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Monday, Aug 28, 2006

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Why gaming?

Monday, Aug 28, 2006

My self-promotion instict has failed once again because I forgot for the umpteenth time to post my weekly syndicated column.

So, why did Judy Baar Topinka go with a Chicago casino idea to help fund her education, property tax and infrastructure proposals? Well, a general tax increase had been all but ruled out months ago. Polling and focus grouping showed high levels of opposition to a tax hike. Plus, Topinka already has enough troubles with her Republican base without doing something like that.

The campaign had already proposed about $3 billion in Medicaid and other state spending cuts over four years, but she can only back so many cuts. Topinka wants AFSCME’s endorsement and is on track to get the Illinois Education Association’s nod. Her pursuit of those tax-eating groups and others like them makes it highly unlikely that we’ll see many more budget-cutting ideas before November.

Topinka has strongly opposed Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s asset sale ideas, so that angle was out of the question. Temporary solutions like the four-year infusion of cash from the lottery sale would make her look too much like Blagojevich, so forget that.

Pretty much all that was left was gaming. Voters don’t like gaming all that much, but when given the choice of a tax increase for schools or a limited version of gaming expansion like Topinka has proposed, they’ll go with gaming more often than not, particularly Republican and independent voters.

Promising something big to Chicago’s mayor never hurts, either. Now that Mayor Daley knows his schools will get more money and his city will get more jobs and tourism, he might not be so eager to campaign extra hard for Gov. Blagojevich.

Read the rest to see why she proposed any details at all.

- Posted by Rich Miller   6 Comments      

Mailers make mainstream press

Monday, Aug 28, 2006

The Daily Herald coverage finally starts to catch up to Austin Mayor’s stellar job.

The National Republican Campaign Committee is blanketing 6th Congressional District mailboxes with an unusually early barrage of glossy ads attacking Democrat Tammy Duckworth’s views.

With five mail pieces on taxes and one on immigration, the House GOP’s political arm has spent nearly $200,000 before Labor Day, the traditional start of campaign season.

The influx of mail is viewed as a sign Republicans are nervous about the prospects of their candidate, state Sen. Peter Roskam, in the longtime GOP stronghold, which includes parts of northeastern DuPage and northwest Cook counties. Roskam and Duckworth are vying in the Nov. 7 election for the seat left open by the retiring U.S. Sen. Henry Hyde, who has served 16 terms.

“The poll data that I’ve seen on that race shows it’s a tossup,” said Paul Green, political science professor at Roosevelt University. “If they lose Henry Hyde’s seat, the chances are very good that (House Speaker) Denny Hastert will have a lot more time to watch wrestling matches.”

The national Republicans aren’t denying there’s at least some worry in the wake of Hyde’s retirement.

You can see copies of several of these mailers at AM’s website here, here and here. You may not agree with his analyses, but you can at least see the whole mailers.

- Posted by Rich Miller   18 Comments      

A family affair - Updated x1

Monday, Aug 28, 2006

Apparently, the Secretary of State’s office is being run like a family business. Meaning they hire every relative in sight.

Last week in this space, I wrote about how Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White has been spending your money — specifically, how he put his biographer on the payroll at $73K a year, tripled his daughter’s salary in seven years and allowed the hiring of his chief of staff’s wife as a $25-an-hour part-time secretary.
Given Mr. White’s reputation as the nice guy of Illinois politics, I figured that would be it. We all mess up sometimes. On to more important stories, like Wal-Mart wages or who’s telling the biggest whoppers about Illinois finances.

As it turned out, last week’s column just scratched the surface.

Thanks to a series of phone calls and e-mails, I now have a fuller picture of who’s drawing taxpayer-funded checks in Mr. White’s office. Bottom line: There’s no need for family feuds here, because everyone’s making a buck. Even Chicago’s famed Roti clan — known for having every odd nephew and in-law on the city payroll — might be able to learn a few tricks. […]

On the other hand, the 18 job-holders referenced above are related to just 10 suits in the secretary of state’s office: Mr. White and nine senior executives that I specifically asked about. Who knows what else is going on?

Go read the whole thing for the details. There’s a lot more than this, I’m told, but White’s office doesn’t appear to be too concerned yet.

UPDATE: From a Dan Rutherford press release:

…Reconfirmed in published reports was that White accepts cash for Christmas gifts from his top employees, those he determines annual salary increases, like his predecessor George Ryan. He has also received a number of significant campaign contributions from his top staff.

“With just the examples included here, these few employees easily earn over $500,000 in taxpayer-funded salaries and contracts,” said Rutherford. “We are clearly seeing a pattern of impropriety coming to light. The people of Illinois saw Jesse White’s predecessor convicted for improprieties akin to what White is doing today.” […]

Rutherford called on Jesse White to make public his Personnel Policy with regard to hiring and promoting family members and his policy on awarding no bid contracts to family members and friends that do personal favors.

- Posted by Rich Miller   18 Comments      

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Monday, Aug 28, 2006

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Question of the day

Monday, Aug 28, 2006

With the one-year anniversary just around the corner of Gov. Blagojevich’s signing the medical malpractice bill into law, the Post-Dispatch takes a look back and ahead.

Doctors and business advocates want further reforms, as they consider Illinois’ bill only a first step. Lawyers and victims advocates are calling for a repeal of the legislation that they say hinders the rights of injured people. And both sides candidly agree the issue is thorny for elected officials.

“This has become a political football,” said Dr. Harold L. Jensen, chairman of the ISMIE Mutual Insurance Co., the major malpractice insurer in the state.

This was the most interesting quote in the story.

“They’re waiting to find a tragic case, one where it’s going to be very difficult for a jury and for a trial court judge to award only the capped amount of money,” said Ed Murnane, president of the Illinois Civil Justice League, which strongly supported the legislation.

Read the whole thing, then answer the question: Did the medical malpractice bill go too far, not far enough or was it just about right? Explain.

- Posted by Rich Miller   32 Comments      

Reform and renewal, Part 97,487 - UPDATED x1

Monday, Aug 28, 2006


How does someone who lost a $250,000 state consulting gig — apparently for doing no work — get a $900,000 no-bid contract a few months later from Gov. Blagojevich’s administration?

That was the good fortune of Chicago lawyer Myron “Mike” Cherry, a major Blagojevich donor who is the main protagonist in yet another story of clout and big money in state government.

Cherry, a prominent Democratic fund-raiser who is linked to at least $60,000 in contributions to Blagojevich, has not been accused of any criminal wrongdoing.

But a 2004 investment proposal at the state Teachers Retirement System that would have netted Cherry the $250,000 has drawn scrutiny from federal investigators probing corruption at the pension system and under Blagojevich.

The feds have been investigating whether Blagojevich and fund-raisers Antoin “Tony” Rezko and Christopher Kelly were involved in a secret scheme to steer state pension business to top campaign donors — an accusation all three have adamantly denied.

Read the whole thing.

UPDATE: From a press release:

DuPage County State’s Attorney Joe Birkett called on Governor Rod Blagojevich to stop stonewalling on a secret no-bid contract to a top Democratic contributor.

When Crain’s Chicago Business first revealed the existence of a no-bid contract to lawyer Myron “Mike” Cherry on Feb. 22, 2005, the administration refused to comment on the scope of the work. In today’s Sun-Times, the paper revealed that Cherry was paid $900,000 in six months for work the administration refuses to detail.

“The public has an absolute right to know specifically what work was done by Myron Cherry to justify nearly $1 million in payments in six months,” said Birkett, running mate for gubernatorial candidate Judy Baar Topinka, the state Treasurer. “At a minimum the administration should turn over Cherry’s billing records.”

“Cherry is one of the most prolific Democratic fundraisers in the state. He has given Rod Blagojevich in excess of $60,000,” Birkett noted. “We need answers about this sweetheart contract.”

Birkett said the contract is especially suspect because several months before the no-bid contract, Cherry was poised to receive a $250,000 fee from the administration that the Teachers Retirement System determined was not justified. That potential fee is among those under investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s office, according to published reports.

“Until the Blagojevich administration answers questions about this contract, it will strongly appear that it was determined to reward a major campaign contributor. That is exactly the type of pay-to-play politics Rod Blagojevich said he would halt when he became governor,” Birkett added.

- Posted by Rich Miller   37 Comments      

Poll has mixed results for education funding advocates

Monday, Aug 28, 2006

The full poll and some crosstabs are in the subscribers-only section. Here’s a Southtown article on the poll that is to be released today.

Illinois voters say education funding is the leading issue in the race for governor, but only a slim majority are willing to pay more taxes to support low-income schools, according to a poll released today by Speak Out for Illinois Schools, a coalition of education and community organizations.

Forty-four percent of Illinois voters said education was the top issue in the November election, over issues like job creation, government waste and health care.

And nearly two-thirds of voters want to see an increase in the state share of funding for public education, compared to 24 percent who think it should remain at the same level.

But voters are split over whether they want to part with more of their hard-earned cash to fund education.

Just more than half are willing to pay more taxes to increase funding for low-income school districts. Samantha Anderson of Communities for Quality Education is optimistic about that 51 percent.

Funding for low-income schools was the only expense a majority of voters were willing to pay with a tax increase, the poll shows. Teacher training, school construction and programs for wayward youth, for example, garnered just 30 percent in favor of higher taxes.


- Posted by Rich Miller   23 Comments      

Different regions = different ads

Monday, Aug 28, 2006

The Tribune did a story back in May about about how CMAG has tracked Gov. Blagojevich’s campaign spending, but the Post-Dispatch has a slight twist.

Barely a month after the March primary elections, Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich spent $500,000 to go after Republican challenger Judy Baar Topinka with a rolling pin. In a major television ad buy beginning in April - far earlier than statewide campaigns usually start spending serious money - Blagojevich’s campaign aired a debate clip about banning assault weapons, in which Topinka says: “It’s very difficult to define what is an assault weapon. I mean, a rolling pin could be an assault weapon if you really want to look at it that way.”

As a photo of a rolling pin appears above Topinka’s head in the commercial, an announcer intones: “Topinka opposes an assault weapons ban … because she says it could ban a rolling pin. What’s she thinking?” […]

The rolling pin commercial, for example, ran almost 500 times over two months in Chicago, where there tends to be strong support for gun control. It didn’t run once in the Metro East area, where even Democrats often consider themselves pro-gun. Instead, Blagojevich has used his St. Louis television buys - almost $100,000 worth so far - to tout his own record on safer issues like education and jobs.

“There are different levels of interest in different issues around the state,” said Blagojevich spokeswoman Sheila Nix, explaining why the campaign didn’t focus on the assault weapons issue in the Metro East area.

I didn’t think he had run those ads downstate, and now we know he didn’t run them at least in the Metro East.

- Posted by Rich Miller   11 Comments      

Morning shorts

Monday, Aug 28, 2006

· “A third former janitor with the secretary of state’s physical services division has pleaded guilty to his part in a scheme that resulted in the three being paid for hours they didn’t work.”

· Hiring freeze? What hiring freeze?

· It appears that the Daily Herald was hacked again. This time, I made sure to save a screen shot of their front page.

· McQueary: TK’s story shows state could do more for vets

· Workers with disabilities keep government going

· “Downers Grove attorney Carole Doris secured Metra’s top post Friday, continuing collar county oversight of the rail agency critical to suburban commuters.”

· Apparently, Greg liked my column. He also has some other ideas worth reading.

· Brown: Peraica volunteer learns how it is for GOP in Dem town

· Governor changes mind, puts up employees at the President Abraham Lincoln Hotel (scroll down)

· Grilling the sexes on the GOP bus

· Tribune Co.’s Chicago Tribune said it plans to outsource its circulation customer contact center to the Philippines

· Hastert defends Congress on budget

· Anniversary muted as canal awaits fed funding

· “Having gotten a kiss from President Bush, I really insisted on one from the County Board Chairman, Bob Schillerstrom as well,” Topinka said. “I’m collecting. It’s one of the good things of being a female candidate, I guess.”

· Danny Stover speech on YouTube

· Washington: Tough job awaits new Urban League chief

· Suburban officials sold on Wal-Mart

- Posted by Rich Miller   5 Comments      

Bollywood and Johnny Cash

Friday, Aug 25, 2006

If this doesn’t put a smile on your face…

Then this surely will.

Go on… have a smile

- Posted by Rich Miller   9 Comments      

Guv goes back to positive spots

Friday, Aug 25, 2006

The traditional campaign cycle is essentially beginning - start positive, go negative, finish positive.

Team Blago is back on the air this week with another flight of ads. The buy started Wednesday, August 23rd and runs at least through Monday the 28th. In placement it appears much like the waves of ads they ran in April, May, and June before taking most of July and August off: heavy on news and public affairs with a few prime time spots thrown in for good measure.

But these spots are 30 seconds long, and are not bookended. These also seemed intended to prod his positives upward, touting his role in the Amber Alert system, rather than just drive his opponents’ lower.

And there are a lot of them. He’s spending $400K in Chicago for this buy, and it’s only 6 days long – that’s $65K a day on TV spots.

There are actually two new TV ads. “Amber Alert” and “Ethanol

What do you think?

UPDATE: If he wants to help kids, maybe he should’ve had a talk a while back with one of his biggest supporters.

CHICAGO (Aug. 23, 2006) - U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Justice have reached an agreement with A. Finkl & Sons Co. on alleged clean-air violations at the company’s steel forging plant, 2011 N. Southport Ave., Chicago. The company agreed to do two environmental projects totaling $620,000, to pay a $75,000 penalty and to comply with the Clean Air Act. […]

The agreement resolves EPA allegations that Finkl violated performance standards for new sources of air pollution by making equipment modifications that caused an increase in particulate (smoke, dust, ash) emissions and by not getting permits that would have required better controls. […]

Inhaling high concentrations of particulates can affect children, the elderly and people with heart and lung diseases the most.

[Hat tip: MV at SoapBlox]

- Posted by Rich Miller   40 Comments      

Another landmark lost

Friday, Aug 25, 2006

This sucks.

Department store operator Bon-Ton Stores Inc. said today it is closing its Carson Pirie Scott store on Chicago’s State Street.

The company said 300 full time and 150 part-time employees are impacted by the closure. They will be able to interview for available positions at other store locations and receive severance support, Bon-Ton said.

Bon-Ton attributed the closure to sales declines, losses due to rising operating costs, and payment incentives from the building’s owner, who has redevelopment plans for the site.

I was in Carson’s a few weeks ago and it was just about empty. I browsed the men’s suit section, which covers thousands of square feet, for almost an hour and there were no other customers around. (By the way, I didn’t buy anything because even with all those clothes nothing really caught my eye.)

That said, I can’t help but wonder who owns the building and what the dastardly person has planned.

UPDATE: More from Crain’s:

Mr. Bergren said the current owner is working on “very exciting plans for the Carson Pirie Scott building and we think the city and people of Chicago will agree.”

· More from the AP:

The building — with 1 million square feet — is owned by Joseph Freed and Associates, which has been renovating it in recent years — including extensive work on the terra cotta facades and the ornate cornice at the corner of State Street and Madison Avenue.

The company said in a news release that after Carson vacates the structure, it plans to convert 250,000 square feet to new retail space on the lower level, first and second floors. The third through seventh floors will offer 350,000 square feet of new office, school and entertainment space.

“National and international tenants have expressed interest in leasing this historic property, and now we can pursue these opportunities,” said Paul Fitzpatrick, the company’s managing director.

- Posted by Rich Miller   25 Comments      

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Friday, Aug 25, 2006

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Question of the day

Friday, Aug 25, 2006

From the Tribune:

Topinka had been under pressure from the Blagojevich campaign for several weeks to show voters how she would fund her campaign proposals. But Blagojevich campaign spokeswoman Sheila Nix said the governor would not produce his own four-year financial plan before the Nov. 7 election, instead relying on his record of state budgets.

Nix said the proposals Blagojevich has already introduced are fully funded and should give voters an idea of his financial priorities.

After all the grief that Topinka has taken since March for “not having a plan,” should the press and the pundits now turn the tables on Blagojevich and demand more details from him? As a bonus question, should Blagojevich now be pushed hard to address property tax relief?

Explain why or why not.

- Posted by Rich Miller   60 Comments      

Judge the contest

Friday, Aug 25, 2006

Comments are now closed on yesterday’s caption contest. An astonishing 100 of them made it past my censorious actions.

My personal favorite was from “Scoop,” who wrote:

(AP) — Upon exiting her campaign bus during a stop on her statewide tour, State Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka was told she was under arrest for impersonating a Republican.

Which was your favorite? The commenter with the most votes will win lunch on me at a cheap restaurant of my choosing.

UPDATE: I didn’t see this one:

Wait! A garage sale! Hold the bus!!

UPDATE: OK, based on the votes so far I’m declaring “Garage sale” the winner.

Here’s how this’ll work. The winner should send me an e-mail first with a “secret message” that they’ve made up all by themselves. And then after waiting a few minutes that person should post the same “secret message” here in comments. If the messages and IP addresses match, I’ll send details about the lunch.

- Posted by Rich Miller   21 Comments      

Topinka’s plan - UPDATED x1

Friday, Aug 25, 2006

Lots and lots of stuff today. Let’s get to it.

This is probably the most cogent critique of Judy Baar Topinka’s plan to expand casino gaming. It’s from Elgin Mayor Ed Schock, who is conflicted because he has a boat in his community, but he makes sense.

…casino owners would have to invest in their existing facilities to build the new stations. As for Elgin’s casino, a new boat at a cost of $150 million would have to be built to accommodate the new spaces or they would have to be built on land - a concept that has so far been rejected by the public, Schock said.

And in Illinois, the chances of seeing gambling giants dump more money into their casinos is slim considering they already pay the highest taxes in the country, Schock said.

Elgin’s casino, for example, pays 73 percent, Schock said.

“Why are you going to invest more in Illinois, so you can pay more taxes?” he said. “For (Topinka’s plan) to work they have to look at the tax structure. That’s why the numbers aren’t realistic, because it’s not all new money. It’s not going to work that way.”

Gov. Blagojevich also made a very valid point.

[Blagojevich] said if Topinka’s plan has any chance of passing in the Legislature, it wouldn’t wind up just being one casino for Chicago because other communities would want theirs and other groups would clamor for gaming, including slot machines at horse racing tracks.

“Then all of a sudden it’s not what it was and suddenly Illinois becomes, to quote Treasurer Topinka, Las Vegas,” he said.

Topinka pretty much confirmed this yesterday.

Republican governor candidate Judy Baar Topinka refused Thursday to rule out new casinos for Waukegan and the south suburbs and slot machines at horse tracks, throwing some doubt on her stated opposition to gambling expansion.

“I’d have to see what the legislature sent me,” Topinka told the Daily Herald editorial board Thursday when asked if she’d veto a gambling package that included new casinos for Waukegan and the south suburbs.

Topinka also said she’d “have to look at” a gambling measure that included slot machines for horse tracks like Arlington Park.

Meanwhile, my Sun-Times column this week is also about the plan.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a serious candidate for governor lay out a detailed budget plan as Judy Baar Topinka did this week.

Incumbents always challenge their opponents to produce an alternative plan of their own, and the opponents usually respond with a few broad ideas and a “vision for the future” label slapped on for good measure.

The reason we don’t ever see specific, detailed proposals is that those details invite tremendous amounts of nitpicking, and candidates who get bogged down in nitpicking usually lose. Before they can respond to one critique, the other side and the media have already moved on to, “But what about paragraph 849?”

Gov. Blagojevich went on the offensive,

Gov. Blagojevich was in Chicago, touting figures that show Illinois added more new jobs than any other state in July, and he called the GOP casino proposal a “fraudulent gimmick” that would do anything but balance the budget.

“She would take it back to how it was under Ryan and Topinka with a $5 billion deficit, except there’d be three times the amount of gambling and fewer kids and senior citizens would have health care,” Blagojevich said.

He also said

“She’s spent the last year or so getting on her high horse attacking my administration, saying things like quote-unquote we have to live within our means, that we shouldn’t have any quick fixes,” the governor said during an event at a Chicago pretzel factory. “And yet, when you propose a massive expansion of gambling that nearly triples the amount of gaming positions that would exist in Illinois, if that’s not a gimmick, I don’t know what is.”

Mayor Daley talked more about the two competing education funding ideas.

The back-and-forth between the candidates came as Mayor Richard Daley appeared to soften his previous demand that a Chicago casino be owned by the city; the state’s nine existing casinos are privately owned.

“I don’t care if it’s private. I don’t care if it’s public. I don’t care if it’s owned by anyone,” Daley said. He still questioned why taxpayers shouldn’t own a casino and enjoy the profits while hiring a private firm to manage it

The Sun-Times editorial was positive for JBT:

This page has long favored a casino for Chicago, as well as more gambling positions for existing casinos, to generate more revenues for state and local governments. And while it is not the ideal way to fund schools, we think it’s better than Blagojevich’s plan to sell or lease the lottery. It gives the state a steady, significant revenue boost that won’t expire a few decades down the road. The state should look to a Chicago casino. Education funding needs more than a casino quick fix, of course, but right now, it’s the best proposal out there.

And an Indian tribe announced plans for a bingo center near DeKalb.

Just months after paying top dollar for a family farm near this southern DeKalb County community, a Kansas Indian tribe announced ambitious plans Thursday night to bring Indian gaming to Illinois.

The Prairie Band Potawatomi of Mayetta, Kan., said they intend to open a 22,000-square-foot bingo hall with electronic gaming stations for 750 players on a 128-acre farm they bought in April. The farm is off University Road, near Preserve Road.

Tribal Chairwoman Tracy Stanhoff conceded that the proposal for the bingo hall would be controversial but said the hall would be good for the region.

UPDATE: I asked some of the other state Republican candidates whether they supported Topinka’s plan. Sen. Dan Rutherford, who previously said that gambling is “an inappropriate way to feed the jabberwocky of a hungry government,” is now in favor of JBT’s proposal. From the campaign:

Sen. Rutherford supports the plan as long as it is an allocation of the 10th license, as has been his position in the past.

- Posted by Rich Miller   16 Comments      

Natarus continues his dramatic self-destruction

Friday, Aug 25, 2006

Chicago Alderman Burt Natarus recently left this voicemail for Tribune columnist Eric Zorn.

I have stood your criticisms for many many years, and quite frankly I don’t regard you as being very innovative or humorous. The fact of the matter is that dog doo is a cause of rats. And rats are a very, very important problem in terms of eradications and keeping my ward clean. I have the cleanest ward in the city….

And before I became the alderman there was no Michigan Avenue… all of the buildings that have been built there except maybe the Tribune Tower and the Hancock Center were built during my terms of office.

So you could look at the positive side once in a while Mr. Zorn in terms of some of the work that we do. I have a doctor of law degree and I’m a member of the plan commission and I work very, very hard.

As far as I’m concerned you can keep insulting me because quite frankly it may enhance your readership. But it also enhances my vote getting ability. Bye bye.

There was “no Michigan Avenue” before he was an alderman? Was it just empty prairie? Has Burton completely and finally lost it?

Those were rhetorical questions.

- Posted by Rich Miller   29 Comments      

Morning shorts - UPDATED x1

Friday, Aug 25, 2006

· Notice how this story didn’t come out until after his Bridgeport fundraiser? “Sorich talks to grand jury”

· IVI-IPO backs Todd Stroger

· “Two of three janitors accused with a secretary of state administrator of a scheme in which they were paid for some 8,000 hours not on the job pleaded guilty Thursday to four counts of wire fraud.”

· “The state Department of Human Services is not doing enough to verify that low-income residents who receive federal grants deserve them, an audit released Thursday said.”

· “This month’s Diageo/Hotline poll should serve as a small splash of cold water on “Speaker” Pelosi and “Majority Leader” Reid. But just a splash. The upshot: our snapshot of likely voters suggests that, nationwide, Republicans may be as ginned up as Democrats. Or both Dems and Republicans may be equally motivated to vote — even if that level of motivation is low. That said, control of Congress won’t be decided by the votes of a majority of likely voters in the country. It’ll be decided by voters in about a dozen states across several dozen congressional districts.”

· “But if you are betting on the generic ballot to predict control of the House, even when it looks awfully strong for Democrats, you might want to think again. The relationship has weakened and the uncertainty is huge.”

· Champaign Co. Dems change rules to allow party to endorse in primaries

· Friday Beer Blogging

· It’s funny because it’s true: What your favorite Springfield radio show says about you

· Muir: Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

· Hiram: In Illinois 6th Roskam Supports Less Than 1.3% Of Illinois Residents With Estate Tax Repeal

· Austin Mayor: NRCC: Taking The Low Road

· Morning-after pill OK without prescription

· O’Hare flight caps in place through 2008

· UPDATE: This is fascinating.

Bill Tancer’s latest post about Hitwise having advance indications of yesterday’s announcement of a drop in July home sales is fascinating. In short, Bill points out that the National Association of Realtors require 3-4 weeks to put their analysis together, so, even though September’s almost upon us, we’re just now hearing that home sales in July fell.

Except Hitwise saw this coming. The web stats and competitive intelligence company saw a drop in July in searches for terms relating to home sales, and has seen a similar pick-up in August. So Bill’s not only saying they saw this coming, he’s predicting that August’s numbers will pick up.

- Posted by Rich Miller   12 Comments      

Caption contest!

Thursday, Aug 24, 2006

- Posted by Rich Miller   100 Comments      

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Thursday, Aug 24, 2006

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Third party survives, not voted off the island - UPDATED x1

Thursday, Aug 24, 2006

Here’s an important story that I missed.

The Illinois Green Party will likely remain on the Nov. 7 general election ballot despite Democratic efforts to knock the third party out of the race, Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s campaign said Tuesday.

A recent ruling by a hearing officer found the Green Party slate had more than the 25,000 signatures needed to be placed on the ballot, according to officials with the Green Party and the Blagojevich campaign, which had been challenging the party’s efforts. […]

“A ruling still has to be made, but if the board agrees that they have enough signatures we won’t be filing further objections,” Blagojevich spokesman Doug Scofield said.

As I’ve said before, it’s time to take this Rich Whitney guy and the rest of the state slate seriously. If nothing else, pollsters need to find out what impact they could have on the race. And now that they’ve survived an intense ballot challenge, they ought to be included in the debates.

UPDATE: From a Whitney press release about the governor’s energy proposal.

“Rod Blagojevich promised in 2002 that he would push sustainable energy sources like bio-diesel and wind power - and yet only two-tenths of one percent of our State’s energy needs are now being provided by such sources. In fact, he raided the Renewable Energy Resources Trust Fund for $9.5 million and the Energy Efficiency Trust Fund for $3 million, to put into the general fund, so that he can continue to brag that he (supposedly) balanced the budget without raising taxes. So I think Illinois voters are justified in being a bit skeptical over the latest round of grandiose promises.”

- Posted by Rich Miller   28 Comments      

Question of the day

Thursday, Aug 24, 2006

I have to finish up some things, but I’ll blog a little more later this morning or early afternoon. Meanwhile, here’s the setup:

Making voters produce a picture ID before they can cast a vote is not designed to pick on minorities, according to a veteran Illinois legislator.

State Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Greenville) will introduce a proposal requiring state-issued identification cards be presented by voters at the polls. He is holding a press conference at 2 p.m. today at the St. Clair County Courthouse in Belleville.

The proposal, which would require voters have a driver’s license or Secretary of State-issued identification card, is not meant to “make it difficult for the poor to vote,” he said.

“How many people don’t have an ID?” he said.

Proponents of photo IDs assert that it reduces voter fraud, but groups like the American Civil Liberties Union argue that it creates unfair hurdles for minorities.

Attorney John Kurowski of Belleville said he believes that any provision requiring a photo ID to vote is “likely unconstitutional.”

Kurowski, who represents the East St. Louis Board of Elections Commissioners, said courts closely scrutinize cases involving access to the polls and have favored protecting the rights of poor people who may not possess a photo ID. […]

A U.S. appeals court recently upheld an injunction preventing the state of Georgia from enforcing a law requiring voters to show a state-issued ID card.

U.S. District Judge Harold L. Murphy said the law appeared to violate the Constitution. He likened the law to a “Jim Crow-era poll tax that required residents, most of them black, to pay back taxes before voting,” according to a Washington Post article.

And the question: Do you agree or disagree with Rep. Stephens’ proposal? Why or why not?

- Posted by Rich Miller   78 Comments      

Topinka plan round-up - UPDATED x3

Thursday, Aug 24, 2006

This is the sort of thing that I like most about Topinka.

“Is it great? Probably not. Is it the very best in the world? Probably not,” Topinka said, describing her plan to the Sun-Times editorial board. “But it does the job. It’s practical.”

And this is the sort of thing that I like least about Gov. Blagojevich:

The Blagojevich campaign also immediately pointed out via an online ad that Topinka was flip-flopping on gambling, citing her previous comments that relying on more gambling to balance the state budget was a bad path to take.

Blagojevich himself has flip-flopped on his own 2002 promise not to expand gambling, at various times proposing expansion of existing casinos and adding keno, ideas which have gone nowhere.

Sen. Link makes a good point:

The plan does not contain new casinos, which allows Topinka to claim she’s not expanding gambling. But that absence also makes it tough to get the idea through the Senate.

“Why should the people in the South suburban area and Waukegan be written out of this?” said state Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat.

And the Tribune editorial board lays down the gauntlet.

The initial response Wednesday from Team Blagojevich wasn’t encouraging. The governor’s campaign sharpshooters immediately issued pages of rhetoric intended to discredit this or that line item of Topinka’s four-year financial plan for resolving Illinois’ bleak plight.

The Blagojevich response was a classic exhibition of a terrible political instinct. Governor, the hope here is that you’ll engage the Topinka plan for what it is, a rescue proposal, rather than attacking its line items in so-many talking points.

Voters will decide whether they like her proposals, for example, to expand gambling and better manage Medicaid dollars. Topinka and Blagojevich can disagree on those and dozens of other specifics. That’s the debate voters deserve.

On Wednesday, Topinka in effect declared that this campaign should be about the two candidates’ competing, long-range visions for confronting financial obligations that threaten to bury this state. Governor, it’s your turn.

UPDATE: Something I forgot to mention today was that Sen. Steve Rauschenberger is handling the detailed budget questions for the Topinka campaign, which may seem a little odd considering Rauschenberger’s harsh comments about Topinka last year.

I just talked to Steve and he has agreed to write a detailed response to Budget Director John Filan’s claim that the JBT proposal would produce a $5.7 billion annual deficit. Hopefully, I’ll be able to post it tomorrow morning. Director Filan will, of course, be offered the opportunity to respond. The resulting back and forth may bore some of you, but the idea is to move beyond the pimpy little digs and get to the heart of the matter.

UPDATE 2: Bill Brady backs the plan had some not unkind words.

State Sen. Bill Brady, a conservative GOP member who ran against the moderate Topinka in the March primary, said he’s pleased that the proposal doesn’t raise taxes.

The Bloomington businessman conceded that “there are a number of conservatives concerned about Illinois becoming over-reliant on gambling,” but he said it was doubtful they’d vote for Blagojevich in the Nov. 7 election.

UPDATE 3: Missed this one.

Reaction among lawmakers who will have to vote for it if Topinka beats Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich in November was tepid.

“I have traditionally voted against expansion of gambling in the past,” said state Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, an Okawville Republican.

“I probably wouldn’t vote for it,” added state Sen. John Jones, R-Mount Vernon.

State Rep. Bob Pritchard, R-Hinckley, said he’d study the proposal, but, he said, “I’m not excited about the expansion of gambling.” […]

State Sen. Dan Rutherford, R-Chenoa, who is now running for secretary of state on the same ticket as Topinka, said in 2005 that gambling is “an inappropriate way to feed the jabberwocky of a hungry government.”

- Posted by Rich Miller   52 Comments      

Morning shorts

Thursday, Aug 24, 2006

· “More questions than answers filled a Capitol hearing Wednesday on whether the state should sell or lease the tollway — and how exactly it might go about doing so.”

· Roskam focuses on tax cuts

· Duckworth gets backing of big education unions

· ComEd employees air dirty laundry

· ‘All Kids’ display gets snub at LCHS

· Everyone, it seems, wants to jump on the downstate bandwagon

· Republican bus tour stops in Olney

· Richards: Pols focus on the frills, not the bills

· The Illinois State Board of Education tapped Christopher Koch, the agency’s assistant superintendent for special education, as interim school superintendent to take over when Randy Dunn leaves in December.

· Still more problems with the Museum of Broadcast Communications

· Four debates slated in 8th District race

- Posted by Rich Miller   6 Comments      

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