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This just in…

Monday, Apr 28, 2008

* 11:04 am - From the SJ-R

Senate President Emil Jones won’t be part of the lawsuit over Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s authority to set both the date and time of special sessions.

Sangamon County Judge Leo Zappa Monday decided to limit the lawsuit to House Speaker Michael Madigan while acknowledging that any decision will affect the Senate as well as the House. Zappa said adding Jones to the lawsuit could result in more delays and the proceeding could end up a “circus.”

Zappa also refused to dismiss the lawsuit, ordering lawyers for Blagojevich and Madigan to be ready to argue the case May 13.

No offense, but it’s already a “circus,” judge.

* 12:17 pm - Rezko allegedly talked big

Tony Rezko associate Elie Maloof just testified that when he received a grand jury subpoena, Rezko told him not to talk to the feds. Why?

“The federal prosecutor will no longer be the same federal prosecutor,” Maloof just testified that Rezko told him. What did Rezko mean, prosecutor Chris Niewoehner asked. “That Patrick Fitzgerald would be terminated and Dennis Hastert will name his replacement. The investigation will be over.”

Maloof said Rezko told him of Fitzgerald’s replacement: “That they will order the prosecutor to stop the investigation.” […]

Maloof also testified that Rezko told him not to bring up his name to prosecutors because it would only link to Gov. Blagojevich.

* 5:21 pm - Once again, Paul Vallas dangles a candidacy, saying he “would be open” to exploring a bid for governor…

But before Vallas’ admirers rush him with encouragement to make another attempt at the state’s highest office, Vallas cautioned that it would be next year before he would seriously entertain such a notion – or any other future job prospect. Vallas is now entering his second year as head of the state-run Recovery School District in New Orleans, and his contract does not expire until June 2009.

“I’d be open to running again, but we’ll have to see what happens,” Vallas told reporters after speaking to a luncheon crowd at the City Club of Chicago.

Vallas’ appearance at the City Club aroused thoughts that he might consider public office again in Illinois. Vallas did little to tamp down that speculation. He stuck strictly to education in his speech, but when questions from audience members and reporters flew his way about again seeking public office, Vallas said three times that one should “never say never” about such a prospect.

He even mused he could raise money this time in a more “non-traditional fashion,” such as over the Internet. He noted that he only raised $2.25 million overall for his gubernatorial bid in 2002 and that raising substantial political funds has been a personal shortcoming.

* The Sun-Times has more

“While some people have been dodging indictments, I’ve been running a school district,” Vallas said at one point. […]

Given that Democrats now claim majorities in both legislative chambers and hold the governor’s seat, “You would think that would give you the opportunity to really get things done,” Vallas said. “There’s been a lot of opportunities that have been squandered.”

“I think I feel the same way a lot of residents feel. I feel frustrated and angry. Look, I think I could have made a difference. Clearly I could have gotten along with the Legislature much better,” Vallas said.

“I’d be open to running again, but right now I wouldn’t make a decision until after the first of the year,” said Vallas, who won an unusual standing ovation before he even began speaking.

- Posted by Rich Miller   40 Comments      


Your assignment for today *** UPDATED X4 ***

Monday, Apr 28, 2008

[Note: I’m going to keep this post at or near the top for most of the day because this problem absolutely has to be addressed.]

* Head over to the State Board of Elections’ website and try to look up a few candidate filings and campaign contributions.

I was supposed to go over to the State Board myself and tell them how badly they screwed up their website, but I just don’t have time to hold their little hands through this disaster. I sent an admittedly snippy e-mail to their webmaster after attempting numerous times - without success - to access a simple candidate filing and got an (understandably) snippy response (considering my subject line was: “You really screwed up your website”), along with this kicker…

I looked over and tested just about everything and it all seems to be in working condition.

Apparently, this person has no clue. I am repeatedly getting two error messages…

* One of those error messages reads, in part: “Your session has expired or you need to enable cookies on your web browser settings.”

Why would my session have to expire? Why would the State Board care? Also, cookies are enabled on my browser, so I don’t get it.

* The other common message reads: “Unexpected errors occurred trying to switch to next page.”

I am constantly getting this message on my Firefox browser. The error page claims that the Board has been “automatically notified of these errors,” yet the webmaster claims all is hunky dory.

Wrong.

They broke their site. Plain and simple.

Leave your own critiques in comments.

*** ADDING *** Please be specific. Most of us already know the Board’s site is a horror show. Don’t just vent. Point to specific error messages or problems you are having. Otherwise, your comment is worthless. Thanks much. :)

*** UPDATE 1 *** IlliniPundit weighs in

One of the big problems with campaign finance in Illinos is that the State Board of Elections collects a bunch of data, but they make it as inconvenient as possible for the public and press to access the data and pass it around.

More ease of use and convenience and greater public and media access to the data would do more to clean up Illinois politics than an ineffective feel-good measure like a contribution ban, yet nobody talks about how badly the State Board of Elections is screwing this up.

Their site is so broken that they’re basically hiding campaign finance data from the very people they’re supposed to be working for.

*** UPDATE 2 *** I should have mentioned this at the top, but the inability to open links in new tabs or windows is absolutely insane. Why would the Board want to keep people from using basic Internet browser functions? Outmoded and completely ridiculous.

*** UPDATE 3 *** Ben at TwoKings has more

I won’t even get started with the design issues. I could put up with the bad design if it was functional and smooth, and easy to interact with.

One of the biggest issues is that at times, when searching for various forms and pieces of data, you get various error messages. I’ve found that refreshing/reloading the browser can sometimes get you past the error message, but it is still a pain. The frustrating thing for me is that I’ve even had a hard time replicating the error. It seems, at least, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

The second biggest issue I’ve had relates to browsing and navigation. Almost all of the internal navigation seems to rely on javascript. Javascript can be a useful tool, when used in moderation. However, it’s rarely a good tool for navigation. One reason is that it takes away certain tools that most users are comfortable with and used to. For example, you can’t right click a javascript link to open the link in a new window. Sometimes I like to use that feature. Okay, I often like to use that feature.

*** UPDATE 4 *** Elections Board executive director Dan White just sent me this e-mail…

In response to comments about problems with the SBE website, we hear them, we are aware of these issues and are working hard to establish both near term and long term solutions. Suggestions are always welcome and we continue to incorporate constructive recommendations to improve the website. Our goal is to provide access and avaiability to all of the thousands of users who rely on our information systems. As with any new system, there are new problems and issues to be addressed and resolved. Please continue to comment and utilize our website.

We will have significant improvements in place shortly and we look for your comments as we continue to implement these changes.

Thank you,
Dan White
Executive Director

I’m not holding my breath. We were promised a great, new website over a year ago (right around the time of my 2006 holiday party), and what we got was a giant pile of garbage. They need a new tech team.

- Posted by Rich Miller   115 Comments      


Question of the day

Monday, Apr 28, 2008

* Remember this line from Gov. Blagojevich last week?

“When you’re elected governor, it’s not like you get the chance to go to governor’s school,” he said, adding, “They don’t have a school for new governors, you just sort of have to figure out how to do the job.”

* Well, actually, that’s not true. Shortly after Blagojevich was first elected in 2002, the National Governors Association held a training session for newly elected governors

For Immediate Release
Friday, November 15, 2002

Governor-Elect Jim Doyle and his wife Jessica Doyle will attend a New Governors Training Session hosted by the National Governors’ Association (NGA) this weekend in Austin, Texas.

The training is a chance for the 20 new governors and their spouses to meet with the sitting governors and hear first hand about being a governor. Among the sessions offered for the new governors will be seminars on staffing, budgeting, working with the legislature, and the popular session, “What I wish I would have known when I started” where sitting governors talk about lessons they have learned in office.

The NGA encourages governors to leave their campaigns at the door, and participate in bi-partisan discussions with their colleagues who are there to help offer advice and answer questions.

* Question: What courses would you design for Gov. Blagojevich’s “school”?

- Posted by Rich Miller   37 Comments      


Oy

Monday, Apr 28, 2008

* CTA riders may be squeezed for more cash

CTA President Ron Huberman can’t rule out higher fares next year, given the high cost of fuel and the expense of the free rides for seniors program.

“Fuel costs are exploding,” Huberman said. He also noted that the free rides program, which began March 17, looks like it will be a “pretty expensive venture.”

I don’t know whether Huberman is just trying to shift blame on the free rides for seniors program, but Blagojevich is a handy punching bag these days so it’s easy to blame him for just about everything.

* Higher energy prices mean a lot of people owe a ton of money for their heating bills

Hundreds of thousands of utility customers are at risk of disconnections as the sagging economy drives up the number of past-due home heating bills and the amounts owed, utility companies in cold-weather states say.

Xcel Energy says 17%-19% of its 1.1 million Minnesota customers and its 280,000 Wisconsin customers are in arrears. That’s about the same as a year ago, but balances owed are up 10% in Minnesota and up 20% in Wisconsin, says Pat Boland, Xcel’s credit policy manager.

* Meanwhile, one of the dominant players in the state’s payday loan industry has found a loophole to get around a state law that capped interest rates…

When a law governing payday loans took effect more than two years ago, Illinois officials ballyhooed the millions of dollars saved and the burdens lifted for cash-strapped borrowers.

But consumer advocates say a major player in the loan industry has used a loophole in the law to shift customers to loans with no caps on interest rates, allowing them to charge an average 279 percent annual interest on loans to mostly female, minority and low-income borrowers.

* And you gotta wonder if big layoffs are coming at Wrigley

Wm. Wrigley Jr. Cos., in a move it said will provide “enhanced prospects for growth,” confirmed this morning that it has agreed to be acquired by privately held candy-industry giant Mars Inc. for $80 a share, or $23 billion.

The Chicago chewing-gum company said its board has already approved the all-cash offer, although the transaction will still require clearance from regulators and Wrigley stockholders.

I also wonder how this might impact the attempts by Tribune Co. to pressure Wrigley to buy naming rights at Wrigely Field.

Thoughts?

*** Adding *** Rhodes has a funny line today

Which joke will get more play, Mars Field or Snickers Stadium?

- Posted by Rich Miller   14 Comments      


As usual, IDOT rumors are untrue

Monday, Apr 28, 2008

Rumors were swarming around Springfield last week that the Illinois Department of Transportation was going to idle all of its trucks starting May 1. The reason was the department is out of money to pay for fuel, forcing trucks off of the highways.

Actually, the rumors were broader than that. I was informed by several anxious IDOT employees that all construction work was to halt on May 1. The rumor was, indeed, rampant. More from Finke’s column

For the record, IDOT denied any orders have been issued to idle the fleet on May 1. At the same time, spokesman MIKE CLAFFEY said the department is facing a funding crunch and continues to look at ways to save money. The department already has said it is cutting way back on mowing along highways and that some district offices might idle trucks for one day a week to save fuel costs.

Asked if the department might resort to parking all of its trucks, Claffey repeated that IDOT is always looking at cost-saving measures, but that public safety will not be jeopardized.

* I talked to the governor’s office about this rumor last week and was told that a shutdown is not imminent. There are some big problems with IDOT’s budget, however, including a $46 million cost overrun on snow and ice removal and another big hole caused by higher fuel prices.

I was told that IDOT is “slowing things down.” For example, there is no overtime for routine purposes, just emergency services, like the recent earthquake, which necessitated emergency bridge inspections. Also, mowing is being slowed down as well.

There is a supplemental appropriations bill sitting in the House to cover the funding shortfall, but nobody knows whether that will ever pass. As the fiscal year comes to a close, more slowdowns could happen.

IDOT is a rumor hotbed, so any time you hear somebody swear that trouble is afoot over there, take it with a huge grain of salt.

- Posted by Rich Miller   32 Comments      


Recall or impeach?

Monday, Apr 28, 2008

* The Tribune editorial board continues its loud and steady drumbeat for the passage of a constitutional amendment for recall in the Illinois Senate

Two Chicago Democrats in the Illinois Senate paid a call on the Tribune editorial board last week. When prompted, Kwame Raoul and Heather Steans told us they don’t want a recall amendment added to the state constitution. They do, however, want an amendment to kill the mandate of a flat-rate state income tax, now 3 percent for individuals. They telegraphed urgency: Any potential amendment has to clear the General Assembly by May 4 to make November’s ballot.

When Raoul and Steans finished, we asked: So you want the people of Illinois to be able to vote in November on your income tax amendment—but you oppose giving them a vote on the recall amendment?

Pause for reflection on that irony.

“That’s right,” said Raoul, looking down.

“Yes,” added Steans, looking down.

As if that wasn’t over the top enough, they also put the Statehouse phone numbers for every Senate Democrat on their editorial page. The Senate isn’t in session today, so the secretaries will have to deal with these calls on their own.

* While the Tribune beats the drums for recall, some have moved on to more immediate solutions. My syndicated newspaper column concludes with these lines…

Ata’s guilty plea has shocked even some of the most hardened, cynical Statehouse types like little I’ve ever seen before. And when the shock wore off, a word started spreading through the crowd that had until now only been whispered on the fringes.

“Impeachment.”

Stay tuned.

* Scott Reeder had this fun little nugget

But until recently, the word “impeachment” only came up quietly as politicians sipped beer at various Springfield watering holes.

Now it is being talked about publicly.

Joel Brunsvold, a former state representative and Blagojevich cabinet member, recently told a group of visiting Quad-Citians he was surprised on how well versed Speaker of the House Speaker Michael Madigan’s staff is in the procedures to impeach a governor.

Even though, it has never happened in the state’s history.

* Unlike last year, Speaker Madigan refused to take the issue off the table

Late Friday afternoon, [House Speaker Michael Madigan[ told Flannery: “I don’t plan to create a committee for this purpose, today. Every day’s a new day. If we have to … my resolve is to do it appropriately and professionally.”

* But there is much resistance. Republican state Rep. Brent Hassert, who is a Tier One target and a member of House GOP leadership, downplayed the whole idea when asked by CBS 2

But until there is more evidence of wrongdoing by the governor, some critics of Blagojevich oppose impeaching him, including the second-highest ranking Republican in the Illinois House, Rep. Brent Hassert (R-Romeoville).

“Somewhere down the line that might change, but right now I don’t see anything that’s impeachable,” Hassert said.

* Meanwhile, the Tribune had a well-researched piece yesterday on a curious pattern to the governor’s campaign fundraising

Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s aggressive fundraising machine collected hundreds of $25,000 checks in a campaign effort that dwarfed his predecessors’, and most of these big givers ended up benefiting from his administration.

A Tribune examination of all 235 of those donations shows that three of every four came from individuals, companies or interest groups who got something—from lucrative state contracts to coveted state board appointments to favorable policy and regulatory actions. […]

All told, Blagojevich’s campaign has raised more than $58 million since 2000, with nearly $6 million coming in donations of exactly $25,000. Those contributions—235 in all—came from 166 different donors. Those donors gave an additional $8.6 million in amounts larger and smaller than $25,000.

I didn’t see it in the story, but it would be helpful to know how many of thos donations came shortly before or shortly after those contracts and appointments were made.

* Related stories…

* Report links governor’s donors with getting benefits

* ($25,000) Check, please!

* Rove: Kjellander feared the Fitzgeralds

* Blagojevich - big game for federal corruption hunters?

* Beleaguered gov singing different tune

* Another governor heading for prison?

* Rezko trial diverts attention from governor’s agenda

* Ex-fugitive put up homes to spring Rezko

* Ex-inmate helps free Rezko from jail

* Key Witness to Testify in Rezko Trial

* ROUNDTABLE: Governor Recall

* Sen. Cronin: Stop stalling on a needed recall law

* Constitutional amendments busy lawmakers this year

* State Constitution headed for change?

* Constitutional convention up to voters

* Editorial: Any hope of progress in legislature?

- Posted by Rich Miller   16 Comments      


Morning Shorts

Monday, Apr 28, 2008

* In case you missed it Friday: Click here to watch the impeachment debate from WTTW’s Chicago Tonight

* Thecapitolfaxblog.com: Rezko

* Brownfield cleanup in Wood River collapses

* Judge raps Park District over Latin field

* Stop that bulldozer

Ruling that the residents made a persuasive argument that the field could only be built with approval from the Chicago Plan Commission, she prohibited Latin or the Park District from installing “lighting, permanent or fixed goal posts, permanent or removable bleachers or signage.” Furthermore, the scoreboard, which has already been installed, “may not be lit, connected to lighting, or otherwise used.”

* Congressman, get me rewrite

Rep. Rahm Emanuel lauded the Cubs in Congress on Thursday for their 10,000th win last night, though perhaps he should’ve had his statement proofread first.

* Morgenthaler Posts Strong Fundraising Quarter

* Michel and LaHood Endorse Schock

* LaHood removed lingering doubt and gives Schock his endorsement

* At Last Minute, Park District Receives Needed State Funds

* Political donors in line to run health system

* Residents invited to Stroger meeting

* Chicago-Style Politics Live On In Cook County

* Start county anew? Breaking up is hard to do

* Porch inspections taper off

* Daley backs plan to give assault rifles to all cops

* Assault on reason

* Bernard Schoenburg: Departing Mutchler talks about ‘special time’ in her life

* Illinois Law Schools & Attorneys

* I-Pass users ‘want the dinger back‘ — may get it

* Legendary doctor retires, turns to activism

* Illinois hangs posters on human trafficking

* New ZIP Codes in Chicago

* How Low Can You Go?

Look in the mirror, newspaper execs. One of the big problems is you. You’re surrounded by dramatic, earth-shattering industry change, your core numbers are dropping by double digits, and you’re all still working off the same old, boring playbook.

- Posted by Rich Miller   5 Comments      


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