Illinois Public Media News
(With additional reporting from WFYI Public Radio's Marianne Holland in Indianapolis)
Indiana House Democrats are leaving the state to avoid a vote on Republican-led legislation restricting the rights of unions.
The political battle is over a bill that prohibits union membership and fees from being a condition of employment, while also disallows payroll deductions for union dues. In the Indiana House, 67 members are needed to take action, but only 63 showed up after House Democrats walked out Monday. Only two returned Tuesday morning.
Without Democrats at the statehouse, Republicans don't have a quorum to conduct business. Republican Governor Mitch Daniels said he is waiting for the Democrats to come back to Indianapolis.
"I'm not going to divert a single trooper from their job of protecting the Indiana public," Daniels said. "I trust that people's consciences will bring them back to work. I choose to believe that our friends in the minority, having made their point, will come back and do their duty."
The House Democrats are now headed out of the state, to either Illinois or Kentucky. Both states have Democratic governors, a condition that prevents the lawmakers from being taken into police custody and returned to Indiana.
Indiana state Treasurer Richard Mourdock will challenge longtime U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar in next year's Republican primary.
Mourdock announced his Senate bid during a Tuesday news conference in downtown Indianapolis with about 200 supporters.
He told the gathering he appreciates Lugar's decades of service to Indiana but said the six-term Republican has lost touch with the state's needs. Mourdock says he has the support of 67 of Indiana's 92 county Republican chairmen for his Senate run.
Mourdock has courted tea party groups that have been disgruntled with Lugar and say he hasn't been conservative enough.
He told the gathering that Lugar doesn't respect the tea party movement.
Mourdock is from the Evansville area and has been state treasurer since 2007.
Macon County Clerk Steve Bean says having solely write-in candidates for a Decatur city council race means counting the ballots could take longer than a typical primary.
But Bean also anticipates a low voter turnout for a non-mayoral election of 3-to 5-thousand voters. He noted the spelling of all six candidates' names are very different, making it easier for election judges to read the name in the single blank provided. Four of the six names will advance to the April 5th ballot.
The voter needs to indicate their choice for the council seat formerly held by Adam Brown, who was elected to the state legislature in November. Bean stated that it is an expensive election.
"The State Board (of Elections) would not allow us to cut any corners," he said. "We had to set up all the machinery, which is an expensive deal. We had to print regular ballots, hiring election judges, the cost of publishing in the newspaper, the cost of polling places and everything - it's about $100,000, which all the taxpayers in Macon County will pay."
One candidate, Reggie Anderson, is not eligible to serve in office due to a felony conviction. But Bean said Anderson, who has a felony robbery charge on his record, may challenge Decatur's municipal code if he is successful in April. Bean said if Brown had resigned earlier, that would have forced candidates to fill out nominating petitions, and someone could have filed an objection.
"But since Mr. Brown waited so late (to resign from the City Council), there's no way to legitimately remove a write-in candidate," Bean said. "Nobody has ever wanted to challenge the city's municipal code."
Also running are Jamie Duies, Robert Lewis, Pat McDaniel, Ed Bland Junior, and James Thomas Taylor.
Champaign County Clerk Gordy Hulten expects as few as 100 voters to turn out Tuesday for a city council race in which the challenger has suspended his campaign.
He said Urbana's Ward 2 race between council member Eric Jakobsson and Brian Dolinar is costing the county about $7,000. Dolinar quit campaigning more than a week ago after a meeting with his opponent. He said Jakobsson will make a good council member, and was happy to see he was knocking on doors to garner support. Hulten admits he would like to see more of a contested race.
"I think given that the county's spending the money to administer the election, I would think that would be the least that they could do," Hulten said. "But on the other hand, it's our job and our responsibility at the county clerk's office to run the election. And so we're going to do it as cost efficiently and effectively as possible. And for the 100 or 200 or 300 voters that we have tomorrow, we're going to make sure that they get first class service."
Hulten said much of the cost for this election is the result of state mandates. They have required his office to remain open the last three weekends for early and absentee voting, while his staff receives overtime pay. Hulten said just five voters have turned out in the last 3 and a half weeks, and none of them came in on the weekend.
"A significant piece of the cost would be reduced if the state would simply allow us to manage the election process as we can to anticipate demand instead of forcing us to have a one size, fit-all early voting and absentee voting program," Hulten said.
No resolution appeared imminent Monday to the stalemate over union rights in Wisconsin, leaving Senate Republicans resigned to forge ahead with less-controversial business such as tax breaks for dairy farmers and commending the Green Bay Packers on winning the Super Bowl.
As the standoff entered its second week, none of the major players offered any signs of backing down in a high-stakes game of political chicken that has riveted the nation and led to ongoing public protests that drew a high of 68,000 people on Saturday. Thousands more braved cold winds and temperatures in the 20s to march again on Monday, waving signs that said "Stop the attack on Wisconsin families" and "solidarity."
The 14 Senate Democrats who skipped town Thursday to indefinitely delay a vote on Republican Gov. Scott Walker's bill stripping most collective bargaining rights from nearly all public employees remained missing in action for a fifth day.
"You have shut down the people's government, and that is not acceptable," Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said during a brief meeting Monday setting the agenda for Tuesday's Senate session.
Two of the missing Democrats participated by phone from an undisclosed location.
"You're not in negotiations. There is no negotiation," Fitzgerald said, cutting off one of the Democrats on the phone. "You need to get back to the floor of the Senate and offer any ideas you may have on final passage. That's where we're at. There is no negotiation."
Both the Senate and Assembly planned to be in session on Tuesday to take up the bill, but at least one of the missing Democrats needed to show up for a vote to be taken in the Senate. Assembly Democrats planned to offer dozens of amendments that could push a vote into Wednesday or later.
Although Tuesday's list of items, including the resolution honoring the Packers, is largely bipartisan, Fitzgerald hinted that he might try to push some more controversial ones later, even if the Democrats aren't back. Among the possibilities is a vote on the question of whether voters should be required to show identification at the polls.
The Democratic senators taking part in the scheduling meeting urged Republicans to accept the offer made by the unions under which they would accept paying more for benefits as Walker wants but still retain their collective bargaining rights.
Another compromise offered by Republican Sen. Dale Schultz would remove collective bargaining rights just for two years
"It's time for all of us to move forward," said Democratic Sen. Dave Hansen of Green Bay over the phone to the Republicans.
Walker has rejected both offers, saying local governments and school districts can't be hamstrung by the often lengthy collective bargaining process and need to have more flexibility to deal with up to $1 billion in cuts he will propose in his budget next week and into the future.
"It will never get to me because other than that one state senator, all the rest of the Republicans are firmly behind our proposal," Walker said in an MSNBC interview on Monday, calling it an unacceptable short-term fix.
The emergency plan he wants the Legislature to pass would address this year's $137 million shortfall and start dealing with the $3.6 billion hole expected by mid-2013. The benefits concessions would amount to $30 million this year, but the largest savings Walker proposed comes from refinancing debt to save $165 million.
That portion must be done by Friday for bonds to be refinanced in time to realize the savings by June 30, the end of this fiscal year.
Walker said not passing the bill by Friday would make even deeper cuts necessary and possibly result in laying off 1,500 workers over the next four months.
Thousands of those affected and their supporters marched on the Capitol for a seventh straight day. Hundreds of them have been sleeping in the rotunda every night and several districts have had to close after so many teachers called in sick. The Madison School District was closed Wednesday through Monday but was expected to reopen Tuesday.
Districts in central Wisconsin were also closed Monday, but that was because of 10 to 12 inches of snow. Milwaukee schools were shut down for a pre-scheduled midsemester break. Those closures, on top of Monday being a previously scheduled furlough day for state workers, resulted in another large crowd Monday but an official estimate was not yet released.
At noon, guitarist Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine took to a stage on the Capitol steps to fire up the crowd. He said he flew in from California to lend his voice to the protest.
"The future of workers' rights will be decided in Madison, Wisconsin," he said. "You're making history here."
He joked that he could hardly play the guitar because his fingers were numb. He sang a song with the refrain, "For the union men and women standing up and standing strong!" Each time he repeated that lyric, the crowd roared.
Walker's plan would allow unions representing most public employees to negotiate only for wage increases, not benefits or working conditions. Any wage increase above the Consumer Price Index would have to be approved in a referendum. Unions would face a vote of membership every year to stay formed, and workers could opt out of paying dues.
The plan would also require many public employees to cut their take home pay by about 8 percent by contributing more of their salaries toward their health insurance and retirement benefits, concessions the unions have said they're willing to accept.
But Walker and Republicans are showing no willingness to budge while the Senate Democrats say they are prepared to stay away for weeks if that's what it will take.
Four of the five candidates running in Tuesday's Danville mayoral primary will advance to the general election in April.
Incumbent Mayor Scott Eisenhauer is running for a third term in Danville, against four challengers -- Vermilion County Board Chairman James "Mouse" McMahon, restaurant owner David Quick, truck driver Donald Nord and Alderman Rickey Williams Junior. Only Eisenhauer, McMahon and Quick have their names on the ballot -- Nord and Williams are running write-in campaigns. But Director Barbara Dreher of the Danville Election Commission said all of them have a chance to be among the final four candidates on the April 5th general election ballot.
"The top four vote-getters out of this election, be they write-ins or the names printed on the ballot ... will be printed on the ballot in April," Dreher explained.
That means at least one of the two write-in candidates will see his name printed on the April ballot. Dreher said it is too late to file to run as a write-in candidate for Danville mayor in the April 5th race.
Eisenhauer had no primary challengers in 2007, but he was among a field of nine candidates in the 2003 Danville mayoral primary. Dreher said that primary attracted about 6,000 voters, but she expects a lighter turnout for this year's primary. However, Dreher anticipates turnout to be heavier in the April election.
Dreher said she has received about 260 early ballots for Tuesday's primary, but a few more could still be in the mail.
A contentious labor bill that is drawing hundreds of protesting union members to the Indiana Statehouse has cleared a Republican-led House committee.
The House Labor Committee voted 8-5 along party lines Monday to advance the so-called right-to-work legislation, which prohibits union membership and fees from being a condition of employment.
Backers argue the bill would remove an impediment to business in the state, while opponents say such laws drive down wages by weakening unions.
The bill is so controversial that Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels has said he would prefer that legislators focus on other issues for fear that the proposal could wreck the political chances of other more important bills.
The right-to-work bill now moves to the full Republican-led House for consideration.
Attorneys for Rod Blagojevich are asking the judge in his upcoming corruption retrial to throw out all secret recordings of the former Illinois governor.
In a new court filing, Blagojevich's attorneys ask that all secretly recorded conversations the FBI has of Blagojevich or his aides not be played in court.
Blagojevich is accused of trying to personally profit by appointing someone to Barack Obama's former senate seat.
That would mean jurors wouldn't hear Blagojevich say, "I've got this thing, and it's (expletive deleted) golden."
Or they wouldn't hear Blagojevich tell his wife, "I'd like a four-year contract for a million a year, or something. Or 750. Whatever. It'd have to be good."
Or any other of the hundreds of hours of tapes the FBI has on Blagojevich.
Defense attorneys say in their court filing they weren't given a fair chance to play the tapes they wanted to play in the first trial - so it's only fair if no tapes are played. The defense argues there are some gaps in parts of the tapes that could be misleading.
The trial is scheduled to begin in April.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan says she will have a team of 150 investigators monitoring Tuesday's elections statewide.
Madigan said Monday that the goal is to make sure polling places are accessible and voting rights are protected. On Sunday, Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez says there will be "zero tolerance'' for any illegal election activity. She said 200 assistant state's attorneys will be assigned to election duty in all of Chicago's wards.
Madigan says voters should report any suspected improper or illegal election activities. She reminded voters that they have the right to vote if they are in line when polls close at 7 p.m. She also says voters can receive replacement ballots if they've made a mistake before they cast their vote.
The head of one of Central Illinois library system says the merger for all state library groups planned for July 1 leaves mostly unanswered questions at this point.
Beverly Obert is Executive Director of the Decatur-based Rolling Prairie Library System, which covers all or part of 12 counties just to the west of the Champaign-based Lincoln Trail system. Obert said the only thing for certain is many jobs will be lost when nine Illinois library systems combine into just two, and her office is no exception.
"Because as we consolidate we will not need four directors, four fiscal agents, four whatever, whatever," Obert said. "There will be some reductions in staff. That is going to be difficult, because some people will lose their jobs. We do not know yet who those people will be. We are hoping to have a better idea of that so we can tell staff exactly what's going to happen by April 1st."
Obert said asking all staff to re-apply for jobs will be the only fair way to handle the merger, and said said it is also unclear whether her office will close. But Obert said she expects no break in services to member libraries in July.
"They will still have their automated catologues where they can borrow from, and there will still be delivery systems that will move materials between libraries," she said. "Those were the two key things that most of the libraries really depend upon. Those will be in place July 1. What we may not have in place and available for them are things like continuing education and consulting."
Meanwhile, the director of one of the smaller libraries in the Lincoln Trail Libraries System says the merger could serve as an advantage. Tolono Library Director Janet Cler said having a smaller staff will enable the two library systems to better coordinate their services.
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