First quarter corporate fund report released Fund exceeds projections by $2 million - Robert Heap
Wheaton, IL — DuPage County Board Finance Chair Robert Heap updated the Finance Committee at the Tuesday morning meeting on the status of the Corporate Fund first quarter performance that exceeded projections by nearly $2 million or 11 percent.
Heap told the Committee that the County has stayed on target with spending, coming under budget projections and that revenues slightly exceeded expectations.
Cash spending for the quarter was $1.4 million or 3.7% under projections. The County was able to defer a scheduled budget transfer and both personal and non-personal services were under estimate.
Revenues for the 1st Quarter totaled $27.4 million, nearly $450 thousand higher than the projected $26.9 million. Most revenue categories remained on target, despite on-going reimbursement issues with the state.
“We carefully craft a budget that accurately reflects revenue projections, rather than unrealistically project revenue to artificially balance a budget,” Heap told the Committee.
Heap also credited the County’s conservative spending for the County’s healthy cash balance. At $18.7 million, this quarter’s balance is $2.3 million higher than the cash balance at the end of the first quarter for FY2005.
“Our disciplined cash management is one of the primary reasons the County’s elite AAA rating has been re-affirmed three times in the past 12 months,” Heap stated. “All three rating agencies have cited our strong financial management, our excellent cash position and our consistent performance.”
Transportation Chair Pam Rion thanked Mr. Heap for his financial leadership and reiterated the county’s commitment to minimal reliance on the property tax.
“We have lowered the property tax levy for ten out of the last eleven years. I believe the County Board has demonstrated its commitment to fiscal discipline and today’s report is certainly evidence of that,” Ms. Rion said. “Our County Board members, elected officials and staff work tirelessly to make sure that our financial position is strong and that our infrastructure and services are first rate.”
“The performance of the Corporate Fund clearly demonstrates that our disciplined spending and increased county-wide efficiencies have been effective in maintaining our low cost of government,” Kyle Gilgis Chair of the County’s Development Committee stated. “We have undergone substantial reorganization over the last three years and I believe that operationally we are very lean. I am proud of all the cooperative relationships that have worked together for the benefit of the citizens of our County.”
“The credit for this success really goes to the cooperation of all elected officials and all departments in maintaining a fiscally disciplined approach to operations and spending,” Heap concluded.
Highlights of the Corporate Fund First Quarter Report:
Cash spending $37.2 million- $1.4 million or 3.7% under projections
Revenue $27.4 million - $450, 000 above projected $26.9 million.
Cash balance $18.7 million -$1.9 million or 11.2% above projection.
FY2005 year-end cash balance was $28.6 million- highest end of year cash balance in seven years.
Opponents of gay marriage submitted more than 345,000 signatures on a petition
(5/9/06) Springfield - Opponents of gay marriage submitted more than 345,000 signatures on a petition to place an advisory referendum on the ballot this fall. They hope to ask voters whether the Illinois Constitution should be amended to limit marriage to the union of a man and a woman.
NEWS YORK TIMES
State Proposals on Illegal Immigration Largely Falter - Julia Preston
Lawmakers in dozens of state legislatures, impatient with Congress's lack of action to overhaul immigration law, have proposed hundreds of measures on the issue this year, most aimed at restricting illegal immigrants' access to public benefits and drivers' licenses.
But few bills to clamp down on illegal immigration have made it into law, meeting determined resistance from unlikely alliances uniting Latino community groups and civil liberties advocates with law enforcement officials and local chambers of commerce.
The array of state initiatives reflect uneasiness among voters across the country about the growing presence of illegal immigrants, especially in states — like North Carolina, Tennessee, Colorado and Arizona — where immigrant populations have surged in recent years.
"It was a way to wake up the federal government to do something, after they let down the entire country on illegal immigration," said Steve Gallardo, a Democratic state representative in Arizona, where the Legislature has been battling nonstop on the issue since January.
So far this year, no fewer than 461 bills related to immigration have been offered in the 43 states where legislatures have been in session, according to a survey by Ann Morse of the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures.
Proposals have been offered to bar immigrants who cannot prove legal status from obtaining nonemergency health benefits, in-state rates of tuition and financial aid for college, and unemployment assistance. A host of bills sought to ensure that workers had legal documents and to enforce sanctions against employers who hired illegal immigrants. Other measures proposed authorizing local and state police agencies to enforce federal immigration laws.
One of the most significant bills to win passage was in Georgia, which adopted a broad measure barring illegal immigrants from many state benefits, requiring employers to verify the status of workers and mandating that jailers alert federal officials to anyone incarcerated who is in the country illegally.
But a count compiled by Ms. Morse last week found that only 19 measures had been enacted nationwide, and just 12 of them imposed on illegal immigrants any restrictions that were significant.
"There were a slew of punitive measures introduced across the country," said Tanya Broder, a lawyer in Oakland, Calif., with the National Immigration Law Center, which promotes immigrant rights and monitors legislation on the issue. "But most of them either failed upon consideration by legislatures, or were narrowed to the point where they are largely symbolic."
In Tennessee, which the Pew Hispanic Center estimates is home to 100,000 or more illegal immigrants, at least 20 immigration bills have been introduced in the last year. The resulting clash centered on a drivers' certificate the state created in May 2004, which authorized illegal immigrants who lived there to drive but which could not be used as an identity document for any other purpose.
Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, suspended the program in February after the arrest of a Knoxville resident who had been ferrying in illegal immigrants from New Jersey. She had been allowing them to use her address to obtain certificates so that they might try to drive in other states.
Republican lawmakers led a campaign to cancel the certificate outright and impose other curbs on illegal immigrants. "We're a country where people all their lives have to obey the laws," said State Senator Bill Ketron, a leader of the effort. "Those who come here illegally don't pay any attention to those laws. That's what's dividing our country right now."
But the campaign ran up against concerted opposition from an alliance of groups that had gained lobbying skills in defending the certificate program.
Stephen Fotopulos, policy director for one such group, the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, said, "There's a lot of frustration in our state with the broken federal immigration system, and people unfortunately have decided that anti-immigrant rhetoric will be politically advantageous."
Although the certificate program remains suspended, the attempts to cancel it were defeated. But one of Senator Ketron's bills, requiring that the drivers' license examination be given only in English, passed the Senate and is still moving forward in the lower house.
In New Mexico, Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, declared a state of emergency last year because of growing violence at the Mexican border, but efforts to revoke a state law that allows illegal immigrants to obtain drivers' licenses were beaten back.
Immigrant rights groups forged alliances with local sheriffs and businesses three years ago to win enactment of that law, which permits applicants for drivers' licenses to present alternative forms of identification if they have no Social Security or visa number.
"We worked hard building those relations with law enforcement," said Marcela Díaz, director of Somos un Pueblo Unido (We Are a United People), a group that spearheaded those efforts. "When it comes to passing these laws, we face no strong organized opposition."
In Virginia, where the Pew center estimates 250,000 illegal immigrants live, some 40 immigration measures have been offered this year. Most have sought to expand on restrictions in a bill enacted in March 2005 that bars illegal immigrants from state benefits including Medicaid and welfare. But so far only one new measure has passed, ordering law enforcement officials to report illegal immigrant minors who commit serious crimes to federal immigration authorities.
In Virginia elections last November, Republican candidates trumpeted plans to get tough on illegal immigration. But some discovered that the issue had unexpected wrinkles.
One of them, State Senator Emmett W. Hanger Jr., was a prime mover of the 2005 bill. This year he offered a proposal to deny in-state college tuition to illegal immigrant students — with some important exceptions. His proposal would make those students eligible if they had graduated from Virginia high schools and were seeking to become United States citizens, and if their parents had been living and paying taxes in the state for three years.
Mr. Hanger said he drafted the exemptions after legislative hearings where one witness, an illegal immigrant student, had just returned from a military tour in Iraq.
To his surprise, many of Mr. Hanger's Republican allies from the 2005 legislative fight deserted him over the new bill, maintaining that he was encouraging lawbreakers.
"But I picked up some new friends," he said, among liberal groups that mobilized behind his cause.
The most contentious debates have probably been in Arizona.
In November 2004, the voters there led the nation on restrictive measures by adopting a ballot initiative, Proposition 200, that barred illegal immigrants from receiving taxpayer-financed health and welfare services. In the last year the Legislature, spurred by a Republican representative, Russell K. Pearce, has passed a series of new restrictive measures. But Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat, has stopped a number of them with her veto.
This month Ms. Napolitano signed a measure that laid out in more detail the requirements on immigrants to prove they are here legally before receiving health benefits, a refinement of Proposition 200. But she vetoed a bill that would have made illegal immigrants' presence a crime under trespass laws, and another that would have required her to dispatch National Guard troops to guard the border.
Mr. Pearce said of the governor, "Why would you sit by and tolerate the destruction of our American neighborhoods and the insecurity of our borders?" He has prepared a broad new proposal to strengthen sanctions against employers who hire illegal immigrants and to provide millions for new border and immigration patrols by state law enforcement agencies.
While most of the clashes across the country have involved proposed restrictions on illegal immigrants, some states have voted to expand access for them. On April 13, the Nebraska Legislature overrode a veto by Gov. Dave Heineman, a Republican, and allowed illegal immigrant students to pay in-state college tuition.
And there is good news for party-going illegal immigrants in Wyoming. A measure recently adopted there ensures that they are eligible to rent kegs of beer.
OUT IN CHICAGO
DIERSEN HEADLINE: Homosexuals demonize those who believe marriage should be between one man and one woman
Anti-Gay Group to Announce Referendum Filing
CHICAGO - Protect Marriage Illinois, an off-shoot of the Illinois "Family" Institute, a small but well-funded group headquartered in Glen Ellyn, Ill., has said that it will submit more than 300,000 signatures to put an anti-gay advisory referendum on the November ballot. The referendum, while not having the force of law, calls upon the state legislature to enact a constitutional amendment to ban all legal unions of same-sex partners, including civil unions, domestic partners and marriage.
"Make no mistake; this is a bald attempt to roll back equal rights progress in Illinois and make hating gays and other scapegoating respectable in Illinois politics," said Bob Schwartz, a spokesperson for the Gay Liberation Network. "It's no accident that the IFI is the same group which partnered closely with the anti-immigrant, anti-gay campaigns of failed gubernatorial and senatorial candidate Jim Oberweis, and were just about the only people who didn't jump ship from the abysmal Alan Keyes senatorial campaign, which lost in record fashion a few years ago."
In order to get the advisory referendum on the ballot, anti-gay forces will need to have 283,111 valid signatures of properly-registered Illinois voters. Most experts agree that in order to easily meet this criteria, they would need to collect over 500,000 signatures, but after months of refusing to say anything about how many signatures it has gathered, PMI is now vaguely claiming it has "well more than 300,000" signatures. Gay activists were quick to dispute PMI's claims.
"Are we not getting a firm number out of PMI because they don't have enough valid signatures?" Schwartz said. "A group which regularly lies about the lives of gay people, thumbing its nose at the scientific opinions of all of the professional associations of psychiatrists and psychologists to peddle scapegoating quackery about us, shouldn't be trusted to tell the truth about its petition campaign."
The Gay Liberation Network, in conjunction with other equal rights organizations, will demand a vigorous inspection of PMI's petitions for phony and otherwise invalid signatures. Anti-gay groups in other close petition drives, such as a recent one in Massachusetts, have been known to fraudulently collect signatures by deliberately misrepresenting what people are being asked to sign, using multiple questions leading off with an innocuous question while claiming additional signatures were needed simply to "validate" the answer to that question, and other underhanded means.
"If the anti-gay measure gets on the ballot, even though it only would be advisory in nature, campaigns like this are designed to divide communities and whip up hatred," Schwartz said. During the year following passage of the anti-gay Amendment 2 in Colorado, the Gay & Lesbian Community Center of Colorado reported a 129 percent increase in anti-LGBT violence compared with the previous year, a figure corroborated by the Denver Police Department.
Blagojevich. opposes gay marriage vote - Ann Sanner, Megan Reichgott, and Christopher Wills
Opponents of gay marriage have submitted more than 345,000 signatures to get an advisory referendum on Illinois ballots this fall, but Gov. Rod Blagojevich condemned the effort.
The Democratic governor also announced on Monday that he is giving all gay employees under his authority the right to sign up their partners for state health benefits. Thousands of union-covered state employees already were entitled to benefits for domestic partners.
Two lawmakers said they knew nothing about Blagojevich's plan to extend the benefit and said he should have gotten legislative approval.
"He has usurped the General Assembly's authority," said Rep. Jack Franks, a Woodstock Democrat and chairman of the State Government Administration Committee.
Organizers of the gay marriage referendum need 283,111 valid signatures to get the question on the statewide ballot in November. On Monday, they submitted 345,199 - far short of their original target of 500,000.
Still, Protect Marriage Illinois officials say they're confident their signatures will meet the technical requirements.
The advisory referendum would ask voters whether they think the Illinois Constitution should define marriage between a man and a woman as the only valid legal union in Illinois. The results wouldn't change the constitution, but organizers hope it would influence lawmakers to begin the amendment process.
Blagojevich said an amendment is not necessary since a 1996 Illinois law already prohibits same-sex marriage. He opposes the amendment, though he has said in the past that he considers marriage to be between a man and a woman.
"I think it's motivated more by dividing people rather than bringing people together, so I oppose it," Blagojevich said. "If you're asking me if it gets on the ballot, what will I do? I'll vote against it."
David E. Smith, project director for Protect Marriage Illinois, said a constitutional amendment is needed because the state law could be overturned by the courts.
"This is an infection that is dangerous to the absolute institution of marriage," Smith said.
If the group succeeds, this would be Illinois' first statewide advisory referendum since 1978, according to the State Board of Elections.
But actually amending the constitution is a much more lengthy process. The most common approach would be for both chambers of the Legislature to vote by three-fifths majority to put an amendment on the ballot, where it would have to be approved by three-fifths of voters.
Critics say the advisory referendum initiative is more about mobilizing conservative voters in the fall election than about changing public policy.
"I'd like them to show me one homosexual couple who's destroyed the institution of marriage," said Rick Garcia, political director for the gay rights group Equality Illinois.
Garcia said his organization is waiting to see if the group survives the state's initial review before challenging the petitions.
Meanwhile, Blagojevich issued an administrative order extending domestic partner benefits as of July 1 to all state employees he oversees. That adds 20,000 employees to the 37,000 union-covered workers who already were scheduled to get the benefits, his office said.
Spokesman Justin Dejong said about 100 Blagojevich employees are expected to enroll partners, at a cost to the state of $366,700 annually.
Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, opposes Blagojevich's action and said the issue should have been decided by lawmakers.
"If it would have come before the Legislature and it passed, then at least it would have been the will of the people," Bost said.
Blagojevich called on other statewide officials and the state's boards and commissions to offer the same benefits. Dejong said around 560 people might enroll if the policy covered all 187,000 state employees and retirees.
"I think within a short period of time, everyone else will also provide it," Garcia said. "I really don't anticipate much backlash. Most Illinoisans are fair and want their neighbors to be treated equitably."
John Hoffman, spokesman for state Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, said he didn't know what Topinka, the Republican candidate for governor, would do on the question of domestic partners, largely because she hasn't looked at the financial impact yet.
On the Net
Protect Marriage Illinois: http://www.protectmarriageillinois.org
Equality Illinois: http://www.equalityillinois.org
SPRINGFIELD STATE JOURNAL REGISTER
Marriage amendment petitions in For advisory vote on banning same-sex unions - Rebecca O'Halloran
Same-sex marriage is illegal in Illinois, but a conservative group submitted 345,199 signatures to the State Board of Elections on Monday to put the question of amending the state Constitution to ban gay marriage on the Nov. 7 ballot.
The referendum would not be binding; it would make the legislature aware of how many voters favor an amendment specifying that "marriage between a man and a woman is the only legal union."
The Illinois Family Institute had wanted to collect 500,000 signatures. Instead, 421,801 were collected but not all were submitted because of some signers' noncompliance with state election code.
"Yeah, our goal was high, but we achieved what we needed to achieve according to the State Board of Elections," said David E. Smith, an organizer of the campaign. "This is about the people speaking out about their government and public policy."
For the question to be placed on the ballot, 283,111 valid signatures are required, which is 8 percent of the number of people who voted for governor in the last election.
The State Board of Elections will check each signature to make sure it comes from the jurisdiction under which it was filed. Eric Donnewald, director of election training for the board, said 25 employees will be looking through the signatures. The process is expected to go through next week.
Collecting the signatures wasn't easy. Smith said he had received criticism ranging from threatening e-mails to gay pornography, but he had the support of more than 11,000 petition circulators across the state.
Organizers said signers came from across the political, religious and racial spectrum.
The Rev. Joseph McAfee, a pastor from Central United Community Church in Chicago, maintained that civil rights don't extend to gays.
"I'm black. ... How can a homosexual act of conscious decision on their part to be that say that they can identify that with me being black?" McAfee said. "There is no correlation between their rights because that's a choice that they made to take on this way of life. ... You can't equate it at all."
Supporters of same-sex marriage say it's a question of fairness.
"As a married person, the rights and privileges that I have, I’d like to see that extended to my son,” said Gail Clodfelter, president of the Springfield chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. “I just believe that all families should be treated fairly and I believe in the end, fairness will win out.”
Ten years ago, Gov. Jim Edgar signed a law that recognizes marriage as being only between a man and a woman. Supporters of a constitutional amendment, however, are afraid the Illinois Supreme Court may at some point rule the law unconstitutional.
The Massachusetts Supreme Court decided in 2003 that a state law there prohibiting same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.
Some people say the Illinois Family Institute’s initiative has an ulterior motive in an election year, that being to mobilize the conservative wing of the Republican Party.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich said at a news conference Monday he would not vote in favor of banning gay marriage in the Constitution.
“A constitutional amendment is not necessary, and I think it’s motivated more by dividing people rather than bringing people together, so I oppose it,” Blagojevich said. “These are the kinds of sort of divisive issues that, you know, right-wing political practitioners bring to the table.”
On Monday, Blagojevich filed an administrative order to extend health benefits to same-sex domestic partners of nonunion state employees, effective July 1. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees already offers those benefits to its members.
Blagojevich’s Republican opponent in the gubernatorial election isn’t in favor of an amendment, either.
“She supports civil union; she’s not in favor of gay marriage,” said Dave Loveday, a spokesman for Judy Baar Topinka. “She doesn’t think the amendment is necessary, because the law is already specific.”
Topinka blasts governor for Department of Natural Resources collapse - Tom Collins
Judy Baar Topinka pledged to flush political cronies out of state agencies — starting with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources — and replace them with qualified individuals who do more than raise cash for the governor.
Topinka is state treasurer and the Republican nominee for governor. She appeared Monday before a gathering of outdoor journalists at Starved Rock Lodge, bemoaned the state of DNR and promised to put the house back in order if she defeats incumbent Rod Blagojevich in November.
“I never thought one governor could do this much damage,” she said, rattling off a litany of abuses within the Blagojevich administration. “I thought we’d ride it out. I was wrong.”
Topinka blamed Blagojevich for gutting DNR’s budget by 33 percent, diverting more than $60 million in designated conservation funds to “pet projects,” and eliminating 431 jobs. As a result, she said, neglected and crumbling state parks are failing in their mission to conserve precious resources and failing to attract new tourists who bring needed dollars.
That’s a big issue for the Illinois Valley, where 1.8 million visitors flock to Starved Rock State Park alone and generate millions in tourist dollars. The state’s fiscal problems have led to staff shortages at the park, leaving the $4.5 million visitor center with a pair of paid employees and a growing reliance on volunteerism.
If elected, Topinka pledged to boot all of Blagojevich’s “unqualified” department heads and rededicate funds to their intended purposes. The shakeup, she said, would happen at all state agencies but would likely begin with conservation.
“DNR is undoubtedly the worst of the lot,” she said.
Chris McCloud, spokesman for DNR, disputed Topinka’s assertion that the agency is poorly run, and said her figures on job and budget cuts were inflated.
“I think we have an excellent staff and they’re very hard working,” McCloud said. “We have experts that have been in the field for 20 or 25 years. The department feels that it is running well.”
But Topinka’s remarks rang true with one listener. State Sen. Gary Dahl (R-Granville) noted that Blagojevich has had help in diverting funds to unorthodox sources. At the end of the most recent legislative session, Dahl said, the Democratically-controlled Legislature pushed through a bill that diverted millions in conservation funds to help pay the state’s Medicaid debt.
“Sorry,” Dahl said, “but $250 million isn’t going to make a dent into Medicaid billing the state owes to providers. It’s happening all over — without a doubt.”
But Al Rostello of Spring Valley — a NewsTribune columnist and no fan of Blagojevich — was among the outdoor writers and broadcasters who felt Topinka fell short on specific ideas to improve DNR. Rostello said Topinka was uninformed about successful programs in neighboring states used to create money for land acquisition and was skeptical of her calls to resurrect the Illinois Conservation Congress.
“In my view, the Conservation Congress was a façade of Democracy,” he said, complaining the organization was more attuned to pressure from constituent groups rather than the needs of individuals.
During a question-and-answer period, writer Mike Jackson of Buffalo Grove asked Topinka if she had assembled a list of names for possible appointment to DNR. She replied that to compile names before Election Day would be too presumptuous.
Much is at stake for Topinka, however. Blagojevich has launched a bruising advertising campaign and the GOP is fearful of a voter backlash stemming from President Bush’s worsening poll numbers. Monday, one poll showed the president with an approval rating at a record low 31 percent.
COOK COUNTY REPUBLICAN CENTRAL COMMITTEE
Cook GOP investigation forces Gutierrez to vacate committeeman position
An investigation by the Cook County Republican Party discovered that congressman and 1st Ward Democratic committeeman Luis Gutierrez had moved from the 1st Ward to the 32nd Ward over 4 months ago; without giving up his position as 1st Ward committeeman. The Cook County Republican Party went public on this information last week, demanding his immediate resignation. Within days, Congressman Gutierrez declared his intention to vacate his committeeman position.
The Cook County Republican Party has held the ongoing strategy of investigating Democratic corruption through its 312-WHISTLE hotline. The Cook GOP also has active complaints against 16 Democrat committeemen for blatantly disregarding election law, which is currently in the appellate court.
Stated Cook GOP Chairman Gary J. Skoien, "Absolute power leads to this type of systemic corruption. We will continue to demand that Chicago Democrats follow the rules and take action when necessary".
Sun-times article in response to Cook GOP press release
George Allen To Speak At Secretive Council for National Police gathering - Marc Ambinder
The Council for National Policy -- a thrice yearly closed-door conservative gathering of considerable, though waning influence -- meets this weekend for their 25th anniversary celebration in Tyson's Corner, VA.
Sen. George Allen (R-VA) will attend a dinner described on a schedule we received as "Exclusively for Members and Spouses of CNP's Gold Circle and Executive Committee."
Current CNP President Kenneth Cribb officially kicks off the meeting on Friday morning. Speakers that day include NRA pres. Sandra Froman, Sen. Rick Santorum, DHS sec. Michael Chertoff, Heritage Foundation pres. Edwin Fuelner, Jr., Phyllis Schlafly, Grover Norquist and US Amb. John Bolton.
Saturday speakers include Baroness Caroline Ann Cox of Queensbury, ex-OPM dir. Kay Coles James, Oliver North and Robert Bork.
What's remarkable about this guest list is how unremarkable it actually is. It reminds us of, say, CPAC, circa 2003.
The CNP keeps the press out and insists that all speeches and conversations are "off the record," so perhaps Mr. Bolton will say something interesting about Iran. Or Mr. Chertoff will do more than explain the administration's counterrorism policy.
The CNP has no favorite candidate for '08, and the meeting with Allen, in particular, is akin to a collective vet by CNP luminaries, including Paul Weyrich and Phyllis Schlafly.
Out and About The Vice President's Daughter Tells The Inside Story in Her New Book. But the Subject Is Politics. - Jennifer Frey
Mary Cheney is peering into the makeup artist's mirror in the early hours of the morning, getting "done" for her appearance on "Good Morning America" with Diane Sawyer. Taped to the mirror is the list of today's guest stars. The name Nick Lachey -- aka the soon-to-be-ex-Mr. Jessica Simpson -- she recognizes. Totally clueless on actress Emmy Rossum. Needs some prompting on Josh Lucas ("Sweet Home Alabama"? Hottie who ends up with Reese Witherspoon?).
Let's say she's a little bit out of her element. Mary Cheney, daughter of Vice President Dick Cheney, had made it her business to fly under the radar. She's a pro at shunning the limelight. As the openly gay daughter of a man running for office in a party opposed to gay marriage, she took the hits and let them slide off her as if she were coated with Teflon. Kind of like daddy.
Alan Keyes refers to her as a "selfish hedonist"? No response. Gay-rights activists lampoon her by putting her face on a milk carton ("Have you seen me?")? No response. Her sexual orientation becomes fodder for a presidential debate? No response.
Protesters show up in her hideout home town of Conifer, Colo., and plant a "Bride of Satan" sign outside her house? Nope, not a word.
Until now, that is. Cheney's self-written story of life as a political daughter, campaign strategist and happily partnered gay woman is out this week, with a carefully planned media campaign surrounding its release. At 37, she's trying out the Washington life -- swapping snowboarding in the Rockies for commuting on the Dulles Toll Road -- and heading out on the publicity trail while longtime partner Heather Poe rips up pink shag carpet in their new Great Falls home and consults with Lynne Cheney, Mary's mom, about redecorating plans.
Called "Now It's My Turn: A Daughter's Chronicle of Political Life," Cheney's book is primarily an insider's story on campaign politics, a primer for those outside the D.C. political bubble on what life is really like in the midst of a presidential campaign -- with the added insight of what it's like to be a candidate's child. (Cheney served as her father's personal aide in 2000, then as director of vice presidential operations on the 2004 campaign).
It's the other 10 percent of the book, though, that the title speaks to -- and that has earned early public focus, from Vanity Fair to People to Sawyer, which is why she's moving through the hallways of the "GMA" studio on this particular morning, dressed in a tasteful gray suit with a splash of color -- turquoise -- added by the shirt underneath. She is the essence of understatement. Hasn't she always been?
Lucas goes by -- also in gray, but with that early-morning sexy stubble he's perfected -- and neither bats an eyelash of recognition. Lachey's bandmates look up as her Secret Service entourage passes the greenroom and they have that "huh?" look of "who was that?" Rossum glides by in a cascade of gorgeous brown curls, getting briefed by an assistant on the other boldface names gracing the hallways on this particular Monday morning.
"Oh, Mary Cheney is here," she's told.
Her eyes light up for an instant.
"Mary J. Blige?"
Um, no, not exactly.
* * *
Only a woman with Mary Cheney's gift for understatement could write a book that essentially says she thinks the president of the United States -- that would be her father's boss, mind you -- is trying to "write discrimination into the Constitution" and that this effort is a "gross affront" to herself along with gays and lesbians everywhere.
That would be in that "10 percent of the book"-- Cheney's own description -- where she writes about coming out to her parents, how she felt about John Kerry and John Edwards bringing up her sexuality in campaign debates, and where she stands on the Federal Marriage Amendment Act, which would ban legal unions between same-sex partners. She opposes it and describes her own relationship as a marriage.
"I didn't sit there and think 'I can't really do 11 percent,'" Cheney says, in a classic moment of caustic wit. "If I wrote a whole chapter [about coming out] I think it would be pretty boring."
Actually, she manages to tackle a seminal issue in many gay people's lives in a handful of paragraphs. To summarize what she's already summarized:
She was 16. She and her first girlfriend had just broken up. She skipped school, crashed the car, came home and decided it was time to just do it. Mom cried ("Your life will be so hard") but quickly came around. Dad said he loved her and just wanted her to be happy. The end.
Only it's not the end, because now everybody wants to know about it. It is, she laughs, the most-cited passage in the book -- and here she thought her book was really about showing those millions of people who do not live in the political bubble what it's really like to be inside a political campaign. Ha!
Jokingly asked what kind of car it was, she immediately shoots back, deadpan: "It was a 1982 Toyota Starlet. Tan. Hatchback."
* * *
"She's like her father," says Mary Matalin, who acquired Cheney's book for Simon & Schuster through her new imprint, Threshold, and is described in the text as all but a member of the Cheney family.
Like her father, meaning that when she's getting attacked, Cheney deploys what she herself acknowledges is the Teflon gene.
"She lives her life the way she thinks is the best way to advance gay and lesbian issues," Matalin continues. " . . . You know, at some point, you think, 'Can we talk about something else already?' "
Like snowboarding or hiking or scuba diving. Or Cheney's partner, Poe, who enjoys all those things with her and has been with her for 14 years. The couple was diving in Bonaire in the Netherlands Antilles when 9/11 took place -- Cheney remembers the Secret Service car screeching up and the agent tellling her, in a voice that brooked no argument, that something bad had happened and they had to come at once.
"I just thought, 'Oh my God, something happened to my dad,'" she says, though she insists she did not immediately think he'd had another heart attack.
The whole book is steeped in the clear love and admiration Cheney feels for her father, and she dials down her wry humor when he comes up in conversation. Do they ever fight? She searches her memory bank, can't recall anything. Do they have debates at the Sunday dinner table? Nah, they talk about where to go fly-fishing. Was he really scary when she and her sister, Liz, got in trouble as kids? Nope. There was the time the girls pulled off a cabinet door in the kitchen and tried to cover it up by gluing it back to the frame. Dad pulled the whole door off the next time he went to open it. So, how did he punish them? Must not have been bad, because Mary Cheney can't remember.
"He's actually really funny," Cheney says of her father. "He's incredibly patient. I wish people could see him with my sister's kids -- he's totally the doting grandfather."
Cheney and Poe moved to Great Falls last fall in large part so that Cheney could be closer to her family -- her only sibling also lives in the area with four children and a fifth on the way. But she won't talk about whether she and Poe are thinking of having children, or adopting them, calling that a "conversation I think I should have with Heather first." And besides, that could lead to more sticky questions about the administration's stance on gay adoption, and so on.
She's always been a stickler for separating the personal from the political. Aside from promoting her book, Cheney's personal life these days focuses on a high-ranking executive job at AOL and kayaking the Potomac with Poe when the current beckons.
Her refusal to engage in public debate has infuriated many gay-rights activists. But she's making her point now, on her terms. "Didn't you just see me go on 'Good Morning America'?"
And when she decides it's her turn, she definitely knows how to get in her licks. In her book, Cheney devotes two chapters to her anger and frustration -- and outright dislike -- when it comes to Kerry and Edwards. And this is where the quick, wry, humorous tone of the book brings in a little venom. She thought Edwards, whom she ridicules for his fixation on his hair, "was complete and total slime." She quotes her sister calling Kerry a "complete and total sleazeball." She herself called him a profanity, she recounts with relish, after Kerry invoked the fact that she is a lesbian in non-response to a question during the presidential debate about whether he believes homosexuality is a choice.
* * *
The eye makeup has started to melt. And it's only She's been gracious, cautious, funny, reserved -- and clearly well-prepared.
"Campaigns are these amazing things," she says, and now she's being earnest. "It's too bad that so few people actually get to see what goes on."
This, she says, is the No. 1 reason why she wrote the book. She's wise enough to know, though, that it won't be the No. 1 reason why most people buy it. There are those who will buy it to see what she has to say about Bush's stance on gay marriage. There are those who will buy it looking for insights into her father. And there are those who will buy it wanting an inside peek into the life and head of a gay woman who also happens to be a Republican and the daughter of the second most powerful man in the country. She can keep trying for the understatement, but now that she's stepped into the world of celebrity -- Larry King up next, Wednesday night -- it isn't going to be quite so easy.
Or is it? As she emerges from "GMA's" studio to her waiting Secret Service SUV, the crowd pressing against the barriers starts to get excited -- is it Lachey? Is it Lucas? Nah, it's only some woman with short, perfectly coiffed blond hair. A passerby asks one of the Secret Service agents who he's protecting. "Mary Cheney," he says. The man pauses, confused, then thinks he's figured it out: "Dick Cheney's wife?" he asks.
A young man calls out, "Ms. Cheney! Ms. Cheney!" He asks for her autograph; she obliges. Then he looks at her and says, quietly, "Thank you for being so brave."
And when she gives him one of her off-kilter smiles -- the smile that makes her look exactly like her father -- it's hard to tell if she's pleased or amused.
ILLINOIS CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
Governor Blagojevich's National Agenda - Douglas L. Whitley
During the 20th century the office of Governor has propelled several executives onto the national scene and into the White House. It is a proven career path for the politically ambitious, and it appears to be a path our Governor is striding.
States serve as laboratories of democracy, as legislative and policy initiatives in 50 states provide test beds for national policy. The concept has not been lost of Governor Rod Blagojevich. He has hardly missed an opportunity to put himself before the media by proposing Illinois solutions to national issues.
Perhaps it is a result of his time in Congress making a grander impression than has his time in the state capitol. Maybe it comes from the rapport he has with Rahm Emanuel, successor to his Congressional seat and prominent strategist for the Democrat Congressional Campaign Committee. Perhaps it is because his closest advisors come from the coasts, are tuned to the national scene and don’t have political roots in Illinois. Maybe it results from perpetual campaigning, constant opinion polling, and campaign fundraising in California, New York and Washington, D.C. It may be inevitable if your media success is measured by appearing on network television, conversing on the trendy Daily Show, and being mentioned in national journals, like the New York Times.
Governor Blagojevich’s policy interests, political instincts and camera-ready style are obviously more attuned to pursuing issues on the national stage than simply managing the routine affairs of the Prairie State.
A major plank of his first campaign was to one-up a deadlocked Congress and raise the minimum wage in Illinois. In 2003, Illinois became the only state between the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains with a minimum wage requirement exceeding the $5.15 national level. Today, Illinois’ minimum wage is $6.50. If re-elected the Governor intends to raise it to $7.50. Without defending the federal wage level, there are good economic reasons for Illinois not to be out of line with national and regional standards where business cost drivers are concerned. This should be of great concern for leaders of a state where job growth is severely lagging the national experience.
In 2004, the Governor supported importing drugs from foreign sources to provide lower cost drugs to Americans. He defied the federal government by leading a campaign for importation and recruited other government entities to join a drug-purchasing consortium. Ultimately, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration stifled the scheme by pointing out it was illegal and refusing to give Illinois a waiver. Congress subsequently adopted a prescription drug plan for Medicare recipients and deflated the issue.
Next, the Governor reacted to the short-lived national scare of a flu vaccine shortage. At the Governor’s direction, Illinois purchased $2.6 million worth of vaccine from a foreign manufacturer. Illinois taxpayers paid the bill, but the vaccine never arrived in the U.S. and was eventually donated for use overseas. The feared vaccine shortage never materialized.
Last year Governor Blagojevich sought the national spotlight again by attacking video game makers and retailers over violent and sexual content in video games available to the nation’s youth. He prevailed upon the General Assembly for restrictive legislation despite near certainty federal courts would rule his Illinois law unconstitutional. The Entertainment Software Association was forced to mount an expensive lawsuit. After the Seventh Circuit Court predictably overturned the statute the gaming industry now seeks $645,000 from state taxpayers to reimburse their legal fees. It is unknown how much it cost taxpayers for the Attorney General to defend bad law.
Following the controversy in Washington over federal funding for stem cell research Governor Blagojevich did not hesitate to get on the bandwagon for state funding of medical research. While, the California legislature and Governor Schwarzenegger set a high bar for others to follow Governor Blagojevich was quick to do so. He out maneuvered Comptroller Dan Hynes (Who had already established himself as the political champion of stem cell research in Illinois.) by simply exercising spending authority secured by clandestine language inserted in the budget bill. The secretive maneuver let the Governor avoid the legislative, political and ethical controversies that plagued President Bush. The Governor’s approach also demonstrated his contempt for a collaborative legislative budget process and cemented further distrust on the part of legislators who believe state spending policy is fundamentally their responsibility.
Recently, the Governor chose to champion higher standards for mercury emissions than required by new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules established for the nation’s coal burning electric generating plants just last year. The Illinois standards, if adopted, will exceed national policy and again demonstrate our Governor’s eagerness to trump Washington. Unfortunately, the practical affect of this politically popular move will result in minuscule improvement in Illinois’ air quality, while adversely impacting two of the State’s most important quality job creating industries. One must also be concerned about how the Governor’s rules will affect the much-anticipated Illinois investments the coal and electric power generation industries have had on the drawing boards. The Governor’s rules threaten the economic viability of Illinois coal fired plants and could result in price increases for electric energy users.
Governor Blagojevich’s highest priorities have been well publicized initiatives focusing on children and health care.
Governor Blagojevich quickly grasped the significance of national reports that revealed concerns for childhood obesity and diabetes. His solution was to take on the food industry by attempting to ban their products from Illinois public schools. When his legislative initiative failed, the Governor pressed his appointed State Board of Education to do the deed by administrative fiat. The state board’s effort to mandate food policies for locally elected school boards was also recently stopped by legislative action.
While not the first Illinois Governor to recognize early childhood education as a worthy program with proven results, he has significantly expanded funding and access. His most ambitious proposal has set the state on a course towards government-funded universal pre-school. Georgia and Oklahoma are the only states providing universal pre-school funding for all four year olds and above. Governor Blagojevich envisions extending the program to all three year olds during his second term. It is a move that could thrust the Governor into the role of national pacesetter.
In three years the Governor’s approach to health care has been to increase the role of government by opening up Medicaid to everyone. He has expanded eligibility to more people, increase benefit coverage and taken the pre-existing government subsidized insurance programs called “FamilyCare” and “KidCare” to a new level.
Universal health care for all children will likely be Governor Blagojevich’s legacy program. His “AllKids” program has an appeal that could capture the attention of a nation desperate to provide affordable health care for the uninsured. His record positions him as a leader of the parade of advocates from across the county who pursue ever expanding government-funded healthcare programs to satisfy the needs of everyone.
While Governor Blagojevich’s initiatives have proven shortcomings, he has nevertheless pursued politically attractive issues, challenged the Republican dominated federal government, and gained attention from the Hollywood and Washington crowds. If voters are not weary of the photo-op Governor and his expensive initiatives he will be re-elected. Then, as a highly successful fundraiser from a solidly “blue” state, it should not be surprising if the Blagojevich camp has a field operation in Iowa by this time next year.