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The Illinois Huckaboom

Wednesday, Dec 19, 2007

* A friend of mine and I were talking last night about Mike Huckabee’s surge in Illinois. The Tribune poll showed him essentially tied with Rudy Giuliani here, but the former Arkansas governor has no real presence here. No staff, no advertising, no media coverage. Nothing. The only explanation we could come up with is that some voters are paying very close attention to the Iowa contest and are basing their decisions on that. Imagine.

* Meanwhile, some very far right fringe candidates have so far been running Mike Huckabee’s campaign in Illinois, such as it is…

[Jonathan Wright] was an assistant prosecutor in the Logan County state’s attorney’s office when he was appointed to fill an unexpired term in the Illinois House in 2001.

During his short stint in the House, he backed legislation that would have allowed student-led prayer in public schools. Wright did not seek re-election in 2002 but re-emerged on the political scene during the 2004 election when he made a long-shot bid for the U.S. Senate, running to the right of just about everybody on the ballot. […]

Also on board the Huckabee bandwagon is David McAloon of Bourbannais, who is running for a seat in the Illinois House against incumbent state Rep. Careen Gordon, D-Morris. McAloon is listed as chairman of the Slot/Values in Religion to Unite Everyone political action committee, which has funneled money to social conservative candidates over the years.

McAloon lost the GOP primary in that district last year. Wright’s Senate bid was pretty pathetic.

* Joe Wiegand, who ran Jim Oberweis’ 2006 gubernatorial primary campaign, told me today via e-mail that Huckabee is “days away from announcing Illinois Co-chairs.” We’ll see if they move up to a more A-List crowd, but almost all of those people are already on board with other candidates.

- Posted by Rich Miller   60 Comments      


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Wednesday, Dec 19, 2007

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Question of the day - One more Golden Horseshoe *** Updated x1 ***

Wednesday, Dec 19, 2007

There was one category I inadvertently neglected in our annual awards, so I’m reopening the contest today. [Now there are two categories for your commenting enjoyment]

* Best legislative secretary

* Best district office administrator

As always, please explain your answers as much as possible.

*** UPDATE *** Notice that I’ve changed this to two categories. These are distinctly different jobs, so let’s give two awards instead of one.

- Posted by Rich Miller   52 Comments      


Overblown

Wednesday, Dec 19, 2007

* I’m still with the governor on this one

Gov. Rod Blagojevich said Tuesday it’s “ridiculous” to suggest he might owe taxes for personal use of state aircraft.

* And I’m still with him even though the AP has found some instances that suggest this might possibly be an issue…

When Jane Hull became Arizona’s governor in 1997, she promised not to use aircraft for personal use. Her predecessor, Fife Symington, who resigned after he was convicted of bank fraud, had been criticized for personal use of airplanes.

But news reports in 2001 detailed more than 100 personal trips on state planes to weekend retreats and questioned whether Hull owed taxes. She later announced she would have accountants review the trips for tax liability, but no resolution ever was made public before she left office in 2003.

Former Virginia Gov. Douglas Wilder resolved a tax issue with the IRS for personal helicopter flights he took in 1990. And then-Lt. Gov. Jane Swift of Massachusetts was criticized for a state-financed helicopter trip home to avoid Thanksgiving 1999 traffic.

We have a state of Illinois building in Chicago. The governor has an office there. Many agency directors are stationed there. Blagojevich has decided that this is his base office. And the Illinois Department of Revenue backs him up, despite what some tax “experts” tell the AP…

Tax experts told the AP the IRS likely would consider Blagojevich’s principal place of business to be Springfield, the seat of state government. That means anytime he flies to his hometown Chicago with no job-related event planned, it’s a personal flight and he either must reimburse the state or pay taxes on the value as income.

A hostile IRS could probably do whatever it wants, but that doesn’t make it right.

* From the Belleville News-Democrat

We were entertained by the response from his spokeswoman, Abby Ottenhoff, who said the AP had it backward: “We define the principal place of business as Chicago and all the flights are billed accordingly.”

So Blagojevich believes when voters hired him, they wanted his workplace to be in Chicago instead of in the centrally located city with the rent-free mansion where all the other state leaders work? Who’s got it backward?

Perhaps they didn’t notice, but this was an issue during the governor’s reelection campaign last year and for most of his first four years in office. Blagojevich won reelection, despite all the criticism. So, the voters decided that it wasn’t a big deal.

If the governor uses state planes for purely personal reasons, he should obviously reimburse the state or pay taxes on the benefit. But even that Blackhawks jaunt was not purely personal. He was invited in his capacity as governor to help promote the team. Politicians do that all that time. He should probably still reimburse the state for the flight, just for appearance’s sake, but I can’t see how even that egregious example would be considered outside the realm of a governor’s normal duties as head of state.

- Posted by Rich Miller   112 Comments      


Hype or hope?

Wednesday, Dec 19, 2007

* Yesterday’s announcement that the lucrative FutureGen project would be sited in Illinois created a lot of hype. But the Bush administration’s Energy Department wasn’t at the press conference. The US government’s share of the project’s cost is huge, and DOE officials have been grumbling about the rising costs of the project for a couple of weeks (a bit before Illinois started to get private signals that it was ahead in the bidding war with Texas) so that should have sent up a lot more red flags than it did…

The Energy Department’s absence speaks volumes considering the government (a.k.a. taxpayers) is slated to foot most of the bill: 74 percent compared to the industry’s 26 percent. A November report includes a section about what would happen if the feds didn’t share the burden… “in the absence of DOE participation, it is unlikely the FutureGen Project would be implemented.” The report later adds, “The No-Action Alternative is considered a ‘No-Build’ Alternative.” [Emphasis added]

I’m sure it’s just a coinkydink that the Bush people are upset that their guy’s home state of Texas lost out in the bidding to Illinois, of all places. And pardon me if I’m not buying the “rising cost” argument against this proposal. This administration has few rivals in the spendthrift department.

* Still, the SJ-R had some wise words of caution in this matter…

We love the idea of the FutureGen project. It’s a great technology and this project will be a boon to east-central Illinois in many ways. If successful, it could be an environmental boon worldwide.

But we don’t like what we saw Tuesday, when - it appears - FutureGen tried to use emotions in Mattoon as leverage to get its way with the government. The alliance appears to be banking on the Department of Energy not wanting to play the bad guy and break the hearts of those who celebrated on Tuesday.

We hope that strategy doesn’t backfire, leading officials in Washington to dig in against FutureGen. In the short term, it has left a cloud of doubt and confusion over those who celebrated Tuesday morning.

Few people have ever won a political fight with the Bush administration.

* More stories, compiled by Paul…

* Matoon chosen as FutureGen site

* Illinois lands FutureGen power plant

* Illinois gets FutureGen plant in Tuesday morning announcement

* Illinois lands coal plant, but White House warns of rising costs

* FutureGen picks Mattoon, but much work remains

* Matoon picked for FutureGen project, decades after Texas beat IL in other multi-billion dollar science project

* SIU will see effects of FutureGen project

- Posted by Rich Miller   19 Comments      


Political resolutions

Wednesday, Dec 19, 2007

SouthtownStar columnist Allison Hantschel listed her “political resolutions for an election year” today…

1. Refuse to forward political joke e-mails.
2. Not say a single thing about a candidate I can’t back up with at least one fact.
3. Avoid entirely any mention of various candidates’ sex lives.
4. Turn off the television and put down the magazine at the exact moment the conversation about the candidates’ wardrobes begin.
5. Murder the “electable” criterion in its cradle.

Go read the whole thing and come back here to discuss your own additions, subtractions, etc.

- Posted by Rich Miller   6 Comments      


Another flip-flop by Schock

Wednesday, Dec 19, 2007

* Peoria Journal-Star columnist Phil Luciano’s piece today is about a somewhat suspect change of heart by congressional candidate Aaron Schock…

The latest pol to stagger me is Aaron Schock. The Peoria wunderkid is skyrocketing to notoriety, but his recent loop-dee-loops make me dizzy.

First came Schock’s innovative approach to world peace: sell nuclear missiles to Taiwan, which somehow would not prompt China to go ballistic but instead embrace American policies. Hmm. That’s like trying to win over the neighborhood bully by calling him a yellow-bellied wussy. Good luck.

Then came news of Schock’s refusal to show up at debates if opponents videotape him. He says he’s worried they might use footage to kick him in TV ads. Um, yeah, duh - that’s politics. Worse, by dodging cameras, he comes off like a whiny Britney Spears scurrying from paparazzi - hardly the image of a get-tough Republican.

But his oddest move is his yes-I-do/no-I-don’t support for Rudy Giuliani, as revealed in the Word on the Street column Monday.

Schock endorsed Giuliani last spring and planned to run as a delegate. He was even on Giuliani’s “leadership team,” which meant he was supposed to have some influence over events in Peoria and the Rock Island area.

But when Schock decided to run for congress he didn’t just drop out of the Giuliani leadership team, he also withdrew his endorsement. Schock’s campaign manager explains…

“When you’re in a primary of your own, you’re not going to endorse other candidates.”

Not really. Lower-tier candidates often love to hitch their stars to presidential contenders.

LaHood announced he wouldn’t run again in July. Schock had been preparing to run for that seat for longer than he will likely admit. He was up and running almost immediately, and on August 24th, he was announced as the regional chair for Peoria and Rock Island.

Schock’s decision to abandon Giuliani was news to House GOP Leader Tom Cross, who supports Schock in the race and is heading Giuliani’s campaign effort in Illinois.

“We thought he was on board,” said Cross spokesman David Dring.

Oops.

Luciano’s closing argument…

It seems like more political tap-dancing. Plus, it begs the question: Can an effective leader change his mind so much?

Discuss.

- Posted by Rich Miller   26 Comments      


Morning shorts

Wednesday, Dec 19, 2007

* Illinois Issues picks SJ-R Heupel to be executive editor

* Press Release: Trial lawyers’ reaction to ‘judicial hellhole’ report

* Sun-Times Editorial: Field of schemes

Sam Zell needs to stop looking for sweet deals from taxpayers. The Tribune might have allowed him to gobble up its company with very little money down, but we aren’t so charmed by billionaires. Instead, he and his new company need to court the growing list of private buyers for their crumbling stadium. Remember whom we are talking about here. Samuel Zell is No. 52 on the Forbes rich list with a net worth of $6 billion. The Tribune is the third largest newspaper company in the country. Turn down the violins, please.

* Halvorson to Blago, ‘Get moving on the airport

Halvorson (D-Crete) said Tuesday she’s giving the Illinois Department of Transportation until March 1 to submit its airport layout plan to the Federal Aviation Administration. If IDOT doesn’t meet the deadline, Halvorson threatened to start publicly airing her grievances with Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his administration.

“After March 1, I’m not going to be quiet,” said Halvorson, a candidate for the 11th Congressional District seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Jerry Weller. “I have been very cooperative so far.”

* Fermilab fiscal ‘disaster’ feared

Fermilab may have to shut down for a month or more and stop research on a pivotal new physics project if federal budget cuts passed by the House this week become law, according to the Batavia lab’s director, who said the fiscal woes amount to the biggest crisis in the facility’s 40-year history.

The physics lab’s overall budget would drop by $62 million under the new House-Senate compromise on the 2008 budget, said Fermilab director Pier Oddone. The lab had been planning for an operating budget of $372 million.

* Daley calls son’s city deal a ‘lapse in judgment’; video here

At that point, the always-emotional mayor choked back tears as he struggled to continue. “I hope those people understand that Patrick is a very good son,” Daley said. “I love him. And Maggie and I are very proud of him. I hope you will respect that I will have nothing more to say on this.”

With that, Daley changed the subject to the CTA’s financial crisis. Asked a few minutes later if he knew whether his son or nephew were involved in any other city contracts, the mayor said, “I don’t know.”

His press secretary, Jacquelyn Heard, said later that calls to contract officials in various city departments yielded no evidence that the mayor’s son, who is now in the Army, and nephew are involved in any other city business.

* Mayor says son erred in investment judgment

* Carol Marin: Taxpayers need Daley’s answers

* Monitor rips city hiring

The report by Noelle Brennan, who has monitored city hiring since August 2005, alleged that several high-ranking aides to Daley skirted hiring rules to give jobs to favored candidates. In other instances, preferred job-seekers were put on the payrolls of outside contractors to get around restrictions at City Hall, Brennan said.

Many city employees who violated hiring rules have not been punished, the report said. Brennan also alleged that city lawyers repeatedly provided false or misleading information about hiring problems, hampering her investigation.

* Talcum powder sent to Daley, aldermen in letters; more here and here

* Dozens of city grade schools could close

As many of them below capacity are clustered in a few neighborhoods, the district’s overall elementary enrollment has fallen by 41,000 over the last seven years.

Dispensa said that trend is seen elsewhere nationwide, as younger families have fewer children. The children of many Baby Boomers, meanwhile, have moved on to high school, where enrollment remains strong for now.

* Tribune Editorial: The 17% charade in Cook Co. budgets

Some officials may again try to exploit the 17 percent charade Wednesday, when they’re scheduled to discuss possible cuts of 10 percent for 2008. Expect to hear them whine about those 2007 cuts — followed by their blustery resistance to doing what mere taxpayers have to do whenever their income falls short of the amount of money they need: reduce spending.

The true story of the 17 percent started to unfold last week. The county’s budget director distributed a report on actual budget cuts for 2007. The report startled several board members who dutifully had cut 17 percent from their own office expenditures — and assumed everyone else in county government had done the same.

Not so.

* Officials set to oppose county cuts

Most of Cook County’s top officials are expected to testify Wednesday that they cannot sustain a 10 percent cut in their 2008 budgets.

Commissioner John Daley (D-Chicago), chairman of the Finance Committee, said he has received letters from most countywide elected officials and department heads, nearly all of them saying their operations could not withstand another round of spending reductions.

- Posted by Paul Richardson   21 Comments      


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Wednesday, Dec 19, 2007

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Tuesday, Dec 18, 2007

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Question of the day

Tuesday, Dec 18, 2007

* First, the setup

…Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s own lieutenant governor is demanding that voters be consulted [before gaming is expanded] in a statewide referendum.

“I think this is a perfect example of where the voters are needed to weigh in on their opinion,” Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn said Monday.

He said he sent his boss an open letter reminding him that as running mates in 2002 and 2006 they both promised “to vote to oppose any large-scale expansion of gambling.”

But, the governor has now endorsed a plan for seven new Chicago area casinos that would more than triple the amount of casino gambling in the area.

“Before we go jumping into the casino approach to government, we better ask the voters if they think that’s a good bet,” Quinn said.

* Now, the question: Should Illinois hold a statewide referendum before expanding gaming here? Explain fully.

- Posted by Rich Miller   66 Comments      


Guv’s lawsuit delayed until February

Tuesday, Dec 18, 2007

* The governor’s lawsuit against Speaker Madigan won’t move forward until February

It will be at least February before an initial ruling is made in a lawsuit filed by Gov. Rod Blagojevich against House Speaker Michael Madigan over the governor’s power to set the date and time of special sessions. Sangamon County Circuit Judge Leo Zappa Monday set a new schedule for the case. Under that timetable, the next hearing won’t be held until Feb. 1, when attorneys will argue over Madigan’s motion to dismiss the suit.

Even when a ruling is made, it won’t conclude the case, Zappa acknowledged. […]

Madigan’s lawyers responded with a 58-page motion outlining why the lawsuit should be dismissed. They said Blagojevich had misused his authority, calling special sessions at inconvenient times “for the apparent purpose of doing nothing more than punishing lawmakers who refused to pass his preferred legislation.” […]

Zappa told Blagojevich’s lawyers to file a written response to Madigan’s motion. He said he will consider that and Madigan’s response during the Feb 1 hearing.

In other words, the judge essentially dismissed the governor’s motion to dismiss Madigan’s motion to dismiss. Got all that?

* In other session news…

* Hynes: Legislature just got what it wished for… “In essence the General Assembly has given the governor a blank check for health care spending.”

* State tempted again by casino cash

* Editorial: Time to match federal funding running out

* Officials watching gaming expansion and smoking ban

Discuss.

- Posted by Rich Miller   8 Comments      


FutureGen announcement *** MATTOON ILLINOIS SELECTED ***

Tuesday, Dec 18, 2007

[Bumped up to make the story more visible.]

Watch the FutureGen siting announcement at this link. The announcement speech is scheduled for 9 o’clock.

Background

The FutureGen Industrial Alliance is scheduled to announce at 9 this morning whether a $1.75 billion experimental coal-fueled power plant will be built in Illinois or Texas.

Two cities in central Illinois, Tuscola and Mattoon, are competing with the Texas cities of Odessa and Jewett for the plant, called FutureGen, which will bring 150 permanent full-time jobs and 1,300 contruction jobs and the cachè of being the home of “the world’s cleanest coal-fueled power plant.”

The Energy Department conceived FutureGen in February 2003 as a way to advance so-called clean coal technology, and will contribute more than $1 billion for the project with remaining costs shared among members of the Future Gen Alliance, one of which is St. Louis-based Peabody Energy Corp.

States bidding for the project are pitching in, too. The Illinois General Assembly and Gov. Rod Blagojevich agreed to offer $80 million in tax breaks, grants and low-interest loans to win the project — a lot, but just a fraction of the $981 million being dangled by Texas.

*** UPDATE *** Mattoon, IL was selected as the site. That’s huge news for the state.

*** UPDATE 2 *** AP

A government and industry research project to learn ways to burn coal without emitting global warming gases took a major step forward Tuesday as an industry group said it would build the facility at a site in Illinois, choosing the location over two potential sites in Texas.

The futuristic $1.8 billion power plant, known as FutureGen, will be built on several hundred acres near Mattoon, Ill., where construction is expected to bring hundreds of jobs and boost the local economy.

More background

Officials in Texas and Illinois were willing to put up millions of dollars in incentives for the project, which will develop and test technology that will turn coal into a cleaner-burning gas and store carbon dioxide emissions deep underground.

Texas promised $260 million in cash and tax credits, while Illinois offered $80 million in grants, low-interest loans and tax breaks. Both states offered developers protection from liability in the event that carbon dioxide leaks from the ground.

*** UPDATE 3 *** But there’s also this ominous development…

Energy Department representatives did not take part in the announcement and last week told the industry group it was “inadvisable” to go ahead with a site selection at this time. The department said it was still examining some of the public comments received in response to environmental reviews of the four sites.

“We advised them not to move forward,” department spokeswoman Julie Ruggiero said Monday. She said the department had yet to issue a formal Record of Decision related to the environmental reviews that were formally issued Nov. 16, triggering a 30-day public comment period.

*** UPDATE 4 *** Sean Crawford at WUIS had a recent story about how FutureGen might never be built. The audio won’t work on my Mac (which annoys me to no end), but you can listen here.

- Posted by Rich Miller   81 Comments      


Wrigley tax hike heading for North Side?

Tuesday, Dec 18, 2007

* The Sun-Times has more on the proposed state subsidy of Sam Zell’s pending sale of the Chicago Cubs…

The 1 percent tax on downtown restaurant meals that helped expand McCormick Place could move north to the area surrounding Wrigley Field to finance either renovation of the landmark stadium or improvements in the neighborhood, officials said Monday.

Tribune Co. senior vice-president Crane Kenney, who oversees the Cubs, said extending the northern boundary of the downtown restaurant district at least seven blocks — from Diversey to Waveland — is one of several possibilities to finance stadium renovations if the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority agrees to a Tribune Co. plan to acquire and renovate Wrigley Field.

“The city and state could say, ‘Let’s leave Wrigley Field as is.’ But to the extent they do want to make improvements — and we believe there’s a real need for that — they have talked about a variety of ways, including extending the food and beverage tax to include the Wrigley Field area. Those monies would go to support bonds issued for renovation,” he said.

And then there’s this…

Another source said expanding the restaurant tax umbrella would be a way to finance neighborhood improvements tied to a $350 million renovation of Wrigley Field.

Former Gov. Jim Thompson, who chairs the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, said he doubted that Mayor Daley would support such a plan. Daley has said that he won’t approve any tax increase to help the Cubs sell Wrigley.

- Posted by Rich Miller   8 Comments      


Morning shorts

Tuesday, Dec 18, 2007

* Prairie State Blue: 3rd Illinois Congressional district roundup

* Oberweis has no comment on lawsuit from collision; more here

* Clout Street: Geography lesson doled out in race to succeed Hastert

* Blagojevich’s donor choice frowned upon by Green Party

The Illinois Green Party on Monday slammed Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s recent appointment of a campaign donor to the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

Party leaders questioned the decision to name Illinois State University trustee Jay Bergman to the state oversight board, citing his oil company’s pollution record and his more than $40,000 in campaign contributions to the governor since 2002.

* Carle hospital files suit in tax issue

* Zorn: Political song contest winners

* Fed to unveil subprime home mortgage plan

* Editorial: Tough questions about Cook Co. budget would be a lovely idea

* Tribune Editorial: For Cook Co, it’s over

The future is a blend of new technology, fewer employees, lower budgets — and better services for the county’s 5 million citizen-taxpayers. The battle by Stroger, his board allies and the ward bosses to protect the county bureaucracy, and to add 1,100 workers, is a bleat from a dying era.

How long will it be until a single Web page for each parcel unifies all of the county’s property functions — assessor, recorder, clerk, treasurer, Board of Review? How long until an automation plan like that used in federal courts unifies records of the county’s chief judge, state’s attorney, sheriff and clerk of court? We know that future is coming. Taxpayers demand it.

* Clout City: Progress for progressives?

Between the lines, aldermen say that getting an independent/progressive/sometime-opposition bloc together has been slow and tough–or at least slower and tougher than initially expected. Call them smart or write them off as wusses, but several aldermen who’ve worked with Moore, Preckwinkle, and Munoz on particular issues, such as police accountability or affordable housing, have shown only tepid interest in appearing to join a group created as a Daley alternative. Others say they don’t want to give up their independence to the Independent Caucus any more than they want to hand it over to the mayor.

* Editorial: Don’t make letters into minefields

The decision had nothing to do with whether this newspaper leans Republican or Democrat, or if it loves or hates Obama or Oprah, or whether we purposely deny access to the Viewpoint page to those with whom we disagree.

It was the way Roeser wove fact and opinion into the letter. The result was implications that in one portion I considered a smear and in another portion potentially libelous. And though Roeser would be clearly identified as the letter’s writer, we steer clear of content that might result in a court date for The Courier News.

* Mobster pals give to pols

* Martire: Illinois must change approach to education, race

So what does all this mean? Taken together, it’s pretty clear education is truly the key to economic self-sufficiency, just not equally for everyone — particularly African-Americans. It also means it’s well past the hour for Illinois to break the 30-year stalemate on school-funding reform. This is the only way to ensure every child receives the quality education needed to become competitive in the global economy.

But the data also make it clear a quality education won’t eliminate racism — particularly as it affects opportunity for blacks. For that to happen, Illinois needs an honest dialogue recognizing the role of persistent racism, and a thoughtful approach to eliminating it.

* Officials tout tech program

“This new tool offers a great opportunity to help communities and organizations build capacity, improve quality of life and participate in the regional planning process,” said Walsh. “There is no doubt that with the significant growth we’ve experienced in the region and projections of 1.2 million people living in Will County by 2030 — if not before, this Technical Assistance Program can be very beneficial to many.”

* New law will ease use of gift cards

A state law taking effect next month aims to make gift cards and gift certificates more consumer-friendly by giving recipients five years to spend them.

In addition, the recipients won’t be charged fees that diminish the value of the card or certificate. Some gift cards presently charge consumers a fee if they don’t spend all of the card’s value within a specified period of time.

* Suffredin says he’d be tougher on corruption

Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin (D-Evanston), seeking the Democratic nomination for state’s attorney, will propose a “public corruption strike force” at a press conference today.

The strike force would handle cases involving elected and appointed officials, government vendors and police officers, Suffredin said.

“This kind of investigation has not been a priority for Devine,” Suffredin said.

- Posted by Paul Richardson   14 Comments      


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Tuesday, Dec 18, 2007

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Messages to readers

Monday, Dec 17, 2007

* Thanks to everyone who attended one or more of the three parties we held over the weekend, despite the weather. Sunday night’s performance of “No-El, Or how the Blagojegrinch stole Christmas” was a rousing success. Tickets were sold out by early Sunday afternoon, and the vast majority of attendees were subscribers/readers. The show, itself, was very entertaining.

* The winners of the last round of our Golden Horseshow contest are as follows…

* The “Spin Sisters” get the best spokesperson award. Steve Brown had more votes, but support for the guv’s press staff was very intense and well-reasoned. They’ve had a bad year, so let’s throw them a bone. Besides, Abby Ottenhof showed up for the holiday party, so she gets extra points for that.

* Best commenter is “Bill,” who also showed up for the party and outed himself to all.

* Voting for best lobbyist was all over the board, so I’m going to award it to Bill Anderson, who has had a rough couple of years with his health, but keeps on going like the Energizer Bunny.

- Posted by Rich Miller   Comments Off      


Question of the day

Monday, Dec 17, 2007

* I was reminded this morning of far-right conservative Jack Roeser’s long ago threat to state Sen. Bill Brady. Roeser was convinced that Brady was “planted” in the 2006 GOP governor’s primary to help Judy Baar Topinka, and his Family Taxpayers Network vowed revenge

Mr. Brady just needs to understand that if Topinka does win on Tuesday, and Brady finishes no better than third his name is Mud. He’s done. And he WILL have a Primary challenge for his State Senate seat in 2008… there will be a lot of time for holding the duplicitous accountable.

* So, how did that one work out? Well, Brady has no primary opponent, so I guess it was just yet another empty threat.

And why am I reminded of Roeser’s huffing and puffing? This

With former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert announcing his endorsement of Republican congressional candidate and dairy magnate Jim Oberweis on Thursday, at least two local Republicans say they are not surprised by the move.

Local business mogul and conservative activist Jack Roeser posted a letter Thursday saying Hastert’s “controversial record” will not help Oberweis win his election bid. Roeser goes on to say Republicans should distance themselves from both men.

In the letter, Roeser — who owns Carpentersville-based Otto Engineering and is president of the politically powerful Family Taxpayers Foundation — blasts Hastert for “unchecked federal spending, selfish earmark legislation and many Congressional corruption scandals — all of which culminated with (current Democratic House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi taking over the helm.”

* Roeser supported Oberweis for governor, but now backs Sen. Chris Lauzen against Oberweis for Haster’s seat. You can read Roeser’s letter here

I was once proud to support Hastert on many conservative causes. For many years I held out hope that he would rise to the occasion and become a great leader.

Similarly, I supported Oberweis last year for Governor, believing he was the best of an otherwise disappointing lot. I was the largest single financial contributor to Oberweis’ gubernatorial bid.

I supported Oberweis last year because he ran as a reformer. Sadly, after he came up a little short in that crowded primary, Oberweis changed his tune. He quickly sought to jump back in bed with the very power brokers he previously claimed to oppose.

Like Brady before him, I’m sure Hastert is quaking in his boots.

* And, now, the question: Who is the biggest blowhard in Illinois politics? Explain fully.

- Posted by Rich Miller   48 Comments      


Is the gaming bill dead, or just endangered?

Monday, Dec 17, 2007

* Could Chris Kelly’s indictment kill the gaming expansion bill? I’m not so sure, but my syndicated column this week takes up the issue…

It could have been worse, I guess. Gov. Rod Blagojevich wasn’t named or even alluded to in last week’s federal tax fraud indictment of one of his best friends, closest advisers and biggest fundraisers, Chris Kelly. Blagojevich does appear to be fingered in a different indictment, but that got lost in the shuffle.

Whatever, last week wasn’t good. Blagojevich now is in the awkward position of pushing for a massive gambling expansion while the political world discovers the last time the governor did so, in 2003, he put his buddy Kelly in charge of the project.

* The Daily Herald emphasized Speaker Madigan’s statement last week in its look at the issue…

The political fallout from the indictment of Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s friend and gambling adviser began Friday as a potential vote next week on a massive state gambling expansion was canceled.

House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, sent a letter to lawmakers saying “in light of subsequent developments this week, the legislative process will be better served by holding session on these topics at a later date.”

* Another take from the DH

With Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s gambling point man now accused of placing millions of dollars in illegal bets and breaking the law to cover it up, state lawmakers face the question of whether they’re willing to entrust Blagojevich with a massive gambling expansion plan.

“Given how close Mr. Kelly is to the governor as an adviser … it certainly gives you pause,” said state Rep. Paul Froehlich, a Schaumburg Democrat, expressing a sentiment shared by many suburban lawmakers.

* But some expansion proponents are skeptical

[Senate President Emil Jones] spokeswoman Cindy Davidsmeyer insisted she didn’t see how the Kelly indictment might affect ongoing consideration of gambling expansion by state leaders.

“The indictment is a personal matter,” she said.

* And Finke, who often reflects convetional press room wisdom in his column, doesn’t think the gaming bill would pass anyway…

In fact, the latest gambling bill was already in a world of hurt before the Kelly indictment was made public. Representatives from both parties had a number of problems with the bill - how much Chicago would have to pay the state for a casino license, how to ensure minority investment, how to handle slot machines at horse racing tracks, and on and on. The feeling among many was the bill was going to fail in the House if it was called for a vote. The Kelly indictment gave Madigan a convenient excuse to avoid that vote.

* Crain’s looks at Detroit as an example of how a Chicago casnio might not do as well as advertised…

Three casinos near downtown Detroit, the first of which opened in 1999, have done little to attract more visitors or otherwise boost the city’s struggling economy, according to Donald Holecek, a Michigan State University professor emeritus of tourism development. “People would come in for a day and stay in the casino,” he says.

Chicago casino boosters cite a potential impact of as much as $950 million a year in annual revenue and 2,500 new jobs from a casino with 4,000 gambling positions, figures that could grow to $1.2 billion and 3,200 jobs for the hospitality industry as a whole. But critics say much of that would not be new money.

“The good thing (about casinos) is they make a lot of money,” says William Thompson, a University of Nevada at Las Vegas professor of public administration. Casinos “pay a lot of taxes. The bad thing is they make the money off local residents. It’s a zero-sum game.”

Thoughts?

- Posted by Rich Miller   39 Comments      


Big tax bill?

Monday, Dec 17, 2007

* A commenter here mentioned this potential problem months ago. The AP is reporting that Gov. Blagojevich could be slammed with a $60,000 tax bill on his flights to and from Springfield. Why? The IRS might determine that the flights are personal and a taxable fringe benefit. Here’s the nut of the disagreement over whether the guv is or is not liable…

Blagojevich has an office in Chicago and may travel there for business without repercussion. Otherwise, the travel is taxable, said Marianna Dyson, an employment and fringe-benefits lawyer with Miller & Chevalier in Washington, D.C.

“The capital is in Springfield, and he has made a personal decision to keep his family in Chicago,” said Dyson, a former IRS special assistant for fringe benefits. “He has to live with that consequence.”

A Blagojevich spokeswoman, Abby Ottenhoff, said the AP has it backward: The governor’s headquarters is in the Windy City, not the state capital, so he may fly tax-free to Springfield and back when business calls him there.

“We define the principal place of business as Chicago and all the flights are billed accordingly,” Ottenhoff said.

I’m not a tax attorney, of course, but this seems to be a stretch. Still, it’s interesting - and clearly not surprising - that the guv’s office publicly considers his primary place of business to be Chicago.

* Meanwhile, the AP reports on the governor’s love of the bunker…

Dogged by a federal investigation and political feuds, the two-term Democrat often skips the warm-and-fuzzy public moments that his job offers. He also avoids reporters’ questions on many occasions, choosing not to defend himself or explain his views.

- Posted by Rich Miller   51 Comments      


Poll: Obama way up, Huckabee surges here as well, Repubs pessimistic

Monday, Dec 17, 2007

* It’s no big news that Barack Obama is crushing Hillary Clinton in the Tribune’s new statewide poll of Illinois. It’s probably also no surprise that Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is surging here, because he seems to be surging just about everywhere.

So, let’s look at some of the other poll questions, which, upon reflection, probably aren’t a huge surprise, either. For instance…

Reflecting the optimism of Democrats heading into the election year, 82 percent said they viewed the party’s chances of retaking the White House after eight years as very good to excellent. Republicans were much more pessimistic. Among GOP voters, only 45 percent viewed their chances of holding onto the presidency as very good to excellent.

* GOP voters are also pessimistic about their own candidates…

Only 20 percent of Republicans said they were “very satisfied” with their field of candidates, compared with 45 percent of Democrats.

* And this result shows just how difficult it will be for a Republican to win in November…

Despite months of national polls showing low ratings for President Bush, particularly over the issues of the progress of the Iraq War and the state of the economy, 63 percent of Illinois Republicans approve of the job he is doing. At least 70 percent of Huckabee, Romney and Thompson voters give Bush high approval ratings, while the president receives the highest disapproval rating — 38 percent — from supporters of McCain, the man Bush defeated in the race for the Republican nomination nearly eight years ago.

It’s gonna be tough for the Republican nominee to distance himself from the hugely unpopular incumbent and still hold the base, which still likes the man.

* The survey found Obama leading among Democrats with 50 percent, to 25 percent for Clinton and 7 percent for Edwards. There was this, however…

When Democratic voters were asked, regardless of their personal choice for president, which candidate would have the best chance of defeating a Republican next November, 39 percent said Clinton and 37 percent said Obama. Among those believing the New York senator and former first lady would win out were a quarter of those who said they are backing Obama. In contrast, only 7 percent of those backing Clinton said they thought Obama was the most electable Democrat.

* Among Republicans…

The survey of 500 likely Republican voters, who were polled Dec. 9 to 13, found Giuliani with the support of 23 percent, Huckabee with 21 percent, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney with 14 percent, U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona with 12 percent and former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee with 11 percent. The poll also found U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas with 3 percent and U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado with 1 percent. Other candidates had 1 percent backing while 14 percent of those polled were undecided.

* More national stuff, compiled by Paul…

* Plenty of opportunity in state GOP

* Word on the Street: State Rep. Aaron Schock won’t permit his two congressional primary opponents to videotape him at any forums or debates. Well, it’s not that he’s not allowing it, he just won’t attend events if taping is allowed. So the net result is the same.

* Shimkus backs Schock’s bid for Congress

- Posted by Rich Miller   31 Comments      


Morning shorts

Monday, Dec 17, 2007

* Sun-Times Media to cut $50 million in first half

The plan will include staff reductions, CEO Cyrus Freidheim told employees in a memo Friday. Details of the plan, which will also include “further outsourcing of selected activities and reformatting of our products,” will be finalized and announced next month, he said.
“As you know, 2007 has been a tough year financially for our company,” Mr. Freidheim said in the memo. “To confront these realities, we need to take bold actions — some of which are painful, but I see no alternative.”

* Tribune Editorial: Illinois vs. the law

* Tribune Editorial: Illinois hidden poor

* Health group paying bounty for bar ashtrays

* Hastert wants to help with Chicago’s Olympic bid

* Mayor had no role in sewer firm pact says aide

“It’s completely understandable that people draw a connection between the mayor’s son and any business dealings he has with the city or in the city. The mayor understands that,” Daley’s press secretary, Jacquelyn Heard, said Friday.

“But the mayor loves his son. He is extraordinarily proud of him, and right now that supersedes all else. Right now, the mayor’s focus is on his son about to go to war, and he and rest of the family are supporting him in every way possible.”

* Sun-Times Editorial: CHA jobs plan a work in progress

* Editorial: State should not buy Wrigley

This situation differs from the state building a new stadium for the White Sox 20 years ago. The Sox weren’t rolling in dough and were threatening to move out of state. The Cubs and Wrigley Field are money machines.

Stadium authority chairman James Thompson, our former governor, said a bond sale could finance the Wrigley sale. And according to the Trib story, he thinks the bonds can be paid off without “dipping into taxpayers pockets.”
He thinks.

Before he thinks that might not be the case, let’s abandon this idea now. If someone wants the gold mine that is the Cubs, let them - not us - buy Wrigley Field.

* Keep the state’s paws off Wrigley Field

* ‘World’s cleanest coal-fueled power plant’ could come to Illinois

- Posted by Paul Richardson   4 Comments      


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* IDPH wants to ban beer garden smoking
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* *** UPDATED x2 *** What do Sha-Na-Na, Bill Enyart and pies have in common?
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* Question of the day
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