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This just in… Skoien to step down *** Updated x2 ***

Saturday, Jan 27, 2007

Cook County Republican Party Chairman Gary Skoein will announce Monday that he is stepping down to care for his wife, who has cancer. The move has been anticipated for some time.

*** UPDATE ***
The Daily Herald’s story is up.

*** UPDATE 2 *** The Sun-Times story is up as well.

A special meeting of the Cook County Republican Central Committee has been called for Feb. 12 at the Hyatt Regency to elect a new chairman, according to a release from the party.

- Posted by Rich Miller   Comments Off      


READER COMMENTS CLOSED FOR THE WEEKEND

Friday, Jan 26, 2007

Before I go, I wanted to make sure you heard this recording from the Chicago Symphony and Chorus. It’s from the last Chicago Bears Super Bowl appearance, but it’ll crank you up as if it happened yesterday.

Early in 1986 as the Chicago Bears football team approached an NFL championship, ‘Bears Fever’ delightfully invaded Orchestra Hall. At the end of a Tchaikovsky-Liszt orchestral concert with music director Sir Georg Solti conducting, applause kept the maestro returning to center stage.

Suddenly, members of the Chicago Symphony Chorus—wearing Bears sweatshirts—streamed onstage, and Solti led the Orchestra and Chorus in a rousing rendition of the Bears’s fight song, ‘Bear Down, Chicago Bears.’ The audience joined in singing, and in the two repeats of the concert, the same thing happened with even more ‘performers’ onstage. Backstage people, Chicago Symphony Orchestra staff, and others—including Lady Valerie Solti—crowded in to sing along.

You can order CSO tickets by clicking here. And in case you want to sing along…

Bear down, Chicago Bears,
Make every play clear the way to victory!
Bear down, Chicago Bears,
Put up a fight with a might so fearlessly.
We’ll never forget the way you thrilled the nation
With your “T” formation.
Bear down, Chicago Bears,
And let ’em know why you’re wearing the crown.
You’re the pride and joy of Illinois,
Chicago Bears, bear down!

Anyway, have a great weekend and make sure to stop by Illinoize if you feel like gabbing.

- Posted by Rich Miller   Comments Off      


Question of the day

Friday, Jan 26, 2007

Caption contest!

daley_hand

[Stolen from the Tribune’s very good DC politics blog, The Swamp, not to be confused with that somewhat goofy Time Magazine blog Swampland. I hope the Swampers don’t mind that I swiped their photo.]

[Click the pic for a larger image.]

- Posted by Rich Miller   37 Comments      


Guv lawyers want Draper off case

Friday, Jan 26, 2007

Is the Blagojevich administration getting nervous about what Dawn DeFraties and Mike Casey might say at their upcoming civil service hearing? It sure looks like it.

Blagojevich administration lawyers want an attorney representing two fired state employees tossed off the case because he may be called as a witness in their upcoming civil service hearing.

The attorney, Carl Draper, called the move “a crucial interference with my clients’ right to have an attorney of their choosing.” […]

“The nature of the dispute revolves around whether or not Dawn DeFraties or Mike Casey were, in fact, directed to answer questions,” Draper said. “The testimony that will come out on that is that specific question was asked. The answer was ‘no.’ We’ll be putting on a case that they cooperated with everything that was required of them.”

No official transcript or recording was made of the meeting. Attorneys for the state said at a hearing Thursday that there is a dispute over what was said at the meeting, something that might require testimony from Draper. The answer, they said, is directly linked to the charge that DeFraties did not cooperate with the investigation.

“This issue is whether (Draper) can testify and continue to represent (DeFraties),” said Thomas Bradley, one of the attorneys representing the state.

That is just ridiculous. Draper is a direct threat to this administration, and it probably should be no surprise that the guv’s office would try every legal trick in the book to get him off the case. But even I’m surprised by how far they’re willing to go.

- Posted by Rich Miller   29 Comments      


“Madigan, Blagojevich lead with chins in angry face-off”

Friday, Jan 26, 2007

My Chicago Sun-Times column this week is about the ever-brewing feud between House Speaker Michael Madigan and Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Mike Madigan has good reasons to neither trust nor particularly like Rod Blagojevich.

For one thing, Blagojevich is not a man of his word, and Madigan is a firm believer in your word being your bond. Madigan is a professional politician and a workhorse. Blagojevich is an amateurish show horse. Fire and ice. Oil and water. Take your pick.

Still, Blagojevich, love him or hate him, is the governor and was just re-elected to a second term. Regardless of his many flaws, at the very least his office deserves respect, and Madigan lately has shown precious little of that.

It goes on to discuss the governor’s overreactions and how the ground is being laid for a “final showdown.” Read the whole thing before commenting, please. Thanks.

- Posted by Rich Miller   31 Comments      


Guv moved flight costs off-budget

Friday, Jan 26, 2007

John Patterson, my Statehouse office mate, had a good piece this week on a recent Auditor General’s report.

One of the budgetary gimmicks implemented by the Blagojevich administration is using “charge-backs” to state agencies. CMS essentially bills agencies for services they receive from the centralized bureaucracy. It’s all the same money, of course, but it allows the governor’s budget office to essentially free up cash for other programs and projects.

But when it comes to IDOT providing air service to the governor’s office itself, well, that’s another story.

That’s the backdrop to Wednesday’s state audit that found the Illinois Department of Transportation charges state officials and employees no where near enough to cover the actual cost of having, flying and maintaining state airplanes and helicopters. Who makes up the rest? Taxpayers.

State auditors found that the current rate of 41 cents per mile, which has been the rate since 1981, would need to increase to $1.85 to break even. […]

Between the 2003 and 2006 budget years, the governor’s office was billed $459,540 for use of state aircraft, easily exceeding the second biggest user – the Illinois House at $169,635.

Using Illinois Auditor General William Holland’s findings, Blagojevich’s office should have been billed more than $2 million if the transportation department wanted to cover its costs. That means taxpayers subsidized Blagojevich’s airfare to the tune of $1.6 million those years.

But, the governor’s office maintains that chargebacks in this case would be unwarranted, perhaps because that would increase the office’s operating budget.

- Posted by Rich Miller   40 Comments      


Morning Shorts

Friday, Jan 26, 2007

* [New] Treasurer rejects hotel proposal - Giannoulias won’t block foreclosure

* [New] Aviation Committee Chairman Costello, committee member Lipinski dubious of third airport

* Cook County Commissioners demand cuts in management

* Unpaid tickets for city employees

* Legislator plans bill to curtail ‘alcopop’ from teen marketing

* Guv’s surprise gift to beef up UNCF Fundraising staff

* Congressman Rush backs protégé-turned-nemesis-turned ally Haithcock

* Janitors sentenced for ‘no-work’ scheme: “Assistant U.S. District Attorney Greg Gilmore says the scheme has left a dark cloud over all state employees, the vast majority of whom he said are hardworking and dedicated.”

* Bitter race reflects Daley allies’ division

* Tribune Editorial: License to offend

* Some lawmakers expect smoking ban to pass: “While most central Illinois lawmakers say they oppose legislation to ban indoor smoking statewide, many also predicted the proposal would win legislative approval.”

* Legislators put Ameren on the hot seat

* Tribune Editorial: Alderman and second chances

* Guv signs law extending “Good Samaritan” protection

* A Very Exelon Week

* Illinois lottery bids complicate Hoosier plans

* Bill would boost pay for Illinois jurors:

A bill introduced in the House last week would increase what jurors earn for their service, now as high as $10 a day, to $52 a day, or the equivalent of eight hours of work at the state’s minimum wage. The change would make Illinois’ jurors some of the highest-paid in the nation….That solution, however, would pass the entire burden of paying the higher fees onto Illinois counties.

* Student loans sold to pay for MAP grants

* One law comes and another law goes

* About those discs

* Healthcare coverage gains political steam

* IL Dems lobby for federal airport funds

* Grade inflation in transit world

* The return of Rupert Murdoch

* Friday Beer Blogging

- Posted by Paul Richardson   6 Comments      


Teen driving reforms get big push

Thursday, Jan 25, 2007

Much ballyhoo is being made over Jesse White’s effort to tighten up teen driving laws. Illinois already has one of the more expansive restrictions on teen driving in the nation; the proposed legislation would ratchet it up even further.

Advocates for tightening teen-driving laws lauded the proposal, saying it will close gaps in Illinois law and make roads safer for everyone.

It sends a very strong message from top state officials that they’re very serious about trying to reduce the number of teen deaths,” said Judie Stone, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

The legislation was drafted by a task force convened by White in response to the Tribune’s yearlong examination of the root causes of accidents involving teen drivers.

The main provisions of the bill…

* Extending the learner’s permit phase from 3 months to 9 months.

* Doubling the time a teen driver is limited to having only one unrelated teen passenger in the car from 6 months to 12 months.

* Ticketing teenage passengers who violate the passenger restriction law.

* Bumping up nighttime driving restrictions one hour to 10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends.

* Requiring drivers under 18 who are ticketed for traffic violations to appear before a judge with their parents when seeking court supervision.

Protecting teen drivers is an easy position to support, but when do the regulations become unnecessary barriers?

“In highway safety, for the most part, there’s not really any organized lobbying efforts against the bill,” said state Sen. John Cullerton (D-Chicago), a longtime supporter of highway safety bills in Illinois and the lead sponsor of the teen driving bill. “The problem is some legislators have a perception that some of their constituents do not want to have highway safety laws passed.”

Also, some lawmakers will not welcome new driving restrictions in rural or suburban areas where mass transit isn’t an option.

Also,

Rep. Bill Black (R-Danville) said he has heard from parents in his district who are concerned about how nighttime restrictions would affect the ability of their children to get home from work or team practices. But Black said as long as the bill includes an exemption for teens driving to school activities or work—which the current version does include—those fears should be allayed.

Black also said the cost of a provision that would require schools to provide six hours of supervised driving time on the street could be a problem for some school districts.

Most teens are irked. Any merit to their concerns?

Sara Worel, 18, said that more restrictions on teen driving might not be such a bad idea since younger drivers don’t always make the best decisions. But the West Chicago Community High School student said some rules should come from parents - not legislators.

“More practice for driving wouldn’t hurt,” Worel added. “From my experience, I didn’t learn that much from drivers ed. I learned more from my parents.”

She and other teens may have an ally in state Sen. Chris Lauzen, an Aurora Republican with two teenage sons. He questions if the state isn’t overstepping its boundaries. He’s already had calls from constituents critical of the new proposals.

“At a certain point … we need to trust our children when they’re driving the family car, or we shouldn’t allow them to drive at all,” said Lauzen.

- Posted by Paul Richardson   37 Comments      


Revelations appear to back up corruption claims

Thursday, Jan 25, 2007

We don’t have both sides here yet, and I would expect that the defendants, as defendants do, are putting their best argument forward. The idea here is to make the other side look as nefarious as possible.

Still, this story is very troubling and underscores what some of us have been saying for months.

The Associated Press has posted the e-mails in question, which you can read by clicking here [pdf file].

Here is part of the Sun-Times’ take:

Two former state officials accused by Gov. Blagojevich’s administration of misconduct unleashed a barrage of documents Wednesday that they say show the governor’s office repeatedly steered state jobs to favored applicants.

In one instance, an aide to Blagojevich’s intergovernmental affairs chief demanded that personnel employees “find out what it will take” to help a Blagojevich donor pass an exam for a job for which he lacked qualifications.

And in some cases, Blagojevich appeared to take an interest in helping place people in middle- and upper-management posts, including one applicant who had received suspensions when he previously had worked for the state.

The AP:

The documents were filed with the Civil Service Commission by Dawn DeFraties and Michael Casey, who are trying to get their jobs back after Blagojevich fired them in April, claiming they manipulated hiring procedures to favor politically connected applicants.

Dawn DeFraties was personnel director at the Department of Central Management Services, the state’s hiring agency. Casey was her assistant. A hearing on the charges before an administrative law judge begins next week.

The pair claim they were blocked in their attempt to create an electronic hiring system to take subjectivity out of the process, and that the so-called “special applications'’ they’re accused of favoring emanated from Blagojevich’s office.

“They conveniently left out the governor’s office involvement in all of these charges and we’ll be getting into this,'’ said the pair’s attorney, Carl Draper.

Copley:

Draper has said DeFraties and Casey are being made scapegoats by the administration, which is under federal investigation because of its hiring practices. U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has said his office is investigating “very serious allegations of endemic hiring fraud” in state government.

Draper said members of Blagojevich’s inner circle were the ones who wanted favored treatment for politically connected job applicants.

The Tribune:

A review of more than five dozen of the e-mails disclosed Wednesday identify 37 individuals who were seeking jobs in the early years of the Blagojevich administration. A review of state hiring records shows that 15 got state jobs. All of those who got jobs were named on a previous list of those who had political sponsors or were given special treatment in the state hiring process.

The other 22, including some whose political sponsors were identified in the e-mails, were never hired, records show. […]

Also in August of 2003, Casey wrote an e-mail to Blagojevich’s patronage office, questioning a push for an applicant named Ralph Caro, who was recommended for a state job by the director of what was then the state Department of Professional Regulation. […]

But Casey responded that Caro had “no credible experience or related degree” for the positions for which he was being considered. State records showed Caro contributed $1,000 to the governor’s campaign fund, including $500 within days of the e-mail exchange. .

Connecting a campaign contribution, however small, to state hiring is bad news indeed for the governor. But, again, as the governor’s office said yesterday, we’re only seeing one side so far.

The AP also has a summary of a few e-mails.

* When told by colleagues on Oct. 12, 2004 of a job applicant who claimed he had been promised a job by the governor, DeFraties responded, “Politics are not my bag here. I have no knowledge of this individual nor do I care what he may or may not have been promised. Please proceed as you would with any individual.” […]

* When DeFraties informed Cini aide Laura Casper on May 15, 2003 that two applicants were rejected as too inexperienced, Casper responded that officials would then ask the hiring agency to declare the positions “exempt” from the rules. […]

* One allegation against the pair is that they put favored application into an online database for consideration ahead of others. But Casey wrote to a colleague on Oct. 22, 2004, asking why some applications had been marked “rush.” He was told that the employee in question had forgotten about the rule against doing that and was sorry.

- Posted by Rich Miller   63 Comments      


Question of the Day

Thursday, Jan 25, 2007

Yesterday everyone weighed in on their favorite to win the likely royal rumble between the big three. I’m curious, when will the battle finally end?

What are your predictions on the specific date for this year’s session to close?

My lease is up on August 15th , and I like to see things to the end. What are my chances?

BONUS: If JBT were in office would your answer change?

- Posted by Paul Richardson   13 Comments      


Morning Shorts

Thursday, Jan 25, 2007

* Joshua Potts’ first published article: Could Monkey Bones add color to the breed?

* Gov’s in-law allegedly tried to bite ring off fiancée’s finger

* Jackson, Stroger try to shift budget blame to Guv: “The two said Gov. Blagojevich bears some of the blame for the county crisis, for not releasing enough Medicaid funding fast enough to help the county health system.”

* Illinois Commerce Commission criticizes Ameren infrastructure

* Quinn proposes Green Government Illinois legislation

* Brown calls for new housing plan:

One-upping Mayor Daley in the quest to solve Chicago’s housing crisis, mayoral challenger Dorothy Brown on Wednesday proposed a 10 percent affordable housing set-aside on all projects — public and private.

* Auditor General reviews state air fleet program

* Sheriff and State’s Attorney explain impact of Cook County budget cuts

* Tribune Editorial: A retreat on predatory loans: “The important question is not how many people are able to buy homes in these areas, but how many are able to buy them and keep them.”

* Madison County Record: AG Madigan among nation’s worst

* Eric Zorn: Putting Illinois Cars Back in the Clean Plate Club

* The science of smoking bans

* McQueary: The latest loophole for teenage abortions:

Finally, what irks me most about the parental notification debate is the “slippery slope” crapola dished by the pro-choice community. The fact is, we are not talking about restricting access to abortion for adult women. We are talking about restricting access for girls. There’s a big, big difference.

* Audit questions the cost of state air fleet

* Will show go on for Natarus?

- Posted by Paul Richardson   41 Comments      


« NEWER POSTS PREVIOUS POSTS »
* Sunday leaders meeting notes: Madigan counts the minutes, Republicans claim "new level of stalling"
* *** UPDATED x1 *** *** LIVE *** Leaders meeting coverage
* Reader comments closed for the weekend
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* *** UPDATED x1 - Durkin responds *** Back to the future: Madigan demands "memorandums of understanding"
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* *** UPDATED x1 *** Moody's says Rauner veto is just one of many problems facing CPS
* *** UPDATED x4 - Mendoza responds - Munger calls suit "cowardly" *** Lawsuit filed over legislator pay
* The "green energy" side of the Exelon bill
* Caption contest!
* How is this "breaking our agreement"?
* Positioning, practicalities and politics weigh heavily against a House override
* Report: A decade to reach solvency, if leaders cooperate on tough plan
* *** UPDATED x2 *** Rauner goes into the lion's den
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