That’s all admirable. It’s all well and good. The question is whom should Republicans really be concerned about?
A Matter of Trust
The State Party’s website currently lists the candidates for Governor who have signed the Code of Conduct. Topinka has signed, but not Jim Oberweis or Ron Gidwitz.
So are Oberweis and Gidwitz the bad guys - the angry white males? Hardly.
Maybe they will sign-on. It’s up to them. But Jim and Ron couldn’t be blamed for finding this moral crusade more than a little patronizing – considering the source.
As noted in yesterday’s installment of the Tattler, McKenna’s organization has been caught red-handed working in a significant way, and in at least one case in a destructive way, on Topinka’s behalf. If someone wants to help out Topinka’s campaign that’s fine – but it shouldn’t be done from within the State Party that is supposed to be neutral in this open Primary. The State Party is supposed to belong to every Republican – a radical concept in Illinois.
There’s only one candidate in this race with a proven record for vicious character assassinations of fellow Republicans – and that’s Topinka. And a signed-pledge is meaningless when all trust is gone.
What’s the logic – “gee I never would have said those nasty things about Peter Fitzgerald, Jack Ryan, Gary MacDougal, or Alan Keyes if I had been under contract?” If simple decency has to await codification – then our IL GOP has bigger problems than anyone imagines.
Topinka also knows she can count on stooges on staff, and friends in the media to keep doing much of the dirty work. She can keep her fingerprints off much of the destructive behavior done behind the scenes. That’s where most of the nasty stuff happens on campaigns these days. During the dark days of her State Party Chairmanship for example, Topinka even had some of her contributor-paid staff almost entirely devoted to spreading false smears about good Republicans (but perceived rivals) on internet chatboards.
Comparing Apples and Oranges
There’s a big difference between taking a politician to task over matters of policy and character – and engaging in a personal attack. There is a big difference between trying to educate the electorate on relevant issues – and throwing mud and spreading smears. A candidate making the case for past-due reform can’t be compared to some punk sent out to smear a reputation.
America was founded by regular citizens taking old, corrupt leaders to task and holding them accountable. That remains our Country’s tradition and it’s what separates us from the failed regimes of the past.
In theory, the proposed Code of Conduct recognizes this distinction. The problem is that no one really has trust anymore in the people who would be enforcing the Code.
To date, Oberweis and Gidwitz have been nothing but gentlemen in this campaign. Both also have long, successful careers in business. There is no indication that either has ever been anything but professional in his business dealings. So what’s the concern?
It appears to many people that the old guard’s newly found interest in ethics is all about protecting Topinka. Use a signed pledge to subjectively shutdown even honest debate, and hope Topinka slides-in on the high name I.D. she has built over the years through her State Office.
McKenna Needs to Show Good Faith
Before McKenna tries to impose new rules on others – he should first enforce his own rules for his own organization. McKenna’s State Party adopted a new Code of Ethics for its leadership members just after Labor Day this past summer.
One of those members, the National Committeeman of Andy’s organization, Bob Kjellander, remains in flagrant violation of at least four major provisions of the new Code – and that’s just on the first page. Kjellander’s ongoing violations deal with serious conflict of interest concerns, and activities creating the strong appearance of impropriety. (For more details on why Bob Kjellander must resign, see http://www.thinkred.us/think_red_004.htm)
McKenna has said he’s working behind the scenes on the matter. But who knows what to believe anymore. The bottom line – McKenna still hasn’t enforced his own policy. And if Kjellander is allowed to skate with his record – then it’s silly to even talk about enforcing any ethics policy or code.
If Oberweis and Gidwitz are suspicious, or if they are having a difficult time taking any mandate from the IL GOP’s old guard seriously – who could blame them?
What’s Really Important
It doesn’t really matter if Gidwitz and Oberweis sign-on to the Code of Conduct. If they do – that’s fine. Although they certainly shouldn’t do so until McKenna does his job. That wouldn’t be petty – just simple accountability towards a positive result. It would just be common sense.
However it’s even more important for the Republicans of Illinois to nominate a candidate who is honest and ethical in practice – not just on paper.
This Primary is about deciding what kind of Party we are going to be for the foreseeable future. The battle isn’t with Blagojevich right now – that contest doesn’t even start until the morning of March 22nd. The battle now is for our own Party’s heart and soul. The current battle is easily the most important in a generation. The IL GOP is truly at a crossroads.
The current battle is to stop the frontrunner Topinka – this Party-crasher with the audacity to try and steal the GOP’s seal of approval – even as she disrespects nearly everything Republicans hold sacred. It will get done – it’s just a matter of giving Republicans some honest information for a change.
Mutual respect and trust between our elected leaders and rank-and-file Republicans. That’s a cause worth a hard fought battle.
Topinka and her old chums are ready for the fight – are you?
Gov offers goodies, delivers jabs - Dave McKinney and Tracy Swartz
(Print version of article includes a 5X6-inch picture with the following caption: Gov. Rod Blagojevich is greeted by state Treasurer and possible Republican gubernatorial opponent Judy Baar Topinka on Wednesday just before his State of the State address in Springfield.)
Gov. Blagojevich charted his route into the campaign season Wednesday, outlining a legislative agenda heavy on bricks and mortar and feel-good initiatives for sick veterans and cash-strapped parents with kids in college.
In a State of the State speech with the feel of a political ad, the governor also appeared to distance himself subtly from his controversial keno proposal and dwelt heavily on past accomplishments such as raising the minimum wage and filling a $5 billion deficit without increasing taxes.
"Yes, the $5 billion budget hole could have been filled with massive cuts in health care. We could have cut education. We could have raised taxes and asked people to have less money in their paychecks,'' Blagojevich said. "But we found a different way.''
Critics faulted the governor for not saying how he'd pay for his new proposals, and Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka -- a Republican candidate for governor -- characterized his speech as "election-year pandering.''
Here are some of the major initiatives Gov. Blagojevich proposed in his State of the State address:
Jobs in building
The most ambitious item Blagojevich put before lawmakers was his massive transportation and school-construction program that he said could generate 230,000 high-paying jobs.
But the governor completely sidestepped how his $3.2 billion capital plan would be funded, opting against even a mention of his plan to introduce keno wagering to bars and restaurants to underwrite school-construction borrowing.
Blagojevich's opponents said that omission was recognition the keno plan, which the governor believes could be enacted without legislative approval, is in deep political trouble because of anti-gambling and pay-to-play criticisms.
Last week, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that a subcontractor to a firm that is positioned to run a keno operation in Illinois donated $76,000 to Blagojevich and is represented by the governor's former congressional chief of staff, lobbyist John Wyma.
An administration spokeswoman insisted that the governor still stands behind keno as a revenue source for his building plans, but Blagojevich hinted he is open to other funding streams.
"In the end, it's creating jobs, building bridges, building schools and building roads. There are a lot of means to get there,'' the governor told reporters. "We're focused on the end result.''
Most elements of Blagojevich's 39-minute speech had been leaked during the past week, but one surprise was a program designed to grant parents with college-aged children a $1,000 tax credit. Open to families with college freshmen or sophomores, the proposal would cost $90 million and be limited to those with B grade-point averages -- estimated at 150,000 students.
"For many families, $1,000 is a mortgage payment. It's three or four or five car payments. It's the electric bill for an entire year,'' the governor said.
Another unexpected offering was a $10 million pilot program for impoverished veterans who lack health insurance.
"How you can ask people to risk their lives, only to turn your back on them the minute you no longer need them, is just plain wrong,'' Blagojevich said.
The governor also proposed limiting mercury emissions from coal-burning power plants; offering $500 sales tax credits to motorists who buy certain fuel-efficient vehicles; trying again to ban assault weapons; and setting up two new prison units for methamphetamine abusers.
"He touched on many critical topics many members of my caucus strongly support,'' said Senate President Emil Jones (D-Chicago), who is co-chair of Blagojevich's re-election campaign.
Gov swipes at Bush, Congress
But others said the cash-strapped state cannot afford such costly, new programs.
"The question here is, how do you pay for a lot of his ideas?'' said House Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego). "It's always the question with him.''
Throughout the speech, the Democratic governor leveled more than two dozen digs at President Bush's administration and the Republican-led Congress for their "indifferent and sometimes even hostile'' policies.
But the GOP accused Blagojevich of turning the White House into the latest in a succession of bogeymen to boost his own sagging political fortunes.
"He attacked Washington more than he attacked the problems of this state,'' said Senate Minority Leader Frank Watson (R-Greenville).
Blagojevich avoided any new ethics or campaign-finance proposals in his speech despite state and federal investigations into his administration's hiring practices and a federal probe of corruption at the state teacher pension system that raised questions about his fund-raising.
"I can't believe he's turned his back on ethical reforms during these times,'' said state Sen. Bill Brady (R-Bloomington), one of five Republicans vying to be governor.
Blagojevich favors limits on campaign donations like the failed initiative he proposed last year, but the issue was omitted from Wednesday's address because "there isn't enough time to outline every good and worthwhile proposal during the State of the State,'' Blagojevich spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff said.
PEORIA JOURNAL STAR
Candidates rate governor's speech Democratic and GOP hopefuls pick apart list of accomplishments, goals - Mary Massingale and Adriana Colindres
Democratic and Republican candidates for governor on Wednesday characterized Gov. Rod Blagojevich's fourth State of the State address as typical of the first-term Democratic governor: short on details, long on blame and full of election-year, unfunded promises.
And what was up with Blagojevich's constant criticism of Washington, D.C.?
"The governor is blaming now Washington, after having blamed the Legislature one year, the prior administrations at least one year, the state superintendent one year - and this year's fall guy is Washington," said Republican candidate and Chicago businessman Ron Gidwitz.
During the annual speech given to a joint session of the Illinois House and Senate, Blagojevich ticked off the accomplishments of his first three years before promising to provide health care to uninsured veterans, methamphetamine treatment for prisoners, and tax credits for families of Illinois college freshmen and sophomores, as well as for buyers of fuel-efficient cars.
"There was something for everybody - we were just shy of a chicken in every pot," said state Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, who is seeking the GOP nomination for governor.
However, the speech lacked one key element, according to Republican candidate Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington.
"We obviously need details," Brady said. "And he just is not forthright in providing those details that are so critically important to this."
The speech made no mention of the costs of Blagojevich's proposed new programs, and no mention of any funding streams. However, Blagojevich last week barnstormed the state pushing his proposed $3.2 billion capital bill for road and mass transit construction, including a controversial provision to add keno to the Illinois Lottery to fund school construction bonds.
But the governor, who has yet to formally announce his re-election campaign, on Wednesday repeatedly referred to his capital bill as a "jobs bill."
"Last week, this was an infrastructure bill. Now, because his casino gamble, his keno gamble put that bill in jeopardy, he's recast it into a union-hiring bill," said Democratic candidate and former college administrator Edwin Eisendrath. "What it is, is politics as usual."
Blagojevich also made no mention of his keno proposal, after both the gambling industry and anti-gambling critics last week criticized the governor for breaking a 2002 campaign pledge against gambling expansion. Claims of cronyism surrounding the two companies most likely in line for the keno contract also have clouded the issue.
Blagojevich budget director John Filan said the governor's address made no mention of keno because it was "a policy speech, where the state's been and where it's going."
Republican candidate and Aurora dairy owner Jim Oberweis disagreed and coined Wednesday's speech as Blagojevich's "last" State of the State address.
"I think he's reading the political tea leaves, and he realizes he has created quite an uproar by breaking his promise once again," Oberweis said.
But Blagojevich's repeated finger-pointing at Washington and the federal government as a policy bungler raised the question among the candidates about which office the governor was actually campaigning for.
"I wish he'd just quit and run for president," Brady said, adding later, "I wish he'd focus on the problems in Illinois and not be so preoccupied by a long-term run for national office."
In her bid for a state Senate seat, Palatine Village President Rita Mullins wasn’t expecting the endorsement of the Palatine Township Regular Republican Organization.
After all, she has had a chilly relationship with the organization, also known as TOPPER, over the years.
When TOPPER came out with its endorsements for the March 21 GOP primary this week, Mullins wasn’t alarmed to learn that her opponent in the 27th District state Senate race, Harper College Trustee Matt Murphy, got the nod.
“I didn’t expect to get the endorsement,” Mullins said. “I expect the people to make the endorsement.”
Mullins and Murphy are vying to take over the seat now held by Wendell Jones, a Republican who is not seeking re-election. The Democrats are running Peter Gutzmer in race.
Mullins’ cold relationship with the Gary Skoien-backed TOPPER dates back to at least 2002, when she lost a bid for Palatine Township Republican committeeman.
She came in third in the race, where Skoien, the current committeeman, beat both her and then-incumbent committeeman Jack Tatooles, the current Inverness village president.
Murphy, meanwhile, was delighted to pick up the endorsement of TOPPER.
“I’m thrilled to have the backing of grassroots Republicans,” Murphy said.
Besides TOPPER, Murphy says he’s also received the endorsement of the Barrington Township Republican Organization. This Saturday, he hopes to pick up the endorsement of the Republican Organization of Wheeling Township.
The townships of Palatine, Barrington and Wheeling make up the bulk of the 27th Senate District, which also includes a small portion of Vernon Township in Lake County.
“These are the grassroots endorsements. That means a lot to me because I know they are committed to the party and helping the state, as I am,” said Murphy, an attorney who lives in Palatine.
Skoien said about 80 percent of the Republican precinct captains in Palatine Township voted after hearing speeches and questioning candidates running for governor, lieutenant governor, Congress, state Senate, state representative, Cook County Board and judge of the 13th Subcircuit.
According to the TOPPER bylaws, a candidate must garner at least 60 percent of the vote to receive the endorsement.
For lieutenant governor, TOPPER went with state Sen. Steve Rauschenberger; for Congress, David McSweeney; incumbent state Rep. Paul Froehlich; and Hoffman Estates Trustee Cary Collins for the 13th judicial Subcircuit.
Skoien, who is also the chairman of the Cook County Republican Party, said no candidate for governor received the required 60 percent of the vote.
Rauschenberger is running with Republican gubernatorial hopeful Ron Gidwitz.
If McSweeney, an investment banker from Barrington, wins the Republican primary, in the general election he will face current 8th District U.S. Rep. Melissa Bean, a Democrat who also lives in Barrington.
Naperville City Councilman Richard Furstenau charged with hitting officer State Senate candidate says he’s innocent and won’t drop out of race - Jake Griffinhttp://www.dailyherald.com/news/dupagestory.asp?id=144593
Naperville City Councilman and state Senate hopeful Richard Furstenau turned himself in to Naperville police Wednesday after being charged earlier in the day with misdemeanor battery against a police officer.
“My integrity has been challenged and I expect to defend myself in a courtroom with my attorney and I would like the voters to know that I would appreciate it if they would hold with me through this process,” Furstenau said. “I did not hit, shove or batter a police officer, period.”
Furstenau said he turned himself in around 6:30 p.m. Police officials said he paid a $300 bond and was released.
The charges stem from a Jan. 1 incident, when a police officer monitoring cars being towed from Chicago Avenue, just west of Washington Street, said he was confronted by an angry Furstenau.
Furstenau said he merely inquired about whether motorists were properly notified of the parking regulations.
“I did not raise my voice,” he said.
Sgt. Joel Truemper, reading from the complaint, said Furstenau struck the unidentified officer in the chest with the back of his hand.
Joe Matchett, president of the Naperville police union, said this wasn’t the first complaint he had received about Furstenau from an officer. He said there was a complaint of Furstenau being verbally abusive in the past.
“I still have great respect for the Naperville Police Department and all the officers who carry a badge,” Furstenau said.
Furstenau is facing a single count of misdemeanor battery, which is punishable by up to a $1,000 fine or a year in jail.
“Technically, battery to a police officer is aggravated battery,” Truemper said, “but based on the facts of this case, the state’s attorney has authorized a misdemeanor complaint.”
Matchett said the lengthy investigation raised eyebrows among some officers, but he doesn’t believe morale was negatively affected.
“Initially, I think people were a little (confused by) what had occurred, but as time has progressed, the officers have been patient and understanding that the department has to do a thorough investigation that needs to be reviewed by the state’s attorney and appropriate action taken from that point,” he said. “I think how it impacted morale was dependent on the information officers had at the time. The department had to cover their bases.”
No court date has been set, according to the DuPage County Circuit Court Clerk’s Web site.
Furstenau is squaring off against State Rep. Randy Hultgren in the March 21 primary for the Republican nod to replace outgoing State Sen. Peter Roskam, who is seeking a seat in Congress.
“I will absolutely not resign from this campaign under any circumstances,” Furstenau said.
First, he appears to be backing off his plan to expand keno gambling to pay for school construction.
Second, the governor seemed to be extending an olive branch during this election year to lawmakers he’s normally at odds with. Blagojevich praised lawmakers for their accomplishments while calling for a $1,000 state income tax credit to parents of students who attend Illinois colleges or universities.
The governor did find a new target to lash out at: Republican politicians in Washington.
“They send jobs to India. We brought OfficeMax to Naperville,” said Blagojevich, who criticized the politicians at least 20 times in his speech.
For more, see Eric Krol and John Patterson’s report on Page 6.
Governor praises tax credits, ignores keno Instead of gambling, Blagojevich touts help for veterans, students - Eric Krol and John Patterson
(Print version of the article includes and quote from Representative Sandra Pihos and photos of and quotes from Brady, Eisendrath, Gidwitz, Oberweis, and Topinka.)
Gov. Rod Blagojevich appeared to pull the plug on his controversial keno gambling expansion plan Wednesday, a little more than a week after he pitched it to pay for school construction.
“I am concerned about the end results. There are several means (to the end),” said Blagojevich, after delivering his annual State of the State speech, in which he did not mention keno, a lottery-meets-bingo game popular in Missouri and Michigan.
The 40-minute address amounted to an election-year call for peace to voters and critics, with Blagojevich seeking to overcome low public approval ratings and multiple federal probes as he tries for a second term.
Credit was a theme: the once-combative governor shared credit with lawmakers for three years of accomplishments while also calling for a $1,000 tax credit for parents who send their children to state colleges.
Consumers who buy hybrid vehicles would get a $500 sales tax credit. Veterans without health insurance also would get state coverage under a new proposal.
Republicans acknowledged it’s tough to oppose helping families pay for college and assisting veterans, but said it all comes at a price.
“We’re in for a rude awakening in the next couple of years,” said House Republican leader Tom Cross of Oswego. “Someday, this is going to have to be paid for.”
In the speech, Blagojevich did find a target to blast: Republican politicians in Washington, whom he criticized at least 20 times for not raising the minimum wage, cutting college financial aid and helping to send jobs overseas through tax policies.
“That may be acceptable policy in Washington. But it’s not in Illinois. They send jobs to India. We brought OfficeMax to Naperville,” said Blagojevich, a former three-term congressman.
But the governor, who has acknowledged being interviewed by federal authorities early last year, did not issue any calls for ethics reform. He also did not hold a news conference afterward, at which questions about the ethics issue could have been asked.
The governor’s top new proposal is a $1,000 state income tax credit to parents of students who go to Illinois public or private colleges or universities and maintain a B average. It would apply to the first two years, include community colleges; cost an estimated $90 million, and help roughly 150,000 students. The governor said he would pay for it out of rebounding state revenues.
State Rep. Rosemary Mulligan, a Des Plaines Republican, accused Blagojevich of an about-face after he cut college funding his first three years, with tuition skyrocketing as a result.
Hopes of a rebounding economy sending more tax dollars to Springfield is also how the governor would pay for a $10 million test program to offer health insurance to low-income veterans who don’t have it or live more than 50 miles from a federal VA hospital. While some lawmakers questioned the cost, most supported the concept to plug holes in the federal safety net for veterans.
“There is a large, very active veterans organization in Des Plaines, and I hear from them all the time about the lack of services, be they health care, housing, a myriad of things,” said state Rep. Elaine Nekritz, a Northbrook Democrat.
Blagojevich also pushed his $3.2 billion borrowing plan to build roads and schools and match federal train and bus grants, saying it would create 230,000 jobs.
He’ll need some support from suburban Republicans to make that a reality, but they want to see where the cash will be spent.
“It’s really hard to support something that’s virtually invisible to me,” said state Rep. Sandra Pihos, a Glen Ellyn Republican.
Last week, the governor proposed paying for the school construction loans by allowing keno. Lawmakers and pundits immediately poured cold water on the idea amid disclosures that former Blagojevich aides were lobbying for companies that could have bid on the keno contract.
Blagojevich omitted keno from his speech, and Senate Democratic allies said they were told privately not to get too worked up about keno, a sign the administration does not intend to push it. But a Blagojevich spokeswoman denied keno was dead.
“No. We’re open to other ideas if people have them, but we see keno as a reasonable way to get where we need to go when it comes to school construction,” spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff said.
Hits, misses on assessing state of the state - Editorial
When any governor faces re-election, residents are going to get some campaign rhetoric folded into their State of the State address. That’s a given. And that’s what Illinois residents got with Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s speech Wednesday.
Fortunately for his re-election bid, Blagojevich is armed with some material to support his case. The rapid conversion to open road tolling is an impressive improvement for Chicago-area drivers. Laws designed to limit medical malpractice costs were a progressive step, as was the passage of a law banning discrimination against gays. After initially lagging behind other states in job creation, the Illinois job landscape has improved.
Blagojevich’s call Wednesday for a statewide ban on assault weapons merits support. His idea for a $1,000 annual tax credit for parents of college freshmen and sophomores will appeal to many.
The governor’s assessment of the state’s condition sometimes fell short, though, in his financial assessments, including his claim of credit for cleaning up a $5 billion budget deficit.
A deficit that large would be daunting for any administration, and Blagojevich, working with a legislature controlled by his party, has fashioned balanced budgets. But these budgets have been balanced in part by nickel-and-diming many businesses. Perhaps worse, last year’s budget was finalized in part by Democrats’ diversion of nearly $2 billion in pension contributions over two years. Granted, that was one way to balance the budget without breaking Blagojevich’s pledge of no increase in sales or income taxes. But such deferrals are risky, banking on long-term assumptions that may or may not pan out and risking a heavier tax burden down the road.
Blagojevich also used Wednesday’s address to boast of expanding All Kids health-care coverage for children. Broader coverage is a worthy goal, no doubt, but the governor and Democratic legislators moved quickly last fall to expand All Kids, too quickly to detail how expensive this wider entitlement might become or how the state will in the long run afford its inevitably escalating costs.
The governor did not utter the word “keno” Wednesday, yet his idea of introducing this game of chance to raise the state’s share of money for ambitious construction plans will be controversial and may be in trouble already. While the governor argues otherwise, keno expands gambling, a move he previously has opposed.
No governor, of course, is going to mention in a state of the state address that several state departments have received subpoenas from a U.S. attorney probing corruption. But that, too, is part of the Illinois landscape these days. The governor, who promised to end “business as usual,” faces a plethora of questions about his own administration’s ethics.
Certainly, Blagojevich and his administration have tackled many problems head on and sometimes with quite positive results. But they also have played semantic games with some of his pledges and papered over the risk involved in some of the Democrats’ budget decisions.
These are election-year issues that also must be addressed in any effort to fully analyze the state of the state.
Governor Rod Blagojevich is applauding progress in the state and making a case for a fiscally responsible 2006. In his fourth state of the state address, the Governor championed the causes of healthcare, jobs, and education.He proposed a $1000 annual tax credit for freshmen and sophomores attending college in Illinois. But he says it comes with one catch: Students would need to keep a B average or better to get the tax break.Blagojevich proposed a $3.2 billion plan for new roads and schools.He hopes to create 230,000 jobs in 2006, as well. In an election year, the State of the State is about more than just plans to help Illinois. Governor Rod Blagojevich made his case for re-election. His critics were listening and were eager to respond. With just two months until the Democratic and Republican primaries, the Governor delivered what amounts to a 40-minute campaign speech. He wants to be included in his own plans for Illinois. His challenge: to help the state, while getting re-elected.“I'm asking you, I'm asking you to join me in supporting a major public works initiative,“ said Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. Being an incumbent is like playing with the house's money, a factor not lost on gubernatorial hopeful, State Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka.“There was something for everybody, we were just shy of a chicken in every pot, I mean talk about spinning you can spin but you can't hide, he's living in la la land,” said Topinka.“No law abiding citizen needs an Uzi, or an AK 47 to be safe or to hunt,” said Blagojevich. Another challenger, State Senator Bill Brady, wants to make sure gun owners' rights are represented.“I support the federal ban on automatic weapons, that's what works, this slippery definition of beyond that is not working,” said Brady. “I'm announcing a plan that would ultimately lead to guarantee that every single veteran in Illinois has access to health care,“ said Blagojevich.Businessman Ron Gidwitz would also like to see better access to healthcare, but this candidate for the state's top spot wonders where the money will come from.“One way to solve the veterans problem is to give the veterans the jobs they're entitled to instead of as the governor's been doing, giving them to his cronies,“ said Gidwitz.Only one GOP challenger will win the primary and will likely face Blagojevich in the general election, then get their own 40 minutes to campaign. The Governor has not said if he will debate Democratic challenger Edwin Eisendrath before the primary on March 21.
He also called for a $500 sales tax rebate to buyers of fuel-efficient cars and a ban on assault weapons.
After a difficult year in which his administration was embroiled in accusations of a hiring scandal, Mr. Blagojevich, the state's first Democratic governor in 26 years, used the address to cite his achievements during his first three years in office. Many political observers of both parties said they deemed it an unofficial kickoff to a re-election campaign.
Among the accomplishments the governor mentioned was the elimination of a $5 billion budget deficit without increases in income or sales taxes. The state's deputy governor, Bradley Tusk, said the deficit was eliminated mainly by reducing the number of state employees to 57,000, from 72,000; cutting 20 state agencies by merging departments; and slashing $3 billion in spending.
"When we came together three years ago to begin our journey, we walked into a mess," Mr. Blagojevich said in his speech at the Capitol in Springfield. "Instead of just sitting on the sidelines and using these challenges as an excuse for inaction, we embraced them as an opportunity to change the old ways."
Mr. Blagojevich did not mention ethics reform, one of his original campaign platforms. After helping to pass sweeping ethics laws in 2003, he was accused last year of trading state appointments for campaign donations. State and federal investigators are looking into his administration's hiring practices.
Mr. Blagojevich said his plan to build new schools and roads and improve mass transit would create 230,000 manufacturing and construction jobs, although he did not distinguish between temporary and permanent jobs. The plan would be paid for primarily by bonds and the legalization of keno, a lottery game.
Some critics said that by pushing for keno's legalization, Mr. Blagojevich was going back on his pledge not to expand gambling. But the governor has argued in the past that keno is an extension of the state's lottery system and that it has been used successfully in other states.
After devising a program last year to provide health care coverage for the 250,000 children in Illinois who lack it, Mr. Blagojevich announced a plan on Wednesday to do the same for veterans.
"There are 1.7 million veterans in America today who do not have health care," he said. "How you can ask people to risk their lives, only to turn your back on them the minute you no longer need them is just plain wrong."
Critics and Republican officials questioned how the new programs would be financed and said Mr. Blagojevich had merely postponed budget problems by selling bonds, reducing pension fund payments and increasing fees during his term.
Mr. Blagojevich will outline funding details for the proposals when he presents a budget next month.
The governor has not announced he is running for re-election, but officials in his administration said his name would be on the ballot.
Republican lawmakers criticized Gov. Rod Blagojevich's State of the State address as long on ideas and short on specifics.
The Democratic governor's address, in what amounted to the opening salvo in a re-election campaign he has yet to announce, included a litany of past accomplishments and new plans, including a state construction program that would create 230,000 jobs.
"There are roads and bridges and highways across Illinois that need to be built and need to be fixed," Blagojevich said Wednesday in his fourth State of the State speech. "We need to build new schools and help commuters who rely on mass transit."
Blagojevich, who has filed to run for a second term but has not announced his plans, also proposed a $90 million tax credit for college students, expanded health care for veterans, and breaks for buyers of cars that save gasoline - all quickly criticized by Republicans because the governor didn't say how he would pay for them.
"Everything he mentioned means more spending or more borrowing, and we don't have any money," said Rep. Bill Black, R-Danville.
The Democratic governor recapped many of his accomplishments during the 39-minute speech, from expanding health care for children to raising the minimum wage. He boasted of resolving massive budget deficits without raising taxes.
He also used the speech to warn conservatives that he will veto any effort to overturn his executive order requiring pharmacists to fill emergency birth-control prescriptions despite moral misgivings, and he will try to revive an assault-weapons ban that failed last year.
But Blagojevich, whose administration is under federal and state investigations into its hiring practices, made no mention of ethics issues, a hot topic among his gubernatorial opponents, including a slew of Republicans and even a primary challenger from his own party.
Republicans described the appearance as a masterful political address with little basis in reality, hammering Blagojevich for increasing spending and borrowing to pay for politically popular plans.
The centerpiece of the speech was a $3.2 billion plan for new roads, mass transit and schools - something Blagojevich predicts will create 230,000 jobs once $3 billion in federal matching funds are included.
"These are good jobs. Jobs that pay good wages and good benefits," he said. "These are jobs that give families a chance to build a future."
New state construction has been stalled for years in Springfield amid disputes about how to pay for it and what projects would be funded.
He didn't talk about funding sources Wednesday, but Blagojevich has proposed borrowing $2.3 billion for road projects, $425 million for mass transit and $500 million for school construction. He would pay back the loan with $200 million a year from the state's road-building fund, which he says has a surplus; $35 million from increased tax revenue in an improved economy; and $45 million for schools from a new gambling game - keno in bars and restaurants.
Republicans, and some Democrats, have criticized the idea, particularly the use of keno.
Sen. Carol Ronen, D-Chicago, suggested Blagojevich left keno out of the speech to show he's flexible on how to fund the program. Sen. Bill Brady, a Bloomington Republican running to replace Blagojevich, said he hopes the omission means the governor has learned he won't get approval for it.
Blagojevich left other things out, too.
He didn't propose funding sources for his other programs, including a $1,000 annual tax credit for college freshmen and sophomores and a $500 sales-tax rebate costing $7.5 million for buyers of fuel-efficient cars.
His idea of offering health insurance to military veterans who lack it and don't live close to a veterans hospital would cost $10 million, but Blagojevich said nothing about where to find the money.
"This was everything shy of a chicken in every pot. It's La-La Land," said Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, a top Republican challenger for the governor's office.
Rep. Gary Hannig of Litchfield, the House Democrats' budget negotiator, said the costs of the governor's plans will come next month when Blagojevich proposes a budget for the coming fiscal year. "Now he needs to present a balanced budget that includes his initiatives and funds state government," Hannig said.
GOP lawmakers wondered whether Blagojevich actually is running for national office, the way he attacked Washington. The governor criticized the federal government more than 20 times, portraying national Republicans as insensitive while Illinois continued to make gains in education and health care.
"Why can't this governor take some responsibility for himself?" asked GOP gubernatorial candidate Ron Gidwitz of Chicago.
Blago critics: Where's the money? - Kristen McQuearyhttp://www.dailysouthtown.com/southtown/dsindex/19-ds4.htm
Itching to reclaim the governor's mansion, Republicans on Wednesday censured Gov. Rod Blagojevich's annual State of the State address, describing it as a wish list the state cannot afford.
"How is he going to pay for this?" asked Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, who hopes to oust Blagojevich from the governor's mansion in November. "There are a lot of promises here, but if we can't pay for them, it really hurts people. They don't trust you."
In his fourth address before the General Assembly, Blagojevich summarized his accomplishments while avoiding mention of alleged ethical questions that could derail his re-election efforts.
His idea to raise money for schools by installing state-sponsored Keno games in restaurants saw little support among lawmakers.
"Keno is as alive as the Peotone airport," quipped Steve Brown, spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Increased funding for health care — including a plan to provide health coverage for uninsured Illinois children — topped Blagojevich's list of accomplishments. His All Kids Health Insurance Plan is scheduled to enroll its first beneficiaries this summer.
Blagojevich called for a new tax credit of $1,000 for families with freshmen or sophomores in college who maintain a B grade point average. The credit would cost the state $90 million a year in lost revenue, according to Blagojevich's budget director John Filan, and would begin this fall if lawmakers approve it.
"Yes, this is a generous tax credit," Blagojevich said. "But that's what makes it meaningful."
He also called for a $500 sales tax rebate to buyers of fuel-efficient cars and called for a new ban on assault weapons.
"It's a legitimate question: How are you going to pay for this? But I believe taxation is part of government," state Sen. Jacqueline Collins (D-Chicago) said. "I would like to see him look at an income tax adjustment or possibly the sales tax."
Blagojevich pushed a capital spending bill that would fund road, transit and school improvements statewide, including the widening of Interstate 55 near Joliet. The plan is controversial, however, because it would be funded through borrowing and through Keno games in bars and restaurants. Gambling opponents called Blagojevich's Keno idea an expansion of gaming, which he promised to block as a candidate four years ago. Blagojevich has said Keno is merely an extension of the lottery, not a new gambling measure.
"We feel (Keno) is a reasonable way to pay for a school construction plan," Blagojevich spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff said. "It's a means to an end. If there are other ideas, we're willing to review them, but what really matters is (improving schools)."
Blagojevich didn't mention Keno in his speech. Reports last week that a firm represented by a key Blagojevich ally is positioned to win the Keno contract added extra sting to the already controversial idea. It also gave Blagojevich's opponents more leverage to discredit him. Blagojevich — who didn't take questions from reporters after his speech — has maintained that his friend did not lobby him on the Keno idea and that the contract will be competitively bid.
"No one can trust what he says," Topinka said. "He's in la-la land."
"There was not one mention of ethics reform," said Bill Brady, a Bloomington lawmaker seeking the GOP gubernatorial nomination. "We need a candidate who is pure, who's not being investigated."
Ottenhoff said Blagojevich introduced a comprehensive ethics package last year, and "there were discussions" to get it off the ground. Lawmakers like Brady, she said, didn't have the will to pass it.
"I told the governor I'd be happy to support his initiative if he leveled the playing field," Brady said. "His legislation allowed him to keep his $15 million (campaign fund)."
Democratic Senate President Emil Jones (D-Chicago) defended Blagojevich, saying Republicans who criticized him don't offer their own solutions.
"We know what they're against. What are they for? Let them suggest another proposal," Jones said.
Though he hasn't formally launched a re-election bid, Blagojevich is expected to face former Chicago Ald. Ed Eisendrath in the Democratic primary. Eisendrath has criticized Blagojevich for failing to live up to his reform image. Since Blagojevich's election in 2002, some of his friends have been tied to lucrative state contracts. Blagojevich acknowledged responding to federal investigators after allegations surfaced that his campaign contributors received state appointments. He has not been accused of any wrongdoing.
“Illinois today is now leading the nation in taking steps that help real people, people who work, middle class families, build better lives,” Mr. Blagojevich declared in his annual State of the State speech even as his political foes released statements ridiculing his claims. “We are making real progress—but there is much more to do.”
In a speech that largely focused on his record, Mr. Blagojevich also pushed his proposed $3.2 billion capital spending program and announced a flurry of new initiatives aimed at helping veterans get health care, students pay for a college education, and drivers purchase fuel-efficient vehicles.
“We can never allow ourselves to go back,” the Chicago Democrat told a joint session of the Illinois House and Senate. “And we can never settle for how far we’ve come.”
Mr. Blagojevich’s main boast was that, having inherited a multi-billion-dollar state budget deficit from GOP Gov. George Ryan, he balanced the books while implementing his campaign promises.
“A lot of people said you couldn’t increase funding for schools, provide health care for kids, eliminate the deficit and do it all without raising taxes. But we found a different way,” Mr. Blagojevich said.
He also stressed approval of his plan to rebuild the Illinois tollway system without boosting tolls for most users, a boost in the state’s minimum wage, and recent gains in employment after a long and deep recession.
But tacitly conceding that the state’s economy remains relatively weak, Mr. Blagojevich described his infrastructure plan as a “job bill” that would create 230,000 jobs building roads, schools and mass transit facilities.
One subject Mr. Blagojevich didn’t talk about was a series of play-to-play scandals which have haunted his administration, and political foes were quick to attack.
“He promised he’d be one kind of governor, but has in fact been something else,” charged former Chicago Alderman Edwin Eisendrath (43rd), who is opposing Mr. Blagojevich in the Democratic primary. “He’s a good politician, but unfortunately not much else.”
GOP challenger Ron Gidwitz said the incumbent balanced the budget only by doubling the state’s debt to $20 billion and “raiding” the state’s pension plans. And when it comes to new jobs, Illinois ranks 46th in the nation, Mr. Gidwitz said.
Among new proposals Mr. Blagojevich unveiled in his budget was a “veterans care” system that would guarantee health benefits to low-income vets who do not live near federal veterans’ hospitals. He also urged approval of a $500 sales-tax rebate to anyone who buys a fuel-efficient car in Illinois, and approval of a $1,000 annual tax credit for each freshman or sophomore who attends a college of university in the state.
Cost estimates on the new programs were not immediately available.
Furstenau free on bail after arrest Councilman charged with striking police officer - Kate Houlihan and Bill Bird
Veteran Naperville City Council member and Illinois Senate candidate Richard Furstenau was released Wednesday night on bail after being arrested and charged in the alleged New Year's Day battery of a Naperville police officer.
Furstenau, 61, confirmed Wednesday night he was freed after posting $300 bail, the mandatory 10 percent of the $3,000 bond that had been set in the case.
A warrant for Furstenau's arrest had been issued earlier Wednesday following completion of a Naperville police investigation into the alleged battery.
"The Naperville Police Department has obtained a misdemeanor complaint and warrant for the offense of battery against Mr. Furstenau," said Sgt. Joel Truemper, internal affairs and public information officer for the department.
The warrant was issued from DuPage County Circuit Court in Wheaton after review of the case by State's Attorney Joe Birkett's office, Truemper said.
It grew out of an alleged confrontation between Furstenau and an officer Jan. 1 on Chicago Avenue before the start of the city's 175th-anniversary parade.
Truemper said the complaint reads "without legal justification, Richard Furstenau knowingly made physical contact of an insulting nature with (an officer,) in that he struck (the officer) in the chest with the back of his hand."
Earlier this month, Furstenau told The Sun the incident stemmed from an argument over cars being towed from Chicago Avenue before the start of the parade.
Furstenau said then he did not hit an officer, although he asked police why the cars were being towed. He also said then he did not believe he was physically near the officer who alleged being struck by him.
"If I were to hit somebody, they would feel it and I would know that I hit somebody and so would they," he said earlier this month. "I just don't do those things. I've never in my life just popped off and hit somebody, even when I was a kid."
Furstenau late Wednesday night stood by his earlier contentions.
"My story hasn't changed. I've got an attorney and he's going to be handling it," he Furstenau said, adding he and his lawyer expected to discuss the matter in a meeting later today.
Battery of a police officer is technically aggravated battery, classified as a felony. Truemper said there have been "numerous times in the past where a police officer was battered" by someone and yet only a misdemeanor charge was authorized by Birkett's office.
"In this particular case, aggravated battery was not authorized," Truemper said.
Furstenau is charged with a class A misdemeanor, which carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.
Mayor George Pradel said late Wednesday night he was saddened to hear of Furstenau's arrest.
"My heart is broken, but there's nothing we really have to worry about" concerning Furstenau's ability to continue serving on the council, Pradel said. "He can't be thrown off (the council) because it's not (an allegation of) a crime for corruption or anything like that."
City Council members Jim Boyajian, Mary Ellingson, Doug Krause, Kenn Miller and John Rosanova all declined to comment when reached Wednesday night.
"He's been charged and has to wait for his day in court" was all Krause would say on the matter.
Rosanova added, "Understanding that it's in the courts right now, it's probably not appropriate for me to comment."
"It's unfortunate, is all I can say right now," Rosanova said. "It's an unfortunate situation."
City Council members Darlene Senger and Grant Wehrli did not return phone messages Wednesday night.
Furstenau, a two-term City Council member and Naperville Township Republican committeeman, is running in the upcoming Republican primary for the 48th District seat held by state Sen. Peter Roskam, R-Wheaton.
He faces state Rep. Randy Hultgren, R-Winfield, in that contest.
Hultgren could not be reached for comment late Wednesday on Furstenau's arrest.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Andy Martin files lawsuit against Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce and its president and chief executive officer, Mike Skarr, and vice president of marketing and legislative communications, Laura Crawford; the Illinois State Chamber of Commerce and its president and CEO, Douglas Whitley, and vice president of government affairs, Todd Maisch; North Central College and its president, Harold R. Wilde; Fox Valley Publications, parent company of The Naperville Sun; CBS Broadcasting Inc., parent company of CBS 2, and Carol Fowler, news director at CBS 2 - Kathy Cichon
Republican candidate Andy Martin of Chicago filed a lawsuit against multiple organizations Wednesday afternoon, saying he has been "arbitrarily and capriciously" excluded from next week's gubernatorial debate.
"The whole purpose of a debate is the exchange of views and seeing the range of views that are available, and not to exclude people," Martin said. "I don't think the judge is going to be very happy because there's no basis on which they included and (didn't include) people."
The Chicago resident is one of five Republican candidates running in the March 21 primary election. The other Republican candidates are Illinois Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, state Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington, Jim Oberweis of Aurora and Ron Gidwitz of Chicago. Martin is the only candidate who did not receive an invitation to the Jan. 25 debate.
"I plan to call in the morning and see if I can get an emergency hearing," Martin said by phone Wednesday evening.
The debate is being organized by the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, the Illinois chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business and the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce. Media sponsors include CBS 2 and The Naperville Sun. North Central College will host the event.
Martin filed his lawsuit at 4:25 p.m. Wednesday. Named as defendants are the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce and its president and chief executive officer, Mike Skarr, and vice president of marketing and legislative communications, Laura Crawford; the Illinois State Chamber of Commerce and its president and CEO, Douglas Whitley, and vice president of government affairs, Todd Maisch; North Central College and its president, Harold R. Wilde; Fox Valley Publications, parent company of The Naperville Sun; CBS Broadcasting Inc., parent company of CBS 2, and Carol Fowler, news director at CBS 2.
All the aforementioned defendants declined comment when contacted Wednesday afternoon.
Also named in the lawsuit is the National Federation of Independent Business.
Martin, a consultant and freelance columnist, delayed plans to file the case by one day Tuesday so he could file a lawsuit to block Gov. Rod Blagojevich's proposal to adopt keno gambling in Illinois.
Questions Robert John wants asked of Republican gubernatorial candidates
Questions to ask candidates: 1) It's well-known Chicago is a sanctuary city unconstitutionally protecting illegal aliens. If you were governor, what action would you take to round up, arrest, jail and/or deport the large influx of illegal aliens overrunning our state?
2) What would you do to ensure every law-abiding citizen, according his or her constitutional right, be afforded the opportunity to carry a concealed weapon?
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
The senator told CNN's "American Morning" he believed that Clinton was merely expressing concern that special interests play such a large role in writing legislation that "the ordinary voter and even members of Congress who aren't in the majority party don't have much input."
"There's been a consolidation of power by the Republican Congress and this White House in which, if you are the ordinary voter, you don't have access," Obama said. "... That should be a source of concern for all of us."
Obama, D-Ill., also told ABC's "Good Morning America" that under GOP control in Washington, "what one has seen is the further concentration of power around a very narrow agenda that advantages the most powerful."
Clinton, D-N.Y., who is seeking re-election this year and is a potential presidential candidate in 2008, said during a Martin Luther King Day event in Harlem this week that the House "has been run like a plantation," in that "nobody with a contrary view has had a chance to present legislation, to make an argument, to be heard."
Obama also said New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was correct to apologize for suggesting that the hurricane-ravaged city would be majority black again because "it's the way God wants it to be."
"If I'm the mayor of New Orleans, I want everybody to come back," said Obama, the Senate's only black member.
Nostradamus Has Nothing on Gidwitz/Rauschenberger
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