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Monday, Aug 28, 2006

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Why gaming?

Monday, Aug 28, 2006

My self-promotion instict has failed once again because I forgot for the umpteenth time to post my weekly syndicated column.

So, why did Judy Baar Topinka go with a Chicago casino idea to help fund her education, property tax and infrastructure proposals? Well, a general tax increase had been all but ruled out months ago. Polling and focus grouping showed high levels of opposition to a tax hike. Plus, Topinka already has enough troubles with her Republican base without doing something like that.

The campaign had already proposed about $3 billion in Medicaid and other state spending cuts over four years, but she can only back so many cuts. Topinka wants AFSCME’s endorsement and is on track to get the Illinois Education Association’s nod. Her pursuit of those tax-eating groups and others like them makes it highly unlikely that we’ll see many more budget-cutting ideas before November.

Topinka has strongly opposed Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s asset sale ideas, so that angle was out of the question. Temporary solutions like the four-year infusion of cash from the lottery sale would make her look too much like Blagojevich, so forget that.

Pretty much all that was left was gaming. Voters don’t like gaming all that much, but when given the choice of a tax increase for schools or a limited version of gaming expansion like Topinka has proposed, they’ll go with gaming more often than not, particularly Republican and independent voters.

Promising something big to Chicago’s mayor never hurts, either. Now that Mayor Daley knows his schools will get more money and his city will get more jobs and tourism, he might not be so eager to campaign extra hard for Gov. Blagojevich.

Read the rest to see why she proposed any details at all.

- Posted by Rich Miller   6 Comments      


Mailers make mainstream press

Monday, Aug 28, 2006

The Daily Herald coverage finally starts to catch up to Austin Mayor’s stellar job.

The National Republican Campaign Committee is blanketing 6th Congressional District mailboxes with an unusually early barrage of glossy ads attacking Democrat Tammy Duckworth’s views.

With five mail pieces on taxes and one on immigration, the House GOP’s political arm has spent nearly $200,000 before Labor Day, the traditional start of campaign season.

The influx of mail is viewed as a sign Republicans are nervous about the prospects of their candidate, state Sen. Peter Roskam, in the longtime GOP stronghold, which includes parts of northeastern DuPage and northwest Cook counties. Roskam and Duckworth are vying in the Nov. 7 election for the seat left open by the retiring U.S. Sen. Henry Hyde, who has served 16 terms.

“The poll data that I’ve seen on that race shows it’s a tossup,” said Paul Green, political science professor at Roosevelt University. “If they lose Henry Hyde’s seat, the chances are very good that (House Speaker) Denny Hastert will have a lot more time to watch wrestling matches.”

The national Republicans aren’t denying there’s at least some worry in the wake of Hyde’s retirement.

You can see copies of several of these mailers at AM’s website here, here and here. You may not agree with his analyses, but you can at least see the whole mailers.

- Posted by Rich Miller   18 Comments      


A family affair - Updated x1

Monday, Aug 28, 2006

Apparently, the Secretary of State’s office is being run like a family business. Meaning they hire every relative in sight.

Last week in this space, I wrote about how Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White has been spending your money — specifically, how he put his biographer on the payroll at $73K a year, tripled his daughter’s salary in seven years and allowed the hiring of his chief of staff’s wife as a $25-an-hour part-time secretary.
Given Mr. White’s reputation as the nice guy of Illinois politics, I figured that would be it. We all mess up sometimes. On to more important stories, like Wal-Mart wages or who’s telling the biggest whoppers about Illinois finances.

As it turned out, last week’s column just scratched the surface.

Thanks to a series of phone calls and e-mails, I now have a fuller picture of who’s drawing taxpayer-funded checks in Mr. White’s office. Bottom line: There’s no need for family feuds here, because everyone’s making a buck. Even Chicago’s famed Roti clan — known for having every odd nephew and in-law on the city payroll — might be able to learn a few tricks. […]

On the other hand, the 18 job-holders referenced above are related to just 10 suits in the secretary of state’s office: Mr. White and nine senior executives that I specifically asked about. Who knows what else is going on?

Go read the whole thing for the details. There’s a lot more than this, I’m told, but White’s office doesn’t appear to be too concerned yet.

UPDATE: From a Dan Rutherford press release:

…Reconfirmed in published reports was that White accepts cash for Christmas gifts from his top employees, those he determines annual salary increases, like his predecessor George Ryan. He has also received a number of significant campaign contributions from his top staff.

“With just the examples included here, these few employees easily earn over $500,000 in taxpayer-funded salaries and contracts,” said Rutherford. “We are clearly seeing a pattern of impropriety coming to light. The people of Illinois saw Jesse White’s predecessor convicted for improprieties akin to what White is doing today.” […]

Rutherford called on Jesse White to make public his Personnel Policy with regard to hiring and promoting family members and his policy on awarding no bid contracts to family members and friends that do personal favors.

- Posted by Rich Miller   18 Comments      


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Monday, Aug 28, 2006

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Question of the day

Monday, Aug 28, 2006

With the one-year anniversary just around the corner of Gov. Blagojevich’s signing the medical malpractice bill into law, the Post-Dispatch takes a look back and ahead.

Doctors and business advocates want further reforms, as they consider Illinois’ bill only a first step. Lawyers and victims advocates are calling for a repeal of the legislation that they say hinders the rights of injured people. And both sides candidly agree the issue is thorny for elected officials.

“This has become a political football,” said Dr. Harold L. Jensen, chairman of the ISMIE Mutual Insurance Co., the major malpractice insurer in the state.

This was the most interesting quote in the story.

“They’re waiting to find a tragic case, one where it’s going to be very difficult for a jury and for a trial court judge to award only the capped amount of money,” said Ed Murnane, president of the Illinois Civil Justice League, which strongly supported the legislation.

Read the whole thing, then answer the question: Did the medical malpractice bill go too far, not far enough or was it just about right? Explain.

- Posted by Rich Miller   32 Comments      


Reform and renewal, Part 97,487 - UPDATED x1

Monday, Aug 28, 2006

Oy.

How does someone who lost a $250,000 state consulting gig — apparently for doing no work — get a $900,000 no-bid contract a few months later from Gov. Blagojevich’s administration?

That was the good fortune of Chicago lawyer Myron “Mike” Cherry, a major Blagojevich donor who is the main protagonist in yet another story of clout and big money in state government.

Cherry, a prominent Democratic fund-raiser who is linked to at least $60,000 in contributions to Blagojevich, has not been accused of any criminal wrongdoing.

But a 2004 investment proposal at the state Teachers Retirement System that would have netted Cherry the $250,000 has drawn scrutiny from federal investigators probing corruption at the pension system and under Blagojevich.

The feds have been investigating whether Blagojevich and fund-raisers Antoin “Tony” Rezko and Christopher Kelly were involved in a secret scheme to steer state pension business to top campaign donors — an accusation all three have adamantly denied.

Read the whole thing.

UPDATE: From a press release:

DuPage County State’s Attorney Joe Birkett called on Governor Rod Blagojevich to stop stonewalling on a secret no-bid contract to a top Democratic contributor.

When Crain’s Chicago Business first revealed the existence of a no-bid contract to lawyer Myron “Mike” Cherry on Feb. 22, 2005, the administration refused to comment on the scope of the work. In today’s Sun-Times, the paper revealed that Cherry was paid $900,000 in six months for work the administration refuses to detail.

“The public has an absolute right to know specifically what work was done by Myron Cherry to justify nearly $1 million in payments in six months,” said Birkett, running mate for gubernatorial candidate Judy Baar Topinka, the state Treasurer. “At a minimum the administration should turn over Cherry’s billing records.”

“Cherry is one of the most prolific Democratic fundraisers in the state. He has given Rod Blagojevich in excess of $60,000,” Birkett noted. “We need answers about this sweetheart contract.”

Birkett said the contract is especially suspect because several months before the no-bid contract, Cherry was poised to receive a $250,000 fee from the administration that the Teachers Retirement System determined was not justified. That potential fee is among those under investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s office, according to published reports.

“Until the Blagojevich administration answers questions about this contract, it will strongly appear that it was determined to reward a major campaign contributor. That is exactly the type of pay-to-play politics Rod Blagojevich said he would halt when he became governor,” Birkett added.

- Posted by Rich Miller   37 Comments      


Poll has mixed results for education funding advocates

Monday, Aug 28, 2006

The full poll and some crosstabs are in the subscribers-only section. Here’s a Southtown article on the poll that is to be released today.

Illinois voters say education funding is the leading issue in the race for governor, but only a slim majority are willing to pay more taxes to support low-income schools, according to a poll released today by Speak Out for Illinois Schools, a coalition of education and community organizations.

Forty-four percent of Illinois voters said education was the top issue in the November election, over issues like job creation, government waste and health care.

And nearly two-thirds of voters want to see an increase in the state share of funding for public education, compared to 24 percent who think it should remain at the same level.

But voters are split over whether they want to part with more of their hard-earned cash to fund education.

Just more than half are willing to pay more taxes to increase funding for low-income school districts. Samantha Anderson of Communities for Quality Education is optimistic about that 51 percent.

Funding for low-income schools was the only expense a majority of voters were willing to pay with a tax increase, the poll shows. Teacher training, school construction and programs for wayward youth, for example, garnered just 30 percent in favor of higher taxes.

Discuss.

- Posted by Rich Miller   23 Comments      


Different regions = different ads

Monday, Aug 28, 2006

The Tribune did a story back in May about about how CMAG has tracked Gov. Blagojevich’s campaign spending, but the Post-Dispatch has a slight twist.

Barely a month after the March primary elections, Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich spent $500,000 to go after Republican challenger Judy Baar Topinka with a rolling pin. In a major television ad buy beginning in April - far earlier than statewide campaigns usually start spending serious money - Blagojevich’s campaign aired a debate clip about banning assault weapons, in which Topinka says: “It’s very difficult to define what is an assault weapon. I mean, a rolling pin could be an assault weapon if you really want to look at it that way.”

As a photo of a rolling pin appears above Topinka’s head in the commercial, an announcer intones: “Topinka opposes an assault weapons ban … because she says it could ban a rolling pin. What’s she thinking?” […]

The rolling pin commercial, for example, ran almost 500 times over two months in Chicago, where there tends to be strong support for gun control. It didn’t run once in the Metro East area, where even Democrats often consider themselves pro-gun. Instead, Blagojevich has used his St. Louis television buys - almost $100,000 worth so far - to tout his own record on safer issues like education and jobs.

“There are different levels of interest in different issues around the state,” said Blagojevich spokeswoman Sheila Nix, explaining why the campaign didn’t focus on the assault weapons issue in the Metro East area.

I didn’t think he had run those ads downstate, and now we know he didn’t run them at least in the Metro East.

- Posted by Rich Miller   11 Comments      


Morning shorts

Monday, Aug 28, 2006

· “A third former janitor with the secretary of state’s physical services division has pleaded guilty to his part in a scheme that resulted in the three being paid for hours they didn’t work.”

· Hiring freeze? What hiring freeze?

· It appears that the Daily Herald was hacked again. This time, I made sure to save a screen shot of their front page.

· McQueary: TK’s story shows state could do more for vets

· Workers with disabilities keep government going

· “Downers Grove attorney Carole Doris secured Metra’s top post Friday, continuing collar county oversight of the rail agency critical to suburban commuters.”

· Apparently, Greg liked my column. He also has some other ideas worth reading.

· Brown: Peraica volunteer learns how it is for GOP in Dem town

· Governor changes mind, puts up employees at the President Abraham Lincoln Hotel (scroll down)

· Grilling the sexes on the GOP bus

· Tribune Co.’s Chicago Tribune said it plans to outsource its circulation customer contact center to the Philippines

· Hastert defends Congress on budget

· Anniversary muted as canal awaits fed funding

· “Having gotten a kiss from President Bush, I really insisted on one from the County Board Chairman, Bob Schillerstrom as well,” Topinka said. “I’m collecting. It’s one of the good things of being a female candidate, I guess.”

· Danny Stover speech on YouTube

· Washington: Tough job awaits new Urban League chief

· Suburban officials sold on Wal-Mart

- Posted by Rich Miller   5 Comments      


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