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Obamarama - Digging deep for opposition

Monday, Feb 26, 2007

An AP story, which is getting picked up all over the place, about Obama’s controversial endorsements of Mayor Daley and Rod Blagojevich ends this way…

Obama‘s decision to support Daley turned off voter Alan Dobry, who‘s part of a Chicago independent-voters group.

“He‘s trying to play with the machine,” Dobry said. “I‘m very unhappy about it.”

They had to dig pretty deep to find that guy. Dobry is not just a “voter,” he’s kind of an infamous former Democratic ward committeeman from Hyde Parke. He has been affiliated with IVI-IPO over the years, but he’s not on the board these days.

Chicago Politics Ward by Ward (1988) has a brief passage on Dobry, who goes back to the old days of fighting Richard J. Daley…

Many of Dobry’s ideas are not shared by his peers on the Democratic Central Committee. For example, he does not bother to maintain a ward office, out of the belief that the alderman is the people’s elected legislative representative and thus the one to whom residents should take their problems.

From what I’ve read and can remember, he sounds like your typical old school, Daley-hating Hyde Park independent liberal. This passage is from Bitter Fruit: Black politics and the Chicago machine (1992)…

Thus, when the Machine’s slatemakers came together, only one of the fifty committeemen supported [Harold Washington over Jane Byrne and Rich Daley], and that was the white committeeman of the Fifth Ward, Alan Dobry.

But Paul Green wrote an illuminating piece about Dobry for Illinois Issues back in 1991…

Their [Tim Evans vs. Toni Preckwinkle 4th Ward] runoff was considered a toss-up until the last week of the campaign. Then came the heat. An Evans worker spotted Alan Dobry, a Preckwinkle volunteer and Democratic committeeman from the neighborhing 5th Ward, posting some racist and anti-semitic pro-Evans flyers in a heavily Jewish Hyde Park neighborhood. The crudely lettered flyers accused Preckwinkle of being part of a secret Mayor Richard M. Daley political plan because her husband is white and Jewish (Preckwinkle, like Evans, is black). Preckwinkle’s husband is white but not Jewish […]

Dobry claimed he was not guilty of dirty tricks. Rather he wanted to inform Hyde Parkers about the low level of Evans’ campaign.

He certainly had an interesting way of “informing voters.”

Even Rod Blagojevich doesn’t call himself a reformer any longer, having jumped neck-deep into patronage hiring and cronyism. But Dobry, who slams Obama for backing the current Mayor Daley, supported Gov. Blagojevich in the last go-around [also from an AP story]…

Blagojevich’s effort to energize the troops will pay off on election day, predicted compaign volunteer Alan Dobry of Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. “They’ll stand out in the cold for an extra hour or so because they talked to the governor,” he said.

Like the man says, nobody’s got totally clean hands in that town. You touch it, you get dirty.

This is an Obama open thread.

- Posted by Rich Miller   28 Comments      

Question of the day

Monday, Feb 26, 2007

First, the setup, which is a recent Tribune editorial

Medical marijuana has had a lot of successes. Eleven states have legalized the therapeutic use of cannabis for people whose doctors think they can benefit from it. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the right of physicians to recommend pot to their patients. A 1999 report by the federal government’s Institute of Medicine (IOM) concluded, “Scientific data indicate the potential therapeutic value of cannabinoid drugs, primarily THC, for pain relief, control of nausea and vomiting, and appetite stimulation.”

But elsewhere, medical marijuana has stalled. Most states still don’t allow it, and even in those that do, federal laws still ban the possession of cannabis. That means sick people who need marijuana for symptoms that don’t respond to approved drugs must either do without or risk going to jail. Despite the IOM’s call for more research, studies have been few and far between. As a result, the therapeutic value of cannabis remains largely unknown and untapped.

Recently, there were a couple of advances that may help to erode the federal government’s stubborn resistance. The first was a study in the journal Neurology that found smoking pot can relieve pain–including a condition found in AIDS victims that is often impervious to other pain drugs, even powerful opiates. Said Donald Abrams, a physician and professor at the University of California, San Francisco, “There is a measurable medical benefit to smoking cannabis for these patients.”

But such research is hard to come by. That’s because the federal government is the only legal source of marijuana for clinical studies, and its monopoly presents some serious problems.

Now, the question: Should medical marijuana be allowed in Illinois? If “yes,” should research here be encouraged or even subsidized? Why or why not?

- Posted by Rich Miller   38 Comments      

Rate shock roundup

Monday, Feb 26, 2007

Because the House has called a rare Committee of the Whole meeting for Tuesday, I asked my intern Paul to put this together. It’ll give you some idea what’s going on out there…

* House leaders announce rare Committee of the Whole meeting

The leadership said legislators are prepared to hear testimony from all interested parties for as long as is necessary. Members of the public, business owners and representatives of social service agencies that have been affected by higher electric rates are encouraged to attend and share their views with lawmakers.

* Democrats call for freeze while announcing Tuesday’s meeting

The proposal House Democrats unveiled at a state Capitol news conference on Friday would roll back electric rates to their 2006 levels and revive the rate freeze for at least three years. It also would require utility companies to give refunds, plus interest, to consumers for the extra money they have been paying with the higher electricity rates.

* Where does the Senate fit in

But the House proposal could be stymied by the Senate, which did not act on a different House-backed freeze extension in January.
Senate President Emil Jones (D-Chicago) has denounced a potential freeze. The Senate last month approved a phase-in plan that would spread the rate increases out over several years, but the plan was never called for a vote in the House.

* Utility company voices concern

ComEd issued a statement Friday reiterating previously stated concerns about proposed rate rollbacks or freezes, saying such action “could cause ComEd to lose $1.4 billion annually — or $4 million per day — and put the company on the path to bankruptcy.”

* Phil Kadner: skeptical of results

If Scully, who is a legislator in Halvorson’s district, can’t convince her that a rate freeze is needed, I don’t see how he can expect to convince anyone else in the Senate.

And even if the House votes to freeze rates, as it did last fall, it will have no meaning if the bill can’t make it to the Senate floor.

This entire situation is the result of a corrupt regulatory process in Illinois.
The utility companies have far too much political influence in Springfield.
Consumers don’t stand a chance.

* Lawmakers still posturing

Some don’t seem eager to take up the cause, saying a drop in rates would mean poor service from Ameren and ComEd.

“They were darn near closing down,” said state Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline. “There’s a lot of political posturing going on.”

* Huge bill increases prompting the concern

But some downstate customers, especially those who don’t use natural gas to heat their homes, have seen much larger spikes. Lawmakers say they’ve heard from people whose January bills doubled or tripled because of the rate increases.

* Many hit particularly hard with increases

One young man’s bill increased from $190 in January to $365 in February, an increase of $174 or 92 percent, the Mayor reported. “If he delayed to pay for three years, it would add [an additional] $140 on to what is billed in three years.”

Numbers given in testimony Monday night also included February (and January) totals for comparison: Pauline Rieber - $111.40 ($63.46); Dorothy Pigg - $ 95 ($56); Joyce Marquis - $250 ($137); Steve Free $307.23 ($209); Debbie Walton $301.26 ($150); and Karen Littleton - $365.41 ($192.45.)

* Small businesses feeling particular pain

John Jarvis owns The Little Store, a small doughnut shop in Troy, Ill., that employs him and his wife. It’s an all-electric building, and his electricity bill rose to $987 in January from $406 in December. “We can’t pay it. Business has been slow because of the winter weather. We’re going to have to put the business up for sale,” Jarvis said.

- Posted by Rich Miller   54 Comments      

Winner or a loser?

Monday, Feb 26, 2007

My syndicated newspaper column takes a look at how the lobbying is shaping up against the governor’s still rumored but most likely a reality “gross receipts tax.” Business ain’t happy.

You probably can imagine the size, intensity and ferocity of the lobbying effort if the state’s largest corporations and its most powerful law firms and medical practices teamed up to fight this tax. A trial lawyer who earned hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees by winning a case would have to pay gross receipts taxes on all of that, even if the lawyer spent a fortune to move the case along over several years. Medical practices that invested a significant portion of their profits in new equipment or technology would receive no deductions. Giant corporations, which can move headquarters and plants at the drop of a hat, would see their tax bills rise in a big way.

Combine that with large businesses that traditionally operate at extremely low profit margins or whose razor-thin margins are tied to unpredictable commodity prices (like supermarkets, airlines and farmers), add in giant publishing companies with ever-growing fixed costs and declining ad sales (like the Tribune Co.), toss in companies that regularly invest large amounts of their annual revenues into infrastructure and technology (like utilities and hospitals), and that’s pretty much everybody with a lobbyist in Springfield.

Small businesses might be exempted from the tax, according to a State Journal-Register columnist, who reported about a poll several weeks ago that asked people about the gross receipts tax. The columnist claimed the poll mentioned that the tax might exempt the first million dollars of corporate revenue.

Exempting the smallest of businesses probably won’t lessen the Statehouse lobbying effort because the groups that work on their behalf in Springfield also have plenty of big business members. The Retail Merchants Association represents the mom and pop stores on Main Street as well as the big chains like Wal-Mart. The Press Association advocates for tiny newspapers in small towns all over Illinois along with the Tribune. The same goes for the Illinois State Chamber of Commerce, the Illinois Pharmacists Association and pretty much every other business group you can name.

There’s more about the push, including some of the governor’s tactics. Read the whole thing and discuss.

* On the other hand, Chicagoist thinks the gross receipts tax idea looks more likely than anything else…

Blagojevich quietly moved his combined State of the State and budget proposal address to March 7. And yesterday the Illinois Board of Education released it’s Fiscal Year 2008 budget (you can read the PDF here), and is asking for an additional $800 million over this year’s budget. You can bet that they wouldn’t be asking for that kind of increase without getting the blessing from the governor’s office first.

G-Rod must feel pretty confident that he will get his new tax plan this session, and be able to beat back the aforementioned power-brokers, without appearing to raise taxes on “regular people” and finding even more money for school children.

We don’t think that selling the lottery is going to happen; that idea will be dead in the water before it even hits the Statehouse. And we’re pretty sure Blago knows this. With so many power hitters lined up for reform, and the monetary pressure building, it may be easier to try to stick the tax bill to businesses than to institute real tax equity in Illinois. At least for now.


- Posted by Rich Miller   37 Comments      

Wanted: Self-funder

Monday, Feb 26, 2007

Eric Krol writes about some unfamiliar but well-heeled names being bandied about for US Senate against Dick Durbin.

A respected Chicago Board of Trade executive from Winnetka and a Long Grove businessman whose family owns the Ben Franklin variety store franchise are among those talking to Illinois Republican leaders about running against Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin next year.

Both Kevin J.P. O’Hara, the chief administrative officer at the Chicago futures exchange, and Steve Greenberg, the wholesale executive, would seem to have the ability to write a check to cover some or all of the costs of a campaign.

State GOP leaders consider that important in finding an opponent for Durbin, given the political dynamics in play. Whoever runs against Durbin already is getting a late start, a situation made worse by a Democratic plan to move up Illinois’ 2008 primary to Feb. 5 - six weeks earlier than normal.

The practical effect on the political machinery is that candidates could need to file for office as early as mid-October. That means campaign season could start July 4 instead of the traditional Labor Day kickoff. And given federal campaign fundraising limits, candidates already should have started the money sweepstakes.

To that end, Illinois Republican Party Chairman Andy McKenna Jr. said he’s talked to individuals who could self-fund about challenging Durbin, who’s No. 2 in Senate Democratic leadership.

The others, including Oberweis, Brady, etc. are also included. But what do you think about this unknown self-funder idea?

- Posted by Rich Miller   25 Comments      

Morning Shorts

Monday, Feb 26, 2007

* Ethics bill passes House committee

* Lawmakers want hand washing requirement

* Editorial: Washing their hands of the school scrub bill; others agree:

The most eloquent response to this well-meaning but over-reaching idea came from Rep. Joe Dunn (R-Naperville): “Every good idea doesn’t have to be a law.”

* Editorial: Crosstown back from the dead, but long haul yet ahead; one town in the crosshairs

* Bill would provide additional consent options for girls under 18: When a minor girl doesn’t talk to a parent before seeking an abortion, Fritchey said, “there’s often a very, very good reason for that.”

* High prices of college textbooks drawing concern

* Tuition heading up again say university presidents:

On Friday, the presidents said tuition for incoming freshmen at ISU, the U of I and Eastern Illinois University next fall will likely rise between 9 percent and 11 percent.

* Large crowd discusses Route 336 plan from Peoria to Macomb

* Statehouse Insider: Electric/Cable rates, Ethics, Chairs

* Regional electric cooperative legislation sails through committee

* Editorial: Don’t sell the lottery

* Obama tries to bolster legislative portfolio by introducing Iraq medical care bill

* Senate looks at Emryonic stem cell research:

But last year’s elections brought new stem cell supporters to the Senate, and some past opponents have changed their position.
“The politicians have finally caught up with the thinking of the people they work for,” Schoenberg said.

* Editorial: Stroger won battle, now wage war on patronage

* Late concern over Cook Co. budget; more fallout

* Controversial hate-crime panel hasn’t met for a year

* Circling the wagons against the gross receipts tax

* Huge gains in Chicago children’s ISAT scores

* Gianoulias encourages state workers to use debt ridden hotel and conference center:

“We’re encouraging state employees to stay at the hotel,” Giannoulias spokesman Scott Burnham said. “That will increase the hotel’s value and make the property more attractive to prospective buyers at auction.”

* Various legislative proposals on teen driving

* Editorial: Reinvent the Regional Transportation Authority

* Kristen McQueary: In defense of smokers

Surely there are exceptions, but limiting cigarette exposure is within my control. More disturbing are pollutants beyond my control, like mercury emissions, sewage discharges and incinerator waste.

* Editorial: Meeks education funding bill offers best hope; educators aren’t planning on it

* Civil justice bills could be focus of tort-reform push

* Rutherford wants 1 charity plate, says law already exists

* Governor has impressive backlog of clemency requests

* Editorial: Supports cell phone ban while driving

- Posted by Paul Richardson   10 Comments      

Local Elections Roundup

Monday, Feb 26, 2007

* Court bars 2 felons from ballot, but 2 remain; candidate speaks out against the ruling

* Election Board expresses concern over lost mailings [press release]

* Updates from around the city: Brown, Stone, Fioretti, and Daley

* Challenger renew complaints of TIF system abuse:

Mayor Daley says they help him redevelop downtown and the neighborhoods. It’s his only redevelopment tool, he repeats when confronted with criticism of TIFs.

* Local elections not stirring up interest with college students

* Sunday a day of rest for no one but Daley

* Central Illinois mayoral races highlight primaries

* Response to anti-Dolar mailer

* Coleman admits to being outnumbered by union volunteers in 16th ward

* Three’s a primary for Springfield mayoral race

* Mayoral race in Carbondale draws widespread attention

But some say there may be an underlying dynamic to the outside attention the contest is getting: that Democrats want to establish a downstate dynasty around Simon’s respected name, possibly setting her up for a future run for higher office; and that Republicans want to stop that dynasty before it starts

- Posted by Paul Richardson   2 Comments      


Friday, Feb 23, 2007

I was looking forward to heading to Chicago on Sunday to spend a few days checking out the local elections there, but that’s now a no-go. The House has called a meeting of the Committee of the Whole for Tuesday afternoon to discuss electric rates. Bummer for me.

Anyway, have a great weekend and if you haven’t collectively burned yourselves out from posting hundreds of comments this week, head on over to Illinoize, where the party never ends.

- Posted by Rich Miller   Comments Off      

Obamarama - Memo to pundits *** Updated x2 ***

Friday, Feb 23, 2007

[Updated and bumped to the top.]

The coverage and analysis in the national media of how Obama’s support is supposedly shaping up in the black community has irked me for weeks. So, I decided to literally send the pundits a memo via my Sun-Times column

Memo to all national political journalists, columnists, pundits, etc.: Please, get a clue.

Perhaps because I live in and cover the politics of a state which has elected two African-American U.S. senators, a black mayor of our largest city and a black secretary of state who four years ago carried all 102 counties, I find your coverage of the ‘’race issue'’ in the presidential contest to be utterly devoid of insight and context. I’ll try to fill you in.

First, just because a prominent African-American leader endorses Hillary Clinton, that doesn’t mean Barack Obama’s campaign has suffered a mortal wound. It may seem unusual to you that some black leaders aren’t supporting a black candidate, but, take it from me, this happens all the time. […]

Next, you “experts” assume that just because viable, credible black candidates end up winning overwhelming majorities of black votes that polls currently showing Hillary Clinton leading Obama among African Americans are somehow important.

Wrong again.

Go read the whole thing for plenty of examples, context and more analysis, then come back here and discuss.

*** UPDATE *** Not all the national coverage is mindless. The Wall Street Journal has a pretty good article on Obama’s time at the Statehouse.

…a lawmaker of lofty, liberal rhetoric who nonetheless pragmatically accepted bipartisan compromises that won over foes — and sometimes left supporters dissatisfied. […]

As for sharp elbows, the scraps for which Mr. Obama is remembered — including near-fisticuffs once on the Senate floor — were with fellow black Democrats, some of whom were resentful of his ambitions and his successes. […]

When the legislature revisited the ethics issue in 2003, Mr. Jones was among those who resisted changes Mr. Obama promoted. “He wouldn’t buck Emil Jones,” Ms. Canary said. The Senate and House agreed to a weaker bill.

The credit that went to Mr. Obama for the racial-profiling and videotaping measures stoked tensions among black colleagues who had sponsored similar proposals only to see Mr. Jones promote his protégé’s efforts. One was state Sen. Rickey “Hollywood” Hendon, an outspoken Democrat, who once had to be separated from Mr. Obama in the Senate after confronting him for reasons that witnesses don’t recall and Mr. Hendon won’t discuss.

*** UPDATE 2 *** By the way, I was there during that fight with Hendon. I thought this incident looked familiar, but I couldn’t remember the details. It all came back to me when a former PAR intern sent me an e-mail this afternoon reminding me that he was there in the press box with me.

As he remembers it (and I’m pretty sure he’s right), Obama had voted against one of Hendon’s amendments for the South Side. Then Obama spoke in favor of a different amendment for the region. Hendon rose to complain during debate.

Afterwards, the two talked, and Obama wagged his finger in Hendon’s face. Well, Hendon didn’t like that much so he swatted Obama’s hand away. There was a throwdown and then they were separated.

- Posted by Rich Miller   24 Comments      

Question of the day

Friday, Feb 23, 2007

We’ve had a similar discussion here before, but we might as well do it again.

First, the setup

(S)upporters of a proposed statewide indoor smoking ban say that aside from the health benefits of clearing second-hand smoke from the air, it can quell competition issues among smoking and smoke-free establishments.

The plan took its first step toward becoming law Wednesday when a legislative committee approved it by an 8-0 vote.

But, Wednesday’s committee vote doesn’t guarantee success when the full House or Senate debates the idea.

In the committee, for example, state Rep. Mike Boland voted ‘’yes.'’ But, he said he may not support the measure when it reaches the full House. […]

Among the coalition of health groups lined up to support the measure was Barb Nation, a Springfield resident who says second-hand smoke gave her a tumor. A part of her lung was removed.

As I noted below, just because a bill passes a committee doesn’t mean it will pass (the often-goofy Boland is a perfect example here).

With that in mind, here’s the question: Would you prefer a statewide smoking ban to allowing individual localities to impose their own bans?

- Posted by Rich Miller   37 Comments      

“Teen driver on board”

Friday, Feb 23, 2007

Just how tough do we really want to get on teenagers? One legislator wants them to display the equivalent of a scarlet letter on their cars when driving.

Getting a driver’s permit or a license is big news for a teenager - and one Peoria lawmaker wants to make sure everyone hears about it.

Under legislation introduced by Republican state Rep. David Leitch, R-Peoria, any Illinois driver younger than 18 who has a learner’s permit or graduated driver’s license would have to attach a sign to their vehicle indicating that they’re a new driver.

The sign would have to be up every time a minor takes the wheel until he or she gets an unrestricted license at age 18.

The proposal, approved by a House committee Thursday, originated with one of Leitch’s constituents, Metamora resident Amy DeFreitas.

According to the article, some other countries have similar laws.

And for those of you unfamiliar with Statehouse ways, just because a bill passes a House committee doesn’t mean it will pass the full House. It’s pretty easy to get a bill out of committee in that chamber. But reporters have to do something with their time, so we get lots of stories (and blog posts) this time of year about unusual legislation like this one.

Anyway, have at it.

- Posted by Rich Miller   27 Comments      

Phones vs. cable

Friday, Feb 23, 2007

A battle of the titans is looming at the Statehouse, with AT&T (through its front group which advertises here) and the big cable companies squaring off.

A bipartisan group of state lawmakers on Thursday touted a proposal they say would save money for Illinois’ cable television subscribers.

But opponents of House Bill 1500 do not believe those claims. Gary Mack, a spokesman for the Cable Television and Communications Association, called the plan “a Trojan horse” and “absolutely terrible legislation.”

The debate figures to shape up as a showdown between traditional telecommunications businesses, specifically AT&T, and cable TV companies. Because of technology advances in recent years, the two industries overlap in some areas, such as high-speed Internet service. […]

At a state Capitol news conference, Brosnahan said that cable rates have increased by 93 percent nationwide in the past 10 years. In Illinois, he added, they rise by about 7 percent a year. […]

Mack rejected that assertion, saying: “We already have competition. They are able to get into any market that they choose.”

I haven’t written much about this yet, but I plan to soon. Also, there’s more to the story than the above article reports, and I’ll try to post some stuff in the subscriber-only section.

I’m not sure what sort of debate we’ll have on this, but I suppose you could talk about your cable bills and the benefits of competition. Remember, though, it’s not as simple as it looks. If it was, AT&T wouldn’t be ready to spend a fortune to pass it.

- Posted by Rich Miller   16 Comments      

Morning Shorts

Friday, Feb 23, 2007

* Questionable deals in Steele’s 16-week tenure

* No board vote means Chief is still U. of I. symbol: says trustee

* Neil Steinberg: U of I made mess with Chief Illiiniwek

* Stroger wins $3 billion budget battle: it appeared Stroger had locked up 10 of the 17 votes necessary, including winning the support of Republicans Peter Silvestri, Gregg Goslin and Liz Gorman, along with surprise support from Mike Quigley.

* Budget debate goes well into the night

* Illinois’ campaign finance laws are nation’s worst says national advocacy group

“Illinois is one of the only places in America where literally anyone can walk in the door and spend whatever they want to influence the outcome of an election. The system is almost an open invitation to corruption,” said Suzanne Novak, lead author of the report.

* Forum to discuss possible gender bias at state agencies

* Steve Huntley: Some rules we ignore

* Campaign worker calls Gorecki voice mails a “shock”

* Audit report call for overhaul of Chicago Regional Transportation Authority

But as the General Assembly prepares to address what the RTA and the three transit agencies portray strictly as a funding crisis, the audit said more money alone would not remedy many core problems.

* Editorial: Make sure Fitzgerald keeps his job

* Eric Krol: Blagojevich getting ready to sock it to business with budget

* Bill introduced to ban horse slaughter

* Friday Beer Blogging

- Posted by Paul Richardson   7 Comments      

* One more day
* Reader comments closed for the weekend
* Sign of the times?
* Question of the day
* Exelon Just Received A $1.7 Billion Rate Increase Through The Market-Based Capacity Auction
* Today's number: 60
* No imminent power shut-offs
* Chamber all-in on impasse
* COGFA: State receipts down almost a billion dollars in first quarter
* Two racetracks will likely close
* "How many babies have to die?"
* Report: "A billion-dollar giveaway rife with failure"
* Frerichs warns of impasse consequences
* Quinn touring the state
* Yesterday's blog posts

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