Political Rewind: Democrats Take the Stage
As we start a new week, it's always good to get caught up on state politics. Here's an easy guide to what happened last week.
Editor's Note: This article was created by aggregating news articles from Illinois Watchdog, formerly Illinois Statehouse News.
SPRINGFIELD – Much of Illinois’ political attention this week was focused on the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., where Gov. Pat Quinn addressed thousands of delegates and the nation on Tuesday, followed by Illinois’ own President Barack Obama’s address on Thursday.
Quinn takes stage at Democratic National Convention
Quinn called out Republicans for “smearing” Obama’s record on welfare reform and other issues during a speech Tuesday evening at the party’s national convention.
The theme of Quinn’s speech was “facts are stubborn things,” a quote he attributed to President John Adams. He disputed Republican assertions from the party’s national convention a week earlier about Obama’s record on Medicare and work requirements for welfare recipients, as well as his role in the closure of an auto plant in northern Illinois
“From day one, President Obama has told you where he stands, what he believes and what he is doing to make our middle class strong again,” Quinn said during his speech. “America is moving forward under President Obama’s leadership, and that’s a fact. Now it’s our job in the next nine weeks to make sure that the American people know the facts.”
Quinn ended his address with one his familiar and oft-used lines from back home, as he invited Americans to vote for Obama this fall.
“…and together let’s make the will of the people the law of the land,” he said.
Several Illinois elected officials, including Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, and various state senators and representatives, could be seen in the crowd during the nationally televised parts of the convention.
Visit watchdog.org for extensive coverage of both the Republican and Democratic national conventions.
Prison closures, inmate transfers on hold
The governor’s plan to move inmates and close several correctional facilities throughout the state is on hold for now after a judge on Tuesday granted a labor union’s request for a temporary restraining order.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees sought the restraining order, claiming Quinn failed to negotiate the closures with correctional officers and other prison workers, as required by their union contract. The union wants the closures halted until the differences are worked out.
Alexander County Circuit Judge Charles Cavaness, ruling from Cairo at the far southern tip of Illinois, granted the union’s request. The next hearings on the matter are set for the week of Sept. 24.
Quinn’s initial plan was to close several facilities throughout the state and consolidate inmates by Aug. 31. The closures now are on hold indefinitely until the legal matters are worked out.
Slated for closure are the Tamms “super max” prison in Alexander County in far southern Illinois and the Dwight women’s prison about 80 miles southwest of Chicago; adult transition centers in Joliet, Decatur, Chicago andCarbondale; and the Illinois Youth Center in Murphysboro.
Kelly Kraft, Quinn’s communications director, said the state has empty, half-full, outdated and expensive taxpayer-funded correctional facilities.
“… It is disappointing that progress to make Illinois a better place and to put its financial house in order continues to be halted,” she said.
Illinois congressmen making the grade on attendance
When it comes to attendance, Illinois’ congressional delegation earns above-average marks.
Of the state’s 19 U.S. representatives, only Democrats Bobby Rush of District 1 and Luis Gutierrez of District 4 have missed more than 10 percent of roll-call votes during their time in office, according to the latest figures from Govtrack.us, which tracks federal legislation and lawmaker votes inCongress.
Both have been in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1993, and more than 13,000 votes were taken during that time. Rush missed 1,760 of them, and Gutierrez, 1,548.
The median for missed votes among congressional lawmakers is 2.4 percent, according to Govtrack.us.
U.S. Rep. Randy Hultgren, R-District 14, who joined Congress in January 2011, has the best record, missing only four of 1,503 votes during his tenure.
U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert, R-District 13, has been in office since 1999 and has the second-best record, missing only 68 of 9,679 votes.
But attendance and missed votes don’t tell the full story about a congressman’s performance, according to one Illinois political observer.
“You count what you can. But for the average voter who’s maybe not very engaged, they’re going to be looking for these kinds of cues that give them some sense of how effective somebody is,” said longtime Illinois political observer Kent Redfield. “Whether they take it seriously and, for better or worse, whether they miss a lot of roll calls are measures.”
All of Illinois’ seats in the U.S. House of Representatives — 18 in all after losing one in the redistricting process — are up for grabs in November.
Illinois still No. 1 for most units of local government
Illinois taxpayers continue to pay for more local units of government — nearly 7,000 — than any other state, according to new figures from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Illinois has 6,968 units of local government, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s preliminary 2012 Census of Governments, released last week. Considering the state’s population of 12.8 million, that means there’s one governmental body for about every 1,800 residents.
That includes municipalities, townships, library districts, school districts, park districts, water and sanitary districts, mosquito-abatement districts, airport and transit authorities, hospital boards, tax-increment-financing districts — all of which provide services for Illinois taxpayers.
“You could go to a local government meeting every day of the week and still not be able to make all the meetings,” said Brian Costin, director of government reform for the right-leaning think tank the Illinois Policy Institute. “I think that’s something where citizens get discouraged. They say, ‘I can’t keep up on everything that’s going on, so I’m just not going to participate.’”
Illinois leaves No. 2 Pennsylvania in the dust by more than 2,000. The Keystone State has 4,905 units of local government.
The cons of having so many local governments – the cost, the redundancy and the lack of transparency – far outweigh the pros, Costin said. In fact, he said, there really is only one pro.
“They’re good if you want to be employed as a politician,” he said.
— Jayette Bolinski