Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Republican Thugs Try to Intimidate Olympia Fields state Senator

If you drove by 222 Vollmer in Chicago Heights, you'd have noticed that there were no political signs up -- despite the fact that it is the headquarters (and district office, on separate floors) of state Senator Toi Hutchinson. The office complex doesn't allow yard signs on its property and that's a condition that the campaign of Toi Hutchinson accepted throughout the campaign.

But Adam Baumgartner -- who's support is so thin that I've never actually met anyone who'd admit they are voting for him -- didn't care. He thought he had a right to do whatever he wanted, just as all kids do. I doubt his blind disregard for the law was intentional, he's simply too immature to realize otherwise.

Having said that, the lack of support for Baumgartner in Cook County might be frustrating him. Until this week, I had never seen a sign for him INSIDE his district. Every single one of them had been placed inside Rich and Thornton Townships, not the 40th district. Understand, the "volunteer" who Baumgartner was paying to put up signs didn't live near the 40th, so it's probably not that much of a surprise that they were placed in the "volunteer's" neighborhood.

But the fact that a Republican campaign wouldn't respect private property is a little dismaying. Even after being told that signs were inappropriate on commercial property and the public right of way, Baumgartner's "volunteers" persisted.

If you've reached the conclusion that they were trying to provoke a confrontation, that was an easy place to go. Facing a formidable opponent who a lot of people thought couldn't win in an election, Baumgartner's staff has to try for a hail mary. Plus, Republicans are embarrassed by the stunt of Tony Peraica and his campaign, so why not try to trap a Democrat into the same thing?

Except for that pesky violation of private property. Most Republicans claim to have high regard for private property, and especially that used by small businesses. But Baumgartner's staff has repeatedly violated that high regard. Again, it's very easy to conclude that he's just a kid, trying to put on his big boy pants, or recognize that his campaign staff has never been involved in a campaign before. So can we really hold them to the same standard we hold others?

I buried the lede. It happens. The first I heard of this incident, which Senator Hutchinson took to the Chicago Heights police, was from a staffer who was concerned about Toi's personal safety. In front of witnesses, Toi was threatened. Now Toi, being Toi, shamed the young men who were there, noting that it isn't that easy for African-Americans to advance and why would they want to be a party to preventing that? When I was told this over the phone, I could hear her mommy voice kicking in. Toi, being Toi, was trying to help these young men understand the law, understand respect for private property and learn something from the incident.

In the end, this is really about political intimidation. I worked for Ronald Reagan (in two presidential runs) and we didn't pull this kind of crap. In fact, I was in the (staff) trailer at the Detroit convention when Reagan told his people that he was going to ask George Bush to be his vice president, and talked about the difficulty of 1976 and how he had held his head up high, nowing that he'd done the right thing.

Screwing around with yard signs, trying to intimidate opponents (or voters) isn't a Republican thing, it's a thuggish thing. Toi was right, Adam Baumgartner should be ashamed. Maybe, someday, he'll grow up. Maybe not. But he's chosen to be a thug, to associate with thugs and exploit thuggish behavior. That's not why he's going to lose today, but it is why he should lose...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Bill Brady and his Indiana/Kentucky/Tennessee envy

It never occurred to me that anyone in Illinois envied Indiana. Here we are, with Chicago, the jewel of the Midwest, the gravitational force that draws people from throughout the region, and one of our gubernatorial candidates actually wants Illinois to be more like Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee???

I've heard of people being ashamed of their family, but I guess I had never witnessed someone being ashamed of their state. More to the point, why would anyone want to be like Indiana?

I get to see how bad Indiana is every single school day. I live in a school district of some renown close to the border, and one of the problems the district has is that people outside the boundaries of the district try to get their kids in it. So every morning, when the train comes, you see a line of kids walking from the train to school. Employees who are supposed to verify residency have told me that many of these kids who try to sneak into the school come from Indiana.

With Bill Brady wanting to cut a billion dollars from our public schools and make us "more like Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee" I have to wonder what schools *our* kids will be trying to sneak into under a Governor Bill Brady? Missouri's??? Mississippi's???

It's almost like Bill Brady wants to undermine public education -- and an economic legacy once the envy of the world.

There really is a difference in approach between the two parties, and it was made clear in last night's debate. Democrats are talking about building Illinois into a great post-Industrial power, not just in the Midwest but in the country. While the term silicon prairie is overused, Democratic candidates talk about investing in the state, expanding beyond the bizarrely single-sector focus on financial technology and welcoming development in future technologies, whether they would be classified as high tech or not.

But listen to the Republicans. They keep focusing on "small business," as if small business was the savior for all the jobs lost by the rusting away of the Industrial complex. Not only is that belief a pipe dream -- there isn't a single economist out there who would argue that small businesses could replace all the jobs lost by the de-industrialization of the Midwest -- it's defies reality.

Had Republican ideology been based in reality, it would have noticed that credit markets have been reducing loans to small businesses, especially the vital short-term loans that many small businesses use to cover expenses. St. Louis Fed economist Julie Stackhouse reports, “Businesses across the country report that credit conditions remain very difficult. In fact, the data on small loans made by banks show that outstanding loans have dropped from almost $700 billion in the second quarter of 2008 to approximately $660 billion in the first quarter of 2010.”

Republicans keep talking about jobs, but Democrats have been creating them by investing in Illinois and its people. And that's the difference. Democratic candidates like Pat Quinn, Alexi Giannoulias, David Miller and Robin Kelly want Illinois to be, well, MORE LIKE Illinois. They dream of a state that is, once again, not only the economic engine of the Midwest but in the driver's seat for the entire country, even the world.

These two difference visions for the future of Illinois expose another difference: that over the future of education in the state, and how much value we should attach to it. If Illinois' future is "small business" (whatever that is), then education isn't that important. You don't need a college degree to work in a small business (at least not the kind of small business that Brady or Rutherford are talking about). You probably don't even need a high school education. Brady's small business strategy backs up his intention of cutting state spending in public education.

But the Democrat's vision of an Illinois that is once again a leader in high technology and leading edge economic development requires a strong commitment to public education, through the post-grad level. It's a big gap: one in a future where Illinois is a world leader, the other where Illinois is, well, "like Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee."

When you think about Indiana, Kentucky or Tennessee, you don't think about economic engines or driving the world economy. You don't think of supercomputers or cutting-edge development. These are small states with small goals and small futures. And that appears to be what Republicans like Bill Brady and Dan Rutherford want: a small future for Illinois. A simple choice. A simple belief in our future. Or not. But I sure don't want to live in a state "like Indiana."

Monday, September 27, 2010

Alexi Giannoulias talks about the importance of 2010 Elections

Alexi Giannoulias returned to the South Suburbs to talk to voters about why this election is as important as any other. Alexi first talks about his work as Treasurer and his support for his Chief of Staff. He turns to his own race in part 2:

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Implications of Daley's Decision in the South Suburbs

'OMG! Rich Daley isn't running for re-election! The fallout will reverberate all the way down to the South Suburbs!'

Sometimes people over-exaggerate Chicago's influence on the suburbs. Anybody who even considered the above (I paraphrased from a conversation I had yesterday, but don't recall the words exactly -- or possibly even closely) really doesn't understand what's been happening down here.

Alex Lopes, mayor of Chicago Heights, just died, leaving that city in turmoil. Doug Price argues that this is the only thought on the minds of the political elites in the Heights, and he's probably right.

Linzey Jones, long-time mayor of Olympia Heights, is moving on to the bench, and the village trustees are currently trying to figure out who (amongst them) will succeed him.

Lopez' death and Jones leaving politics may have as big an impact on the South Suburbs as Daley's retirement. Two big holes were already here to be filled, and we don't have a clue who's going to step up in the South Suburbs.

Well, that's not exactly true, but let me continue the thought. Because the impact of the 2008 campaign continues to reverberate in the South Suburbs, as well. Oh, we definitely have people whose sole political interest is in Barack Obama -- and more than a few who are waiting for the next Obama for President headquarters to open so they can go volunteer down there.

But there are even more people who first got involved in Barack's campaign who are eager to get involved in elective politics. And the sudden openings in Olympia Fields and Chicago Heights, as well as the attention devoted to the Big Opening in Chicago, will only spur their thoughts.

You can, however, get a glimpse of who is likely to step up and fill the power vacuum(s) in South Suburban politics. Toi Hutchinson is building a grassroots-driven campaign that is basically devoid of message but focuses on her biography. Which is also kind of sad, because Hutchinson may be one of the few politicians in Illinois who has Chris Christie-like credibility talking about the problems we face and the solutions needed to get us out of the hole we dug. Running a campaign on her biography is a safe choice -- except the fact that her district stretches all the way down to Iroquois county.

Toi's opponent (presumably) sought to take advantage of that choice by inserting the following into her Wikipedia entry: "Mrs. Hutchinson is an African-American Democrat in a 90% white district. Many Illinois political pundits believe she will lose re-election in 2010 to a white candidate."

That's utterly false -- not a single "political pundit" in Illinois believes that Toi will lose "re-election" simply because she's an "African-American Democrat in a 90% white district." (They forgot to add "largely rural" to that description.) Some have argued that it is a more conservative district than Toi personally is, but that doesn't have anything to do with her effectiveness in representing the people of her district!

I have long observed the difference between the right and the left on this particular question. The conservative movement has argued for decades that they can win virtually anywhere, if they can mobilize their activists and get their message out. It's one reason why over 100 Congressional Districts are "in play" in this general election, because Republicans have effectively recruited strong candidates who are waging strong campaigns just about everywhere. So why can't progressive Democrats win in "largely rural" districts, as long as they take care of the people's business? It's an ideological difference in assumptions that defies reason (but also a cultural peculiarity to Madigan-style politics where the party seeks out "the perfect candidate" for the district). Elections at this level are decided by personal contacts and message delivery.

Which brings me back to the void in the South Suburbs. It's probably less a vacuum than a changing of the guard. Mayor Jones moves on to a different career path, but Olympia Fields remains a rich pool of political talent, from which someone will no doubt emerge to replace him. They may even be able to replace him in regional politics and leadership. If not, someone else will. And Mayor Lopez' tragic death unleashes the undercurrents that had been bubbling up to the surface.

There still remains a tension in the South Suburbs between those who want to follow the "soak the taxpayers" model of government, with elected officials getting their's and not really worrying too much about the people's business and the sustainable model of governance where elected officials are careful of the people's money and try to improve their communities. We are still -- but less so -- influenced by the great city to our north. And that conflict remains. (One reason that Flossmoor has weathered the current economic storm is that we had strong reserves from which to draw on -- and save people's jobs. But you don't find village trustees making a mint, either, as trustees!)

This is likely to be resolved as more people get involved from outside the "regular" organization...

Monday, August 30, 2010

Alexi Giannoulias Fires Up the Vols

On September 28th, volunteers from all over the nation got together to knock on doors on behalf of Democratic candidates. Alexi Giannoulias, Illinois' Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate seat once held by Barack Obama, came to Chicago Heights to talk to its volunteers before heading out the door.

He was introduced by Sen. Toi Hutchinson. Cook County Board of Review Commissioner Brendan Houlihan also joined us.

Volunteers from this location ended up knocking on 1500 doors on Saturday. The enthusiastic send-off by Alexi Giannoulias didn't hurt. It is amazing how well Alexi connects with the volunteers and voters of Illinois. We received a terrific response from voters in reaction to Alexi's candidacy and his focus on jobs for Illinois!

You can donate to Alexi's campaign here or sign up to volunteer here...

Friday, August 27, 2010

Throw the Bums Out

Newsflash: voters are angry. Democrats will try to knock on 200,000 doors tomorrow and I'm betting some of them will be surprised.

I got a glimpse of that today. I was out running errands in my "League of Conservation Voters" shirt -- which almost everyone misreads as "League of Conservative Voters" -- and the check-out lady asks me, "so who do you vote for?"

Now I have to say that I was taken aback. I mean, I don't usually have checkers try to engage me in political discussions and I almost never know what shirt I'm wearing (guy, so who cares what clothes I have on -- I figure I'm lucky when they "match"). But after a momentary pause, I say, "I'm voting Democrat."

And she replies, "I usually vote Democrat, too, but I'm just so frustrated this year."

In one sentence, a nice elderly woman has captured the mood of the electorate here in Illinois.

"when are they going to tell you how they're going to solve all these problems?" she asks.

YES! Now we're on my ground!

"Well," I respond, and then give a brief version of my 'we live in a complex world' speech which always begins the same way: "We've tried all the simple answers, and when those didn't work, we're left with the difficult ones." But what politician is going to tell you that the problems that remain are the ones that earlier politicians couldn't solve because they demand more difficult, and probably more complex, solutions?

Because, you know, politicians avoid telling hard truths like children avoid brushing their teeth or taking their medicine.

Probably for the same reasons.

Now, you want to give away Ice Cream? That always gets a crowd.

Politicians tend to want to be liked. It's part of their genome. So the expectation that a group of people who mostly need to be liked could solve some of the country's most difficult problems -- like unemployment, a sour economy, health care, racism, etc etc -- might be a bit far fetched. You know, if you really think about it.

Which I suspect most people don't.

Don't get me wrong. There are really smart people thinking about solving the challenges we face. One of them, right here in Illinois, ran for an open seat in the Illinois House recently. He talked a lot about issues and how we could go about dealing with some of the greater challenges faced in the state.

And he lost. Which didn't surprise me.

I know of another one who decided to leave the Illinois House this year and run for a different office. When I saw him down in Springfield, I asked if he'd be coming back in the future. "There are other offices where we need your help," mentioning one specifically.

But I'm pretty sure that he got the hell out of Dodge because he was frustrated by the actual pace of change in Illinois' capital. Molasses moves faster. And I know that he's interested in real solutions, in helping real people, not just perpetuating the same ole, same ole down there.

And then there's Toi Hutchinson and Robin Kelly. I'll feign no pretense of objectivity here. I know them both personally, they are very smart women from my little part of the South Suburbs (South of I-80) who care deeply about their jobs in government and how government can help people. Sometimes I wonder if this isn't a novel concept in Illinois.

For their belief that government can and should be used to help people who need its help, both are endangered in the upcoming elections. Here you have two accomplished black women who really believe in government as a force for helping people and they are swimming against the tide of anger that is out there. It's a lot easier to sell a message of fear right now than it is to hype Hope and Change.

Robin Kelly is proud of the work that the Illinois Treasurer's office has done under her leadership (she's Chief of Staff to Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias). They returned the office to professionals, which meant that they kept the competent Republicans who were brought in by the previous (GOP) Treasurer. But this little bit of professionalism means that Robin's opponent has almost a direct line into what they've accomplished and what her campaign's message would be.

You know, as long as she keeps it positive.

Ah, the moral dilemma of being one of the good guys. Her opponent faces no such qualms. He works for a company that has numerous contracts with state government, and will do very well with one of its own in the Illinois cabinet. Which, no doubt, means that he'll personally profit from his election. Power and money, to boot! Who could want more?

To an outsider, that's what is wrong with Illinois. I used to think that Illinois was just a *lot* more tolerant of corruption, but in the last year or so, it seems to me that Illinois actually prefers the corrupt. Maybe it's just that corrupt politicians are more predictable, leading to that all-important "stable" economic environment. I'm clueless why the electorate would go along with it, but that's Illinois. And we're different!

I know I'm supposed to be proud of that. If I could just wrap my brain around it.

Toi Hutchinson is an appointed state senator, replacing Debbie Halvorson, which means she's facing the voters in her district for the first time. In a normal election cycle, we'd say that Toi had the same odds as a non-incumbent, 50-50. You'd be forgiven if you concluded that they are a little worse this year, given the state of the economy. All the challenges of being an incumbent in a "throw the bums out" election cycle with none of the advantages.

Toi is proud of what she's been able to accomplish in her short term. The Illiana Expressway, which will bring jobs to her district. The re-writing of the law to insure that rape kits actually get tested.

But these women stand for election not only in a piss-poor economic environment, but also standing up against the prevailing winds. You see, they believe in government, that government can be a force in our society FOR GOOD, and that government should act as a check and balance against the free market that isn't exactly particular about who profits from the invisible hand or why. Ok, I'm projecting on that last one. I *think* that they agree with me that government should serve as a greater check against the free market, but you'd have to ask them.

Some people think I have radical views. Wouldn't want to project those on politicians I like.

The thing is that they are pretty much standing alone. Oh, sure, there's Barack Obama, but that's not what I mean. What politicians are out there defending government, acting as if they believe that it can be a force for positive change in people's lives, not "the problem?"

More to the point, who among us is arguing the same thing?

Yep, people are angry, and they can't really count on too many people because we've been deceived into the idiom that "government is the problem, not the solution."

The fact is that the free market won't start producing the "small business" jobs that everyone seems to be waiting for because banks are not really inclined to lend them money. Consumers are being more careful with their money, paying down their debts instead of starting up another widespread spending spree. Would-be entrepreneurs -- at least those who can't start off in their garages -- are thinking about if they want to risk exposure to such a crappy economy.

And the one place that could be creating jobs right now? Oh, we don't want no damn government jobs, because that's just wrong. No one knows why (government salaries get spent, too, and spread far and wide into the economy). They just believe that it does.

Now I'm interested in power. I don't worry too much about the wonky stuff, even in the areas I have some expertise in, because it's not nearly as interesting as *power.* I might be one of the few, because it seems to me that we Americans have no problem ceding power to the invisible hand, but we're almost paranoid about governments exercising power, even when it would make us all better off. That's just silly ideology deceiving us.

As a student of power, I don't want the government to have too much, just as I don't want the market to have too much. But there doesn't seem much chance for the government to gain too much power, because of the knee-jerk response the electorate seems to have when even a little bit of power gets exercise. Like bailing out a crashing market. Or the housing bubble. Etc etc.

But we don't have any trouble with the market exercising too much power. Bernie Madoff? Just an aberration (yeah, right). It's ok because every American wants to get rich. And if a few people (*gag*) get ripped off along the way, well, we take great comfort that the bastard's in jail. The fact that the market doesn't adjust itself -- let alone regulate itself -- is far too easy to ignore when everybody is doing it.

Plus, what are drugs and alcohol for?

Nope, better to be suspicious of the only country-wide institution that could actually help us out of this depression-like economy. Just because.

This is a very powerful country and that power is based extensively on the massive free market economy that serves as its foundation. I understand that nothing that powerful ever wants to be checked, let alone balanced, but it's better for all of us if it is. Power should never be concentrated in one set of hands (no matter how many hands they actually are). No, power should be dispersed, not concentrated, and a powerful free market economy *demands* a powerful government that can regulate and right it. If an amoral force like our free market economy is left unfettered, than the Bernie Madoffs of the world have an open season on all of us. But that's not the point.

The point is that voters are angry, and part of their anger is that they feel abandoned. The economy stinks and they think that there is no one there to help them out. Keynesians would argue that this is exactly when the government should be going all out to right the economic ship of state. But Keynesians soiled their argument by overspending during the years of plenty and not paying down the debts incurred during the years of want.

Yep, voters are angry and we're just not taking their concerns seriously. I mean, COME ON! Tell me a single politician's plan for reviving the economy and creating jobs that is not only credible (seems like it could work) AND gets paid for at some point in time? Maybe I missed one.

I have to say that I do get a kick, though, out of the people that keep demanding that Barack Obama get a backbone because at least he's making an effort at the argument. Yes, the president thinks government can be a force for Hope and Change in our country, he really does. But, in the end, he might be one of the few who does. And like Robin Kelly and Toi Hutchinson, he's standing against hurricane-force winds. The only way to withstand that force is to stand together. There aren't enough people, it seems to me, willing to join 'em.

Voters have every reason to be angry at all of us. The easy answers have been tried. The one's that remain are real bitches. Just like FDR in the great depression, we got to start trying things and, when those fail, try some more. Except that FDR didn't have a sceptical electorate who had been "trained" to think of government as the problem. And that's where we got to start. Change starts by changing minds. It's really the only hope that good government types like Robin Kelly and Toi Hutchinson have.

Tomorrow, Democrats want to knock on 200,000 doors across the country. Some of the canvassers are going to be in for a rude awakening. But, then, some people who open their doors to us will be, as well. But it's a conversation that we have to have. This is our moment. This is our time. And we *are* the change we've been waiting for. I heard that someplace...

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Reflections on Growing Old

"The more things change, the more they stay the same." I don't know who said that, but it does seem that change is hard to come by. I suppose that depends on how we define change.

I am the grandson of a Methodist minister (and proud that my brother took up the profession, because I always felt like I was expected go into the ministry -- until my mother corrected me decades later!) and the son of civil rights activists in Florida. My grandfather once said in a sermon that we were lucky enough to attend that "you change the world one heart at a time."

I've never forgotten that. And I really believe that.

Having fought for Hope and Change for two years starting in 2007, I won't ever forget the euphoria in electing the first black president in our history. And, despite the warnings from Barack Obama, many of us are disappointed at the progress -- or lack thereof -- that's been made.

Change don't come easy. You change the world one heart at a time.

It's a lifelong project. But I'm a baby boomer, and we want immediate gratification. Hell, it took years to mobilize people, to get them excited enough to take a chance -- to risk the country, even (according to some) -- to "get what we want."

But nothing's changed. You change the world one heart at a time.

I don't agree that nothing has changed. It seems to me that this president has been extraordinarily successful, pushing through major elements of his campaign agenda, tackling health care, Wall Street reform, instituting equal pay for women, beginning the drawdown of forces in Iraq, instituting transparency in the federal government, signing the stem-cell bill, rescuing the economy from the Bush recession, and working on climate change (and accepting it as a credible threat to the country). Our standing in the world has increased, and people can start to feel good about America again.

But not everyone agrees. You change the world one heart at a time.

I got into an argument this morning with someone here in Illinois, in part because I'm proud of the small part me and my family played in the civil rights movement in Florida. I can't pretend to understand the discrimination that others have felt because I've led an incredibly blessed life. I get how lucky I am. But that doesn't mean I don't understand how others have been effected.

When I was a freshman in high school, we had race riots at my school. For a week that fall we had policeman around campus. Our coaches told us to stay out of it, and I suspect most of us did. But during that week, a cross was burned in the front lawn of one of my teammates and ended up damaging his home. I went to the varsity coach to tell him about it, expressing my concern. My (freshman) football coach was none too pleased, but that's life. The next day, the "cowboys," as we called them, beat up a football player, and our coaches told us to "end it." We did and the police left.

I understand what it's like to fight for change. I can't claim to be a pacifist or a believer in non-violent solutions to all the world's ills, but I understand that violence should only be used as a last resort. More importantly, I understand that those who resist change can -- and have -- resort to violence a lot quicker than those who work for it. And it's not always appropriate to just stand by.

During the Pennsylvania primaries, we had one African-American volunteer calling for Barack face two nasty barrages of racist rhetoric in one day. I'm convinced they didn't realize that she was black because I seriously doubt that you could have told from her voice. A nice Philly suburban housewife who lived in a pretty good neighborhood, she didn't deserve that. "This country isn't ready for a (black) president," one of the callers told her (using the pejorative for black).

You change the world one heart at a time. It's a long frickin' process.

I'm not sure I would have wished any of this upon Barack Obama. But, then, sometimes it takes a tectonic shift to rest people out of their slumber. I'd like to think that we were doing that, but it seems that the forces of good are exhausted, disappointed and uninterested. I've even heard one (black) Democratic party "leader" express greater disappointment in the president than you'd hear from Tea Party leaders, because he didn't immediately make everything better for black women.

Man, that's a lot of expectations to carry while one is burdened with leading the country. But you change the world one heart at a time.

Last night, I had another political activist call me a radical. "It's not necessarily a bad thing," he mentioned. Hadn't heard that since high school -- and it probably got me thinking about things. I guess I stand out, although I can't say I meant to. But I'm fairly certain I don't see myself the way others do. Thank god for my wife, who often interprets the world for me. (Only one reason why I adore her!)

I tend to think of things on a continuum. Things don't always go the way we want, and generals like to say that all battle plans fail once contact with the enemy is made. It's the ability to adapt to a changing environment that makes one successful.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. You change the world one heart at a time. It don't come easy. But it's worth the fight...

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Changing the Subject: Mark Kirk May Answer Press Questions

Like just about anybody who could possibly be considered an influence on public opinion (and you can be sure they defined that *very* broadly), I received a ***Media Advisory*** from Kirsten Kukowski last night at 6:13 PM. It declared:

Kirk to Discuss U.S. Senate Race

Congressman Mark Kirk will discuss the U.S. Senate race Tuesday, highlighting his vision for creating jobs, renewing economic growth and tackling the important issues facing our state.

Given my frequent observation that Mark Kirk won't take questions from average voters, let alone the media, you'd think that I'd be all excited. You'd think.

However, the press conference is not in Chicago, but in Northbrook, an area in which Kirk feels very comfortable. And this location limits the opportunity to those news organizations that can send a van or car out there. Press credentials are required, as determined by Kirsten Kukowski. The fact that I get all the Kirk campaign's releases (sadly, none from Alexi) doesn't allow me the opportunity to ask any questions.

The big kicker: the press conference is being held two blocks from Kirk's office, and provides a quick getaway -- just in case the questions get too uncomfortable.

Given the location, I suspect not too many journalists will show up. This will probably limit the number of questions Kirk answers, since Kirsten will pull her candidate if a journalist starts asking too many questions.

So, although I was invited, they didn't really mean it. I guess I was just "informed." Nonetheless, here's some questions I'd want to ask if I had the opportunity:

1. Why would you (Kirk) exaggerate about your solid military record?
2. What political activities were you (Kirk) engaged in while on (reserve) duty that the Pentagon felt the need to counsel you?
3. Why did you (Kirk) exaggerate your duty station during the Iraq war?
4. Why did you (Kirk) exaggerate your duty station at the Pentagon (war room)?
5. Why did you (Kirk) exaggerate (first) Iraq's threat, and (then) Iran's threat to its neighbors, including Israel?
6. Why did you (Kirk) exaggerate the intelligence on Iraq's possession of Weapons of Mass Destruction?
6. Why did you (Kirk) exaggerate your college experience as a part-time nursery aide, claiming to be a teacher?

Of course, there are other questions I'd like to ask Kirk:

1. I'd like to ask about his unconditional support of Bush's selective (and distractive) invasion of Iraq
2. I'd want to ask about his defense of Rumsfeld's belief that Iraq was the center of al-Qaeda activity
3. I'd like to know more about his falling for Saddam Hussein's giant con that Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction
4. I'd also like to ask about his comments about how the American government shouldn't be trusted while he was visiting abroad
5. I'd like to ask about his "micro-solutions" to so-called suburban issues that would expand the reach of government into our homes

But, then, Mark Kirk would never answer these questions. He won't "lower" himself to answer questions from voters or the Illinois media in the capital, or downtown Chicago, or anywhere else other than his "home" or safe district. He can always duck out and run to his office (which is two blocks away).

I get it. Mark Kirk needs to change the story. The fact that he's unavailable -- to the press or the electorate -- won't change with a *rare* press conference or public appearance. Kirk's "Rose Garden Strategy" is attractive, as long as no one notices that you won't leave your safe place and mingle with the "small" people. But everyone's noticed. Republicans are now awaiting Mark Kirk's second act. Democrats are licking their chops...

Monday, June 7, 2010

Fabricating Connections with Rod

You can't blame Republicans for trying. After all, Democrats would do the same thing. But, still, I had to chuckle at this item in the Hotline On Call blog from the National Journal:

RGA Ties Quinn To Blago

The GOP's biggest asset in their race to oust IL Gov. Pat Quinn (D) isn't the Dem or his GOP rival. It's Quinn's predecessor, ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D).

Now, as Blagojevich's corruption trial kicks off in Chicago, the RGA is running ads linking the 2 governors, even though Quinn supported Blagojevich's impeachment last year.

You would think that, after all the controversies surrounding politicians fabricating their resumes, politicians would be more circumspect about fabricating connections between other politicians. The lesson from the resume-inflation scandal should be relatively simple: voters don't like being lied to.

So why lie here?

Anyone who has met Blagojevich or paid attention to Illinois politics over the last decade will realize that there isn't a lot to connect Rod Blagojevich with Pat Quinn -- or any other politician in the state. There were no "Blagojevich Democrats," as it were -- unless you want to count Capitol Fax Bill, the former governor's most loyal defender through it all.

And that's the way Blagojevich wanted it. The most outgoing of pols (Blagojevich couldn't pass up a hand to shack, even if you didn't want your hand shaken), he was the most introverted -- or, rather, isolated -- governor possible. People in southern Illinois may have complained about the (then) governor not spending any time in the Governor's Mansion, but everyone in Illinois had a right to complain about Blagojevich not spending much time in the Governor's office at the Thompson center.

And when he did come downtown, it seems like he had the whole building blocked off (presumably for his convenience, but Blagojevich also seemed to like the whole security detail aspect of it, which I assume fed his ego). Blagojevich claimed to have worked mostly out of his house (perhaps an imitation of his ambition to work out of the White House), and he intentionally kept the other Constitutional officers at arms length. Blagojevich was much more likely to take pot shots at his fellow elected officials (including Pat Quinn) through the press than talk to them on the phone, let alone face to face. Even in joint appearances, Blagojevich tended to be in and out, and it's safe to say that he spent little time with other politicians in Illinois.

So Republicans are largely reduced to inventing connections between Rod Blagojevich and other Illinois pols (Democrats or Republicans). Which is why the Rod Blajojevich effect on this November's elections is not likely to be that substantial.

Sure, Rod Blagojevich was corrupt. But this is Illinois, and corruption is not only a bipartisan endeavour, it is also largely ignored by the electorate. Don't get me wrong, it is shocking the level to which corruption is tolerated by people in the state. And there's not much to lead one to think that 2010 will be any different. Especially given the fact that the Republican candidate for Governor, Bill Brady, has already used his legislative position for personal gain -- something that hasn't exactly created an uproar around the state (or the Republican party).

But the Democrat's best defense in light of the onslaught coming during the Blagojevich trial is that no one was out there defending the governor when he was under fire by federal prosecutors. You won't find Democrats saying that it was a witch hunt, or that the (then) Governor was being rail roaded by those mean Federal prosecutors. Nor will you find Democratic legislators talking about voting to impeach Blagojevich as a "difficult decision," "tough vote" or even something they had to think long and hard about. Nope. I heard one longtime legislator call it "the proudest vote" he'd ever taken.

So the best Republicans have is innuendo, the inference from photoshopped images that suggest some form of connection.

I know this is contrary to conventional wisdom, but it's hard to see Blagojevich effecting Democratic prospects this November. Blagojevich did this himself, isolating himself from the rest of the party, carrying on his "imperial" governorship, whining constantly about the lack of respect he got from other party leaders -- which seemed to only isolate him even more.

Come what may, Democrats built their organizations, their loyalties, their relationships independent of Rod Blagojevich. And broadcast images won't change that. If Democrats do poorly in November, it won't have anything to do with Rod Blagojevich. And if Democrats do better than expected, it won't have anything to do with Rod Blagojevich. It's not the rest of the party that isolated itself from Rod Blagojevich, but the former governor who isolated himself from the rest of the party. Voters may be mad, voters may even be disgusted by the rather despicable budget quandry that Blagojevich left as his primary legacy, but the Blagojevich trial won't be the straw that broke the voter's back. And the voters who do come out and vote this November aren't as likely to be the low-info voters that could be more easily persuaded by these Republican tactics.

Blagojevich dug his own grave. He won't be taking Illinois Democrats with him, because he didn't have much to do with Illinois' Democrats. This is the pol that seemed to want to circumvent the party and take everything "directly to the people." Which doesn't mean that Illinois' Democrats have an easy path before them. They just don't have the Blagojevich albatross dragging them down. Blagojevich won two primaries and two elections, but he didn't take over the party. This election will be fought over the state of the economy and how well the recovery is creating jobs in Illinois. I don't think either party can (credibly) promise to end corruption in the state, but voters might be interested in which one can (credibly) return Illinois to a predictable, stable job-creating environment...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Concerns about Alexi Giannoulias misguided

Republican Congressman Mark Kirk, taking his cues from Karl Rove, wants everyone to know that "people are concerned" about his Democratic opponent, Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias. One of these "concerns" that people are supposed to have is over Alexi's fund-raising prowess.

You see, Alexi only raised $1.2 million to Kirk's $2.2 million in this quarter. Kirk, of course, has benefitted greatly from his support from Wall Street firms and Big Banks, which he voted to bail out in the fall of 2008. And they are certainly rewarding Kirk for his support for the big banks.

Alexi, though, has taken a different tack. His ethical guidelines prevent him from taking money from corporate PACs, like those who have contributed more than 2 million dollars to Mark Kirk. Alexi is running to represent Illinois in the U.S. Senate, not Wall Street. Kirk has already proven he'll sell his vote to the highest bidder (which rarely includes Illinois).

But, like most of Kirk's criticisms of Alexi, this one doesn't stand up, either. Alexi is squarely in the middle of Democratic Senate candidates, both incumbents and non-incumbents. No reason for concern -- unless you're Mark Kirk.

Alexi raised more money than Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Spector -- who's in a tight primary race right now. He raised twice as much as Democratic candidates in New Hampshire, Indiana and Ohio:

NV SEN: Sen. Harry Reid $1.75M
NY Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand $1.6 M
MO Sec/State Robin Carnahan ~$1.5 M
CO Sen. Michael Bennet $1.4 M
IL Treas. Alexi Giannoulias $1.2 M
PA Sen. Arlen Specter $1.16M
NH Rep. Paul Hodes $665 K
IN Rep. Brad Ellsworth $625 K
OH LG Lee Fisher $550 K
LA Rep. Charlie Melancon $543 k

So what's all the fuss about? Oh, yeah. Instead of talking about jobs, Kirk wants to attack Alexi. Instead of talking to the people of Illinois, Kirk wants to -- remember? -- attack Alexi. Whatever the question is, Kirk's answer is to attack Alexi.

The Karl Rove school of politics. Divide the nation, and suppress the vote. Sound familiar?

Democrats are supposed to be demoralized because we've nominated a bright, young, attractive reformer to be our nominee to fill Barack Obama's U.S. Senate seat. While Alexi Giannoulias can point to his head-of-the-pack leadership to save the jobs at HartMarx, Mark Kirk can point to... ANOTHER ATTACK on Alexi Giannoulias. Sense a theme here?

Mark Kirk thinks we're stupid. He thinks that if he can make Alexi a bad boy, Democrats will stay home, not vote or skip the race. And you can understand why. Conservatives are too fond of Kirk. Kirk's actual base may not go far outside his North Shore Congressional District. You won't see any Mark Kirk signs at a Tea Party rally (and don't say his name too loud, if you go). They aren't fans.

Alexi faces a stiff head wind. The national political environment doesn't favor Democrats. The economy is still in the dump for many of us. And Kirk is one of the most formidable candidates Republicans could offer.

But this is Illinois, and -- more importantly -- this is Barack Obama's old seat. Mark Kirk wants to make this race about Alexi Giannoulias, because he understands that Illinois would never elect him if this were about issues, if this was about who bests could represent OUR state in the U.S. Senate.

As this quarter's fundraising totals suggest, Mark Kirk has stepped-up his game. And now Alexi Giannoulias needs to do so, as well. Alexi remains an overly cautious candidate, one who stays well within his comfort zone. He's going to have to step outside that comfort zone and start pushing the envelope. But, in the end, this election is going to be about Illinois, not Alexi Giannoulias. It's going to be about who can best support our favorite son, in his Agenda for Hope and Change in Washington, D.C.

We understand that the East Coast corporate Fat Cats like Mark Kirk. There was really never any question about that. The question is, will Illinois elect someone who will carry Mitch McConnell's and the conservative Southern Republican leadership's water. Because no one expects Mark Kirk to bring an independent voice to the Senate. He's been George Bush's and Donald Rumsfeld's trooper in the House, and you can reasonably expect him to be Mitch McConnell's trooper in the Senate.

Illinois can do better than Mark Kirk, and we will...

Monday, April 12, 2010

Mark Kirk fails to answer questions (again)

Half way through the latest Congressional vacation, the AP headline said it all: Kirk won't say if he wants health care repealed. Kirk won't say -- again. Still. In perpetuity.

Mark Kirk is more than willing to talk to the New York Times and the Washington Post. He'd tell them, *if* they were interested in the Senate election here in Illinois. He's their boy. The ultimate D.C. insider, Mark Kirk is quick for a quote to the ultimate beltway insider media. But if the people here in Illinois have a question?

Mark Kirk won't say.

Mark Kirk had two weeks to spend here in Illinois. Did he sit down with the major media outlets like Alexi Giannoulias did for a whole day in the last month? Nope. Kirk couldn't be bothered.

Did Kirk spend more than a few minutes taking questions at any of his appearances around the state? Not according to any report I've seen.

Makes you wonder what Mark Kirk is hiding.

Look, I understand. Mark Kirk voted to bail out the big banks, but criticized Alexi Giannoulias for the fact that his family's community bank is in trouble. We'd like to know why Kirk wants to save the banks that have been his faithful campaign donors, but is so cavalier about banks that actually help people here in Illinios. And we'd like to know why Mark Kirk assured the conservative Club for Growth that he'd lead the efforts to repeal this historic Health Care Reform law, but has now changed his mind. Kinda sound familiar? He did the same thing with Cap and Trade. First he was for it, then he's against it. About what you'd expect from the ultimate Washington, D.C. insider.

People here in Illinois want to understand Mark Kirk's role in the GREATEST INTELLIGENCE FAILURE in our lifetime. We want to know why Mark Kirk has never stood up and voted against his very conservative leadership without their permission on a single whipped vote. We want to know why Kirk always seems to say one thing in private and another thing in public. We understand that Kirk has been dominated by powerful figures -- eg, Donald Rumsfeld and George Bush -- and we are concerned that Kirk will go to the Senate and be dominated by powerful figures (like Mitch McConnell or John Coryn). We wonder why Kirk is so secretive and why he seems to know more about China than he does Illinois. Most of all, voters in Illinois are concerned that Mark Kirk is more likely to represent the hyper-conservative Republican leadership than he is the state (and voters) of Illinois.

This two-week Congressional recess should have given voters (and media) in Illinois the opportunity to get our questions answered. But Mark Kirk won't say.

These questions have been around for awhile (hence the video above). But Kirk continues to run a stealth campaign. An inside-the-beltway campaign. We get that Mark Kirk is a busy man, an very-important-person inside the D.C. beltway. But now he wants our votes to represent our state in the Senate seat formerly held by the President of the United States. Here in Illinois, we are still proud of our presidents. So electing someone who's primary goal will be to prevent our favorite son from achieving the goals that this country elected him to do doesn't exactly seem in our best interests.

But Mark Kirk won't say. Is it arrogance? Hubris? Are we an inconvenient burden for Kirk? Or has Kirk simply decided that we don't deserve to understand his thinking, or that he doesn't deserve to explain his part in our government failures?

Mark Kirk won't say, so he's attacking Alexi Giannoulias for things over which he (Alexi) had no control. Mark Kirk assured his constituents that he knew where the WMDS were in Iraq, but he won't explain why none have been found. Yet he was directly responsible for making that assurance -- assurances you can be sure he also made to the New York Times and the Washington Post in the run-up to our invasion of Iraq.

I get it. We're just little people here in Illinois. And Mark Kirk is a Very Important D.C. Insider. We shouldn't question him. We should just take the scraps that he's given us and accept them. Hey, isn't Kirk waving a flag? See! That should be good enough!

In other words, Kirk is telling us to trust him.

I don't know about you, but I'm not exactly in a trusting mood with regard to politicians. Especially Very Important D.C. Insiders. If Mark Kirk won't answer our questions, then Mark Kirk doesn't deserve our votes. Kirk represents what is wrong with Washington, D.C. He certainly hasn't demonstrated any interest in fixing the place.

Illinois Statehouse News offered another, more telling headline last week: Mark Kirk Says he won’t lead. This is a Senate seat with some history to it. Some of us would like a Senator who can lead, someone who can stand up to powerful interests (like Michael Madigan) and come away with a victory. We don't need a Senator who always says No -- there are things we'd like the Federal Government to do. We need a Senator who knows how to say Yes to Illinois, Yes to Illinois' interests and will represent them when he goes to Washington. The choice couldn't be more stark -- Mark Kirk, the ultimate beltway insider, or Alexi Giannoulias, an independent reformer who listens to the people here in Illinois and has gone out of his way to answer our questions...

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Not even his supporters Trust Mark Kirk

You can't trust Mark Kirk. Even the right-wing conservative Club for Growth doesn't trust Kirk:

Now the Club for Growth, the powerful, well-funded conservative group, is ripping into Kirk for his sudden indecision, and making it clear that they expect him to live up to his promise.

“He said that he’s going to do this,” Club for Growth spokesman Mike Connolly just said by phone. “We expect him to live up to his pledge.”

Kirk has signed on to the Club’s repeal pledge, which states: “I hereby pledge to the people of my state to sponsor and support legislation to repeal any federal health care takeover passed in 2010, and replace it with real reforms that lower health care costs without growing government.”

“He’s made a promise to the people of Illinois,” Connolly continued. Asked if failing to follow through could cost Kirk the Club’s support in a general election, Connolly said: “We’ll have to see.”

The Club's concern comes after Mark Kirk "repeatedly" refused to say "whether he wants the legislation repealed."

Mark Kirk is campaigning for Barack Obama's old U.S. Senate seat with a Beltway Insider strategy. He doesn't talk to Illinois voters, or local media, although he continues to take calls (and get covered) by the New York Times and Washington Post. But they don't ask him tough questions (like would he really -- REALLY? -- follow through with his pledge to repeal universal coverage, or ending denial for pre-existing conditions, or the practice of recission and lifetime limits on health coverage.

Instead, Mark Kirk dodges questions by Illinois voters and local media.

Apparently, because Kirk believes he can. Kirk's strategy in this campaign has been to attack Alexi Giannoulias for whatever he can think of. Broadway Bank followed the advice of the Federal Reserve and U.S. Attorney General's office with regards to enticing members of organized crime into disclosure and participation in the (above ground) economy? Mark Kirk won't tell you that numerous mobsters have been convicted and sent to prison (eg, Al Capone) because of the disclosure statements they gave to bankers -- because that would make his personal attacks on Alexi seem, well, ridiculous.

Nor will Mark Kirk tell you if he really means it when he promises to take away health care insurance from kids, young adults and older Americans.

The question we should ask ourselves is this: if Mark Kirk's most adament supporters can't trust him, why should we?

The dilemma Illinois voters face in contemplating their vote for U.S. Senate is this: Mark Kirk has never demonstrated any type of political courage during his service in Congress. He didn't stand up George Bush or Donald Rumsfeld when they were making decisions to invade Iraq based on the greatest intelligence failure in my lifetime. He's never stood up to the conservative Republican leadership on a whipped vote (without their permission) since he's been in the U.S. House. And now he can't stand up and admit that he's taken a controversial decision, one that isn't supported by the electorate here in Illinois or stand up to the right wing conservative Club for Growth when they are demanding that Kirk stick to his pledge.

You just can't trust Mark Kirk. He's never given us reason to trust him, and now his supporters are starting to recognize Kirk's lack of fortitude. There's no reason for Illinois to send him to the Senate. These tough times demand someone who can help bring the country forward, out of the abyss into which George Bush has driven us...

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Nobody Asked Me, But...

How could public perception of the President's Health Care Bill change so dramatically since it was passed? Polls taken before the vote (eg, Bloomberg & CNN) showed less than 40 percent of those polled favored the legislation, while more than 50 percent opposed it. Yet right after the vote, the USA Today/Gallup Poll asked if respondents thought "it is a good thing or a bad thing that Congress passed this bill?" 49 percent said it was a good thing, while 40 percent thought it was a bad thing. that's a ten percent swing among results expressing favoring the bill, and almost a 20 percent swing among those who didn't (using the CNN results). How could that be?

Republican pollster Bill McInturff's analysis appears to have been right. McInturff told the Rothenberg Political Report that:

“People have a stunning amount of information about the fight over health care reform and Democratic efforts to pass a bill. There is the perception that there have been backroom deals — with Senators from Louisiana and Nebraska, and with labor unions — to get support for a bill that isn’t to the public’s advantage.”

“People have come to the conclusion that it must be a bad bill, since if it were a good one, Democratic leaders wouldn’t have had to do what they did to get the votes to pass it,” McInturff continued.

I'd alter McInturff's conclusion just a bit: People seemed to have concluded that it must have been a bad bill (especially in light of all the negatives out there on both sides of the political spectrum), because if it were a good bill, Democrats would have the votes to pass it. Once Democrats *did* have the votes, the electorate flipped in its opinion about the bill.

We love our winners.

I love Art Turner. I voted for Art Turner. But I don't want the state Democratic Central Committee to vote him in as our Democratic Lt. Governor nominee.

I'd like to be able to tell you that I voted for Art Turner because he was the most qualified candidate in the race. But that's not why I cast my vote for Art. Rather, I voted for him because he was the only candidate to have asked me (personally) for my vote. I was trying to get him to come down to speak to our Team Obama group here in Flossmoor, but he was having none of it. "But will you vote for me?" Art persisted. So I did.

Art has shown that same persistence in the run-up to today's vote by the Democratic Central Committee members down in Springfield. He is the only one I know who has kept his campaign machinery intact, and used it effectively. Having said that, I don't think Art is the right person for this slot.

When Art Turner was running in the February primaries, we had no idea what the November ticket would look like. Justin Oberman was pounding Robin Kelly on television, and Robin never had the resources to answer. Raja Krishnamoorthi was on television touting his connection to Barack Obama, and David Miller was just introducing himself to the state. Outside of Lisa Madigan and Jesse White, we had no idea who would be on the Democratic ticket this November.

Now we do. We now know that three of the six positions for state government will be represented by African American Democrats. This should make us proud! No one can argue that African Americans would be demoralized by choosing someone other than Art Turner to run with Governor Pat Quinn.

No one has asked me, but it seems to me that one overriding concern and two secondary concerns should dictate who the State Central Committee chooses as our Lt. Governor nominee. First of all, who gives us the best chance for winning in the fall? This has to be the primary factor in electing a replacement for a(nother) candidate who would just have embarrassed Democrats. But a number of candidates would help Democrats win. So secondary consideration should be given to who will best help Governor Quinn and who would best help the Democratic party in Illinois?

Here's the unique aspect to this place that Democrats in Illinois have found themselves in: No downstate Democrat (meaning, no Democrat outside of Cook County) is likely to win statewide office in a contested primary. Look at what happened to Paul Mangieri of Knox County in 2006 (with the Democratic endorsement and its money) and Terry Link of Lake County in 2010. Cook County represents such a huge portion of the Democratic primary vote that it is difficult, if not impossible, for someone outside of Cook to win in a contested primary.

But this isn't the primary. Now we are talking about the general election, where Cook County is, at best, a third of the likely vote. My issue with Art Turner's selection is that this would lock Quinn and Democrats into a Chicago-centric race with an exhausted, and perhaps even demoralized, political organization being expected to turn out the votes. No political strategist wants a single pathway to victory, partially because it makes one's strategy obvious to everyone. Republicans would be handed the initiative, the ability to choose among various political strategies by which to neutralize Gov. Quinn and the Democratic ticket.

If I had my druthers, I'd have wanted a candidate out of Will County, just because it would geographically have optimized all possible paths to victory. Of course, there isn't a candidate from Will County, and hypotheticals get us nowhere.

Choosing a candidate from downstate gives the Democratic ticket not only geographical diversity, but it also gives downstate Democrats a reason to stay engaged in the party. Downstate Democrats could hope to be the next U.S. Senator -- or the next Lt. Governor. Regional diversity is just as relevant as other forms of diversity, and we shouldn't ignore it. We should also realize that there are not that many opportunities to promote regional diversity, so we should take advantage of this one while it's here.

The fact is Democrats could lose this fall. Mark Kirk is perhaps the strongest Republican on the ballot in recent memory. Rod Blagojevich will rear his ugly head this summer. Judy Barr Topinka begins her "I told you so, Illinois" tour at the same time. Republicans have targeted Democratic seats here in the Congress, in the state Senate and in the state House.

Sure, we'll still have Toni Preckwinkle, and Democrats in Cook County could very well begin a new era of Reform and Renewal under her guidance.

What Democrats of all kinds have to accept is that the Democratic Party is a BIG, F*@king tent and we don't always agree (let alone get along). We are a multicultural entity, even as we are constantly fighting for our own to get ahead. Today is the day for that tradition -- that albatross, at times -- to persist...

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Our President, in "Preacher Mode"

President Obama, in preacher mode before he returns to professor mode...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sen. Hutchinson: "We haven't been doing that for the last 25-30 years"

State Sen. Toi Hutchinson gave an impassioned speech yesterday for ending Illinois' budget crisis that has paralyzed Illinois' economy, paralyzed Illinois' social agencies, and paralyzed Illinois' future.

"We are in a crisis," Hutchinson says. "We're in a crisis right now."

Hutchinson's comment comes at a time when Illinois -- and the country -- is divided, and distrust of government is near all-time highs. But Sen. Hutchinson argues that Springfield is broken, and it's time to stand up, fix it, do the right thing and have the courage to lead.

This is not your father's Democrat.

Sen. Hutchinson is not risk-adverse. She believes in speaking the truth -- even when it's not what people want to hear (but we need to hear). Hutchinson is not only a newly-appointed state Senator (surviving a brutal nomination process), but she serves the 40th Senate District, which includes several of the most active Tea Party chapters in Illinois. A straight-shooter, Hutchinson previously wrote:

I remember all of the things I used to say about the General Assembly -- as a taxpayer, a voter, and a mom. I wanted representatives who believed in people, who could engage in meaningful and principled debate, and who weren’t afraid to fight for basic democratic principles. We need more from our legislators.

It’s a toxic political environment, which makes for pretty rough waters. But master sailors are never trained in calm seas. Leaders lead, regardless of the consequences.

That has not been the tradition in Illinois politics of late. While the 1990s saw the growth of "the Combine," the election of Rod Blagojevich toppled many of the prior assumptions in Springfield. Blagojevich's desperate need to be viewed as "top dog" (or should i say, the King) paralyzed Illinois state government long before the economy was paralyzed by the worst recession since the Great Depression.

But neither Blagojevich or his nemesis, Speaker Madigan, can be blamed for the ponzi-scheme financing that state governments undertook to achieve "balanced" budgets in the last decade or so. These accounting tricks and various sleights of hand were invented elsewhere, and utilized by all sides (Governor and legislature, Republicans and Democrats) in virtually every state to hide the true costs of government. In the 21st century, Americans expected to get everything for less, including government -- although we grumbled when that expectation effected our incomes.

That bubble has now burst. Governments at all levels have kicked the can down the road, borrowing against our futures to fund public services (like roads, public safety and education), and the bills are now coming due. More significantly, the Republican theory that charity, not government, could step in to provide the economic and social safety net that our unemployed, our poorest, our most disadvantaged citizens require has been proven wrong. Charities, non-profits and social agencies are critically threatened -- some even closing their doors -- due to the economic downturn, just as they are needed most. It doesn't help that the state is behind in its payments to the agencies that contracted with the state of Illinois to provide public services to people in need. But the economy has simply meant that fewer people are able to donate, and their donations, when they give, tend to be smaller.

Sen. Hutchinson understands. "We cannot afford to continue to do phantom economics and voodoo accounting," Hutchinson said, "and balance this budget on the backs of the people who need us most. Their backs are broken now."

Hutchinson lashed out at the Party of No that says "No to Families, No to Children, No to Social Services that keep our most vulnerable people safe, we are playing politics with people's lives."

No one wants to pay higher taxes -- everyone wants to get stuff (like services) for free. But our days of paying for government on credit or hiding its real costs have come to an end. As Sen. Hutchinson says, "Funding government is the right thing to do." Government has an important role in our society, and an important role to play in a healthy economy. Contrary to what some believe, a strong government is vital to a strong free market economy. Economies are transactional in character, amoral in nature, and require a perception among participants that those transactions are fair, transparent and above board. Weak governments tend to spawn oligarchic economies, where consumers are exploited, and socio-economic mobility is virtually unheard of. A global capitalist economy like ours requires a strong government with the ability to enforce its rules, not just here at home but abroad. There is no free market without a strong government.

For those who want to argue with examples like Hong Kong, and other free market economies that grew under the protection of the U.S. government, I merely note that, yes, we paid for their protection, too. That's what happens when one is a superpower. We're number one. But that has both costs and rewards. We must bear those costs to reap those rewards.

Illinois has fared worse than other large states because it was an anchor in our manufacturing base. Not as bad as Michigan, but bad nonetheless. So Illinois has to face the challenges of the worst economic downturn most of us have ever seen, a political paralysis that could have been a script to a Keystone Kops film, an economic engine (Chicago) that has had its own difficulties crawling into the 21st century, and a political/legislative system that has struggled to keep up with all these changes.

Sen. Hutchinson offers a vision for a better future for Illinois. Her challenge is for our political leaders to, well, lead:

I will continue to push for a solution that will result in Illinois getting back on solid financial ground because it is a fight worth fighting. There is a direct correlation between the taxes we pay and the services we provide. The state of Illinois has a responsibility to educate our children, ensure the safety of our residents, and care for our seniors and veterans. On top of all of that, and especially in this time of recession, we cannot cut services that vulnerable citizens rely on to get back on their feet. Fear, hunger, drug addiction, homelessness, aging, foreclosures, or unforeseen health challenges are all equal opportunity stressors for many people in our communities.

These are not Democrat or Republican issues. Just reality. I’m not fighting for taxes; I’m fighting for people.

That's the kind of politician we need in Springfield. A reality-based leader who isn't afraid to call a spade a spade, and brings a shovel when she comes to work. Because there is lots of work to do.

Hat tips to Progress Illinois and much appreciation for all the work they do!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Who Will Replace Linzey Jones as Mayor?

Olympia Fields Mayor Linzey Jones won the Democratic nomination in the Lipinski vacancy in the 15th judicial subcircuit, virtually guaranteeing him a spot on the bench next year. As a judge, Jones will vacate his position as mayor. So the question is, who will replace Jones as mayor of Olympia Fields?

Several people have suggested to me that former Trustee Al Riley would be the "best" replacement for Jones, but Riley has dual positions as state Rep and Rich Township supervisor. But most people, including the Rich Township Democratic committeeman, think that unlikely.

Others think that one of the Olympia Fields Trustees (Carolyn Gibson, Shirley Nale, Susan Ormsby, Willis Pennington, Debra Meyers-Martin and Kelvin Oliver) will replace Jones. If that is the case, then someone will have to be appointed to replace them on the Board of Trustees.

I won't speculate as to who will replace Linzey Jones as the mayor of Olympia Fields, but it is certainly something I am watching, given its impact on the rest of the South Suburbs.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Et tu, Donaldson?

Last night was the first time that I had met Mayor Donaldson of Hazel Crest. He spent about 20 minutes or so trying to convince me that he wasn't the kind of person who would try to threaten or intimidate me -- only to conclude by what can only be interpreted as an attempt to try to threaten or intimidate me.

Oh, the hypocrisy!

I was equally struck by the perverted reasoning he used. The mayor very theatrically argued that he operates off of facts alone. The fact that I was told to "stay out of Hazel Crest" (because I was organizing voters who might disagree with the mayor) or the fact that I don't particularly like being threatened -- these weren't relevant, he argued. Then he dropped the term "slander" into the conversation. Which, of course, immediately ended any discussion.

One would be tempted to have said, as Montoya did, that it doesn't mean what you think it means. Since 1964, political speech has been defined as protected by the Constitution. But Mayor Donaldson is an educated man, so he would have known this. Almost every elected official I know of does. Still, some politicians have no problem threatening opponents with slander suits. The facts -- and the Constitution -- be damned. The point is the intimidation, not the Constitution.

I've been through this before. As a child, I watched people try to intimidate my family (my parent were civil rights activists and co-founders of the Central Florida civil rights group, Bridgebuilders) from continuing their work in desegregation and racial reconciliation. After Dr. King was assassinated, I heard people in my church call me a "nigger lover" because I was the only white person pictured on the front page of the local paper in a march honoring Dr. King. In Illinois, I've been witness to more than one attempt by local politicians who tried to threaten people as a tactic to squash opposition. There has been this line that runs straight through my life, from beginning to end -- and I don't back down. To do so, seems to me, would be immoral.

Many of us who live in the South Suburbs like to think of our communities as having gotten it right. We live here, for the most part, because we've chosen to live here. We think that, to a large degree, we live in harmony with each other, black or white, purple or green. Sure, we've had disconcerting incidents in our communities, but, generally, we think we're better than that. We are better than that.

But one of the reasons I've turned my skills in organizing and politics to the neighborhood where I reside (the South Suburbs) is because the people here deserve better than what we're getting. And the politics of fear and intimidation is just too widespread in the South Suburbs to be ignored. I understand. There is so much talent here, so many people who have leadership potential, that it must be troubling to those who have achieved political power in their communities. But the competition should be fierce here, not simply because people disagree about various priorities in their villages, but because there is just too much political potential among the residents in the South Suburbs for this not to be the case.

So no one can be surprised that some people with power in the South Suburbs would do just about anything to preserve their position of authority. Politics is a fierce and bloody business, and politicians rarely rise without an ability to step over those who compete in the same arena. What I object to is when politicians abuse their position or authority, especially for purposes of personal gain (such as getting elected). So Donaldson can reasonably have assumed that I would oppose such things as raising his pay during these troubling times (when village finances are so stressed). Or his claiming that all of our communities provide vehicles for village officials, when they clearly do not. Or that I will help people organize who have a different vision, one where government service is done with a public servant's sense of duty to give back to their community. I stand against the all-too-often prevailing tendency to pursue government service for private financial or personal gain. The simple fact is that there is more than enough political talent down here in the South Suburbs that we don't need to provide extraordinary pay or benefits to entice good people into elected office. Which may be exactly why we have to endure this political culture of fear and intimidation, because those with political power in some communities can't stand to part with it. It's about them, not about us.

But it should be about us. So I got the message. I'm supposed to be intimidated, to feel threatened enough that I don't go into Hazel Crest -- but I'm not supposed to talk about it. Yeah, right. Thanks for clearing that up...

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Southland Succeeds in Democratic Primary

The South Suburbs' favorite son (David Miller) and daughter (Robin Kelly) both won their respective Democratic nominations for state Comptroller and Treasurer this Tuesday. I believe it's the first time that two people from the South Suburbs has been on the general election ballot for statewide office. Robin Kelly won 38,602 votes in Thornton, Bloom, Rich, Bremen and Orland townships, while David Miller won 34,427 votes in the Southland:


A more interesting race shaped up in the 15th Judicial subcircuit (in the Phelan vacancy), where former Republican party leader (and Bloom Township supervisor) T.J. Somer teamed up with Olympia Fields Mayor Linzey Jones and former state Rep. George Scully to run in the three vacancies in the subcircuit. Somer was a controversial candidate, not simply because he switched political parties to run for judge, but also because his peers found him significantly less qualified for the position of judge than the other two. Somer scored a mere 40% in the Alliance of Bar Associations for Judicial Screening [PDF]. The most damning evaluation came from the Chicago Council of Lawyers which wrote [PDF]:

Thomas Joseph “TJ” Somer – Not Qualified

Thomas Joseph “TJ” Somer was admitted to practice in 1991, following 14 years as a police officer in Chicago Heights. After one year working on insurance defense cases for a large firm, he set up his own general practice firm in the south suburbs. Since 1997 he has served as a Supervisor for Bloom Township and, since 2006, he has also served as corporation counsel for the city of Chicago Heights. He was also an unsuccessful candidate for mayor of Chicago Heights and for Congress. Mr. Somer is reported to have good legal ability and temperament, although his practice is narrow. In addition to the narrowness of his practice, the Council is also concerned that Somer was a defendant in a law suit alleging illegal practices with respect to tax delinquent properties during the time he was the Bloom Township Supervisor. Although the trial court absolved Somer of wrongdoing, the Appellate Court reversed the trial court’s decision. Mr. Somer denies any culpability and insists that this program was appropriate and successful. The Council finds him Not Qualified for the Circuit Court.
Several people expressed to me their surprise that Somer did so poorly in the combined judicial screenings (both Jones and Scully scored 100%, as did the candidate winning in the Phelan vacancy, John Griffin).

Given Somer's controversial candidacy, it is no surprise that he tied himself to two other elected officials in Bloom Township. Linzey Jones has explained this alliance between himself, George Scully and T.J. Somer as a practical matter, because running for judge is so expensive. He also said that he was not that interested in raising a large amount of money, and this alliance offered the opportunity of multiple voter contacts for less money. More bang for the buck, as it were.

As I've noted earlier, the "deal" was announced at a Rich Township Democratic party monthly meeting back in August, much to the consternation of a number of people there. On Thursday, I received an email that concluded with this: "Rich Township failed TJ Somers."

Well, I disagree. I think Rich Township did exactly what it was supposed to do: help elect the most qualified and fair-minded person to the bench.

But then, I wasn't party to any deal.

Judge John Griffin won the most votes, with 11,595 fairly evenly scattered throughout the subcircuit. Mary Beth Kent Duffy came in second, with 8,133 votes. The controversial Thomas "TJ" Somer came in third, with 7,579 votes (with the greatest concentration in his home township, Bloom). Carl Evans, Jr. came in fourth, with 6,286 (with the greatest concentration in Rich township). And Nichole Patton finished the field, with 4,823 votes.

15th Subcircuit: Griffin Townships in Blue, Somer Township in Yellow, Evans Township in Red and Duffy Township in Tan

Another way to look at the results, through townships won. Judge Griffin won 5 townships (Bremen, Lemont, Orland, Palos and Worth). Duffy, Somer and Evans each won a single township. Griffin won 168 precincts, Somer won 64 precincts (primarily in Bloom Township), Evans won 41 precincts (primarily in Rich Township), Duffy won 39 precincts and Patton won 3 precincts (primarily in Rich Township).

Given this distribution, I wanted to know who really ran the table in the precincts they won. In other words, who had "breakaway" precincts where they really racked up the votes, defined as precincts where they won at least 50% of the vote (in a multicandidate race). This is where Griffin showed the strength of his campaign, and where it is obvious that Somer is a Bloom Township candidate (just as Evans was in Rich). Griffin had 43 breakaway precincts scattered throughout the townships he won, while Somer had 24 breakaways, all concentrated in Bloom.

Rich Township: Griffin precincts in Blue, Somer precincts in Yellow, Evans precincts in Red, Duffy precincts in Tan and Patton precincts in Lavender

But it was in Rich Township that the greatest variation in votes can be found. Only in Rich Township did all candidates win at least one precinct. What stands out to me is not simply the fact that Carl Evans did so well in Rich, or that TJ Somer only won one precinct in Olympia Fields (Judge Griffin also won one and Carl Evans won two), but the fact that there is this big blue (Griffin) block in vote-rich Park Forest. Griffin won 8 out of 13 precincts in the Rich Township portion of Park Forest and 1 of the 2 Park Forest precincts in Bloom Township.

The theory, as the Rich Township Democratic committeeman explained to me, was that if judicial candidates can win (big) in Bloom and Rich and stay within striking distance in the rest of the townships in the 15th subcircuit, then that is sufficient for victory. More than 38,924 people voted in the 15th subcircuit races, with Bloom accounting for at least 8,921 and Rich accounting for at least 10,759 (together 19,680 voters). That's a little over 50% of the electorate that voted in the 15th subcircuit in 2010.

Jones Townships in Yellow, Flanagan Township in Gold and Karas Townships in Pink

The theory is sound, as witnessed by the result for Linzey Jones. Jones only won Rich and Bloom Townships, and only won 4 precincts elsewhere (all in Thornton Township). But that was sufficient to win. But the lesson here is not that Bloom and Rich need be the primary focus of 15th subcircuit candidates who live on the east side of the subcircuit. No, the lesson is that well-funded qualified candidates who run from the east side, who do not substantially alienate voters and have several competent opponents who split the rest of the subcircuit, can win by primarily focusing on the east side (where they are well known).

And that's how this alliance failed T.J. Somer. Admittedly, this was probably his best chance to win a seat on the bench, but the fact is that Somer did not win both Rich and Bloom. Somer did alienate voters (by virtue of his prior party affiliation, his behavior with regards to the aforementioned lawsuit AND the attempt to monopolize the open seats on the bench in the subcircuit by eastern side committeemen). Somer clearly has a problem in Rich, one that no amount of validators can overcome in Park Forest. Rich didn't fail Somer because Rich Township will never be able to advance Somer as long as the current political environment prevails. This is unique to the candidate, and really has nothing to do with the "deal" or the others who were party to it. In the end, the die was cast by T.J. Somer's history and the political environment that he helped create...

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Not Ready for Primetime

I hate being lied to, don't you?

I hate it even more when candidates who frame themselves as reformers lie to us. Aren't we supposed to be different?

So why would Justin Oberman be lying to us?

I understand. The Oberman campaign did their oppo and found that going after the losses in Bright Start was the best wedge a 35-year old wannabe politician who is campaigning behind his father's legacy could have with an accomplished reformer and leader in Illinois who has been able to bridge all the various strata of Illinois politics. I get it.

But, frankly, it's disgusting. Oberman's ad quotes Robin (who I'd like to think of as a friend, and whose campaign has specifically asked me not to blog about these issues) saying, "We lost no money" after the ad mentions that Bright Start lost $150 Million.

But that's not what she said. Robin Kelly -- and her boss Alexi Giannoulias and the entire Treasurer's staff -- is proud of the fact that the Treasurer's office has MADE MONEY from the money that the taxpayers entrust in that office (which is different than the money that it holds for taxpayers for things like education). The State Treasurer reached out to Justin Oberman to explain the apparent confusion that Oberman had -- or, at least, was evidenced on the campaign trail. But Oberman refused to take the meeting.

I suppose that it would be harder to continue to make the charges under those circumstances. As if that would preserve some kind of political integrity.


The facts are these, as explained in detail by the terrific political blog, Progress Illinois:

Back in January, we learned that risky financial maneuvers by the Wall Street managers of Illinois' college savings program had led to a swift $85 million loss. The Prairie State wasn't alone in this situation -- Oregon, Texas, Maine, and New Mexico also included Oppenheimer's "Core Bond Fund" as an investment option for families saving for college and suffered steep losses as a result. Illinois State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, who oversees the program, was the first state official to accuse Oppenheimer of investing outside of the fund guidelines and pursue legal action against them. Others have since followed suit.

In the months since he entered litigation to recoup the $85 million...

Here's what we know (bear with us on this one):

By the time Giannoulias took office in 2007, the Bright Start college savings plan had amassed 180,000 portfolios and nearly $2 billion in assets. It had also been long-criticized for its high costs and limited investment options. Intent on lowering those administrative costs, Giannoulias selected Oppenheimer to manage the portfolio through a competitive bid process that year. The investment bank suggested Illinois invest in a series of their mutual funds, including the Core Bond Fund, which was billed as one of the company's most conservative investment strategies. The treasurer's office contributed $200 million to this fund and immediately saw its fortunes rise. By April of last year, Chicago-based investment rating group Morningstar had named Bright Start one of the top five college savings plans in the nation.

Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse later in the year. It turned out that Oppenheimer's then-Senior Vice President of Fixed Income Angelo Manioudakis had decided to roll the dice with the fund. He not only invested it in risky mortgage-backed securities, but -- worse yet -- heavily leveraged the fund.

Once the housing market seized up and Giannoulias's office realized what Manioudakis had done, they immediately transferred all Bright Start monies allocated to Core Bond to short-term U.S. treasury debt. But that wasn't before investors lost 36 percent of the $200 million originally committed to the fund. The following month, the state served subpoenas on Oppenheimer under the Consumer Fraud Act. “Core Plus’ performance is unacceptable," Giannoulias wrote in a statement earlier this year, "and even more staggering when you consider that families thought they were investing in relatively conservative portfolios as their children neared college age." Speaking on WLS’ Don Wade and Roma earlier this week, the treasurer said he is "optimistic" that the state will ultimately recoup the families' money.

The lingering question is whether the extreme risks being taken by Oppenheimer were visible to Giannoulias -- as well as the broader community of investors and analysts -- and whether the treasurer should have been expected to act faster to protect Bright Start investors from the exposure...

While Oppenheimer might have disclosed the fact that it was investing in these particular types of instruments, even the Morningstar analysts in charge of keeping tabs on this fund weren't aware of the degree of leverage being employed... [Friday April 24th, 2009, 9:07am]

For those just getting caught up, six states, whose 529 college-savings programs were exposed to Oppenheimer Funds' Core Bond fund, experienced heavy losses last year when the bond sank 38 percent in the fourth quarter. Billed as a one of the Wall Street company's most conservative investment strategies, Oppenheimer's then-Senior Vice President of Fixed Income Angelo Manioudakis decided to invest a chunk of the bonds in risky mortgage-backed securities. Worse yet, he heavily leveraged the fund, a move that analysts in charge of keeping tabs on Core Bond did not even notice. A few months after the housing market seized up and the value of the fund plummeted, State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias transferred all Bright Start monies allocated to Core Bond to short-term U.S. treasury debt and began negotiating with Oppenheimer to retrieve some of the cash. In February, the state also served Oppenheimer with subpoenas under the Consumer Fraud Act. And while Giannoulias reached a "handshake deal" in June that would return $77 million to the affected Bright Start accounts, there remained one large obstacle: the state of Oregon. [Monday November 23rd, 2009, 10:17am]

Lost in the coverage, however, was the centrality of leverage in the Bright Start controversy. Shortly after the fund tanked, a Morningstar analyst called it the "chief culprit" in the fund's poor performance and acknowledged that Oppenhemier made no disclosures in any legal documents about the degree of leverage they were employing. That's why it was good to see Madigan stress this point in her release:

Oppenheimer had marketed Core Plus as a conservative investment vehicle appropriate for beneficiaries who were at or near college age. Core Plus, however, contained risky investments and was highly leveraged by its Oppenheimer management team, which, in turn, resulted in excessive losses. The management team is no longer with Oppenheimer.
While Oppenheimer did disclose its investments in mortgage-backed securities, the Morningstar analysts in charge of keeping tabs on Core Bond expressed surprise at the degree of leverage being employed, largely through $1.4 billion worth of "swaps." A Morningstar article from April explains more about Oppenheimer's use of these instruments:

At the end of March 2008, the Core portfolio carried around $400 million in securities exceeding its then $2.2 billion in net assets via transactions that were effectively akin to margin borrowing. It also had roughly $800 million in long exposure to corporate credit via default swaps -- including American International Group AIG, Lehman Brothers, Wachovia WB, Washington Mutual, and Bear Stearns. It had around $600 million in total return swap exposure to a volatile slice of Barclays' AAA rated CMBS index. By normal reporting convention, all of these positions were not included on the fund's balance sheet and, thus, not in its net assets.

By the end of September, when the market sailed off into uncharted territory, Core Bond's credit exposure to those markets totaled more than 180% of net assets on a dollar basis. In other words, for every dollar of shareholder capital in the fund, it was exposed to the credit-driven movement of more than $1.80 worth of securities.

The message here isn't that derivatives are bad, though they can be dangerous if not well understood. Rather, it is that investors had little way of knowing that the funds were piling high extra layers of market exposure. Because most of this additional market exposure came from off-balance-sheet derivatives, the funds' portfolios didn't look highly leveraged. In a conventional accounting sense of leverage -- borrowing money against net assets and investing it -- they might have looked slightly leveraged. But in a economic sense, and as a mutual funds go, they were heavily leveraged.
In a sense, Justin Oberman is caught in a huge political dilemma. If he exploits this tactical advantage, then it appears that he either does not understand Big Finance or he's lying. Oberman claims that if he's the state Treasurer, "My office will conduct thorough research into every state investment that we make to insure minimum risk and maximum return." But Oberman's comments -- and the ad he's airing at the moment -- proves just the opposite. He didn't conduct thorough research into the Bright Start issue, and he refused to meet with the state Treasurer, who would have been happy to explain it to him.

Why would we trust him to do that if he can't do it now?

Oberman claims the reformer mantle that his father held. But then he goes on TV with a politically potent, but clearly false, accusation against a real reformer, a real progressive that has been building up impressive credentials ever since Justin Oberman was born.

I don't know about you, but I'm kind of tired of the Daley brand of political slugfest (even if I appear good at it). Robin Kelly doesn't deserve this kind of treatment, and, quite frankly, Justin Oberman ought to be ashamed of himself. These kinds of fabrications on the part of politicians are more typical of machine pols than reformers. Oberman damages the reformer brand with this kind of stunt. It's just disgusting...

Alan Cottrell has provided professional services to the Kelly campaign in the past, but is not currently connected professionally to the campaign...