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In Morton to speak at the Tazewell County Republican Party's 40th annual Lincoln Day Dinner, O'Neill addressed a sold-out crowd of more than 400 about issues the party must continue to pursue, such as national security and government corruption.
"I think it's very important for the Republican Party to return to its roots," O'Neill said. "It's always stood for economic freedom and limited government."
Because of scandals with people such as Mark Foley and Jack Abramoff, O'Neill said Republicans must become a "party of reform in Congress."
O'Neill, co-founder of the Swift Boat Veterans and POWs for Truth, wrote "Unfit for Command" about his experiences during and after the Vietnam War with 2004 presidential candidate John Kerry. Though O'Neill spoke about his New York Times best seller, he said his goal wasn't to "re-fight the 2004 election" - more so to share his ideas of the future of the Republican Party.
Kay Grillot of the Tazewell County Republican Party said its members selected O'Neill as this year's keynote speaker for his stance on Republican issues as well as ideas about the "fitness of a president."
"He represents a lot of values we have here in Tazewell," Grillot said.
More than 55 percent of Tazewell County residents are registered Republicans, said Tazewell County State's Attorney Stewart Umholtz, and that number has increased from previous years.
O'Neill is a 1967 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who served on swift boats in Vietnam. He took command of PCF 94 after John Kerry left Vietnam, winning two Bronze Stars. After returning from Vietnam in 1971, O'Neill debated with Kerry after Kerry testified during Congress that veterans were "war criminals."
More than 30 years later, O'Neill thought Kerry had disappeared until he heard about his nomination for the 2004 presidential race. Thus, O'Neill and 200 other sailors co-founded the Swift Boat Veterans and POWs for Truth in an attempt to dismantle the Kerry campaign.
"I think that he was running on a false premise," he said. "I think every vet that saw 'reporting for duty' felt uncomfortable."
However, O'Neill noted that political stripes didn't matter in his problems with Kerry. If the same situation occurred with a Republican, he'd take the same actions "in a second."
Since the 2004 election, more than $3 million in royalty proceeds from "Unfit for Command" have been donated through the Admiral Ray Hoffman Foundation to assist seriously wounded Iraq war veterans and their families.
"We may write another book simply to encapsulate the 2004 election and help raise more funds," O'Neill said. "It's been a fabulous thing for us. A lot of people who were badly injured in Vietnam are showing kids injured in Iraq they have a future."
But a government initiative is crucial, he said, as there's "only so much they can do."
"If you bring someone like that home, they need full-time care," O'Neill said. "The government needs to make allowances for caregivers."
The Lincoln Day Dinner, usually held in February, celebrates the achievements of former Illinois resident and Republican President Abraham Lincoln.
Previous speakers of the annual dinner included Presidents Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford, U.S. Sen. Everett Dirksen, U.S. Rep. John Shimkus and entertainer Bob Hope.
With major details already leaked to the media, the second-term governor formally unveiled his plan during a brief Chicago news conference with religious overtones.
"If you're sick and your next-door neighbor is sick, but you can see a doctor and he or she can't, that isn't how God intended it to be," Blagojevich said from the front steps of the Fourth Presbyterian Church, where he attended morning services with his wife and two young daughters. "Everyone -- everyone -- should have access to affordable, quality healthcare."
Blagojevich's multi-layered "Illinois Covered" plan -- estimated to cost $2.1 billion annually, at least initially -- would shift some of the uninsured into existing public programs. Adults who make too much money to qualify could voluntarily buy state-subsidized private insurance plans.
Larger businesses that do not provide health insurance for employees would be assessed fees, and small companies could buy employee health coverage at a discount. Meanwhile, some people who currently carry medical insurance would qualify for state-subsidized rebates.
The governor did not say how his system would be funded and did not take questions from the media. But it is widely believed Blagojevich will suggest replacing the corporate income tax with a more lucrative "gross-receipts tax" on businesses when he unveils his fiscal 2008 budget in Springfield on Wednesday.
Business organizations already have lined up in opposition to a gross-receipts tax plan, and Blagojevich acknowledged that a battle looms over his health care plan.
"This is a moral imperative," the Chicago Democrat said. "We will fight, we will not settle for anything less."
State Sen. Bill Brady, a Bloomington Republican who sits on the Senate Insurance Committee, questioned the administration's cost estimates.
"For the last four years, (Blagojevich) has been masterful at superficiality and imagery," Brady said in response to the governor's news conference. "He's a salesman. The question is, is he a snake-oil salesman or a financially prudent salesman?"
Hair stylist Mary Mannino is one of 1.4 million adults in Illinois that does not have health insurance.
"I take over the counter products and just hope to God nothing happens that serious," Mannino said.
Governor Rod Blagojevich is out to fix that. Making his first public appearance since January Sunday, the governor unveiled his plan to provide affordable health insurance for every adult in the state.
"I believe we are not just doing the right thing, but the moral thing," Blagojevich said.
The plan is called "Illinois Covered," and it has three major components: First, it will provide health insurance to the 1.4 million uninsured. Also, the plan provides assistance to middle class families that already have health insurance but have trouble affording high deductibles and premiums. Lastly, the plan will help small businesses pay for to provide health insurance to employees.
Virginia Klangides says Illinois Covered would help her in two ways.
"I have private insurance but with a high deductible, and I'm also a business owner and would love to insure my employees. We lose a lot of good people because of health insurance," Klangides said.
Sunday, the governor only outlined his plan. Details on how it works and how it will be payed for are yet to come.
"We not only have an ambitious agenda, but like anything else in democracy, there will be those who oppose what we do," said Governor Blagojevich.
There is a chance that big business will not like the plan. According to published reports, the governor is proposing a new six-billion dollar tax on corporate business revenues to help pay for his health coverage plan.
Govenor Blagojevich did not take questions Sunday. He will go into greater detail on Wednesday when he gives his budget address to the General Assembly.
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Gov. Rod Blagojevich said Sunday he’ll push for a complex plan that would make sure all Illinoisans can obtain health insurance within the next three years.
Under his “Illinois Covered” plan, the state’s 1.4 million uninsured adults could enroll in government health services, get help paying for private coverage or buy insurance under a new program the state would require insurers to join.
People making up to four times the federal poverty level could qualify. That’s an annual income of about $40,000 for one person and $80,000 for a family of four. The more people earn, the less state assistance they could get.
“If you can have health care but your neighbor can’t ... that isn’t how God intended it to be,” Blagojevich said Sunday from the steps of a downtown Chicago church. “At the heart of our plan is one simple idea. And that is that everyone, everyone, should have access to affordable, quality health care.”
Aides said the first phase of the program, if approved by lawmakers, would start in January 2008. All parts of Illinois Covered would be up and running in January 2010. It would cost the state more than $2 billion a year when fully implemented, they estimated.
“The overall aim here is to provide affordable, good-quality health insurance to everyone in Illinois. While doing that, we want to improve the overall health system for everyone, to lower the health care costs for business and consumers,” said Anne Marie Murphy, the governor’s director of health care programs.
The idea could run into lots of opposition.
Businesses are likely to object if they’re required to cover most of the new costs. With the budget deficit over $2 billion and long-term debt climbing, some people will argue the state can’t afford a major new program. Others may question the plan if it would divert money from other needs, such as education.
Blagojevich made health care a top priority in his first term, expanding programs so that all Illinois children would have access to some form of insurance. Now, as he begins his second term, he wants to make Illinois one of the few states to cover all adults, too.
Spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff wouldn’t say how the Democratic governor hopes to pay for the plan. She said he would discuss funding Wednesday, when he delivers his State of the State address and budget proposal.
The governor, who has promised not to raise income or sales taxes, is expected to propose a major new tax on business transactions, called the “gross receipts tax.”
Another source of funds would be a tax on businesses that don’t offer health insurance to their employees. Ottenhoff and Murphy said they didn’t know how much businesses would be required to pay.
The Illinois Hospital Association, which was briefed on the administration’s plan, called it “an exciting opportunity.”
But spokesman Danny Chun said the association still has plenty of questions, such as what Blagojevich plans to do about payment to doctors and hospitals serving the poor in state programs. The current reimbursement rate covers only a portion of true expenses, he said.
The governor’s aides said his proposal will include money for better reimbursement and quicker payment of the state’s medical bills. They could not provide specifics on the changes or what they would cost.
Jim Duffett, executive director for the Campaign for Better Health Care, praised the plan, especially for its potential to help small business and the middle class.
“This is going to be the largest economic stimulus plan that the state of Illinois has ever seen,” Duffett said.
Blagojevich’s plan has several parts.
For people below the federal poverty level, there would be a free new program called “Illinois Covered — Assist.” This would primarily serve people without children, who cannot join existing programs such as Medicaid and FamilyCare.
For people who cannot obtain insurance through their jobs, the state would offer “Illinois Covered — Choice.” That would be low-cost coverage that regular insurance companies would be required to provide. The state would help people pay the insurance premiums, with the amount of help based on their income.
People making more than four times the poverty level would be able to get this coverage, but the state would not help them pay for it. Businesses that can’t afford to provide insurance for their employees would be able to offer it through this program.
The state would also offer “Illinois Covered — Rebate” for people who can’t afford the insurance offered through their jobs. Essentially, the state would help them pay the premiums for existing insurance programs.
Finally, the state would expand eligibility for existing programs that serve some parents and disabled people who are returning to work.
Youths get out the vote, but their elders rock it - Donna Cassatahttp://www.dailyherald.com/story.asp?id=287548
(FROM THE ARTICLE: “This election means a lot for young people,” Republican Mitt Romney said in a recent interview. “This election will set a course that determines whether America remains the economic leader, the innovation leader of the world. Young people have the biggest stake in our future.” In the interview, Romney, 59, was not aware he had a profile on Facebook.com, the social networking Web site with some 10 million users; an aide assured him that he did. The profile highlights the former Massachusetts governor’s interests (skiing, running, family) and favorite music (Roy Orbison, Beatles, Eagles)...Republican John McCain’s outreach to younger voters includes an online social network called McCainSpace where supporters can create their own pages and connect with one another. The 70-year-old Arizona senator chose to appear on “Late Night with David Letterman” to announce plans to make his presidential bid official.)
WASHINGTON — Ah, youth, that fickle force in politics. Young people bring energy, passion, creativity and technical wizardry to the presidential campaign — everything, it seems, except impact on Election Day.
With their Web logs, Facebook profiles and college rallies, the 2008 presidential candidates are lavishing attention on a group that displays unbridled enthusiasm early in the campaign but tends to lose interest when the voting starts.
For all the star-studded voter registration drives featuring the likes of Madonna and Sean “Diddy” Combs, more than half of the people in the U.S. age 18 to 24 who are eligible to vote typically do not. By comparison, some 70 percent of those 45 and older do vote, according to the Census Bureau.
So while young people are front and center in spreading the word on candidates, it still is the Sinatra generation that is rockin’ the vote.
“We have a long way to go,” said Ben Unger, field director for PIRG New Voters Project. One impediment: People 18 to 24 are highly mobile and hard to reach even with relaxed absentee balloting rules.
Voter turnout among young people rose in 2004 to 47 percent from 36 percent in 2000. It’s a boost candidates hope will build and last until November 2008.
“This election means a lot for young people,” Republican Mitt Romney said in a recent interview. “This election will set a course that determines whether America remains the economic leader, the innovation leader of the world. Young people have the biggest stake in our future.”
In the interview, Romney, 59, was not aware he had a profile on Facebook.com, the social networking Web site with some 10 million users; an aide assured him that he did.
The profile highlights the former Massachusetts governor’s interests (skiing, running, family) and favorite music (Roy Orbison, Beatles, Eagles).
One Facebook group backing Democratic Sen. Barack Obama has more than 300,000 members. It was Facebook that helped turn out several thousand people at a rally for the Illinois senator in Virginia several weeks ago.
Joe Trippi, the Internet savvy campaign manager of Democrat Howard Dean’s 2004 White House bid, said there was no way the Obama campaign alone could have organized an event that drew 3,000 at such an early stage in the campaign.
Obama spokesman Dan Pfeiffer said much interest in the 45-year-old candidate among younger voters, particularly the Internet activity, has sprung up independent of the campaign.
Republican John McCain’s outreach to younger voters includes an online social network called McCainSpace where supporters can create their own pages and connect with one another. The 70-year-old Arizona senator chose to appear on “Late Night with David Letterman” to announce plans to make his presidential bid official.
Beneva Schulte, speaking for Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd’s Democratic presidential campaign, said: “We’re not waiting for them to come to us; we’re finding them where they live. … We’re meeting them on college campuses at Harvard and Howard — on Facebook and YouTube.”
Democrat John Edwards is on a tour of college campuses, with stops in California this past weekend.
Dean, a former Vermont governor, powered his way into contention in 2004 with then-innovative blogs and other Internet tools to raise money and create a buzz, then faded after primary voting started.
Critical for the campaigns is whether they can keep the interest of young voters through the election. Trippi warned about the “self-fulfilling death spiral” in which in-house pollsters tell candidates that young people do not vote and urge the contender to focus on issues, including Social Security, that are favored by the elderly.
Billy Valentine, 20, a sophomore at Franciscan College in Ohio, leads Students for Brownback, supporting Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback for the GOP nomination. Brownback, 50, is a favorite of religious conservatives.
“My main goal is to create a student army for his campaign,” Valentine said, though conceding that young people do not vote in the same numbers as their elders.
“A big reason why students don’t vote is they’re not paying taxes yet,” he said.
One issue that could motivate students is the minimum wage, Valentine said. He said Ohio’s increase in the wage has prompted his college to cut back hours for student jobs and eliminate some employment.
“Once an issue really impacts a student directly, it motivates them,” Valentine said.
Learning to navigate the political Web - Daren Brisco
(FROM THE ARTICLE: In addition to the techPresident.com blogs, the site features a tracker tallying how often candidates are mentioned in the blogosphere and a daily digest of what other sites on the Web are saying about online campaigning. And prominently displayed on the home page is that up-to-the-minute scorecard of nearly all of the presidential candidates' MySpace friends. The Republican hopeful with the most pals - nearly 3,300 as of Sunday - is Ron Paul, a GOP Texas congressman who's running for president. Sifry said the MySpace numbers mean something, though it's unclear whether a candidate's online friends will cast real-world votes. "It is a measure of enthusiasm," he said. "It's the world live Web now, and it reflects the conversations people are having around the digital water cooler." Such as: who, exactly, is this Ron Paul guy?)
In the early race for 2008, most national polls have Hillary Clinton thumping Democratic rival Barack Obama by double digits.
But the junior senator from Illinois can take comfort in at least one tally: MySpace, apparently, is Obama country. More than 55,000 members of the popular social-networking site have added Obama to their online profiles as a "friend," 26,000-plus have "friended" Clinton.
It may seem a trivial statistic. But to the political junkies who run techPresident.com, a new "group blog" that obsessively follows how the presidential campaign is playing on the Internet, no Web trend is too small to track.
Micah Sifry, the site's cofounder and editor, said he's trying to make sense of "how candidates are using the Web and how the Web is using them."
A lot has changed since the 2004 campaign, when Howard Dean helped pioneer a new kind of Net politicking, creating an online community of supporters that ultimately brought in $27 million and redefined campaign fundraising.
Now all candidates - drawn by the Web's potential to help get their message out, yet leery of its ability to magnify the smallest mistake - are Web savvy.
Sifry is trying to make sense of it: "We want to be an interpreter, to help people understand how the Internet is changing politics on a daily basis."
The trick is doing that without being accused of being a stooge for one side or the other.
TechPresident's stable of bloggers includes Zephyr Teachout, the Internet director of Dean's 2004 campaign, and Mike Turk, the e-campaign director for Bush-Cheney 2004.
Sifry, a former political reporter for the left-wing Nation magazine, forbids techPresident bloggers from making "partisan" arguments. "If we have a bias, it's toward making campaigns to make smarter use of the Web," he said. TechPresident is financed by co-founder Andrew Rasiej and doesn't pay bloggers.
In recent posts, the site critiqued a photo of Bill and Hillary Clinton in a fundraising e-mail (too much Bill, not enough Hill); praised John Edwards for linking to 24 different social-networking sites on his home page ("I like the spaghetti tactic - let's throw it all at the wall and see what sticks."); and chided the major Republican candidates for not keeping up with MySpace profiles.
Republicans, though, are catching up. Mitt Romney's staff has created profiles for the 59-year-old presidential candidate on MySpace, as well as on Facebook.com, another popular site that has about 10 million users, according to the Associated Press.
Republican John McCain's campaign has created something called McCainSpace, an online social network for his supporters. That's in addition to his profile on MySpace, which like Romney's has gathered relatively few "friends."
In addition to the techPresident.com blogs, the site features a tracker tallying how often candidates are mentioned in the blogosphere and a daily digest of what other sites on the Web are saying about online campaigning.
And prominently displayed on the home page is that up-to-the-minute scorecard of nearly all of the presidential candidates' MySpace friends. The Republican hopeful with the most pals - nearly 3,300 as of Sunday - is Ron Paul, a GOP Texas congressman who's running for president.
Sifry said the MySpace numbers mean something, though it's unclear whether a candidate's online friends will cast real-world votes. "It is a measure of enthusiasm," he said. "It's the world live Web now, and it reflects the conversations people are having around the digital water cooler." Such as: who, exactly, is this Ron Paul guy?
After 11,246 people in Naperville cast ballots in the mayoral primary Tuesday, it has been decided that Mary Ellingson will not be the city’s next leader. Residents, of course, were voting for the candidate they want to be mayor, but the net effect is the two surviving candidates, Mayor George Pradel and longtime city Councilman Doug Krause, will get to do it all over again April 17.
A similar folly was played out in Wheaton. Former Councilman Michael Gresk and Current Councilman Alan Bolds defeated two challengers and will get to go mano-a-mano in the local election.
Thanks to goofy state election law, we have such silly winnowing of the fields in our bigger towns. And even though Pradel captured more than 70 percent of the vote, that’s not enough for a win. He has to beat Krause for a second time in about six weeks.
Krause, of course, is spinning his situation as any good politician would: Only 15 percent of Naperville’s registered voters turned out; there’s plenty of time to get the ears of the masses who’ll turn out in droves for the April 17 election.
I say that with tongue planted in cheek. Local elections are notorious for no-shows.
While a presidential election might persuade 50 to 70 percent of the electorate to vote, our local elections are mired in turnouts of less than 25 percent. In fact, here are the precise DuPage County figures for the past few elections of municipal, school, park, township and library leaders, not to mention the ubiquitous ballot proposals asking voters for more money:
2005 23 percent
2003 21 percent
2001 24 percent
It’s interesting trying to explain why people don’t vote for the people (their acquaintances, friends and neighbors, really) running the governments closest to home. It shouldn’t be a pocketbook issue: I’d argue property tax bills rival the amount of federal income tax one pays each year.
I guess you could pretty easily make the argument that a vote for president deals with some weighty, weighty issues, and the differences among candidates are like night and day. On the other hand, as savvy local pols have noted, there’s no Democratic or Republican way to pick up the garbage.
And, truthfully, when was the last time you got hot about the issues for your local library board. That’s what I thought.
Fear not, gentle voter. That’s why we’re here.
With the primary under our belts, the Daily Herald is busy collecting and collating the questionnaires we’ve distributed to people running in contested races from a field of 1,359 candidates. (That’s in our entire circulation area. In DuPage, I haven’t tallied up the candidates yet, but there’s a boatload.) We plan to publish some of the responses in our Neighbor editions and all of them on line. Also, for the first time, we’re inviting all mayoral candidates to do a 30- to 45-second infomercial on themselves — why they’re running for office, how they’re eminently qualified. We’ll videotape that and put it on our Web site, too.
That’s not all. The editors and other editorial employees we’ve deputized are inviting the candidates in contested races to come in for endorsement interviews, generally a one-hour session in which we ask about their qualifications and views on the issues. Then, later this month, based on the interviews, questionnaires, stories we’ve written on the races and with the concurrence of our editorial board, we’ll begin running our list of endorsements. It’s not rocket science, and lord knows, many of you will be unhappy with our choices, but I feel comfortable in saying we make these endorsements without having any specific axes to grind, no agendas. And I hazard to say the reporters who cover the municipalities, schools and such have a working knowledge of local government that surpasses the average resident. And they don’t, by the way, have a vote on who gets endorsed.
Not bad for something that less than a quarter of you will participate in, huh? But, c’mon, make a liar out of me.
Let’s get that turnout figure up to 30 percent on April 17!
Why single out one group’s history? - Danielle Grandinetti, Lake Villa
As Black History Month closed, I am wondering when we celebrate Polish History Month, or Indian (as in India) History Month, or Spanish History Month. What about those other nationalities?
I have been confused, as both Hispanic and Arab, but I do not have those nationalities in my heritage. No, I’m just an American. When my grandfather emigrated to America from Italy, he wanted his family to become “Americans.” Not to lose their heritage, but to join a family of many nationalities.
But is it true that people with Italian last names tend to be more suspected for mob activity? Wouldn’t that be a form of racial profiling?
Recently there was a school in the Chicago area whose school play was offensive to some in the Italian community because they felt it stereotyped them as being in the Mafia. Italians lost the argument to freedom of expression or speech, and the play was performed. But, if the debate involved another nationality, especially one of the minority races, would the school have so easily won the debate?
I do not understand. Why is it that Native Americans can remove Chief Illiniwek because it could offend Native Americans? Why, when hiring an NFL head coach, managers have to interview at least one minority?
What is a minority?
Why, in a nation where “all men are created equal,” are a select few “minority” races singled out? What of Australians, Swedes, or Hungarians? I feel it is offensive to single out any race or nationality.
As long as we continue to hold a few races above the others, this nation will never be free from racial bigotry, and we will never truly experience the phrase, “all men are created equal.”
Ethics in Illinois government: Sunshine as a disinfectant - Editorial
As part of an ethics package approved in the first year of the Blagojevich administration, independent inspectors general were created to investigate complaints of wrongdoing by state workers. That included an inspector for the governor's office and the agencies it controls.Nice concept, but there's a problem with it. Taxpayers spend $7 million a year on the office of the executive inspector general but can learn virtually nothing about what it does.The latest annual report by the executive inspector general, released this week, underscores how the investigation process is cloaked in secrecy.Here's what you're allowed to know: In fiscal year 2006, the office took in 1,278 complaints. It completed 425 investigations. It substantiated misconduct in 64 of those investigations.And that's about it. Who was investigated? What did they do wrong? What was the punishment? Don't ask. You won't be told.A bipartisan ethics commission that includes three former federal prosecutors, two members of the clergy, an academic, a nurse and an author hasn't received a single case to adjudicate from the executive inspector general. Why? Because the law says the "ultimate jurisdictional authority" is the governor. The governor is allowed to quietly work out an appropriate punishment with his executive inspector general."We would like to hear more cases, but as we looked at the statute, it pretty quickly became clear to us that the bigger concern for the state was more disclosure and transparency," said Jim Brennan, chairman of the Illinois Executive Ethics Commission.One legislative proposal, co-sponsored by state Sens. Susan Garrett (D-Lake Forest) and Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale), would plug a few holes in the state's porous ethics law, but needs stronger guarantees of transparency and openness. The measure would let the ethics commission decide which "founded" cases should be made public and which should not.That doesn't go far enough. Current members of the ethics commission have strong reputations for integrity and independence, and an abiding respect for open government. But that doesn't guarantee future members will.All the details of all the cases needn't be aired. Example: A low-level state employee who repeatedly shows up a half-hour late to work because of an unaddressed drug or alcohol problem. The public doesn't need to know the name of the worker, but it should get a short, general description of the nature of the case.The best idea: As soon as a case is adjudicated, a short description of the finding should be posted online. The Executive Ethics Commission could decide which of the cases should be fully aired and which should not.The state created these inspectors to restore public faith in government after the scandals of the George Ryan administration. Keeping us all in the dark about what the inspectors discover only invites suspicion. Let's air it all out.
DIERSEN HEADLINE: Chicago Tribune outrageously promotes Blagojevich's $6 billion move toward taking over Illinois' heath care industry, fails to include any rebuttal from McKenna, and fails to ask how many of the 1.4 million in Illinois without heath insurance are here illegally
Blagojevich readies supporters for fight Governor unveils health plan, warns of looming debate - John Chase
Saying he is following a "moral imperative," Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Sunday formally unveiled his plan to provide health care to Illinois' uninsured and vowed to win what is expected to be a substantial struggle with lawmakers over the program and how it is funded.Blagojevich, still fresh from re-election in November and looking to set an agenda for his second term, used the symbolic setting of a renowned Michigan Avenue church and characterized the effort to pass his Illinois Covered health-care plan as nothing less than a battle between good and evil."We are all God's children," the Democratic governor said. "He intended for all of us to have an equal opportunity to live good, quality lives and to have equal opportunity to have access to things like fundamental quality health care."Blagojevich did not detail how the state would pay for the program, estimated to cost $2.1 billion annually, but sources have said it will be paid for, in part, with funds from a new $6 billion tax on corporate business gross revenues he plans to propose later this week.Business leaders in Illinois already are lining up against the tax plan and are questioning a health-care expansion initiative amid a massive budget crisis.But the governor called on supporters--including the nearly two dozen health-care activists, small business owners and citizens who lack health coverage who stood behind him on a chilly day following services at Fourth Presbyterian Church--to steel themselves for the fights ahead."I want to get them all ready to go because we've got not only an ambitious agenda ahead of us, but like anything else in a democracy, there will be those who will oppose what we're going to try to do," Blagojevich warned. "But I believe we are right. I believe we aren't just doing the right thing, I believe--and know--we are doing the moral thing. This is nothing short than a moral imperative."Blagojevich's administration has said it hopes the $2.1 billion would provide medical coverage to 500,000 uninsured Illinois residents, slightly more than one-third of the 1.4 million uninsured adults in Illinois by 2010. The administration expects to do this by extending Medicaid to adults without children, broadening the state's Family Care program to families of four that make as much as $80,000 per year and providing subsidies to buy health insurance to more than 1 million Illinoisans, some whom already have coverage through their employers."We have an ambitious agenda that doesn't just cover the 1.4 million uninsured Illinoisans," Blagojevich said Sunday. "We have an agenda that also focuses on the 9.7 million Illinoisans who have health insurance but are paying premiums that are too high, can't access the health care because the deductibles are too high [or] their co-pays are too high."Every insurer in the state would be required to offer a standardized, comprehensive insurance policy to uninsured residents, regardless of their medical conditions, under Blagojevich's plan.But Illinois Covered is a voluntary program and stops short of enforced universal coverage, a target of several other states that also are tackling the politically challenging issue of health care. On Sunday, aides said Blagojevich would consider mandatory universal coverage after roughly three years of Illinois Covered, which, if passed, would go into effect in January 2008.The governor did not take questions about the program after his seven-minute speech or explain how it would be financed.Sources have said that in addition to the $6 billion tax on business gross receipts, which would require businesses to pay the state each time they got paid for a product or service, the governor intends to propose a new payroll tax to generate money from businesses that do not provide health insurance to their employees.The governor is expected to detail both taxes Wednesday during his budget address to the General Assembly. The governor's administration has been promoting the speech, going so far as to send out e-mails to an array of Illinois groups and residents encouraging them to gather to watch it. The e-mails ask recipients to RSVP to 15 pre-selected locales around the state where his budget address will be aired and where staffers from his office will be on hand to answer questions.Blagojevich's announcement lacked the political atmosphere of many of his previous policy unveilings, including his All Kids health-care plan where thousands gathered for a rally that all but launched his second-term candidacy.Sunday's event still attempted to have some theatrical elements, including the tolling of bells at Fourth Presbyterian, what Blagojevich's administration said was to "sound the alarm" for the uninsured. His administration said more than 100 congregations across Illinois rang bells or blew horns or shofars over the weekend to raise awareness.Virginia Klangides, co-owner of Red Apple Pancake House in Carol Stream, attended the event to support the governor. She said she is unable to provide health insurance to her 30 employees because it's too expensive but is optimistic that she could be able to offer it because Blagojevich's plan provides some assistance for small employers like her."We would love to be able to afford to offer health insurance to our employees. It's a great incentive. People want to stay with you. We've had people with us that have been with us since we opened, which will be almost seven years, and I know a few of them don't have health insurance," she said. "Now, hopefully we'd be able to provide it."
New rival jumps into water fray - Kevin Craver
(FROM THE ARTICLE: The grass-roots group supporting the proposed Kishwaukee Valley Water Authority now faces a grass-roots group opposing it. In a largely symbolic gesture Wednesday, Taxpayers Alliance of Northern Illinois Chairman Joe Wiegand announced the group’s formation in front of the McHenry County Government Center, his last stop of three counties where the authority will be on the April 17 ballot. He said the organization, now several dozen strong, would campaign against the new taxing body, calling it an anti-growth power grab rather than a sincere effort to conserve groundwater. “We are being dragged into a McHenry County fight,” said Wiegand, a former DeKalb County Board member and gubernatorial campaign manager for Jim Oberweis. “I think common-sense taxpayers understand that the authority isn’t about water, but taxes and power, and are going to reject this, and I hope they reject it handily so it is not proposed again.”)
WOODSTOCK – The grass-roots group supporting the proposed Kishwaukee Valley Water Authority now faces a grass-roots group opposing it.In a largely symbolic gesture Wednesday, Taxpayers Alliance of Northern Illinois Chairman Joe Wiegand announced the group’s formation in front of the McHenry County Government Center, his last stop of three counties where the authority will be on the April 17 ballot. He said the organization, now several dozen strong, would campaign against the new taxing body, calling it an anti-growth power grab rather than a sincere effort to conserve groundwater.“We are being dragged into a McHenry County fight,” said Wiegand, a former DeKalb County Board member and gubernatorial campaign manager for Jim Oberweis. “I think common-sense taxpayers understand that the authority isn’t about water, but taxes and power, and are going to reject this, and I hope they reject it handily so it is not proposed again.”The new group is the latest hurdle for the Woodstock-based Alliance for Land, Agriculture and Water spearheading the authority, which survived two months of court hearings to get the referendum on the ballot. Its organizers said the authority was necessary to sustain groundwater resources and ensure that rural residents had a voice that they presently did not have.Spokesman Rob Perbohner said all three counties in the authority, not just McHenry County, faced common water and growth issues.“The beauty of the plan we’ve put together is that we have three counties with similar issues – we’re all faced with large-scale development to the east, similar aquifers and similar concerns,” Perbohner said. “A common management program would be useful.”If approved by voters, the authority would have the power to permit or deny high-capacity wells in much of Boone, DeKalb and western McHenry counties, as well as protect groundwater recharge areas. It would levy 3 cents per $100 in assessed valuation, or about $10 per $100,000 of equalized assessed value.Supporters cite a study indicating that parts of McHenry County’s developed southeast corner could face significant water shortages by 2030 if current development trends continue.Other powers granted by the state Water Authorities Act have opponents worried, Wiegand said.The act empowers water authorities to buy land or acquire it through eminent domain or sell its water elsewhere. Authorities with reservoirs can hire their own police forces and regulate fishing, boating and swimming. Perbohner replied that the authority would not regulate such activities because it had no intention of creating a reservoir.Wiegand also accused A-LAW, which was founded last year to back an environmentally-friendly county comprehensive plan, of secretly wanting the authority as an alternate way to put the brakes on development, a charge that supporters flatly deny.“I think the truth that many observers have come to is that A-LAW was so dissatisfied by McHenry County’s comprehensive plan, they sought another vehicle to stop growth, and found this water authority as a resting place for their concerns,” Wiegand said.If authority supporters are used to anything, it is opposition.At least a dozen city governments and a small army of landowners and developers challenged the proposed borders in court shortly after the authority filed its 1,600-signature petition. DeKalb County Judge Kurt Klein kept the authority’s boundaries mostly intact in a Feb. 14 ruling.The DeKalb County Building and Development Association has since filed an injunction against the petition, a hearing that has been continued to March 6.“We already went through 2 1/2 months of it, and it’s all the same stuff,” Perbohner said. “It’s going to be well-orchestrated and well-funded special interests, and our question will be posed to people who will have a lot at stake. We hope at they end they can see through all the stuff smeared about the water association and recognize its true value.”On the WebThe Alliance for Land, Agriculture and Water supporting the Kishwaukee Valley Water Authority has a Web site at www.a-lawonline.org.The Taxpayers Alliance of Northern Illinois opposing the authority has a Web site at www.watertaxvoteno.org.The 2005 water study predicting shortages in McHenry County can be found at www.mchenryh2o.com.
SPRINGFIELD STATE JOURNAL-REGISTER
Even with a continuing moratorium on lethal injections in Illinois, a group of Democratic state senators from Chicago last week announced legislation to abolish capital punishment here. Proponents cited past wrongful convictions and said the public cost of prosecuting capital defendants would better be spent on assisting the families of murder victims.
That suggestion to shift resources also has been made in New Jersey, which is a contender to become the first state to abolish a death-penalty statute in more than 30 years. A task force there recently urged lawmakers to consider a repeal bill, and New Jersey Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine - a Taylorville native and former U.S. senator from New Jersey - has signaled he would sign one.
Meanwhile, repeal bills have been introduced in 14 other legislatures while two state governments are considering moratoriums on executions, according to the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C. The abolition measures have gained some traction in Montana, New Mexico and Maryland, where Gov. Martin O'Malley has called for a repeal.
"The reality is only a few may pass this year" said Richard Dieter, executive director of the information center. "But if even one passes, it would be historic."
Only 12 states do not have a death penalty. While some legislatures consider joining that group, a handful of assemblies, including Virginia's, are reviewing potential expansions of capital punishment by adding death-eligible offenses.
Chances seem bleak for the Illinois repeal bill, which was filed last month by state Sens. Rickey Hendon, Mattie Hunter and Kwame Raoul. Observers agree that lawmakers do not face a pressing need to deal with the emotional issue of capital punishment.
Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich has kept in place the moratorium on executions that his Republican predecessor, George Ryan, imposed in 2000, and has indicated he's in no rush to lift it.
Only 10 prisoners have entered Illinois Death Row since Ryan cleared it in 2003 by switching the 167 occupants to life sentences in prison. Ryan said he doubted the fairness of the death penalty, following a series of exonerations and reversed sentences in Illinois.
"A moratorium removes the immediacy and allows us to live in a gray area very comfortably," said state Rep. Marlow Colvin, a Chicago Democrat who co-sponsored a repeal bill in 2003.
Colvin, chairman of the House Black Caucus, said a rollback of capital punishment is not a top legislative priority for his group this year. He recalled that the House bill he co-sponsored four years ago was about 15 votes short of having the necessary support to pass his chamber.
Also giving Illinois lawmakers a reason to delay a contentious debate is the Capital Punishment Reform Study Committee. The task force of legal experts and lawmakers is about halfway through a five-year study of a bundle of capital-punishment reforms enacted in 2003. The legal safeguards include requiring police departments to record murder confessions, to remove doubts about coerced statements.
Panel member Kirk Dillard, a Republican state senator from Hinsdale who supports the death penalty, said the committee should be allowed to complete its evaluations. But he said the group's mission should grow to consider the taxpayer cost of running a capital punishment system versus keeping the worst offenders behind bars for life without chance of parole.
DIERSEN HEADLINE: OUTSTANDING: Doug Finke blasts Blagojevich on chauffeur issue
Statehouse Insider Is this great timing or what? - Doug Finke
A week before Gov. ROD BLAGOJEVICH is expected to call for the largest tax hike in the history of the state (albeit only directly on business), reports surface that the state is spending money on chauffeurs for top brass at the Department of Human Services. Not a little money, but $70,000 and $84,000 a pop.
If Blagojevich, who's been silent about this, thinks the issue will simply disappear, he's probably mistaken. It's been a big topic of conversation around the Capitol all week.
There are the jokes from lawmakers about how they can get a job that pays more than they are making.
There's the sarcasm, as in the Democrat who said the state could balance the budget by cutting chauffeurs.
There's simple outrage over the state paying for chauffeurs.
And there's the politics, like the Republican who said she can't foist a tax hike on her constituents while the state is spending money on chauffeurs.
Add to that a lawmaker who said he knows of four chauffeurs employed at DHS and intends to release more details when he gets names and other information. That should keep the story alive for a while. The lawmaker is a Democrat, by the way.
Blagojevich has thrown people under the bus before to try and keep a lid on bad publicity. He may be forced to do it again.
Obama's pastor speaks for himself on Hannity & Colmes - Fran Eaton
http://illinoisreview.typepad.com/illinoisreview/2007/03/obamas_pastor_s.html (Includes video clip)
I'll admit we've been pretty tough on Barack Obama's church and his pastor both on Illinois Review and in Star columns, but Dr. Wright's "ineffectiveness" and "belligerence" on Hannity & Colmes Friday night were noted by even the ever-balanced Reverse Spin Dan Curry (here).
Since December, IR has been building a case as to the concerns we have about a-man-who-would-be-president who has been active for 20 years in a church that teaches the controversial and separtist black liberation theology.
As broadcast on Friday night . . .
Top 10 Amazing Facts of Mormonism - Fran Eaton
Maybe Barack Obama's religion is not the most controversial of the presidential candidates. Read Jill Martin Riche's
-- Mormons can become gods and goddesses.
Mark H. Beaubien Jr. (R-Barrington Hills)
Sandy Cole (R-Grayslake)
Tom Cross (R-Oswego)
Elizabeth Coulson (R-Glenview)
Joe Dunn (R-Naperville)
Brent Hassert (R-Romeoville)
Carolyn H. Krause (R-Mount Prospect)
Patricia Reid Lindner (R-Aurora)
Sidney H. Mathias (R-Buffalo Grove)
Rosemary Mulligan (R-Des Plaines)
Ruth Munson (R-Elgin)
Dennis Reboletti (R-Elmhurst)
Angelo "Skip" Saviano (R-Elmwood Park)
I respectively submit to you that we have lost our way here in Illinois.
We’ve lost our fiscal priorities. We’ve lost our legislative priorities. And now we’ve lost our way with the concept that it is okay to sacrifice the life of one in order to save another.
And what’s even worse, you want to use my tax dollars to fund it.
We’ve lost our fiscal priorities. We’ve lost our legislative priorities. And now we’ve lost our way with the concept that it is okay to sacrifice the life of one in order to save another.
And what’s even worse, you want to use my tax dollars to fund it.
There's a bonus in all this for social conservatives. Switchers on social issues usually stay switched. Ronald Reagan and the elder George Bush did so after becoming pro-lifers. All those Democratic presidential candidates in the 1980s and 1990s who switched sides on abortion from pro-life to pro-choice have stayed put. Tony Perkins, the head of the Family Research Council, says you only get to flip once on social issues. If you switch back, "you're in no man's land," a politician without a political base.
The newly minted social conservative who's made the most drastic move is former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. He's flipped on abortion, gay rights, and embryonic stem cell research, as Jennifer Rubin detailed in these pages a few weeks back ("Mitt Romney's Conversion," Feb. 5). Senator John McCain of Arizona has changed his view on Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, from supporting it to favoring its reversal. And Rudy Giuliani, the ex-mayor of New York, has sought to take the edge off his social liberalism, even suggesting he'd nominate Supreme Court justices who might overturn Roe v. Wade.
It was Democrats with presidential ambitions who transformed the switch on social issues-especially on abortion-into a normal political event. Over the two decades after the Roe v. Wade ruling, the two parties sorted themselves out on abortion, Republicans emerging as the pro-life party, Democrats the pro-choice party.
More recently, one party has become reliably conservative on the broad range of social issues (Republicans), the other mostly liberal on those issues (Democrats). This, in turn, has forced presidential candidates of both parties to align themselves accordingly. So a stampede of Democrats who sought their party's presidential nomination after 1980 abandoned their opposition to abortion. The list included Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Dick Gephardt, Joe Biden, Dennis Kucinich, Tom Harkin, and Jesse Jackson.
For all those Democrats, switching was necessary, since a pro-lifer has little or no chance of winning the Democratic nomination. It's the same for Republicans, only in their case it's a pro-choice candidate who has the extreme disadvantage. Were Democrats somehow to anoint a pro-lifer as their presidential candidate, that would surely prompt a pro-choice challenger to run as an independent or third party nominee. With Republicans, a pro-choice nominee would spark a pro-life candidacy.
For Democrats, switching is painless. They not only put themselves on the side of party activists and liberal interest groups, they get right with elite opinion and the media. For Republicans, it's anything but easy. When they switch and endorse social conservatism, elite opinion is appalled and the press plays up their supposed insincerity.
Both Newsweek and liberal columnists have taken umbrage at Romney's move to the right. McCain and Giuliani too have been taken to task in the press. Nothing like this happened when Democrats changed sides. Their switch on abortion was greeted by quiet media acceptance.
"I don't remember any attacks [on Democratic switchers] from the side that benefited from their conversion," says Republican strategist Jeff Bell, coauthor with Princeton professor Robert P. George of the forthcoming book Social Conservatism. This is largely true for Republican switchers now. With some exceptions, social conservatives accept their changes as genuine or at least steps in a positive direction.
"I want to give them the benefit of the doubt," says Perkins. Liberals and the press, however, can't see a lurch toward social conservatism as anything but a crass political maneuver. "Conservatives don't see it that way," Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention told Newsweek. "They see it as someone who has seen the light." Perkins applies that to Romney, saying he "may have seen the light."
Because Romney's switch is the most sweeping, it's received the most attention and the most press criticism. Romney has explained that a conversation with a Harvard scientist in 2004 led to his changed view of abortion and embryonic stem cell research.
The scientist said, according to Romney, that killing 14-day-old embryos was not a moral issue. This pushed Romney to regard all human life, from conception, as worthy of legal protection.
Just as he'd been publicly pro-choice, Romney had also been a champion of gay rights. He changed after the Massachusetts Supreme Court in 2003 legalized gay marriage in the state. Whatever the motive, Romney's flips have conveniently put him in sync with Republicans nationally.
McCain gets credit from social conservatives for his pro-life voting record in Congress. Now he favors overturning Roe v. Wade, the opposite of the position he took in 1999. Nonetheless, McCain said last week that it's "a false claim to say I have changed my position." Reversing Roe v. Wade is consistent with his anti-abortion record, he insisted. On gay marriage, however, social conservatives fault McCain for refusing to back the proposed constitutional amendment that would bar same-sex marriage.
Giuliani has the most difficult task in appealing to social conservatives because he hasn't repudiated his support for legalized abortion and gay unions. But he's tried to soften the blow. In an interview with Sean Hannity of Fox News, he said he believes "in a woman's right to choose," but implied that as president he would appoint justices like Antonin Scalia who might overturn that right. "I would appoint judges that interpreted the Constitution rather than invented it," he said.
On marriage, Giuliani said, it "should be between a man and a woman." As New York mayor, he signed domestic partnership legislation and still favors legal recognition of gay unions. "We should be tolerant, fair, open, and we should understand the rights that all people have in our society," he said.
There's one issue on which social conservatives admire Giuliani: his strong opposition to Islamic radicalism and eagerness to lead the fight against it. "The threat of Islam is a moral issue," says Perkins. "That's in the mix with the social issues."
The rush of Republican candidates to social conservatism points up a striking political fact. "It tells me the movement is surprisingly healthy," says Bell. The movement is a somewhat amorphous body that is dominated by religious conservatives. "It's so much a part of the Republican party that people feel the need to come to terms with it," Bell adds. And when presidential candidates do just that, they're likely to be rewarded.
Romney gets the nod from CPAC - Caroline Daniel
Mitt Romney's efforts to become the preferred candidate for social conservatives were rewarded at the weekend when he won a straw poll asking attendees at the Conservative Political Action Conference who they thought was most likely to be the Republican presidential nominee in 2008.
Mr Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, had faced scepticism at the conference amid charges that he had flip-flopped on some of the critical issues for conservatives, changing his stance on gay and abortion rights. The initial reception to his speech at the conference on Friday was far less enthusiastic than the rousing greeting for the celebrity figure of Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York.
About a third of the 6,000 attendees at the three-day conference voted in the poll. Mr Romney won with 21 per cent of the vote, followed by Mr Giuliani, with 17 per cent. Senator John McCain, the only Republican presidential front-runner not to attend CPAC, languished in the poll, ranking fifth with 12 per cent.
Mr. Romney's campaign was the best organized at the conference. Dozens of students wearing blue Mitt Romney T shirts and carrying red Mitt Styrofoam baseball mitts were bussed in to encourage activists to vote in the poll. Even so, national polls have consistently shown Mr Romney as trailing in third place. His national campaign has appeared to stall as attention shifted to Mr Giuliani as his presidential ambitions have become clearer.
Unlike at the recent parade for the Democratic presidential candidates last month at the Democratic National Committee meeting, where the main preoccupation was to set out assertive stances on the Iraq war and for withdrawing troops, the Republican candidates largely avoided the subject, focusing instead on the need to win the war on terror.
Other than Mr McCain, the other notable missing figure at the conference was President George W. Bush.
With a total of 1,705 ballots cast by registered conference attendees, this year's marks the largest ever CPAC Straw Poll, a 36% increase over the number of ballots cast last year (when the former senator from Virginia, George Allen, won the poll).
Asked "who would be your first choice to be the Republican nominee for president," CPAC attendees responded as follows: Romney 21%, Giuliani 17%, Sen. Brownback of Kansas 15%, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich 14%, and Sen. McCain of Arizona 12%.
Mr. Romney ran an intensive ground operation at CPAC, flooding the convention with college-aged campaign workers — paying many of their registration fees and even busing some of them in and paying for their hotel rooms, according to a report in The New York Times — wearing blue Romney shirts, carrying posters for their candidate, and voting in the straw poll. He also spoke yesterday afternoon to rousing applause and hosted a reception for conference attendees yesterday evening.
Mr. Giuliani, by contrast, spoke to the conference yesterday but otherwise took a hands-off approach, with no booth in the exhibit hall and little staff presence on the ground — emblematic of his campaign's so-far lackadaisical approach to grassroots organizing.
Mr. McCain skipped the conference altogether, angering many here. (His showing at even 12% is surprisingly high given the boos his name has been greeted with at every mention these past three days.)
On a ballot combining CPAC attendees' first and second choices for the Republican nomination in 2008, Mr. Giuliani came out on top. The results were: Giuliani 34%, Romney 30%, Gingrich 30%, Brownback 24%, and McCain 20%. At a conference where conservative columnist Ann Coulter railed against Mr. Giuliani by name for being "very liberal" and compared him to Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the former mayor received a much warmer reception than many pundits had expected.
That Mr. Giuliani is also a highly acceptable second choice for those currently in other camps also cuts against the conventional wisdom that most hard-core conservatives would find a pro-choice, pro-gay-rights nominee utterly unacceptable.
Fabrizio & McLaughlin, the Republican polling firm that conducts the CPAC Straw Poll, also broke down its results by what kind of conservative attendees identified themselves as being. Conservatives who identified themselves as concerned primarily with reducing the size of government supported Messrs. Romney and Giuliani essentially equally — they received 21% and 20% of these attendees' votes respectively. Conservatives concerned with "traditional values" chose Mr. Brownback as their nominee with 29% of their vote, followed by Mr. Romney at 22%. Messrs. Giuliani and McCain were tied among these voters at a paltry 8%. Mr. Giuliani led among national-security conservatives with 25% of their vote, followed by Mr. Romney with 21%, and Mr. McCain at 18%.
CPAC attendees were also asked why they thought the Republican Party lost both houses of Congress last year. The plurality, 30%, said it was because of the Iraq war. The respective performances of the Republican Congress and President Bush ranked second and third in conservatives' blame hierarchy. Only 3% of poll participants believed that "voters reject[ed] conservative principles."
The CPAC Straw Poll is dominated by the conference's younger attendees. Sixty-two percent of the participants were between 18 and 25 years old.
McCain's CPAC Snub Stuns Conservatives - Ronald Kessler
Aides to opponents of Sen. John McCain said they were "stunned" by his decision not to show up at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington.
After rejecting invitations to speak to the 6,000 attendees, McCain tried to schedule a private reception without clearing the request with CPAC. By then, all the rooms at the Omni Shoreham had been booked.
"It was a classic McCain move, dissing us by going behind our backs," said William J. Lauderback, executive vice president of the American Conservative Union, which sponsors the three-day conference.
"If you diss the girl before the dance, you're not going to be dancing with the girl when the music starts," said David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union.
To those who know McCain, his self-destructive decision to snub conservative activists who could be his most ardent supporters is entirely in character. As outlined in a Jan. 11, NewsMax article, "Vanity Fair Tiptoes Around McCain's Explosive Temper," McCain routinely unleashes volcanic outbursts of anger on Senate colleagues whose support he needs.
A former Senate staffer recalled what happened when McCain, running for president in 2000, asked for support from a fellow Republican senator on the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee.
"The senator explained that he had already committed to support George Bush," the former Senate staffer said. "McCain said f*** you and never spoke to him again."
Indeed, the performance—or non-performance—of the three major presidential contenders at the 34th annual CPAC could be a metaphor for the way their campaigns will be run.
Rudy Giuliani agreed to speak at the last minute. He acquitted himself well, talking in a conversational tone that was refreshingly free of campaign rhetoric. He emphasized the need to stay on the offensive in the war on terror. He described his record of cutting taxes and crime in New York City. But he avoided any reference to his positions on gay rights or abortion, areas where he runs into trouble with conservatives. Nor did Giuliani have any other presence at the conference—no reception, no signs.
Romney Drums Up Grassroots Support
In contrast, Mitt Romney saw CPAC as a perfect opportunity to drum up grass roots support. With the help of Jordan Sekulow, who was responsible for galvanizing youth support in the 2004 Bush-Cheney campaign, Romney flooded the conference with 200 volunteers who wore dark blue Romney t-shirts and waved large dark blue Romney signs. Whenever Romney appeared, they chanted, "We want Romney! We want Romney!"
The Romney campaign paid the $25 student registration fee for the volunteers and paid travel and hotel bills for 10 of them. The volunteers were highly disciplined. They were told not to talk to the media unless given permission.
"I decided I wanted to come and help Mitt Romney do for the country what he did for Massachusetts," said volunteer Deborah Sonnenschein, a paralegal from Sudbury, Mass. "In particular, one thing that I'm really impressed with is what he did with secondary education. And having grown up and lived most of my life in the African-American community in Massachusetts, when he started the free tuition in state schools for anyone who met certain criteria, what that did was it practically doubled the number of black students in four years."
Anne Loerch, a student at American University's Kogod School of Business, said, "I appreciate a good businessman, and I think he'd be really good in dealing with the deficit."
As with the Bush-Cheney campaign, the Romney campaign runs on metrics, meaning that results are measured statistically. Each volunteer was instructed to persuade at least five people to vote for Romney in CPAC's straw poll.
Describing his efforts during the Bush-Cheney campaign, Sekulow said, "The vast majority of our young volunteers came from the evangelical movement. They're members of right-to-life clubs on campus, pro-life groups on campus, and they were conservative, and they supported President Bush, and they were great at grassroots."
In attracting volunteers to support Romney at CPAC, Sekulow, an evangelical Christian of Jewish heritage, reached out to all students.
Instead of waiting until the last minute, Romney booked a room for a reception in January.
Romney "called us a long time ago to arrange for a hospitality reception for CPAC attendees," Lauderback said.
At least 600 people jammed into the room as the volunteers cheered, "We want Mitt!" They waved large red mitts saying, "Mitt '08."
"These are the same kinds of efforts we'll be putting into winning the coming straw polls," a Romney aide said.
No Shows: McCain and Giuliani
Guiliani's and McCain's lack of interest in wooing conservatives has been part of a pattern. Whereas Ronney spoke to a National Review Online conference, a gathering of the Republican Study Committee, and a Heritage Foundation retreat in Baltimore, neither Giuliani nor McCain showed up. Giuliani subsequently spoke at Heritage Foundation headquarters in Washington.
Similarly, Romney spoke at a reception he gave at the Republican National Committee's winter meeting in January at the Grand Hyatt in Washington. McCain gave a reception but did not show up. Giuliani gave no reception and did not attend, leaving attendees mystified.
At CPAC, Romney was the only candidate to give his speech with his wife at his side. After Ann Romney spoke briefly, Romney made a dig at the media, as he often does.
"The mainstream media is surprised that we're here," he said, "They wrote our obituary last fall. Of course, they've written our obituary before: after Watergate, after the '82 midterm elections, after Iran-contra, and after Bill Clinton's election. The truth is that their wishful thinking reports of our demise have been greatly exaggerated. In fact, I predict that we'll be around a lot longer than, say, newspapers!"
If elected president, Romney promised that he will cap non-defense discretionary spending at inflation minus one percent.
"That alone will save $300 billion over 10 years," he said. "If Congress sends me a budget that exceeds the cap, I will veto that budget. I don't care if it's a Republican or Democrat Congress, I will veto that budget."
Ann Romney told me she thought it was one of the best speeches her husband had ever given.
Like most of the candidates who spoke, Romney said he favors President Bush's troop surge.
After giving his speech to CPAC, presidential candidate Jim Gilmore told NewsMax, "The Democrats' instincts would be to withdraw inside the borders of the country. That's been their long tradition as a party." The former Virginia governor said, "They're just reading the polls, and they're not thinking about the best interests of the country. It's our job, really, to protect the people of the United States."
In introducing Romney, Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, said the former Massachusetts governor was the first major candidate to sign ATR's pledge not to raise marginal tax rates. Neither Giuliani nor McCain has signed the pledge.
Norquist described Romney as a candidate who, by reining in spending, left Massachusetts with a balanced budget after inheriting a $3 billion deficit.
Norquist called Romney a man who "fights for all the values of the Reagan coalition." He said Romney both respects family values and lives them.
"He's been married for 37 years, he has five sons, 10 grandchildren, and he's fought for marriage at ground zero in the war, the other team's war on the institution of marriage, ground zero being the supreme court in the state of Massachusetts, " Norquist noted.
At the Romney reception, Jefts G. Beede, a board member of the Reagan Ranch, said, "He's clean as a whistle. He's practically the only absolutely guaranteed clean politician running in this election."
In his keynote address, Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina said a previous speaker at CPAC once began his address by saying: "Since our last meeting, we have been through a disastrous election. It is easy for us to be discouraged, as pundits hail that election as a repudiation of our philosophy and even as a mandate of some kind. Bitter as it is to accept the results of the November election, we should have reason for some optimism."
Those words were spoken on March 1, 1975 by Ronald Reagan, DeMint said.
DeMint's experience with two of the major candidates is revealing. In December of 2006, DeMint was elected chairman of the Senate Steering Committee, a caucus of conservative senators that includes the majority of the Republican Conference. Yet when DeMint called Giuliani to discuss his candidacy, the former New York mayor did not return his calls, according to a source.
On the other hand, when DeMint called Romney, Romney not only returned his call, he kept calling DeMint almost weekly, asking him for advice. DeMint began to see some of his guidance materialize in Romney's speeches and strategy.
In early January, DeMint endorsed Romney. A spokesman for DeMint declined to comment.
Fund Bounced by Giuliani Bodyguard
Another speaker at CPAC, the Wall Street Journal's John Fund, left his cough medicine in the green room. Wearing both a speaker's pass and a media pass, Fund returned to retrieve it. Giuliani was about to speak, and one of one of his security men said to Fund nastily, "The mayor is about to speak. Get out!"
Fund took that as typical of the arrogance of the people around Giuliani. Like their boss, Fund told me, Giuliani's staff is known for not returning calls. Fund attributed that to either arrogance or fear that Giuliani would disapprove of what they had to say.
In the end, Romney's efforts paid off. Of the 1,705 votes cast in the CPAC straw poll, Romney got 21%, compared with 17% for Giuliani and 15% for Kansas Senator Sam Brownback.
McCain trailed with 12% of the votes. The results were announced at the conclusion of the conference to a ballroom packed with 1,400 people. When McCain's name was mentioned, loud boos erupted.
Paid for by David John Diersen