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Smith: “I will not cower”

Monday, Apr 30, 2012

* As expected, Rep. Derrick Smith (D-Chicago) pled not guilty today and then read a statement to reporters

Smith, under pressure to resign his position, accused the FBI of engaging in “shenanigans” during the investigation and said agents pressured people to “say bad things about me.”

“I will not cower,” he said as his family stood behind him in the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse lobby after entering his not-guilty plea. “I intend to stand tall.

Smith also suggested he will remain in office while he fights the charges.

“The people in my district elected me on March 20, 2012, even after the government charged me with wrongdoing,” he said. “And that’s because they believed in me.”

Smith has never been elected to his office. He was appointed, then won the Democratic nomination against a white Republican. He’s starting to sound like Rod.

Also, regardless of whether people were pressured to “say bad things” about him or not, the guy is on tape taking $7,000 in cash. I don’t know how you “stand tall” after you do something like that.

- Posted by Rich Miller   27 Comments      

Question of the day

Monday, Apr 30, 2012

* Illinois Review pointed to this 2008 Gallup poll today which surveyed over 75,000 American adults and found that personal income has a pretty direct correlation to smoking propensity

Nationwide, the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index reveals that 21% of Americans say they smoke. As the accompanying graph illustrates, the likelihood of smoking generally increases as annual incomes decrease. One exception to this pattern occurs among those making less than $6,000 per year, an income bracket often skewed because many in that bracket are students. Among those making $6,000 to $11,999 per year, 34% say they smoke, while only 13% in the top two income brackets (those with incomes of at least $90,000 per year) say the same — a 21 percentage-point gap.

The Well-Being Index also confirms distinctions in U.S. smoking rates relating to gender and race. Among respondents, 23% of men and 19% of women say they smoke. Blacks are the most likely to smoke (23%) and Asians are least likely to smoke (12%). Hispanics and whites fall in between, at 17% and 20%, respectively.

* The chart

* The Question: Is it fair to increase the state cigarette tax by a dollar a pack to help fund Medicaid costs when such high percentages of poor people will be impacted? Take the poll and then explain your answer in comments, please.

- Posted by Rich Miller   71 Comments      

Madigan has bill to strip state retirees of their health insurance subsidy

Monday, Apr 30, 2012

* As I told subscribers on Friday, House Speaker Michael Madigan has introduced an amendment to do away with government subsidies for state and university retiree health insurance

Legislation to do away with the health insurance premium subsidy available to state retirees opens a new front in the battle between legislators determined to cut the state’s retirement debt and unions representing state workers.

“It would wipe out retiree health care entirely for retired state employees,” said Anders Lindall, spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the largest public worker union.

The amendment to Senate Bill 1313 would eliminate subsidies for health insurance for retirees. Instead, the Department of Central Management Services would determine how much the state would contribute to “the basic program of group health benefits on behalf of retired employees, annuitants and survivors.” […]

“This is another place where the state is spending money and it’s important as we go through the whole budget debate to look at each one of these situations and determine if that is the best way to go forward,” said Madigan spokesman Steve Brown.

The subsidy is essentially written into the union’s contract, but that contract expires this year and doing away with the subsidy would likely kill it off.

* Related and a roundup…

* ‘A lot of angst’ among teachers over pensions: Most details about the plan are unclear at this point, but the most worrisome part of the proposal for teachers is a provision that would require educators to be 67 years old in order to retire with full pension benefits.

* School officials decry Quinn’s pension-shifting plan

* Finke: A little of the old Quinn surfaces in pension talks

* Pension presentation in Naperville draws hundreds of suburban teachers: “I think it’s fair to say there’s a lot more work to be done,” Ingram said. “There’s a lot of conversations that still need to take place. This is nowhere close to being a done deal right now. We’re going to be sorting it out over the next six weeks, or perhaps longer.”

* Gov. Pat Quinn’s pension reform ideas are a ‘big deal’ for unions

* Zorn: Quinn rebooted

* Illinois State Museum faces financial crisis: The Illinois State Museum might have to close one of its six sites — or push for an entrance fee — if its finances don’t improve.

* State Legislators Question State Officials on Animal Disease Lab Closure: “I’m against all the closures because after all is said and done, I think the total amount of dollars that we’re going to earn by closing is $100 million. What is $100 million in jobs, and making things unsafe, and not being able to set the services for the people of this state, for them to come here, to come back home, and for us to run and take our test out of the state, and on and on, it’s just kind of like a circle”, said Cavaletto.

* Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn says Gov. Scott Walker’s budget increases property taxes by $500 billion

* 2 more Illinois counties can allow courtroom cameras

- Posted by Rich Miller   76 Comments      

There are no easy fixes

Monday, Apr 30, 2012

* The trouble with cutting programs like Medicaid is that those cuts can cause other, even costlier problems. For instance

The governor has called for the closure of Tinley Park Mental Health Center, which currently is budgeted to hold 75 residents. It currently employs 195 workers and has an annual budget of $19.8 million.

He also wants to close Singer Mental Health Center in Rockford, putting 145 people out of work and shuttering bed space for 76 residents. It costs about $14 million to operate the facility.

His budget also calls for cutting community mental health programs by $58.4 million.

Quinn’s Medicaid overhaul, designed to save a total of $2.7 billion, would place a moratorium on admissions to intermediate care facilities. The proposal, which would affect people with mental illnesses, would impact about 14,900 admissions in order to save $114 million.

The Medicaid cuts also would place a moratorium on admissions to a mental disease program impacting about 1,800 people. It would save about $36 million.

All that amounts to nearly a quarter of a billion dollars being diverted away from mental health programs and infrastructure. Lawmakers are trying to wrap up their action on the budget by May 31.

Christopher Larrison, a professor of social work at the University of Illinois, said the proposed reductions will likely result in more people seeking treatment in emergency rooms and more mentally ill people being arrested and jailed. Neither place, he said, is an appropriate setting — medically or financially — for someone needing treatment for a mental illness.

Like I told subscribers this morning, anybody who tells you that fixing things is easy has probably never fixed anything.

* Related…

* Questions face Quinn on cigarette tax hike

* Nursing home residents rally against Medicaid cuts

* Illinois Lawmakers On Taxes: Reality Is Catching Up

* Tom Loewy: ‘Entitlement mentality’ runs counter to the facts: But residents of Knox County shouldn’t tolerate a politician who walks into our midst and spouts off about an “entitlement mentality” when our friends and neighbors are struggling to find affordable medical care for their children. We should never tolerate a politician who tries to pit “us” against “them” when we are all citizens of the same state, faced with the same crushing economic uncertainties as those who live in other ZIP codes. Sorry, but that kind of attitude never made our country great.

- Posted by Rich Miller   10 Comments      

This just in… Supreme Court gives Ryan another shot

Monday, Apr 30, 2012

* 9:51 am - From Courthouse News Service

Former Illinois Gov. George Ryan will get another chance to challenge his mail-fraud conviction, the Supreme Court ruled Monday.

The disgraced politician, who is serving 6 1/2 years for racketeering, conspiracy, tax fraud and lying to the FBI, found relief in precedent set just last week by the high court.

On April 24, the justices said appellate panels cannot deny a prisoner’s habeas petition based on issues that the state has chosen not to raise.

Ryan’s second appeal to the 7th Circuit argued that jury instructions and several evidentiary rulings were defective in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Skilling v. United States. The errors, Ryan contended, permitted the jury to convict him on an honest-services theory without finding a bribe or kickback.

But the federal appeals court found that Skilling permitted his fraud conviction because the record established that Ryan took bribes in exchange for official services.

“Jury instructions that misstate the elements of an offense are not themselves a ground of collateral relief; likewise with erroneous evidentiary rulings,” Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote for the court.

Whereas lawyers for Jeffrey Skilling challenged the mail-fraud statute directly, Ryan’s lawyers contributed to the jury instructions that they now claim caused prejudice, thus forfeiting the challenge, the three-judge panel found.

“If Ryan’s lawyers had done what Skilling’s lawyers did, the controlling decision today might be Ryan rather than Skilling,” Easterbrook wrote, referencing the fact that Ryan’s petition for certiorari beat Skilling’s to the Supreme Court.

* A more succinct explanation from Crain’s

The appeal is based on whether the governor’s defense team effectively waived their objections to the district court judge’s instructions to the jury, even though government prosecutors conceded that those objections had not been waived.

The court ruled that Mr. Ryan’s conviction has to be reconsidered in light of last week’s unanimous Supreme Court decision in Wood v. Milyard, which restricted what a court can do when a government prosecutor doesn’t object to a defendant’s legal argument.

* Sun-Times

Ryan’s appellate attorney, Albert Alschuler, said that the ruling means the case will be sent back to the appellate court to reconsider the question of whether Ryan waived his objections to the jury instructions.

But Alschuler said there re still many issues to resolve.

“For now, it’s just further appellate proceedings,” he said. “The court is now remanding the case for the 7th Circuit to reconsider its ruling. Ultimately, it means we have a whole lot of issues to consider. But when all of those issues are considered, we’re hopeful the court would give Gov. Ryan a new trial.”

Another Ryan lawyer, former Gov. James Thompson, said it’s likely, though, that rather than a new trial, the defense team hopes ultimately to have some of the counts on which Ryan was convicted thrown out, allowing him to be released from prison on time served. [Emphasis added.]

- Posted by Rich Miller   11 Comments      

*** UPDATED x1 - Lawyer: Smith will appear before committee *** Derrick Smith’s attorney claims client was entrapped

Monday, Apr 30, 2012

*** UPDATE *** He may appear, but will he really say anything? We’ll see. From Illinois Issues

A lawmaker who is set to enter a plea today on bribery charges also plans to appear before a legislative committee charged with deciding whether he will face disciplinary action. […]

Victor Henderson, Smith’s lawyer, said that Smith plans to appear before the House committee. “Yes. He absolutely will be appearing in Springfield in front of the committee,” Henderson said. “The representative will definitely be there and is looking forward to the opportunity to speak in some detail about where he is and his continued desire to serve and represent the people in his district.”

[ *** End Of Update *** ]

* It’s been expected all along that Rep. Smith would claim he was entrapped somehow into accepting a $7,000 cash bribe, so this is no big surprise

Illinois state Rep. Derrick Smith will plead not guilty Monday to a federal bribery charge, according to an attorney for the Chicago Democrat. […]

Vic Henderson is Smith’s attorney, and he’s strongly hinting he’ll argue the government entrapped his client.

“The government’s own information that is publicly available indicates that they manufactured documents, created - I think - fictitious website venues and things of that nature,” Henderson said in an interview last week.

Separate from the criminal proceedings, an Illinois House special investigating committee is looking into the allegations, a process that could end in Smith’s expulsion.

“He’s going to continue to serve as he was elected to do, and we’re going to defend him and business will go on as usual,” Henderson said.

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column expresses impatience

State Rep. Derrick Smith (D-Chicago) may have more legal troubles than his federal bribery indictment.

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has told the House Special Investigating Committee that his office’s investigation of Smith has not concluded.

“I can tell you that our investigation of Representative Smith is continuing,” Fitzgerald wrote, which could be an indication that the government may file more charges.

But the active federal investigation also means that Fitzgerald refused to cooperate with the committee, which is looking into the allegations to determine if any legislative action is warranted against Smith. Fitzgerald also asked the committee to not do any investigating beyond what already is in the public record, except for interviewing Smith himself.

Smith cannot be forced to testify to the special committee, but that refusal can be held against him when it comes time to recommend whether punitive action should be taken.

Fitzgerald wrote his letter April 10, but the committee didn’t meet to discuss it until 16 days later. Another hearing may not happen for a couple of weeks. This thing is in real danger of dragging on through the summer if the committee doesn’t get its act together soon.

Last week, a member of the House committee privately defended the slow process to date, pointing to the time it took to kick former Gov. Rod Blagojevich out of office.

But Blagojevich was arrested Dec. 8, 2008 and removed from office by the Senate on Jan. 29, 2009 — a total of 53 days start to finish, including House impeachment hearings, two House impeachment votes (one before and one after new members were sworn in), Senate hearings and a full Senate trial and vote to remove.

Smith was arrested March 13, 45 days before last week’s special committee meeting. By Blagojevich standards, Smith should be removed from office by the end of this week. But as I write this, the House doesn’t appear to be close to completing the first small step in the process.

The special committee is the initial step in the process of removal (or other punishment). If it decides that punishment is warranted, another committee will be appointed to decide what punishment, if any, should be meted out. Then the full House has to debate and vote on the matter. It’ll take a two-thirds majority vote to expel Smith.

There are indications that at least some Democratic members of the House committee aren’t completely convinced that this is a slam-dunk case. As if being arrested after allegedly accepting $7,000 in cash in exchange for providing an official letter of recommendation and having it all caught on tape somehow isn’t enough to warrant some sort of punishment for Smith.

I mean, even if the guy was entrapped (and the feds are pretty good about avoiding that), he’s still heard on an FBI tape while a “cooperating witness” counts out a pile of cash for him.

Cooperating witness: “One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Damn, stuck together. Six. Seven. Talk to you later.”

Smith: “You don’t want me to give you yours now? … I’m gonna get you your two, man!”

I can understand why House members don’t want to set a dangerous precedent of kicking out a fellow member after only an arrest. I completely agree that such a radical move should definitely not be a blanket policy.

But Smith was indicted on federal bribery charges directly related to his official legislative duties. This was not a drunken driving case or some minor crime relating to his personal life or something trumped up by a local, partisan prosecutor.

A recent statewide poll I’ve seen shows that just 29 percent of likely Illinois voters approve of the job that the Legislature is doing, while 61 percent disapprove. Endless dawdling on the Smith case won’t do anything to improve that pathetic standing with the public. It’s time to get this Smith inquiry moving, already.

* A different Derrick Smith has been popping up on Google News lately. This Derrick Smith owns a horse that’s racing in the Kentucky Derby. Daddy Long Legs is owned by Smith and others. I’m not sure if that’s a good omen for betting or a bad one. Your thoughts?

- Posted by Rich Miller   18 Comments      

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* Happy Thanksgiving!
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* Caption contest!
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* Moody's warns Illinois
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