Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 16, 2012

GOP Congressional Hopefuls Present Ideas

The public got a look at many of the candidates hoping to replace U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson (R-Urbana) on the November ballot, even though a final nominee will be selected behind closed doors.

Despite the toxic atmosphere in Washington and a Congressional district that doesn't favor Republicans, representing the newly re-drawn 13th district is still a popular job. At least eight candidates have expressed interest in it. Johnson announced earlier this month that he will retire at the end of his current term.

Six of people vying to replace Johnson on the November ballot tested out their campaign running shoes on Monday in Bloomington at the Doubletree Hotel before an audience of party faithfuls.

"Overnight the 13th became a target on the pathway of Nancy Pelosi returning to power," said Congressional staffer Rodney Davis of Taylorville.

"We know Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats want to recover the House," said Assistant Illinois House Minority Leader Dan Brady (R-Bloomington). "They're opportunist and will invade if they smell there is a chance in a district."

"I'd like to beat Doctor (David) Gill a fourth time to make sure Nancy Pelosi does not become speaker again," said Congressional Chief of Staff Jerry Clarke of Urbana.

Politics is about making connections and most of the aspiring politicians have lot of networks. Three year State Sen. Kyle McCarter (R-Lebanon) said he can appeal to independents as shown by his results in Macon County

"Probably what I think is seen by Republicans as the tougher part of this Congressional District," McCarter said. "I won that area and I won Decatur, the toughest part of it by a thousand votes."

Former State Rep. Mike Tate one-ups McCarter saying he won Decatur five times in ten years before stepping down to raise a family. Tate said his children are grown now and he can pour himself into a Congressional race that will be enhanced by his business connections as CEO of the Independent Insurance Agents of Illinois.

"In terms of a campaign operation, I can tell yah I have small business people, independent agents which are like the backbone of their communities," Tate said. "They live in small towns in Illinois and they're the kind of people that are on their church board, active in the rotary club."

There are about 200 days to go before the November election.

State Rep. Dan Brady (R-Bloomington) said the profile of a great candidate to deal with that short time frame looks a lot like him - an excellent campaigner. Brady said not only has he held office, but he has helped other Republicans, implying it would be their turn to help him if he is selected.

"I'm proud to say I've campaigned for candidates at every level from city council and county board to President of the United States," Brady said. "From my time as a young man helping to rebuild young Republican groups across the state to my present role as Assistant House Republican Leader, I've made service my driving force."

Brady also touted his name recognition, which could be code for having the same last name as a recent GOP candidate for Governor who did well in counties comprising the 13th district. Call it the Brady effect.

Two other candidates focused on the networks they would have if they won the race against Democratic Candidate David Gill in November.

Jerry Clarke is the current Chief of Staff for Congressman Randy Hultgren, former Chief of Staff for Tim Johnson and a longtime GOP staffer in Springfield. He emphasized his ability to navigate Washington.

"So I've seen the, up close the dysfunction of Congress, the endless gridlock, the out of control spending," Clarke said. "I think we can do better than that and I think I am ready to serve."

The threads that bind the system together are also a specialty of Rodney Davis of Taylorville, who for the last sixteen years has served as the special projects director for Congressman John Shimkus.

"I have helped countless constituents work through the bureaucratic red tape of Washington D.C. and the federal bureaucracy," Davis said. "I've been tasked with helping local leaders in 3 counties identify cost effective ways to address their local infrastructure issues."

A candidate with less of a resume chose to emphasize his social conservatism. David Paul Blumenshine of Bloomington mentioned the Trayvon Martin killing, trying to diminish it compared to the abortion issue.

"We're talking about rioting over a young man and another young man who got into an altercation and unfortunately somebody lost their life," Blumenshine said. "Since Roe v Wade was overturned we killed 50 million people."

Blumenshine incorrectly stated that Roe v. Wade had been overturned, when in fact it has not.

At least five of the 14 county party chiefs who will eventually make the call were watching the presentations. Although some may have already committed to an initial candidate, none are likely to go public with support ahead of a private get together late this month.

When the party had to hurriedly replace a candidate in the 11th district a few years ago, county chairs looked over all the resumes, polled each other, and then invited three finalists to make their cases in person before casting ballots weighted by population.

Illinois Republican Party Chair Pat Brady is charing the panel that will oversee the process of selecting a nominee. He has yet to announce the selection process.

Champaign and Macon Counties have the two largest chunks of the weighted vote in the selection for the 13th Congressional district race.

Champaign County Acting Republican chair Habeeb Habeeb has said that it is possible that a similar forum - like the one held in Bloomington - will be held locally.

The winner of that vote will face presumptive Democratic nominee and three-time candidate, Doctor David Gill in November.


(Photo by Charlie Schlenker/IPR)


A full set of links to county GOP chairmen in the 13th District is listed below.

Categories: Biography, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 13, 2012

Illinois Sees Spike in State Worker Retirements

The State Employees Retirement System says many government workers in Illinois are rushing to retire.

SERS Executive Secretary Tim Blair says more than 4,000 state workers will retire in the fiscal year that ends June 30. That's up more than 40 percent from last year's roughly 2,750.

The Mattoon Journal-Gazette reports ( ) that the push to retire is being driven in part by concerns about state government's multibillion-dollar budget deficit.

But discussions about changing Illinois' pension systems are a factor, too. Gov. Pat Quinn is expected to soon announce a plan to deal with underfunded pension systems.

But the state won't be able to simply leave the jobs open and save money.

Quinn spokeswoman Kelly Kraft said at least some of the retiring workers will have to be replaced.

Categories: Biography, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 13, 2012

Hayner Retiring as Chicago Sun-Times Editor

Chicago Sun-Times editor-in-chief Don Hayner has announced he is retiring after nearly 30 years at the newspaper.

The Sun-Times reports Hayner made the announcement Thursday afternoon. He will be succeeded by John Barron, who will be executive editor after three years as publisher. Hayner led the Sun-Times when it won a Pulitzer Prize for local reporting in 2011.

Hayner told staffers he decided to retire and it is "time to hand off the baton."

The 60-year-old Hayner started at the newspaper as a general assignment reporter. He was named editor in February 2009. He also served as city editor, metro editor and managing editor. He also was a lawyer who represented criminal defendants at the Cook County courthouse before working for the City News Bureau and the Chicago Tribune.

Categories: Biography
Tags: media, people

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 12, 2012

Champaign Resident Who Escaped Holocaust To Speak

A Champaign resident who escaped the Nazi Holocaust is sharing his story this weekend, as part of the Day of Remembrance events leading up to next week's Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Doctor Heini Halberstam was born in Czechoslovakia, and separated from his mother during the Nazi occupation. He believes she died in a labor camp. Halberstam said that changed his life forever.

"In 1938, I was 12 and a half, and I was on one of the Kindertransports," Halberstam said. "And as the train pulled out of the station, I suddenly knew that I would have to look after myself."

The Kindertransports were rescue missions that brought thousands of mostly Jewish children from Nazi-controlled territories in the months leading up to World War II. Halberstam grew up to become a mathematician specializing in number theory. He's now an emeritus professor at the University of Illinois.

Dr. Halberstam will speak about his experiences Sunday evening, April 15th, at 7, at a community-wide commemoration of Holocaust victims at Sinai Temple, 3104 W. Windsor Road in Champaign. He will also speak in Peoria at the Congregation Anshai Emeth Social Hall, 5614 North University Street, at the Holocaust Remembrance Day service on Thursday, April 19, at 6:45 PM.

(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)

Categories: Biography, Community
Tags: culture, people

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 11, 2012

Indiana Republican US Sen. Candidates Debate Before Primary

(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)

The two candidates vying for the Republican nomination in Indiana's U.S. Senate race debated Wednesday night in Indianapolis.

Richard Lugar has represented Indiana in the U.S. Senate for more than three decades, but State Treasurer Richard Mourdock hopes to change that by defeating him in the May 8 primary.

Lugar is respected for his foreign policy expertise, but Mourdock didn't shy away from taking stances on international issues on everything from defending Israel to the U.S.'s relationship with Russia.

"I think they are more foe than friend," Mourdock said. "Looking ahead, I think we are going to see more troubling times with Russia. We have to be a strong nation. We cannot withdrawal from the world. We've got to stop leading from behind."

Lugar said Russia is neither a friend or foe, but a country that the U.S. needs to deal with. Mourdock occasionally struggled answering intricate policy questions, meanwhile, that played more to Lugar's strengths.

In one case Mourdock seemed to errantly state that a federal ethanol mandate that started in 2005, began in 2011.

Both candidates think reducing the size of government and repealing the federal health care law are good ideas.

Mourdock touted his conservative credentials, but Lugar said his conservative roots go deep too, from his service in the Navy to managing a family farm.

"These are the conservative elements of my life and they are expressed in my votes," Mourdock said. "The work we have been doing both in the economy as well as in foreign policy to bring security for America."

In one of the clearest distinctions between the two men, Mourdock called for an end to corn ethanol subsidies, something Lugar has routinely backed citing Indiana's heavy reliance on agriculture.

The two even disagreed on what exactly ethanol subsidies do to the price of gas, with Lugar saying ethanol was helping to keep prices down and Mourdock saying they were making prices higher. Lugar praised ethanol saying it lowers the price of gasoline and helps Indiana farmers.

"It's a Hoosier product with Hoosiers producing it on farms here that have meant higher values for corn and certainly higher land values in this state."

On domestic issues, the two men often agreed with each other. Lugar at times sought to ally himself with Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, touting Ryan's budget plan, which has become a rallying point for many conservatives.

One exchange fairly defined the tenor of the entire race: When given the chance to shore up his weakest spot, by defining how he is a conservative, Lugar opted for a roundabout answer dealing with his family history and serving in the military.

"These are conservative elements of my life and they're expressed in my votes and the work we have been doing both in the economy as well as in the foreign policy to bring security for America," he said. "We understand conservative values."

The debate was a stark difference from a nasty Republican primary battle that has been dominated thus far by questions over Lugar's residency and his support for President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominees.

Lugar is facing one of his toughest election battles as he seeks a seventh term. A series of polls has shown the tea-party backed Mourdock closing in on Lugar in recent months and conservative groups have upped their attacks in the last two weeks on the longtime senator.

As of last week, a trio of outside groups supporting Lugar had bought $370,000 worth of airtime across the state, while the Club For Growth alone had bought roughly $735,000 to oppose to Lugar.

Super PACs have sprouted up as a potential force in the Senate race, with two forming to back Lugar, and Lugar opponents splitting their spending between the parent group and the PAC.

By far the biggest spender in the air wars, however, has been Lugar himself, who has bought roughly $1.9 million of airtime. Mourdock has paid for $360,000 of airtime, according to spending totals maintained by Indiana Democrats.

Meanwhile, Congressman Joe Donnelly of South Bend, Indiana is running unopposed in the Democratic Primary for the Senate seat.

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings, Pool)

Categories: Biography, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 11, 2012

Illinois and the Politics of ‘ObamaCare

As the country waits for the U.S. Supreme Court to decide the fate of President Obama's health care act, the president's home state has been working to implement it. But some legislators want to hold off. They hope the court will kill the legislation, or that it would be repealed if a Republican is elected president this fall.

While the Supreme Court case has gotten most of the attention, there's been a state-by-state effort to block major parts of the health care law. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare, encourages states to set up insurance exchanges -- groups that will pool insurance offerings in an attempt to make them more affordable. But the law does not require states to do this, and that's where conservatives see an opening to weaken the Affordable Care Act.

"Regardless of what you think about the federal health care law, if you support it or oppose it, there are so many unanswered questions, it really doesn't make sense for states to jump into an exchange at this point," said Christie Herrera, director of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a nationwide group of conservative state lawmakers.

Herrera has been urging states to reject their role in the Affordable Care Act. Her organization even published a pamphlet: "The State Legislators Guide to Repealing ObamaCare."

"I think Illinois still has the opportunity to pull out of the health insurance exchange," Herrera said. "Legislation stalled last fall. Indiana, your neighboring state, is in a similar position where they said we're going to jump in, and now they're having second thoughts. So it's not too late for Illinois to reject the health insurance exchange."

State Rep. JoAnn Osmond (R-Antioch) introduced several measures to prevent Illinois from implementing any part of the law until all the legal challenges are decided. She said there are still too many unknowns -- that the administration has been giving out information in bits and pieces.

"I think that the federal government is having just as many problems as we are on state level trying to figure out what works best, and what's going to help our people and our citizens to have access to health care," Osmond said.

A lot of Republicans say ObamaCare is bad policy. But Osmond acknowledges that is not the only reason to oppose it.

"Well I'd be naive to say that this bill is not political," she said. "This bill is political."

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said there are people, especially Republicans, cheering for the program to fail.

"They don't want a victory for President Obama," Durbin said. "Many of them resent any involvement of the federal government in our health care of our nation. Even though when it comes to Medicare, veterans' care and many other aspects of health care, the federal government has played an important role in providing adequate, affordable health care for decades."

Durbin said he is worried about the political tone of last month's arguments before the Supreme Court. But he also said so much of the health care act has already been implemented, it could be impossible to turn back. He said the country is on a path that won't change.

"This law is pointing us in an inevitable direction in America to bring everybody into the peace of mind of insurance coverage and to do something to reduce the increase in cost we face every year," Durbin said.

But that depends on the Supreme Court, and on who wins this fall's elections. As both sides acknowledge, the Affordable Care Act has become a politically dicey issue.

At stake is campaign cash from the insurance industry and the natural urge of politicians not to take action on anything controversial in an election year.

Many conservatives campaigned against the Affordable Care Act in 2010, and with Republicans and Democrats pitted against each other in new districts across Illinois, it's likely to be an issue again this year.

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 06, 2012

Clarke Will Try For Johnson’s Seat

A Sangamon County native will join the race to replace retiring Congressman Tim Johnson. Jerry Clarke, a former aide to Congressman Tim Johnson and Illinois House Republicans, plans to make an official announcement Monday.

Clarke, 46, is also a veteran of the Iraq War. More recently, he has been Chief of Staff for another Congressman, Republican Randy Hultgren.

Clarke says he likes his chances since Champaign County contains the largest weighted vote due to the number of Republican ballots cast this year.

He says the nature of debate in Washington now is killing the economy

"I've seen the dysfunction of Congress up close," said Clarke. "The partisanship and endless gridlock and the failure to solve our serious problems. I think the people of Central Illinois see the impact of an incompetent Congress, and the lack of job growth, the bad roads, high taxes, and endless debt. I think we can do better, and I'm ready to serve."

Clarke calls Congressman Johnson his mentor. The 46-year old Clarke also served on the staff of the Illinois House Republicans. He's a native of Pawnee in Sangamon County.

If Clarke is elected to Congress, he says the public should expect a similar voting record.

"We're pretty close, so I'll ask him to support me when the time is right," Clarke said. "I've been a chief of staff for the last 12 years out in Congress, I'd like to take a shot at running myself."

Tim Johnson made a surprising announcement this week that he will step down after his current term. County Republican leaders in the new 13th Congressional District will choose his replacement.

The new district stretches from the Champaign area on the east across Central Illinois, including Springfield and Decatur. Others who have expressed interest in the vacancy include state representatives Adam Brown of Decatur, Chapin Rose of Mahomet and Dan Brady of Bloomington. Senator Bill Brady of Bloomington said he won't try for the job.

Clarke kicks off a tour of the 13th District with stops in Urbana and Springfield on Monday.

Meanwhile, Dan Brady says he will be evaluating lot of factors before he decides whether to try to make that leap, including his own growing seniority in the State House.

"It was a major concern of not seeking to run for the state senate because of the fact of where I am in the (Illinois) House - and earning my stripes so to speak, and what I could to more to help my legislative district," Brady said.

Brady says he also recently took on a new business venture as a partner in a funeral home. He says the 13th district includes very little of McLean County. He says that could boil down to Champaign and Macon County Chairs effectively making the pick.

Categories: Biography, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 04, 2012

US Rep. Johnson to Retire

(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)

Six-term Congressman Tim Johnson (R-Urbana) plans to announce he is leaving Congress at the end of his current term.

Johnson, 65, will make a formal announcement on Thursday. He recently won his party's nomination in the re-drawn 13th Congressional District, defeating two challengers.

Johnson's office issued a press release, stating only that an announcement is scheduled for 3 p.m. Thursday at the Urbana City Council Chambers.

The re-drawn Congressional district contains Champaign-Urbana, Bloomington-Normal, Decatur and Springfield, and trades away Republican strongholds in the northern part of the old 15th district in exchange for Democratically-leaning Madison county and Metro East area of St. Louis. The re-drawn district includes a large rural constituency and University communities.

Kent Redfield, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Springfield, said there is now a strong possibility a Democrat could take his seat.

"It really will depend on the eventual candidates, and then it will depend on national money," Redfield said. "That was a complex question to begin with, and it just got more complex."

Pat Brady is chairman of the Illinois Republican Party. He says the timing of Johnson's announcement wasn't unexpected, thanking Johnson for his six terms in office.

"He's been one of the hardest working public servants I've ever known, and I hope he enjoys he does whatever he does next," Brady said. "We're going to go a fair, open, and transparent process and pick the best candidate to win that district, and the Democrats have done us a big favor by nominating the most liberal Democrat they could find in the state."

Brady was referring to Bloomington physician David Gill, who appears to have won the Democratic nomination over Matt Goetten in the March 20 primary. However, that result will not be certified by the State Board of Elections until April 20. Goetten has challenged the results. So, more than two weeks after the primary, it is possible that neither party has a clear nominee.

"Open seats are usually the best opportunity to win a Congressional race," Gill spokesman Michael Richards said in a statement. "In this D+1 seat that President Obama won by double digits (11 points), David is ready to take on whatever corporate-backed politician Republican party bosses handpick to replace Johnson."

Brady named State Representative Dan Brady, former state GOP executive director Rodney Davis, and former Johnson Chief of Staff Jerry Clarke as possible candidates to replace Johnson. Brady says he's meeting with lawyers Thursday, and says the process for naming a nominee will be slow and methodical.

One of Johnson's two Metro-East opponents in the March primary, Michael Firsching, says the Congressman didn't seem as involved as in prior campaigns.

"It's a little bit disappointing to have someone who ran in the race who really wasn't intending to follow through to the seat," he said. "Again, maybe he was and this was a recent change for him. But I didn't have the impression that he had been engaged as he had been in the past."

Firsching says he'd be interested in pursuing the Republican nomination, and hopes the party considers him before endorsing any other names. But Firsching says the GOP can't be overconfident, or it's possible a Democrat is elected to the 13th District this fall.

A replacement candidate would be chosen by county officials from the congressional district, according to Habeeb Habeeb, interim chairman of Champaign County's Republican Party.

Johnson has sometimes taken positions at odds with most members of his party. He called last year for an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and last month endorsed Ron Paul for president.

Johnson is a lawyer and University of Illinois graduate. He was first elected to Congress in 2000, after serving in the Illinois General Assembly since 1976. Before that he was a member of the Urbana City Council. Leaving now, he will have never lost an election.

While it is unknown at this point what Johnson would do after he leaves politics, he did hint at one possible career a few months ago. In January, he held a press conference describing a bill he planned to introduce that would allow members of Congress to work jobs outside of public office.

"I don't think those of you who know me think that I'm probably going to vegetate," Johnson said. "I'm not going to sit home and watch All My Children - soap operas all day. I probably want to do something else, and yes, if this bill passes, I would very much consider going back to the law practice. And that might be something I would do at some point in the future anyway."

(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)

Categories: Biography, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 04, 2012

US Rep. Shimkus Talks about Health Care, Energy

Congressman John Shimkus (R-Collinsville) is running for re-election in the re-drawn 15th Congressional District, which includes parts of Champaign County, and all of Vermilion, Douglas, Edgar, Coles and Moultrie Counties.

Last week, Shimkus sat in on the U.S. Supreme Court's final day of hearings about the federal health care law. He told Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers that there are parts of the law he supports, but he said requiring people to purchase health insurance or pay a penalty goes a step too far.

He also discussed a bill he has introduced that would protect retailers, engine manufacturers, and fuel producers from lawsuits related to E15, a new fuel combination that is made up of 15-percent ethanol. And Shimkus looks ahead to the November general election.

(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)

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