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Amateur hour

Monday, Feb 27, 2012

* Congressman Adam Kinzinger just crossed a line and Rockford Register Star columnist Chuck Sweeny is having none of it. This is a quote from a Kinzinger mailer

“A Rockford Register Star columnist recently said Congressman Manzullo’s voting record bears resemblance to ‘that of Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank.’ No, it wasn’t Barney Frank’s record but it was actually the voting history of my opponent, Congressman Don Manzullo.”

* But this is what Sweeny actually wrote

“Kinzinger and Manzullo are engaged in a fight-to-the-finish duel about who is more conservative. And Kinzinger is characterizing Manzullo’s record as something resembling that of Massachusetts Democrat Barney Frank.”

And there’s more

In a newspaper-type mailer Kinzinger’s campaign sent to my house, Kinzinger charges that Manzullo “joined liberal Democrats in (a) movement to impeach President Bush.” Kinzinger claims that in 2008, Manzullo “shockingly voted for left-wing Dennis Kucinich’s legislation to order the House Judiciary Committee to consider impeaching President Bush over ludicrous reasons.”

Well, well, well. Let me quote from a piece I wrote July 16, 2008, about Manzullo’s vote for Kucinich’s wacky impeachment bill:

“I did the constitutional thing, which was to send it to committee, where it will be killed. If it did not go to committee, it would stay on the floor and then we would have started impeaching the president,” Manzullo told me at the time.

This goes beyond the usual political crud, which the media tends to basically ignore. Twist a columnist’s words into absurdity, though, and you’ll find yourself on the receiving end of serious negativity. Sweeny’s column by itself won’t have a gigantic impact, but if Manzullo uses the column in his paid media blitz to accuse Kinzinger of being a liar, it could very well move some numbers.

Both of these guys have been attempting to make the other guy look like he’s not conservative enough. It’s been a bogus argument from Jump Street. There are things about both men that aren’t 100 percent pure conservative, but, really, c’mon here, we’re talking infinitesimal degrees of separation. This latest Kinzinger attack is through the looking glass bizarre and a total amateur mistake. He’ll deserve any backfire he gets.

* We didn’t do much politics here last week because it was budget address week and it sucked up all my attention. So, I neglected to point out this weird Tribune endorsement in the 2nd Congressional District. The paper whacked Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. in four, long paragraphs and concluded that Jackson’s explanations for all his troubles are “unsatisfying.” But then the editorial board proceeded to ridicule Jackson’s primary opponent Debbie Halvorson

Halvorson is alarmingly unqualified to represent the district.

Seated beside her “distracted” opponent at our head-to-head candidate interview, it was Halvorson who fudged, stumbled and stammered. Asked to explain her one-and-done tenure as representative of the 11th District, she blurted out that voters can be “fickle.” She later said that was a bad choice of words. Asked to name federal programs she would target for spending cuts, she couldn’t think of one. Over and over she offered, lamely, that voters should send her back to Washington so she could help “innovate” the country out of its current mess. We don’t think so.

Jackson ran circles around Halvorson in our interview, showing a 16-year incumbent’s command of the issues. When Halvorson said he had failed to advance his plan to build a third regional airport near Peotone, Jackson’s response assured us yet again that he’s relentlessly focused on making it happen. (Her comments, meanwhile, convinced us she is not.) Jackson is endorsed.


* This story also “broke” last week while I was so distracted

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel waded into a contested suburban Democratic primary for Congress, backing former U.S. Veterans Affairs official Tammy Duckworth. […]

Duckworth is in a primary battle with former deputy state treasurer Raja Krishnamoorthi for the right to take on freshman Republican Joe Walsh in the 8th District. The district includes parts of northwest Cook and northeast DuPage counties, but does not include any homes in Chicago.

It’s been known for a while that Emanuel is with Duckworth, so the only newsworthy item is that he chose to formally announce his support.

* And a roundup…

* ADDED: Press release: Today, Congressman Aaron Schock (R-IL), a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, endorsed Congressman Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) for the newly drawn 16th Congressional District. Schock is the youngest Member of Congress and has served as a leading advocate for the conservative principles that reflect the values of the people throughout Illinois.

* Supreme Court race hits TV, as funding picks up: Going on TV was incumbent Justice Mary Jane Theis, who hit Chicago stations Monday morning with a buy of 600 ratings points, costing a few hundred thousand dollars.

* Early voting in Illinois begins

* How Duckworth, Krishnamoorthi differ on deficit: Duckworth also says Congress should consider eliminating the $385-billion dollar fleet of F-35 fighter jets, currently being developed.

* Key Ill. primaries: 8th Congressional District

* Democrats spar over donations, support at congressional forum: Sheyman attacked Schneider for campaign contributions he made to Republicans including Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk. Schneider responded by criticizing the policies of some of the groups that have endorsed Sheyman and by extolling the campaign work he’s done for Democrats including former Rep. Melissa Bean of Barrington.

* Illinois House races heating up: “I don’t see any of those four candidates giving Dold any heat,” said Green.

* Brad Schneider Extended Interview

* IL a battleground for U.S. Congress races:
But Republicans are ceding nothing. They believe they still have momentum from the 2010 victories that put five GOP freshmen in office and gave them their first state congressional majority in in seven years. And they believe another factor will help them when voters go to the polls: Anger over Illinois’ state fiscal crisis.

* VIDEO: Joe Walsh: Fighting For Millionaires

* Tribune: For the Republicans: Kinzinger

* Tribune: Theis for the Supreme Court

* Tribune: For the Democrats: Duckworth

* Tribune: For the U.S. House

- Posted by Rich Miller   20 Comments      

Caption contest!

Monday, Feb 27, 2012

* You people are boring me to death today. Or, maybe I’m boring you with too many budget posts. I’ll put up some political stuff later today, but until then…

That’s Chrysler President and CEO Sergio Marchionne with Gov. Pat Quinn.

- Posted by Rich Miller   62 Comments      

Question of the day

Monday, Feb 27, 2012

* The setup

A judge in northwestern Illinois said Friday he will allow camera coverage at the second trial of a man accused of killing eight people in two states.

In doing so, Judge Jeffery O’Connor rejected arguments from both prosecutors and the defense that media scrutiny would make it impossible to pick an impartial jury in a third trial for Nicholas Sheley. […]

O’Connor’s decision to allow cameras whenever it the trial starts means it will, after all, be the first big test of the Illinois Supreme Court’s recent decision to experiment with cameras in state courts. The high court said that if all goes well, it would eventually pull Illinois from of the group of 14 states that still ban extensive media access in courts.

The Whiteside County judge told attorneys that Sheley’s case has already garnered so much attention since his alleged killing spree in Illinois and Missouri over several days in June 2008, so any level of media attention now wouldn’t make it any harder to pick a jury.

* The Question: Do you agree with cameras in courtrooms even if prosecution and defense attorneys object? Take the poll and then explain your answer in comments, please.

- Posted by Rich Miller   37 Comments      

Digging deeper into the budget

Monday, Feb 27, 2012

* The AP looks at the Department of Corrections budget and finds some confusing claims

Department of Corrections statistics show population has increased pretty steadily for the past decade. At the end of November, it was 2.3 percent above the 2010 level and 6.6 percent above 2001. Annual reports don’t reveal any significant drop in population since 2002.

To support Lavin’s claim of a downward trend, the Department of Corrections offered newer numbers showing a drop of 725 prisoners, or 1.5 percent, in the last five months. In addition, the department projects a drop of 2,746 in the next budget year.

Why does the department expect such a dramatic decline? That’s not entirely clear.

A spokeswoman said it’s based on plans to close those six halfway houses for inmates nearing the end of their sentences. The logic seems to be the department can close some facilities because the population will drop, and the population will drop partly because the department is closing some facilities.

* WBEZ has more on the closure of those six halfway houses

The halfway houses funded by the Department of Corrections are known as adult transition centers. There are seven in the state, and all but one would be shut down under the budget proposed by Quinn last Wednesday. The low-level offenders who spend their nights there would instead be sent home and placed on electronic detention. […]

After the additional costs of electronic detention are subtracted, the Quinn administration projects a $17.7 million savings in the next fiscal year by closing the adult transition centers. There are currently more than 1,100 offenders housed at the centers, according to the administration.


The prisoners would be checked on by parole officers, even as Quinn’s budget calls for severe cuts to the number of parole officers in the state. Solano noted they would likely be hired back to other jobs as the parole department is reorganized, though she said details of that plan aren’t yet available.

The governor is actually proposing a 50 percent reduction in parole staff - 200 positions - at the very same time he’s dumping 1,100 more people into the system.

* Meanwhile, Gov. Pat Quinn’s budget has another idea which will supposedly save $91 million

Gov. Pat Quinn wants to slash state spending on a health insurance program for more than 65,000 retired teachers and community college retirees.

Under the governor’s plan, the state would no longer share in the cost of the system that helps pay for the Teachers’ Retirement Insurance Program and the College Insurance Program, which administers health insurance for community college retirees. […]

The governor’s office did not respond to specific questions about the proposal, which was tucked into Quinn’s 438-page budget blueprint released Wednesday.

“Due to the state’s fiscal challenges created over decades of mismanagement, we have zeroed out those lines and will work to achieve savings,” said Quinn budget spokeswoman Kelly Kraft.

But there’s a problem with this plan. The two programs are funded with a continuing appropriation, meaning that the annual funding is automatic unless the General Assembly repeals the statute.

* The state’s share of the costs is only about 20 percent

The state covers about 20 percent of the program’s cost. Much of the rest is paid for by contributions from working teachers and premiums from retirees that average about $577 a month, said Dave Urbanek, spokesman for the Teachers Retirement System.

* More details

There are a total of 71,538 members of TRIP, including 61,188 retirees and 10,350 dependents. There are about 90,000 retired educators in Illinois.

Bachman said about 5,000 TRIP members age 65 and over don’t qualify for Medicare, leaving them with only TRIP for their health coverage.

“You (also) have a lot of people between the ages of 55 and 65 who wouldn’t qualify for Medicare yet,” he said.


- Posted by Rich Miller   24 Comments      

He’s right, but is he up to it?

Monday, Feb 27, 2012

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

When Jim Edgar was governor, reporters covering his annual budget speech would approach Senate President Pate Philip as he descended afterward from the House Speaker’s podium to ask about Edgar’s proposals. Eventually, or even right away, we’d hear an emphatic “No!” from Pate, and then we’d pronounce a good chunk of the budget dead on arrival.

Times were simpler back then than they were last week after Gov. Pat Quinn finished his latest budget address. Quinn’s proposal “benefited” from a lack of major specifics on the big issues of the day — the exploding costs of Medicaid and the state pension system.

The only things left to attack were program cuts and facility closings (and Republicans who did so risked being labeled as false budget hawks) and the phony complaint that his budget called for higher spending (operating costs are falling by about $400 million, but total state spending is going up mainly because pension payments are rising by about $1 billion next fiscal year).

To compensate for the lack of specifics, Quinn alternated between a gravely warning tone (welcoming legislators to their “rendezvous with reality” on the twin crises of Medicaid and pension spending) and overtly offering to partner with members on finding solutions. Quinn also mixed in a bit of tough love, demanding an answer from his pension reform commission by mid-April and warning legislators that if the Medicaid issue isn’t resolved, they could plan on spending the summer in Springfield.

It wasn’t the best budget speech ever given, but it was surely Quinn’s best. He finally appears to be getting his arms around his job. We’ll see how he does in the coming days, weeks and months when he isn’t sticking to a prepared script, but there was a distinct sense in the building last week that things might not be so hopeless after all.

While criticizing Quinn’s lack of specifics and his tardiness in realizing the importance of getting the budget in order, House Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego) said he planned to again work with House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) on the budget this spring. Sen. Matt Murphy, the Senate Republicans’ budget point person, offered many of the same criticisms as Cross but repeatedly claimed that his caucus did, indeed, attempt to work with the Democrats last year on budget cuts and would be willing to do the same this time around.

Both Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) pledged to work cooperatively with the other party, expressing a realization that these big issues are so difficult that there’s no way a partisan solution could possibly be crafted.

A thaw in the Statehouse’s longtime partisan rancor began last spring when Madigan realized he would need a bipartisan majority for a budget deal, not only to pass painful spending cuts but to also provide political cover for any budgetary gimmicks the House used. The Senate, meanwhile, began working cooperatively on workers’ compensation and education reforms.

But the House GOP’s budget work was ridiculed by their Senate counterparts, and the Senate GOP’s compromise on workers’ comp was derided by the House Republicans as inadequate. Only the education reforms received large bipartisan votes in both chambers.

The education reform working group therefore has become a template for the coming legislative session. Quinn has appointed working groups to tackle pensions and Medicaid in hopes of repeating last year’s success.

Politicians often work best in crisis situations. It’s a natural human tendency to rally together at such times. The governor did a good job last week of calmly and logically explaining the urgent need to work together for the benefit of the whole state.

There will be much shouting and moaning and protesting ahead, however, as significant cuts are made and these gut-wrenching problems are addressed. We’ll soon find out if Quinn has grown enough to hold it all together or whether the legislative leaders have to step in and do it for him.

Either way, Quinn is absolutely right that these problems need to be solved.


- Posted by Rich Miller   17 Comments      

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Monday, Feb 27, 2012

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* Happy Thanksgiving!
* *** UPDATED x1 *** Five unanswered questions
* *** UPDATED x1 *** Question of the day
* Caption contest!
* Crossing the line
* Moody's warns Illinois
* The Credit Union Difference
* *** UPDATED x1 - Franks responds *** Uh-oh
* Then and now
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