/ltgovnominees.htm) application to be lieutenant governor. It probably will be taken as seriously as this application.

Friday, February 26, 2010

EXTRA: At least he won’t be forgotten

It seems that “Roland, Roland, Roland” won’t be remembered just for turning the theme music to “Rawhide” into his own personal anthem.

The National Journal has come up with this year’s version of its “most liberal’ and “most conservative” members of Congress, and it seems that Sen. Roland Burris, D-Ill., made the list. So even after Burris leaves Capitol Hill in January 2011, there will remain some evidence that he once existed within the District of Columbia.

SERIOUSLY, BURRIS MADE the Top 5 (all are Democrats) for liberal political people, which really shouldn’t be a shock. This is the guy who likes to think his life is a civil rights saga in and of itself (listen to him tell about how her personally integrated the public swimming pool in Centralia, Ill.), so it would make sense he would support most causes considered liberal.

Besides, this guy has so many eyes watching him that the last thing he needs to become is a renegade political person of some type. So is it really a shock that Burris got an “88” score on the Journal’s “liberal” scale? (For what it’s worth, Illinois’ other senator, Richard Durbin, only got an “85” score.

No Chicago-area officials made the “most conservative list” (which, by no surprise, was all Republican), but there was one other area politico who made the “liberal” list.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., of Evanston, made it among the five most liberal members of the House of Representatives.

HER COMPOSITE RATING for “liberalness” was 95.2, which puts her on top of Burris. Considering the composition of her congressional district, I wouldn’t be shocked to learn she’s celebrating tonight.

One other score caught my attention, that of Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., whose conservative score was “93.2,” with only two other political people less liberal than he. Just in case you’re wondering what kind of person takes pride in being able to say he delayed the approval of legislation to extend payment of jobless benefits or payments for unemployed worker health insurance through the COBRA program.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Check out your own congressman to see how “loyal” he is being toward your own politically partisan (http://www.nationaljournal.com/2009voteratings) views.

Political propaganda, or pure fact?

I’m not sure what to think of the fact that Illinois state government has gone so far as to create a special website for the expressed purpose of convincing people that their elected officials ought to support a significant tax hike to try to balance out the state’s anticipated budget shortfall.

Is this an attempt to put a “touchy-feely” cover over the fact that Illinoisans are going to have to kick in more tax dollars to maintain the services they have come to expect? Or is it the people who are adamantly opposed to any such hike who are the ones who need to get a grip on the reality of Illinois’ financial situation and do something about it?

ADMITTEDLY, HAVING DAVID Vaught of the Office of Management and Budget appear in a brief video on the website (at http://www2.illinois.gov/budget/Pages/default.aspx) to talk about the state’s finances isn’t the most glamourous approach Gov. Pat Quinn could have used to address the issue.

But it is a serious issue. Girls in bikinis dancing about while begging for dollars would have provided the website with many “hits,” but would have been tacky, if not irrelevant.

This is an issue where anything that trivializes it is bad.

For Illinois’ financial situation is a mess because the amount of money being taken in has not kept up with the level of services that the state is offering for people – some of whom are absolutely dependant upon the state for their survival.

ILLINOIS’ MESS HAS become so prominent that even the Washington Post took note of Quinn’s talk this week (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/24/AR2010022404441.html) that there will have to be an income tax hike of some sort – on top of a proposed $2.2 billion cut in state spending.

What the state does will have a serious impact on the rest of Illinois. I know of school districts across the state that already have their own financial problems that threaten to be exacerbated by the fact that the state is likely to be seriously late with its monthly aid payments.

I know of one school district this week that heard talk of the state’s deficit reaching $17 billion, although Quinn says if the General Assembly gives him everything he wants, the deficit will ONLY be $11.5 billion.

If I had to bet money, I’d say we’re more likely to wind up this crisis with a $17 billion deficit instead of $11.5 billion. That is because I understand the political reality of government officials of any kind not wanting a vote in favor of a tax increase being fresh in the minds of voters when they go to the polling place Nov. 2 to pick a new governor, other state officials and legislators.

THAT BASIC FACT is compounded by the reality that Republican legislators want to make this particular election cycle about the economy and have Quinn and Democrats take the blame for all the financial problems.

The last thing they’re going to do is support anything, no matter how sensible, that undermines all the campaign rhetoric that likely gubernatorial nominee Bill Brady will say about how he won’t raise taxes. GOP support for Quinn likely would kill off any chance Brady has of being extremely happy come the morning of Nov. 3.

I am convinced that our government has hit the point where there just isn’t “fat” to be cut from government budgets, even though I am aware there are people who are ideologically inclined to want to view “bone” as fatty tissue that can be disposed of.

So I am inclined to accept the fact that the time for an increase in the state income tax has arrived – no matter how much that thought gives me a nauseous feeling in my stomach. But that feeling is overcome by the near heart attack I would feel if cuts were made to some of these social service programs that ensure elderly people remain alive and public education programs that benefit our children.

THAT IS WHY I shudder at the thought of the Springfield-based newsletter publisher, Rich Miller, who on Thursday made mention on his website (http://thecapitolfaxblog.com/2010/02/25/not-scary-enough-or-is-it/) that Quinn should just propose a “very real, very stark” budget that cuts everything so drastically that it might just scare some sense into legislators.

If I thought that tactic would work and that political people would come to their senses, I’d back it. But I’m realistic enough to know these legislators will do nothing unless their leadership tells them to – and Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, made it clear this week he’s not about to push the issue.

Ultimately, I realize that government is not a business where a particular product line that doesn’t pull in enough revenue to support it can be dropped. There are some services that must be offered regardless of circumstances.

Which means that the state ultimately has to find a way of paying for things. We have a situation that should have been addressed years ago when times were a little less tough economically and the need for tax increases would not have been as drastic toward the individual.

BECAUSE THE CURRENT situation where people who do business with state government often have to wait months at a time to get paid for their work is just unacceptable.

In fact, the only thing more unacceptable than that is the fact that some political people – either for electoral gain or out of cowardice – are more than willing to play partisan politics with the issue.

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Duckworth should be respected for taking self out of running for Lieutenant Gov.

Ironically, Tammy Duckworth showed that she has characteristics that would make her worthy of holding public office in that moment when she publicly turned down a chance to gain such an office.

It has been bantered about that Gov. Pat Quinn, who is in search of a new lieutenant governor running mate following the withdrawal of primary election winner Scott Lee Cohen, was interested in having Duckworth in the spot.

DUCKWORTH HAS ONLY run for elective office once, and she lost that bid in 2006 for a congressional seat from Chicago’s far west suburbs to now-Rep. Peter Roskam, R-Ill. But throughout the years, she has constantly had her name come up whenever a post opens up and a replacement needs to be found.

Remember how her name got bantered about for the U.S. Senate vacancy that ultimately went (out of political spite to the establishment) to Roland Burris?

Since losing her electoral bid, she has served in the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs (picked to be director by then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich) and is currently an assistant secretary for the federal equivalent of that same agency (picked by President Barack Obama).

Duckworth is the Iraq War veteran who lost her legs when the military helicopter she was piloting was shot down. It is because of that life story that she can appreciate the problems that military veterans in our country go through, and why she seems to want to use her time in public life to try to benefit those people.

SHE LITERALLY TOLD Quinn this week that she felt she had an obligation to remain with the federal government through the Obama administration to fulfill her duties to military people. I respect that. I admire someone who is not so eager to jump every time something comes along that could be perceived as a promotion (although how a job that means nothing unless Pat Quinn dies or is impeached is a promotion is questionable to me).

In my mind, it allows Duckworth to maintain a certain level of political “purity” that probably means she will forevermore have her name tossed about whenever a political vacancy comes up.

I only hope for her sake that Duckworth has her “not interested” statement stored away somewhere so she can release it with the touch of a button whenever a post opens up. Because I am not at all convinced about the reality of Duckworth as a political candidate. I don’t think she’d be anywhere near as effective as she is working on behalf of military veterans (and I understand there are some people who question her competence in those posts as well).

Part of it is that I think people who watch Chicago and Illinois politics have build up Duckworth into an idealistic fantasy. I don’t think anyone is as wonderful as some people dream her to be. I think even Duckworth herself would admit that.

PLUS, I WONDER how many votes she’d actually bring in.

I know there are the political observers who follow Democrats who always liked Duckworth for being the real-life soldier who saw combat and didn’t return to our society as a hard-core Republican prepared to kill on behalf of all those conservative ideals.

It was always figured that Duckworth was a way of reaching out to that segment of our society that is enchanted with the military and completely comfortable with its ways of operating. Maybe she could get some of those people to seriously consider casting ballots for political candidates who have the “D” after their names instead of the “R.”

But it always seems that the people who have this mindset aren’t so much enamored of the military itself or all those medals or rituals. It is the ideal of some sort of firm order to our society that people should conform to without giving it a second thought.

THAT KIND OF mentality might be necessary in the military in a combat situation, but it doesn’t work in civilian society no matter how much some people want it to. Those people are going to find a reason to prefer a Republican candidate to any Democrat, regardless of how much military experience she or he has.

Consider that George W. Bush in his two presidential elections defeated two Army veterans who served during the Vietnam War, only to have the military credentials of those two veterans (Gore and Kerry) trashed mercilessly by military-minded people who don’t want to believe that anyone like them could ever turn out to be a Democrat.

The kind of people who are inclined to vote for Democrats largely aren’t swayed by that military record, no matter how heroic or pristine.

If it reads like I’m saying I don’t know that Duckworth brings in that many votes for the Democratic ticket, you’d be correct.

BUT IT’S ALL a moot point, since Duckworth herself said she’s not interested (and that might be for the best, because I’m not sure how Democrats would have gotten around the residency requirements for a statewide constitutional candidate – Duckworth now lives in the Washington, D.C.-metropolitan area).

I’ll wish her the best in her ongoing job to try to improve conditions for our military veterans, while also sitting back to see how the Illinois Democratic Party’s central committee conducts itself on March 15 when they convene to actually pick someone to be Quinn’s replacement, just in case …

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EDITOR’S NOTES: Tammy Duckworth likes her current political appointment enough not to want to move (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-met-duckworth-lt-governor-0224-20100223,0,29815.story) “up” the ladder.

Not everyone (http://www.southtownstar.com/news/kadner/2042408,021110kadner.article) thinks it is “Tammy Duckworth, Superstar!”

Duckworth dodged a political bullet by not getting too closely aligned with Rod Blagojevich. Did she once again (http://chicagoargus.blogspot.com/2009/02/duckworth-breaks-ties-to-blagojevich.html) spare herself future agony by turning down the lieutenant governor’s nomination?

A site for those of you (http://www.duckworthforcongress.com/) who want to recall Duckworth’s one try at electoral politics, or her life since then.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

When is a candidate’s refusal to concede nothing more than a political hissy fit?

It isn’t loud or imposing, but it is shrill and demanding.

I am referring to those people across Illinois who are paying attention to the recent Republican primary for governor, where it appears that state Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, has defeated state Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale, and several other candidates for the right to challenge Gov. Pat Quinn come Nov. 2.

FOR THOSE OF us who have already erased primary Election Night from their minds, both Brady and Dillard managed to get 20 percent of the vote. If this were a typical election, that kind of support would be reason for humiliation, ridicule and eternal shame.

But in a seven-candidate field of less-than-prominent names, it is enough to win. Both Dillard and Brady got the same percentage, but it seems that Brady’s “20 percent” was about 200-plus votes more than Dillard’s “20 percent.”

Dillard has said that if the final official count (which won’t determined until next week – Friday, March 5, to be exact) shows him within 100 votes, then he’d be willing to consider paying the millions of dollars for a court challenge that could result in a re-count, and a delay in the official naming of a winner.

As far as I’m concerned, I don’t think it makes any difference. If I were a part of the Brady campaign, I would have taken the same tactic that Quinn used earlier this month – he declared himself the primary election victor even before his primary opponent was willing to concede.

BRADY OUGHT TO just move forward. Even if by some miraculous occurance there was a change in vote tallies that flipped the election, I don’t think anyone would believe Brady acted irrationally.

But by the same token, I don’t blame Dillard for refusing to make the concession speech, which is an event that I always have considered to be so overrated.

The election is over when the votes are counted. It really doesn’t matter if Dillard ever makes a public statement admitting to that fact. In fact, so long as he doesn’t make bitter, shrill remarks of his own to attack Brady (and thus far, he has refused to say anything along those lines), I don’t think Republicans have any reason to gripe.

So long as Dillard, if he ultimately loses, withers away into the background and doesn’t do anything to attack his political party’s nominee (even though the Democratic Party partisan in me would get a kick out of seeing and hearing that), I don’t think GOP people have a right to complain.

WHAT MY THOUGHTS on this issue ultimately come down to is the fact that I have always realized that elections are never decided officially on Election Day – no matter how much the average person on the street thinks so.

I realize that most people don’t pay as much attention to the minutia of election law and campaign procedures as I do, but I have always thought it ridiculous that people believe the elections for public office are wrapped up all nice and neat just in time for the extended evening newscasts.

There may be some campaigns where the loser knew by 9 p.m. what was going to happen so that they could make a “concession” speech that got broadcast live by local television stations.

But there are elections that run so close that we really do have to wait until every single vote from absentee ballots and those citizens/registered voters living overseas and military personnel can be counted.

MARCH 5 IS the key date this year (and not just because it’s my brother’s birthday, and I’m still not sure what to get him for a gift). It is the date on which the State Board of Elections will certify all those local elections results that had to be completed by Tuesday. I would just as soon prefer that none of the candidates talk about concession.

Let Brady begin the process of trying to build political ties with suburban Chicago residents who by-and-large were not enthused by his campaigns for governor or U.S. senator (in 2006). Let Dillard ponder whether it is worth the hassle (and eternal political enemies he will make) if he seriously tries to extend this campaign process beyond next week by demanding a recount.

If anything, I am encouraged by the fact that we don’t have a loud outcry and that most people are not getting worked up.

I’m realistic enough to know that is because of all the major political offices (president, Chicago mayor, U.S. senator and Illinois governor), governor is the one that the typical Chicago-area voter cares the least about.

BUT FOR A few moments, I’m going to delude myself into thinking it is because we learned the lesson of 2000 and close elections and recounts. Maybe we realize now how absurdly some of us behaved, and how we might have been better off if we could have just had a recount that would have settled the issue once and for all – instead of leaving us with eternal questions about what the “real” vote tallies were and the perception that the Supreme Court of the United States behaved in a partisan manner by ending the matter when it did.

In short, the one thing I am thankful for is that we in Illinois are not creating a local political encore to the electoral nonsense of the presidential elections of 10 years ago. That would be more embarrassing than anything done by Rod Blagojevich or any other official engaged in alleged political corruption.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

How will these tests be spun politically?

I’m sure there are some people who viewed the Supreme Court of the United States’ ruling last year concerning tests administered to firefighters trying to gain promotion as some sort of blow to the concept of “affirmative action.”

They want to believe that these tests are some sort of absolute that can be used. And if it turns out that these tests wind up producing higher ranks of firefighters and police officers that are more Anglo than the patrol ranks or of the population, that’s just the way it is.

AFTER ALL, THE best qualified are the ones who are passing these tests.

So I’m curious to see how these same people (the ones who deep down don’t want to have to acknowledge that the old way of picking public safety officials may very well be so flawed as to best be scrapped altogether) react to a court case now pending before the Supreme Court – one out of Chicago that could wind up costing our beloved home city millions of dollars.

All because the tests caused too many white people to get promoted, at the expense of “qualified” black firefighters.

The Chicago Tribune newspaper used its website Monday to report that hearings on the case appeared to indicate that the same Supreme Court that ruled 5-4 (with Justice Sonia Sotomayor on the losing end) in the case involving New Haven, Conn., firefighters had problems with the arguments being made by attorneys for Chicago who were trying to defend the use of the tests.

WHILE THIS IS just a reportorial observation and nothing will be definite until the high court actually issues a ruling, it would seem there are cases where the courts are willing to admit there are problems with the tests.

What is at stake in this new case is a test for Fire Department promotions given during the late 1990s. After some 26,000 people took that test, department officials said they would only consider hiring people who scored “89” or better – a much higher standard than had ever been applied before.

As it turned out, that produced a group of people who got promotions who were primarily white. Many of the black firefighters (about 6,000) who got scores that usually would have resulted in consideration for promotions wound up getting passed over.

The U.S. Solicitor General office had attorneys arguing on behalf of those who were challenging the test results, saying that Chicago city officials knew their handling of the test was discriminatory. NAACP attorneys were in agreement with that argument.

THE CITY’S CORPORATION Counsel got its day in court, with attorneys arguing on behalf of Chicago government that the use of such tests is necessary and that there is a time limit for people who wish to file legal challenges to such tests – a limit they claim most of those complaining failed to observe.

Personally, I know that latter point is one that many judges take seriously. I have seen many legal battles in my two-plus decades as a reporter-type person that ended unsuccessfully for the challenger because their legal paperwork did not comply with the letter of the law.

There are cases where the courts are more than willing to ignore an otherwise legitimate challenge because of a missed deadline or improperly-filed document.

But the Tribune report noted that justices, particularly Ruth Bader Ginsburg, were more concerned about trying to get to the substance of the argument.

IT WILL BE interesting to see what happens if the Supreme Court ultimately rules in a way that implies the tests were flawed. For that would force the issue back to the U.S. District Court for Northern Illinois, where one of our city’s federal judges ultimately would have to decide just how much in compensation all those black firefighters who might otherwise have qualified for promotions are entitled to.

Like I wrote earlier, I find this case intriguing just because I’m sure so many people were convinced that the Supreme Court’s ruling last year was somehow a victory for those people who don’t want to have to take racial composition or concerns into account in public safety, or any area of public policy, I would think.

In that case, city officials in New Haven tried in 2003 to overturn test results when they came back “too white” (although some like to claim it is a “big deal” that one of those firefighters denied was Latino).

I would interpret this activity thus far as saying that it is simple-minded to think that race is no longer a factor in the way in which our society’s institutions operate. For those who want to think.

THOSE PEOPLE (MANY of whom probably thought Sarah Palin was downright hilarious earlier this month when she mocked Barack Obama’s “hope-y, change-y stuff” campaign theme of 2008) thought they had a “victory” that could allow their limited view of our society and racial balance to prevail.

I personally would find it hilarious if Chicago, in its legal defeat, wound up socking an uppercut to their view of how our society should operate.

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EDITOR’S NOTES: Could Chicago’s legal defeat turn into a “victory” for people whose sensible view (http://www.chicagobreakingnews.com/2010/02/supreme-court-chicago-black-firefighters-hiring-test-civil-rights.html) of our society should prevail?

People are still quibbling over (http://www.helium.com/debates/251643-did-the-supreme-court-rule-correctly-in-the-new-haven-firefighters-case/side_by_side) what significance should dominate in the New Haven, Conn., firefighters ruling by the Supreme Court.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Picking one's battles, presidential-style

There are times when I watch President Barack Obama at work and wonder if he ever thinks to himself about wishing he were in a less high-profile position. Such as back at the Statehouse Scene trying to craft public policy, and spending his off-hours in low-stakes poker games with people like failed lieutenant governor candidate Terry Link and possibly-failed gubernatorial hopeful Kirk Dillard?

I wonder that because when I read about some of the “no-win” situations in which the president has been put, it makes me think that maybe he wishes he had never been so ambitious to want to be a part of the federal government – let alone oversee it.

I’M NOT WRITING about anything as major as health care reform or the nation’s immigration laws (where he’s going to “lose” no matter what side or action he takes). I’m talking about the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet (which China refuses to recognize and takes great offense that the United States does).

When the Dalai Lama was in Washington last week, he got to come to the White House and got a few minutes of “face time” with which to discuss his situation (ie., confronting a China that would prefer he be obliterated) on the international scene.

Personally, I think it says more about China than the Dalai Lama that they consider him to be a subversive element. So I’m glad to see that Obama was willing to include a meeting with him, even though it meant going through such mechanizations as having the two talk informally in the White House “map room,” rather than in any place ornate enough that usually would be used to celebrate ties between a world leader and the Obama administration. This image of President Barack Obama meeting with the Dalai Lama is being dismissed by some as "propaganda." What do you think? Photograph provided by the White House.

But that also means many of my colleagues were cut off from being able to see the two talk, and weren’t able to get any photographs of their own. The White House issued its own photo of the two (the shot included with this commentary), although many news organizations are refusing to use it on the grounds that it constitutes materials best described as “propaganda.”

SO NOW, HE has the press corps having hissy fits, in addition to Chinese officials upset that any kind of contact took place last week.

I would guess Obama justifies the restrictions on the grounds that the outcry from China had he given the Dalai Lama an all-out reception to recognize him would have been so intense that he’d rather put up with an irritated Washington Post.

After all, the last time I checked, the Post didn’t have long-range nuclear weapons like China does (and their ally, North Korea, appears to possess the materials to make).

He’s picking his battles, figuring few people will care enough to get that worked up. He may be right. This “controversy” may be long forgotten by week’s end (I would hope more people would get concerned about whether or not Republican politicos try to cooperate with Obama and his Democratic allies on health care reform).

IF THIS COMMENTARY reads like I’m not getting all bent out of shape about this issue, perhaps it is because I realize that at the highest levels of international policy there is going to be a certain amount of secrecy and limited access.

The practical part of me realizes that the Dalai Lama came to the White House, got the “face time” that will be perceived as positive by the Tibetan monk’s worldwide followers and that reporters at the White House were even able to corner him afterwards when he tried to leave the White House.

The reporter in me expects occasionally to have to hustle to get a story, and also realizes there are some ramifications to events that can involve certain limits. If that means a live photograph wasn’t obtained, that is a shame. For the biggest “complaint” I can make out of this whole affair is that the official White House photograph (taken by one-time Chicago Tribune photographer Pete Souza) is that it is kind of a boring shot.

The two men talking to each other, with a teacup on the table near the Dalai Lama. What does he take in his tea? Somehow, I think the world will “survive” without the answer to that particular question, although we did find out that the Dalai Lama was supportive of Tiger Woods.

NOW I KNOW some of my colleagues like to link all attempts to restrict access to information as being equal. They’re not.

This incident involving our former state senator from the Hyde Park neighborhood is not as significant as the Illinois Senate’s behavior last week when they had their private briefing of state finances. Upon learning the material that was presented, there really was no legitimate reason for not letting everybody else learn the data simultaneously. Not like ticking off China by too openly greeting the Lama.

One other aspect of this “issue” to keep in mind. This probably won’t be the last time (or even the most egregeous) that the Obama administration gets accused of keeping something secret from, “the American people.”

If it is, then that fact alone would probably qualify the Obama years as one of the most open in U.S. history. I’m not naïve enough to expect that, not from any government official.

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EDITOR’S NOTES: The Associated Press is upset that they weren’t allowed to take their own generic (http://www.editorandpublisher.com/eandp/news/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1004069009) posed photograph of Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama engaging in a brief chat.

If the best that some reporter-types could come up with for news from a talk with the Dalai Lama was (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/news/dalai-lama-agrees-with-tiger-whoever-he-is-1906493.html) to ask about Tiger Woods and infidelity, then maybe some limits weren’t misguided.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

This is a Tiger-free news zone – Just let George Ryan out of prison already!!!!!

George Ryan turns 76 on Wednesday. Should he manage to survive the physical and mental strain of being an inmate of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, he will be 79 turning on 80 when he is scheduled for release (ironically enough, on Independence Day of 2013).

Not that any of this means a thing to those people whose partisanship makes them detest Ryan to the point where the only thing that will appease them is the word that he died while in prison.

OF COURSE, THOSE cranks will then resort to complaining that Ryan likely will get some sort of private burial, instead of just some sort of pauper’s grave in a prison burial ground. In short, I don’t think there’s anything that will ever appease the people who are so bitter that all they want to think about in conjunction with Ryan’s name is pain and suffering.

This is a sentiment I have long felt. A part of me has always felt that the people who most get outraged about Ryan are lacking something in their own lives, so they take it out on him.

And that is what they did en masse, with a pair of reports this week that put Ryan (a.k.a., inmate number 16627-424) back in the news – which as far as I’m concerned makes him much more worthy of mention here than any of the babble spouted out Friday by golfer Tiger Woods.

First, columnist Mike Sneed reiterated what those people who have paid close attention already knew – one-time first lady Lura Lynn Ryan is seriously ill. That actually has the Ryan family stepping up efforts to try to get some sort of clemency for George, who remains at the federal prison near Terre Haute, Ind.

THEY SEEM TO think that Barack Obama has more of a sense of compassion (Obama was the state senator from the Hyde Park neighborhood when Ryan was governor) than did George W. Bush, who seemed to view rejecting pardon requests as the part of the job he enjoyed the most (that, and throwing out the “first pitch” at professional baseball games).

Although there are those legal observers who note that Obama has become so obsessed with the big issues such as health care reform that he hasn’t done anything to grant clemency for anyone in the federal corrections system.

Lura Lynn has actually had a brief meeting with the president, where Obama apparently said the kind of polite statements one makes when they want to appear sympathetic but don’t want to commit themselves to anything.

The other story involves Ryan’s pension from his more than three decades of public service.

RYAN’S ATTORNEYS (INCLUDING another former governor, James R. Thompson) had argued he was still entitled to part of his government pension – totalling about $70,000 annually (it would have been more than double that had Ryan never been convicted of a felony). The Illinois Supreme Court on Friday rejected that concept overwhelmingly.

Of the seven justices, only Anne Burke dissented from the ruling that was written by a DuPage County Republican (although most people like to remember Bob Thomas more as a one-time Chicago Bear from back in the era before their ’86 Super Bowl appearance when the Bears stunk).

All of this material has brought out the hard-hearted partisans. Even the court ruling, with some people noting that Justice Burke is the wife of Chicago alderman Edward Burke (leading to jokes about how her husband will someday suffer Ryan’s fate – although no one can say what he has done that would warrant a criminal conviction).

Perhaps it is a stretch that Ryan should get any pension following a public corruption conviction. I realize the spirit of the law would say he shouldn’t. But there is a part of me that thinks Thompson found a legitimate loophole in the law, and the court has decided to not care.

THEY’RE WILLING TO ignore the letter of the law in order to achieve the outcome that they realize the hard-hearted people will demand. That concept bothers me more than anything that Ryan himself is alleged to have done (which mostly amounts to looking the other way when learning that his low-level secretary of state staffers were soliciting bribes from unqualified motorists).

Then again, how serious should we take the health conditions of Ryan’s wife?

I have no problem with his release, because I think his time served (just over two years; 28 months, to be exact in the way that the feds themselves think of prison terms) has been an adequate prison term. I can think of a lot of government officials convicted of corruption charges who have served less time and in better conditions.

Ryan didn’t get the minimum-security “Oxford education” in Wisconsin. He got his time at a work camp that helps service a maximum-security prison that also holds the “death row” for federal offenses.

CONSIDERING THAT HE’S broken and broke and his family realizes that a pardon is out of the question (they’re just asking for a commutation to “time served”), I don’t see what is lost by letting him go free. Although I noticed the anonymous buffoon who used an Internet comment section to say that if Ryan’s children really cared about their mother’s health, they’d take care of her themselves, rather than try asking for their father’s release.

As far as I’m concerned, that release is a compassionate thing to do. Even if you’re hard-hearted enough to feel no compassion for Ryan, consider that letting him go would mean he would disappear from the system and likely wither away.

It is the continued dragging out of his prison sentence and all the appeals to presidential officials that will keep him name continually popping up in the news.

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EDITOR’S NOTES: The Chicago Sun-Times seems most responsible for resurrecting George Ryan’s name (http://www.suntimes.com/news/politics/2058647,ryan-pension-supreme-021910.article) into (http://www.suntimes.com/news/sneed/2056287,CST-NWS-ryan18.article) the news this week.

Is it a pipe dream of the Ryan family that Barack Obama will be any more sympathetic than George W. Bush (http://www.theagitator.com/2010/02/11/obamas-pardon-drought-continues/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+radleybalko+%28The+Agitator%29) when it comes to considering clemency petitions for Ryan?

I will confess that my opinion of Ryan hasn’t changed significantly (http://www.upi.com/Top_News/2003/01/12/Analysis-Death-row-dead-kids-for-Ryan/UPI-35281042388100/) since the day in 2003 that he left the Illinois state government payroll.

Friday, February 19, 2010

It’s true that Illinois Dems have advantage come November 2. Will they blow it?

I will be the first to admit that when Alexi Giannoulias made public this week the results of a poll that show him with a narrow lead (so narrow that it is more accurate to call it a tie) in the campaign for U.S. Senate, the results were purely self-serving.

Not that I think the Illinois treasurer’s campaign for Senate is a lost cause. Because in reading through the results of the poll paid for by Giannoulias, he came up with a couple of tidbits that I think we all ought to remember.

ILLINOIS HAS BECOME a strong Democrat-leaning state. So many things have to go wrong for the overwhelming GOP sweep that Republican partisans seem to want to spin us into thinking is inevitable.

There is a reason why the big wins experienced by Democrats in Illinois were sustained for the better part of the past decade. Historically, when one political party in Illinois managed to rack up a big win (Democrats in 1964, Republicans in 1994 and 1956), the partisan results were neutered in the very next election cycle.

By all rights, Republicans should have taken back some control in Illinois in 2004, and the fact that there was once a two-year period in which the Dems had just about everything under their control should be a long-distant memory.

But it isn’t.

ONE SUCH FACT is that the disdain with which some people in this country want to express toward the policies (and existence) of President Barack Obama isn’t shared here. Giannoulias’ poll has Obama with a 59 percent approval rating among Illinoisans (the Gallup Organization gave him an even higher rating in a poll they released Feb. 5, with a 65.2 percent Illinois approval rating).

His poll also shows only 34 percent of Illinois residents thinking favorably of the Republican Party, compared to 46 percent who view it unfavorably and 41 percent of Illinoisans who think favorably about the Democratic Party.

Of course, what this means mostly is the fact that in Illinois, we think favorably of the man who adopted Chicago as his hometown when he reached adulthood.

Anyone who tries to turn the Illinois elections into some sort of Obama “referendum” is going to take the GOP to defeat and depression come Nov. 3.

IT ALL COMES down to the fact that Illinois’ population has shifted from a state where Chicago and rural Illinois were roughly equal and the Chicago suburbs were secondary to one where those suburbs now account for nearly half the state’s residents.

With the Republican Party of recent years being a political entity that seems concerned with putting rural America into a place of significance, it has resulted in many of those suburban residents deciding they have something more in common with urban Chicago.

Which is why Democrats are hoping that the gubernatorial ticket of Brady/Plummer remains in place. A resident of Bloomington and another from Edwardsville both trying deliberately to appeal to rural Illinois has the potential to turn off the bulk of the state’s residents.

When considering that Republicans have practically surrendered a chance to win at Illinois attorney general or secretary of state (Steve Kim and Robert Enriquez), I’m wondering if the Republican Party’s best chance to win a statewide constitutional officer is with Judy Baar Topinka, the one-time state treasurer who wants a political comeback as Illinois comptroller.

BUT SOME OF the same people who are so eager to run partisan campaigns and push “conservative” values down our throats are the ones with the biggest hangups about Topinka, whom they didn’t think much of when she ran for governor in 2006.

I think it would be perfectly ironic if she were the only GOP victory of the year.

But I’m not naïve enough to think life is that simple. I see the same anecdotal evidence that backs up those polls that indicate people who lean Republican (or those “independents” who are really just conservatives too wimpy to use the GOP label) are feeling a sense of excitement that makes it possible they will be the ones who will turn out in strength to cast ballots.

Yet Giannoulias’ poll results claim that 51 percent of “independents” in Illinois are leaning Democrat. And that same Gallup poll showing that we like Obama says that 54.2 percent of Illinoisans lean Democrat.

THE REAL TRICK is going to be whether or not the whole “Blagojevich” phenomenon of listening to his trial in U.S. District Court is going to be so depressing that it turns people off to anything involving electoral politics. It could happen.

But this is still a state where some of the ideals that Republican candidates are pushing don’t fit in as well as they do in Wyoming; which according to that Gallup poll is the state where Obama’s approval rating is the lowest.

Alexi Giannoulias may very well lose the U.S. Senate campaign to Mark Kirk. But let’s not forget that he has some significant advantages in terms of the political playing field. Kirk is going to have to work hard if he wants that Election Day victory.

His followers should lighten up on the rancid rhetoric they spew whenever anyone dares to point out that fact.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Is the real secret how little our legislators comprehend government finance?

When I learned (by reading the Chicago Tribune, I must admit) that the Illinois Senate convened at the Statehouse in Springpatch on Wednesday in a session closed to the public, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a similar moment that occurred just over a decade ago.

It was the late 1990s, and I was a Statehouse-based reporter-type person in those days. The “event” was that the Illinois Legislature was becoming technologically advanced. For the first time ever, laptop computers were installed on the desks of each and every legislator, along with all the connections necessary to operate such devices.

I KNOW SOME younger types are going to find it absurd that it ever was NOT like this, but the flow of paper for bills and other documents relevant to Illinois government was essential to keeping things running. This was the beginning of encouraging legislators to call up such information on their laptops, rather than have to have so much paper.

The “similar” moment I am referring to was the specific day when, with all the new equipment installed, it was thought necessary to sit all the legislators down in the chamber and give them a technical display of how everything worked. What was it that the public was truly kept in the dark about concerning the Illinois Senate?

For some legislators who were older or just not inclined to want to use computers at all moments of the day, it amounted to “Computer Science 101.” I remember that particular session was closed off to the public. I even recall the curtains that were put up over the windows up high from which people could look down upon the lawmakers at work.

I remember being told that the reason for the secrecy (I suppose state officials preferred the word “privacy”) was to make the less-computer literate legislators feel more comfortable about learning how to use the device. Some of them might have been embarrassed if their computer illiteracy had been so brutally unveiled.

YES, I COULD easily envision one of the television-types putting together a humorous story about a hometown legislator who keeps blipping crucial government information out of existence because he just can’t get the hang of that blasted laptop.

Now, we have the Illinois Senate behaving in a similar fashion. The Tribune went so far as to use the newspaper’s website to update the story by telling us how their reporter was physically barred from the Senate chamber when he tried to enter Wednesday morning.

The newspaper even included a diatribe from Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, who said the session legally could be closed to the public because no actual government business would take place. So long as that fact remains true (no votes on any bills), he probably is legally correct.

As Cullerton told the Tribune, “this is meant to be one where just the senators are there to get information, but where they can also feel they can ask questions and … have a free exchange of ideas without having to be worried about what the press might report.”

SO WHAT WAS the point of Wednesday?

The National Conference of State Legislatures, a Denver-based group of government geeks who take particular joy in following the political activity at the 50 state capitols, was to give a presentation about government finances – which anyone who is paying attention realizes are a complete mess in Illinois.

Defenders of the “closed” session contended that since they planned to have the conference’s people talk to reporters later in the day, the information presented ultimately will become public.

But it is a shame they had to take this route, because now the focus will become a question of why couldn’t everybody else find out this financial information at the same time as the 59 senators.

IN FACT, WHEN I re-read Cullerton’s comment, I can’t help but get the sense of déjà vu (not the Springfield-based strip club). Were legislative leaders afraid we’d see, once and for all, just how clueless individual senators were about the state’s financial situation? It could be.

Unless there has been a significant improvement in the education of government officials in the years since I left the Statehouse Scene, the reality is that most of the 177 members of the General Assembly are plugged into their home communities, and usually can discuss the specifics of what a budget offers for their local residents (ie, voters).

But few of those legislators have the time, energy or interest to try to see the big picture. For some of them, the little picture (“pork”) is all that matters. For others, they’re less capable than you or me of understanding that “big” financial picture.

Of course, it also is a consequence of the way in which so much of state Legislature activity is dominated by the four legislative leaders, with the regular legislators only being included at the exact moment when a vote by the whole General Assembly is required.

KEEP THEM IGNORANT long enough, and you create a situation where leadership (although admittedly, this seems to be a directive of the Democratic leaders, with Republicans saying they’re going along in hopes of encouraging “bipartisan” cooperation in the future) has to go to extremes to cover it up.

Which also means the next time you ponder to yourself just how those knuckleheads (or whatever choice phrase you choose to use to describe legislators) could have voted in such a stupid manner on a budget or any issue, keep this “ignorance” factor in mind.

He/she was probably just going with the flow, so to speak.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: I must credit the Chicago Tribune for doing the actual work of rooting out (http://newsblogs.chicagotribune.com/clout_st/2010/02/illinois-senate-meets-in-secret-today.html#more) this story.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

What’s to become of lt. gov?

My initial reaction to learning that several members of the Democratic Party’s state central committee sent a letter to Illinois House Speaker/state Democratic Chairman Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, complaining of the way he took it upon himself to sponsor a proposed constitutional amendment doing away with the position of lieutenant governor was to feel a sense of local pleasure.

That letter was signed by seven of the 38 members of the party’s central committee, including both of the people who were elected from my home district – the Illinois First Congressional.

SO THAT MEANS both Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., and state Rep. Connie Howard, D-Chicago, are in line with my thoughts on the issue – which are that the people who are eager to abolish the position are being a bit short-sighted in the way they think.

I have written previously that I like the idea of knowing exactly who will be first-in-line to take over state government in the event that some calamity befalls the governor. I like the idea of it being someone who was elected for that specific purpose, rather than someone who moves up the line of succession after being elected for another government post.

I know that a part of Lisa Madigan would like to be governor of Illinois someday, but I’d rather see her get the post because she ran a statewide campaign for it, rather than being bumped up from attorney general because something happened to Pat Quinn.

Madigan’s father, the aforementioned House speaker/state party chairman (who in the Chicago-centric world of Illinois politics is less important than the party chairman for Cook County), appears to be willing to have that scenario, even though the constitutional amendment he proposed that would have to be voted on by the General Assembly and by voters statewide would not take effect until 2015.

WHICH MEANS THE Democratic Party still needs to find a replacement for Scott Lee Cohen, whose letter formally declining the party’s nomination for the post officially was received Tuesday by the State Board of Elections, for the Nov. 2 general election, where the yet-to-be-chosen nominee will run against the 27-year-old GOP nominee with what appears to be an incredibly inflated resume.

The letter sent to Madigan this week said there should be a “uniform, comprehensive and transparent” process by which a lieutenant governor nominee should be picked by the party. Even the party insiders see that what is happening here is they ultimately will be pressured to pick whomever Madigan (as in Michael) wants for the post.

And if Madigan’s past electoral record is any indication, it is obvious that the lieutenant governor nominee ultimately will be someone whose appearance on the ballot does not hurt the chances of getting people to vote for a Democrat to represent them in the Illinois House of Representatives.

Forget about whether the person would be fit to govern Illinois if something bad happened to Quinn, or if they bolster the regional or ethnic diversity of the Democratic ticket for state constitutional offices.

THOSE COMMITTEEMEN IN their letter said they think the party’s officials should have been consulted about something as serious as abolishing the lieutenant governor’s post, although Madigan’s aides responded by telling reporter-types that it is absurd to think an individual legislator has to consult with the party bigwigs before he can introduce a bill for the Legislature’s consideration.

I’d take that argument much more seriously if Madigan were just another political schnook. If he were some freshman legislator serving his first term, or someone who came from a part of the state with little political clout, it would make sense that he could do what he wanted, and the people would be free to ignore his desire if they so wished.

But the reality is that anything with the Mike Madigan name on it is going to get high profile just because of its sponsor. Any Democratic legislator who dares to vote against this proposed amendment can probably count on his/her political career withering away into dust.

I remember one time back during the 1990s when Mayor Richard M. Daley reached an agreement with certain legislative leaders to advance a measure the city desired, only for it to die in the Illinois House just after Madigan himself said it was not wise to exclude him from the pre-vote negotiations.

ENVISION THOSE OLD “Chiffon” margarine commercials from the 1970s where “Mother Nature” unleashes lightning bolts because she was “fooled” into thinking that margarine was really butter. Only set them in the House chambers in Springfield.

My point is that you don’t mess with Madigan. He doesn’t even have to say anything intimidating to get support for his measures.

Once it gets to the general public, it becomes a different matter. Will people see this as a “good government” move to abolish an electoral office? Or will it be seen as an attempt by the speaker/party leader to dictate policy to the people.

Which is why I’m glad to learn that some of the state central committeemen (including, among others, Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., D-Ill., whom some speculate would like to see his wife, Sandi, currently a Chicago alderman, get the post) is willing to go on record in writing that maybe Madigan is wrong.

AND THE FACT that both Rush and Howard were willing to put their names on this letter makes me feel a bit better about the fact that I voted for them for those central committeeman posts in recent elections.

At least two votes I cast were for people who occasionally can say the right thing.

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EDITOR’S NOTES: African-American members of the Democratic State Central committee that ostensibly will pick (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/elections/ct-met-lt-gov-madigan-0216-20100216,0,5895822.story) the new lieutenant governor nominee have their problems with actions that make it seem that Mike Madigan will single-handedly make the choice himself.

Jason Plummer sounds like someone with a bright future. Perhaps he should be the Republican nominee (http://newsblogs.chicagotribune.com/clout_st/2010/02/pawnbrokers-withdrawal-official-for-democrats-gop-governor-race-still-counting.html) for governor in 2024 (rather than for lieutenant governor this year) once his real life catches up with his resume.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Betty is back! Is Blagojevich watching?

Following the newscasts on Monday, I couldn’t help but wonder if Rod Blagojevich was watching as well. Because seeing the “return” of Betty Loren Maltese to the Chicago metropolitan area could have given him a clear vision of what his life could be like some day.

Maltese, the one-time president of the Town of Cicero, has suffered the fate that many people are eagerly hoping befalls the now-impeached and removed Illinois governor some day.

SHE WAS SENT to prison, which broke her mentally. She was hit with fines and demands for reimbursement so high ($8 million) that she seriously is in debt. Her employability these days is so limited that it is highly unlikely she will ever be out of debt no matter how long she lives.

She has no home, no income. In fact, she has no family around her – they all left the Cicero area after Betty was sent away to prison.

So bringing Maltese back to the Chicago area on Monday was really more about personal humiliation than anything else.

Maltese served more than six years in federal correctional centers outside of Illinois, but is now finishing her prison term living in half-way houses – which in theory are preparing her for re-entry into society. She had been staying in such facilities in the Las Vegas area (which is not far from her adopted daughter now living in Arizona).

BUT OFFICIALS GOT her shifted to Chicago to finish the four more months she still must stay in such a place, specifically at the Salvation Army facility on Ashland Avenue where many convicted corrupt pols wind up finishing their prison time.

Why do I think this was about personal humiliation?

I think it was all about subjecting her to that final “perp walk,” where she had to get out of a car and walk into the facility while television cameras preserved the moment for “eternity,” or at least the few seconds of airtime that it took to show the footage on the Monday night newscasts.

For the record, Betty had nothing to say. No last-minute confessions. No curses at a reporter whose microphone got a little too close to her face for comfort.

ALSO, FOR WHAT it’s worth, none of the overly made-up appearance that used to be the “trademark” of Maltese. She was downright subdued.

I expect she will keep her mouth shut for so long as she must be in the Chicago area, then will leave us for good once she no longer has the federal government watching her every move (she must do three years probation, once her prison term is officially complete).

If it reads like I’m giving you a lot of trivial details about Maltese’s return to Chicago, you’d be correct. Because there really isn’t much else to say or write about her.

She was found guilty back in the early part of the past decade of allegations that Cicero taxpayers were ripped off of $12 million-plus by an insurance company that overcharged for its services, with some of that excess money supposedly going to associates of “a certain Italian subculture” (which is how actor Vince Curatola’s Johnny “Sack” Sacramoni character once described organized crime in an episode of “The Sopranos”).

THERE’S NOTHING NEW here.

The thought that she has to repay this money (conditions of her probation is that she has to cough up at least 20 percent of every paycheck she receives in the future toward her restitution) also isn’t new.

In fact, about the only new aspect is the revelation that Maltese is NOT among the ranks of the 47 million uninsured U.S. residents. Cicero government must provide her with a health insurance policy for the rest of her life.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported that current Cicero municipal officials are looking into altering the perk, but even they concede they can only change it for future officials – not Maltese.

SO AT LEAST Betty can afford to go to the doctor when she gets sick. That might very well be the highlight of her life, at this point.

I find it all interesting because, as I hinted earlier, I think Maltese is the prototype for what people want to happen to Blagojevich.

Perhaps it is because Maltese’ so-called crime involved elements of organized crime, but she gets to be the pariah of our local politics. Someday, she likely will be joined by Blagojevich.

Perhaps they will make a nice couple. They’d even be bipartisan examples of how government corruption can break someone (after all, Betty considered herself to be a good Republican).

NEITHER MALTESE NOR Blagojevich is going to get the Dan Rostenkowski treatment (guest lecturer at Northwestern Universtiy, senior fellow at Loyola U. of Chicago, Election Night commentator on local television newscasts), which – if he survives, he turns 76 on Feb. 24 – is the fate I ultimately expect to occur for former Illinois Gov. George H. Ryan.

I guess that’s the difference between being an “old school” pol like Rostenkowski or Ryan who can point to real accomplishments in their political careers that benefitted the public, and the younger pols who didn’t stick around long enough on the political scene to achieve something of lasting value.

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Monday, February 15, 2010

I’d rather see a rancorous debate about politics and presidents than glee over a sale

I’d like to think that all across the nation, the people who comprise our society are using Monday to ponder the greatness of the United States, specifically the role that individuals who devote their lives to public service can play in bolstering this country.

For Monday is the day we honor the individuals who have managed to get themselves elected Commander of Chief (and no, I’m not including Geena Davis, although maybe I’ll spend part of the day watching a DVD I own of episodes from that now-defunct television drama). Many of us think this is the day for George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and whichever other former president fits our ideological belief pattern.

IT OUGHT TO be. But the sad reality is that it really isn’t.

I get the sense that more people are thinking of Presidents’ Day, if at all, as a chance to go shopping.

James A. Garfield's assassination caused engraver J.A.J. Wilcox to elevate his presidency to the levels of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln in this 1884 illustration. Some people were quick to try to elevate Barack Obama to that same level shortly after his 2008 election.

I see the advertising inserts in my Sunday newspapers telling me I can save up to 60 percent if I enjoy “the magic of Macy’s,” while the Carson Pirie Scott ads make it seem like a dueling holiday contest between Sunday’s Valentine’s Day and Monday’s Presidents’ Day sale.

Coupons for 25 percent off! Wow. Somehow, I doubt this was what the “founding fathers” had in mind when they devoted their lives to breaking the British colonies on the North American continent away into their own country.

I ALSO AM skeptical that all the immigrants who made their travels to this land for a better life did so so that we could enjoy a “free comforter” if we show up at a Serta store and buy a queen- or king-sized mattress.

Then again, maybe they would have appreciated a comfortable night’s sleep after a long 12-hour (or more) day of work?

Excuse me for saying that I don’t get it. Why should this holiday be any kind of excuse for shopping? The Last place I would ever want to spend any time at if I had a day off is at a shopping mall.

There will be people with days off aside from schoolchildren.

BANKS WILL BE closed (so you’d better have your credit cards in working order, or else!), along with libraries and many government offices. That includes the post office, which means no mail on Monday (which may be the one good thing, since it means no new bills arriving – at least not until Tuesday).

I feel like we’re being told that our “patriotic” duty is to go shopping, and that we’re letting our country down by not rushing out to the Staples sale of $200 off a Compaq laptop (only $349.98!). Too bad I broke down and bought my laptop two months ago.

With all the advertising fliers, I feel like this is a second round of Christmas – except that the prevailing colors are red, white and blue instead of red and green.

Part of it is a “guy” thing. I would rather not be told it is my duty to shop. The idea of people being pushed into commercial activity just strikes me as being trivial. And the part of me that was usually the only one in my elementary school classes who actually found history lessons to be interesting is a bit bothered at the thought that this particular holiday has gained trivial elements.

WE HAVE LOTS of holidays meant to pay tribute to the concept of the United States as an ideal of Democracy on Planet Earth. The big one is Independence Day, with some attention paid to Memorial Day (the soldiers who were killed while trying to defend the concept of Democracy).

I’d like to think that Presidents’ Day could be the civilian alternative to Memorial Day (or Veterans Day) – when we honor those officials who won their influence through the ballot box (ultimately, that means the people) rather than on a battlefield.

And yes, I know that Washington got to be President Number One for this nation because of his activity on the battlefield in winning this nation independence.

But it ought to be the day that we celebrate the men (someday, most likely in our lifetimes, there will be women as well) who devoted the time to get elected, then gave four (or eight, unless you’re Franklin D. Roosevelt) years of their lives to try to make this country a better place.

I’M SURE THAT kind of mental activity has the potential to stir up some serious arguments.

Because most people perceive Presidents’ Day as the federal holiday upon which we honor the birthdays of Washington and Abraham Lincoln, and usually try to come up with a third former chief executive to make the date a trio.

John Kennedy or Ronald Reagan? FDR or distant cousin Teddy? How many people will already want to start talking up Barack Obama? Or will want to be sarcastic and try to include Gerald Ford (would comedian Chevy Chase have had as much of a career without those Ford “impersonations” that caught the mood of the nation in the mid-1970s but now seem ever so pointless?) into the mix.

Somehow, such debate strikes me as much more encouraging for our society than the thought that many of us are headed shopping – even if Kmart has Fruit of the Loom “rugged collection” boxer shorts on sale for $8.99.

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Saturday, February 13, 2010

How will Chicago remember Big Hurt

A part of me is tempted to dig out a copy of the 1992 film “Mr. Baseball,” or go scouring around the various television channels that feature situation comedy reruns in search of “Married, with Children.”

Not that I care much about either that film (which was a second-rate attempt to create a romantic comedy centered around the world of professional baseball in Japan) or that crude sitcom that was supposedly set in our beloved Chicago.

BUT FRANK THOMAS back in his prime appeared in both of those settings, albeit just for quick cameos. Perhaps that is the reason why so many people had problems assuming that Thomas was truly a larger-than-life figure. He didn’t behave larger-than-life.

He just swung his bat during Chicago White Sox games for so many years, and for the first half of his career racked up statistics that put him in the company of the game’s true immortals. Various injuries managed to bring him down during the second half of his career to a level where he would have fit in completely with the Chicago Cubs.

But it was on the South Side that Thomas spent the bulk of his athletic career, and wished he could have spent his entire professional baseball career. But whether one wants to believe that Thomas was selfish or not, the reality is that ballplayers tend to move about from club to club (often because the ballclubs themselves swat them about).

Looking at the photographs taken Friday of Thomas with his new wife, his three kids by a previous wife and his newborn son (Frank III), he comes across as an aging ballplayer – one who realizes that his obituary is already written, no matter how much longer he really lives.

OF COURSE, THAT tends to be the case with most athletes – what with the way that the body doesn’t maintain its prime physical attributes for all that long.

The Thomas we’re going to see from here on in is going to be an aging man who occasionally dons his White Sox uniform (with the number 35 on the back that team officials say will be retired in ceremonies to be held Aug. 29).

We may even get a statue of Thomas erected at U.S. Cellular Field, so that fans of the future can stand next to it and create silly poses while a friend takes their picture. Perhaps there will even be some sort of incident involving vandalism to that statue (somebody’s going to hurt “the Big Hurt”).

I expect it because I can’t help but notice the amount of Internet commentary posted on Friday in response to Thomas officially retiring more than a season after he played his last game. Cubs fans seem to resent that the days of the early 2000s when they presemed their team had the big immortal superstar in Sammy Sosa are now long gone, and perhaps they missed seeing something special by not making more trips south of Roosevelt Road (where legendary columnist Mike Royko once wrote that a good way to provoke a barroom brawl was to play the jukebox in the middle of the Sox game on the bar’s TV set).

THERE ARE THE cheapshots about the latter part of his career, the fact that he played a portion as a designated hitter, and the claims that anybody who was THAT big had to be using steroids – even though it would have made Thomas the biggest hypocrite if he had because he spent the bulk of his career openly talking against steroid use (that is, when he wasn’t hitting .300 or better). For the record, when Thomas took those tests as a college football player (Auburn University), he failed – which is good. Plus, how many of us remember those Congressional hearings on steroids in baseball where Thomas appeared on the video screen and was questioned briefly by long-distance on the issue.

Those injuries at the end are a sad point because they deprived us local baseball fans of what would have been the cap to a Chicago baseball career – a World Series appearance.

Thomas was on the roster and in uniform during 2005, but missed most of the season due to injuries. He watched the World Series from the bench – just like Joe Borchard (the man who hit what remains the longest home run ever – 504 feet – at U.S. Cellular).

Our home run heroics that year came from Scott Podsednik (the guy who was acquired because he used to be able to steal a lot of bases), while the pitching performances of that year’s starting rotation (those four complete game victories in the final round of the playoffs against the Los Angeles Angels) were the truly amazing games to watch.

SO IN A sense, Thomas gets put into the same class as Ernie Banks, whose Cubs teams never made it to a World Series or playoff round during his nearly 20 seasons as a ballplayer.

Not that it takes away from the joy we used to feel when we watched Thomas come through with a big hit or the intimidation factor we’d sense whenever other teams deliberately pitched around Thomas because they just knew he would hurt them big time if they weren’t careful.

But that is now all a part of the past. Thomas’ visage will go up on the outfield wall along with Luis Aparicio or Minnie Miñoso, and people will argue whether the best hitter to ever play for the White Sox is Thomas or “Shoeless” Joe Jackson.

And there will be those of us who will get a chuckle whenever that “Married, with Children” episode from 1994 airs – the one where Ed O’Neill’s “Al Bundy” character organizes his own protest to the baseball “strike” that year, and Thomas appeared as himself, along with Mike Piazza, Dave Winfield and Bret Saberhagen, to name a few.

I MIGHT SUGGEST that people would get a bigger kick out of Thomas’ youthful (only 24) appearance in “Mr. Baseball,” where he played the part of the future star ballplayer whose skilled hitting cost Tom Selleck’s character a job in U.S. baseball, thereby resulting in him playing a season with the Chunichi Dragons.

The only problem there is that Thomas’ character was a New York Yankee, and all too many White Sox fans become just a tad ill upon seeing “the Big Hurt” in Yankee pinstripes.

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EDITOR’S NOTES: Does number 68 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HABgETOc_ek) look familiar?

Some random thoughts (http://www.dailyherald.com/story/?id=358816&src=162) from Frank Thomas on the day that he publicly accepted reality that he’s not a ballplayer any longer. At this moment in time, many people seem eager to see Thomas inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame come 2014, which would (http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20100212&content_id=8070154&vkey=news_mlb&fext=.jsp&c_id=mlbsp&c_id=mlb) make Frank the first White Sox player inducted from the era the team was owned by Jerry Reinsdorf and his business associates (Carlton Fisk was inducted as a Boston Red Sox).

In the beginning, Frank Thomas was known primarily because he had the same name as a slow-footed, hard-hitting outfielder (http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/t/thomafr03.shtml?redir) who played for various National League teams in the 1950s. Nobody would mistake (http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/t/thomafr04.shtml?redir) the two now.

When is a Latino candidate legit?

Republicans across our state plan to boast a lot this year about the fact that their ticket for statewide government posts is the one that includes a “Latino” candidate (Robert Enriquez of Aurora for Illinois secretary of state), compared to all those Chicago political hacks who populate the Democratic ticket.

Never mind the fact that Illinois comptroller candidate David Miller and state treasurer hopeful Robin Kelly are from suburban Lynwood and Matteson, respectively. The GOP is going to want credit for putting on their slate a man who was born in Honduras and who also lived in Panama before moving to the United States when he was 13.

BUT ALL THIS means is that Enriquez is the guy who gets to be beaten up upon by Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, who is running for his fourth term in the post. Even the most hard-core of Republicans I hear from expect White to be one of the few Dems “safe” from a serious Election Day challenge. I believe that if they thought they could beat White, they never would have let Enriquez near the ticket.

So excuse me for thinking that Enriquez’ purpose is to help deflect the criticism the GOP will receive when their candidates start engaging in their most blatant anti-Latino rhetoric to sway the mindsets of rural Illinoisans. Check out the commentary at the Argus’ sister weblog The South Chicagoan (http://southchicagoan.blogspot.com/) for more details.

I’m sure Enriquez is an intelligent guy who will continue to do a wonderful job on the Illinois Human Rights Commission, which he has served on since 2005 when he was picked by then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

I just don’t expect his name on my driver’s license any time soon.

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Too conservative for “urban” Illinois? That’s what Dems want to think of Brady

With two-thirds of Illinois residents living in the Chicago metro area and another 8 percent coming from the St. Louis Metro East area, we literally get nearly three-quarters of the state’s population being people who think of themselves as “urban” residents.

Democratic campaigns for political office come the November general elections are desperately counting on that fact to stave off the fact that Republican voters (according to various polls) seem more excited about being able to cast ballots this year than do Dems.

THAT WAS WHAT popped into my head when I read recent reports coming from the GOP’s likely gubernatorial nominee Bill Brady (nothing will be official until next month). The Chicago Sun-Times devoted a few inches of space Thursday to letting us know some of Brady’s thoughts for the future.

They highlighted gay marriage, knowing that such a headline would capture attention. Brady, it seems, wants the Illinois Constitution amended so as to make marriage between non-hetero couples illegal, and he also wants to do away with the concept of “civil unions.”

This story is going to be repeated many times in coming months in places where the populace is more accepting of gay couples, as a way of trying to make Brady come off as too isolated in his home region (although his hometown of Bloomington is one of the few communities to have local ordinances offering civil rights protections for gay people) to understand the concerns of all of Illinois.

Now when trying to discuss this issue intelligently, it is important to realize that intelligence really is not a factor here.

STATEMENTS LIKE THESE are more about causing a visceral reaction amongst certain voters. In this case, Brady wants the more rural portions of the state to think of him as the candidate who will stick up for their way of thinking. I don’t think he expects to sway anyone’s thoughts about who they will vote for.

He’s trying to give people that nominally should be in his camp all the more reason to get enthused about turning out to vote on Election Day (or sooner, if they use an early voting center come October).

For the law in Illinois has always been clear that marriage is legal between hetero-sexual couples. In fact, back in the mid-1990s era when the Republican Party had a domination over state government, they passed laws making the issue all the more clear that non-heterosexual marriage is NOT acceptable in Illinois.

In theory, writing it into the state’s constitution would make it harder for a future Legislature to make any kind of change in this issue – even if the sentiment of the future continues to change and the people who become vehemently opposed to gay couples having the same legal rights of marriage as other couples become more and more outside the mainstream of our 21st Century society.

THINK I’M EXAGGERATING?

There are many Southern states that wrote segregationist principles into their state constitutions, which made the effort to get with the program in the late 20th Century with regards to civil rights and African-American people all the more complicated – and sometimes still confuses things whenever antiquated ordinances are discovered to still remain on the books.

I’d hate to think Brady wants to get Illinois bogged down in some future legal mess. I honestly believe he’s just trying to sew up a part of the conservative voter base that Republicans rely upon.

But that also will hurt him with regards to the rest of the state, which has turned solidly Democrat in the past two decades because those suburban areas that used to see the Republican Party as their defense mechanism against Democratic Chicago now identify themselves more with the city than they do the rural portions of the state that the GOP seems more concerned with these days.

THERE ARE MANY people who view this issue like I do – as a matter of butting out of someone else’s private business (which is what many conservative Republicans claim they stand for, at times).

So is this story going to be one we’re going to hear many allusions to in coming months?

Particularly since it also calls for state Constitution restrictions on the Legislature passing tax increases (I think each instance should be considered separately, rather than have harsh restrictions on all) and term limits for state legislators (I think such limits are short-sighted because some people have much to offer in public service, while others don’t even deserve one term).

Those too are issues that could bolster his image among certain voters, while hurt with the bulk of the state.

BUT BEFORE IT comes off like this commentary is a complete trashing of Brady, he did have one worth-while point to make – he would like to see the Illinois State Board of Elections put in charge of redrawing political boundaries for the state Legislature and Illinois’ congressional delegation, believing that the bi-partisan board would do a more fair job than the self-interests of the General Assembly.

I’m not sure how it would work but it is an idea worth considering, since the people on the elections board usually are more knowledgable about the realities of elections and the state as a whole than the legislators – most of whom can’t comprehend anything that happens beyond their own home neighborhood.

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