Illinois Public Media News
The war in Afghanistan is nearing its 10-year anniversary, and Republican Congressman Tim Johnson of Urbana has signed a letter with three House Republicans and 57 House Democrats calling for an end to U.S. military operations in the country. The letter follows statements by the Obama administration setting 2014 as the key date when Afghan security forces should be ready to take control of defense operations.
At this weekend's NATO summit in Portugal, President Obama said he's confident the U.S. will be able to go ahead with its troop pullout plan from Afghanistan beginning in July 2011. Johnson told Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers that the war in unwinnable and dragging down the nation's debt.
(Photo courtesy of The U.S. Army/flickr)
Republican State Representative Shane Cultra is moving from the Illinois House to the Senate.
Cultra was named as a replacement for Treasurer-elect Dan Rutherford at the end of Saturday's day-long caucus meeting in Bloomington featuring GOP chairs from nine counties. The House lawmaker from Onarga will move into the Senate's 53rd District sometime in January, just before Rutherford is sworn into his new role.
McLean County GOP Chair John Parrott said Cultra's eight years of legislative experience won out.
"In these difficult times that are going on down in Springfield right now, a number of people felt on the committee that Shane has served the District well. He is knowledgeable of all the issues. He is a very strong conservative, and we feel that he will do an excellent job."
Cultra's home county of Iroquois made up just 11-percent of Saturday's weighted vote, which is the smallest of any of the counties making up the Senate's 53rd District. Cultra said it is 'humbling' to have been selected from an outstanding list of candidates.
"The slate of candidates was outstanding," Cultra said. "I really went in thinking that I wouldn't get passed the first round. So, I'm just very fortunate and blessed to have this opportunity to serve the people of the 53rd Senate District."
Six others sought the Senate seat, including U of I Security Consultant John Bambanek, Tazewell County Board Chair David Zimmerman, and Champaign County GOP chair Jason Barickman.
Barickman will apparently be promoted to the legislature anyway. Cultra said the six county Republican chairs making up his 105th House District will soon cast a unanimous vote for Barickman, but it is not clear when that vote will happen.
An East Central Illinois lawmaker says he will seek to derail a University of Illinois plan to shut down a center for police training.
University officials announced earlier this week they intend to close the 55-year-old Police Training Institute as part of a broader plan to cut costs. Chapin Rose (R-Mahomet) has suggested a plan to help subsidize the institute through a surcharge on people convicted of crimes.
"It's a concept that I've utilized in the past," Rose said. "We did the same thing on drug crimes to subsidize drug addiction task forces, and they're a pretty popular concept to taxpayers. Because why should the taxpayers be paying a cost when we could have the criminals themselves foot the bill for law enforcement training?"
Interim Chancellor Robert Easter said he wants to talk to Rose about the idea. Rose explained that his idea was actually suggested some time ago, but no administrators have responded to it until now.
"Parkland College inquired about opportunities to perhaps take it over, again keeping that economic development local here in Champaign County," he said. "But they (U of I administrators) didn't call them back either. I just wonder - how many $200,000 executives does it take to return a phone call at the U of I?"
Rose said he is insisting on a December 7th meeting with not only U of I leaders, but Democratic State House member Naomi Jakobsson and Senator Mike Frerichs, as well as a member of Illinois' Law Enforcement Training and Standards board. Rose said the Police Training Institute fits well with the U of I's mission.
Two candidates for countywide office in east-central Illinois don't want the election to be over yet. They suffered narrow defeats in the November 2nd election, and are taking the first step towards a possible recount.
The step provided under Illinois law is called discovery. Douglas County Sheriff candidate Fred Galey filed for a discovery inspection, which County Clerk Jim Ingram has scheduled for this coming Wednesday at his office at the courthouse in Tuscola.
"(Galey) is requesting that the ballots, the ballot box and voting machines be examined, and that any of the automatic tabulating equipment be tested, and the ballots and recorded votes be counted," Ingram said.
That process will be done for four precincts selected by Galey out of the 19 precincts in Douglas County. Under state law, the discovery process allows a review of ballots in up to 25 percent of a county's precincts. Ingram said he won't conduct the discovery himself, but will instead use the same vendors that provide election services to Douglas County.
The official ballot count in Douglas County shows Galey, an independent candidate, losing to incumbent Republican sheriff Charlie McGrew by 39 votes. Meanwhile, the balloting in Vermilion County shows Republican county clerk candidate Dennis Miller losing to incumbent Democrat Lynn Foster by just one vote. Miller says he also plans to file for discovery, once the vote is officially certified. Marietta West, who heads election services in Clerk Foster's office in Vermilion County, said certification is expected on Monday.
In both races, it is the petitioning candidates who pays for the discovery inspection, and it is up to them to decide if the discovery provides grounds enough to pay the additional expense of asking a judge to order a full recount. Douglas County Clerk Ingram said discoveries rarely lead to recounts. However, Miller, the Vermilion County sheriff's candidate, said he thinks his chances of convincing a judge might be better, because he only needs evidence of one discrepancy to offset his one-vote defeat.
The Champaign County Board has passed a resolution honoring four members whose terms are now up, including longtime Democratic members in District 9.
Steve Beckett was sworn in in 2000, and sat on six committees. He also served on a citizens' panel that sought funds to rebuild the County Courthouse Clock and Bell Tower. Beckett said it is an example of what the community can do for itself.
"It's absolutely amazing. The Clock and Bell Tower family that we gathered, and that we were able to raise the money that we were - and that were we able to get that project done because there are a lot of naysayers that said 'or right, you're really going to rebuild that tower," Beckett said.
Beckett said he is also proud of intangibles, like plans to re-draw county board districts, and an upcoming ballot item concerning the county auditor.
The other District 9 Democrat, Barb Wysocki, served 12 years on the board. In 2005, the former County Board Chair oversaw 'Big. Small. All.' a three-year visioning process for different interest groups.
"Some of these goals have been picked up by smaller organizations or groups like schools, park districts, and the like," Wysocki said. "And I think it really gave a lot more ownership to broader community needs in Champaign County."
Wysocki said she is the most pleased with budgetary planning efforts on the board, including building maintenance. Democrats Chris Alix and James Quisenberry will succeed Wysocki and Beckett next month.
One departing Champaign County Board member said one of the toughest votes in his four years was approving a consultant for the Champaign County Nursing Home. But District 6 Democrat Matthew Gladney said he is happy the board brought in Management Performance Associates, putting the home on the right track.
"It's still got a lot of kinks to iron out, but I think that it's a jewel in the crown of Champaign County," Gladney said. "That is something that I hope the next board looks at maintaining and improving as I think the board has done over the last few years here."
The consulting firm reports improvement in census numbers in recent months. Pattsi Petrie will take over for Gladney in District 6 when the new county board meets next month.
The lone Republican to leave the board is Chris Doenitz of Mahomet, who after 8 years on the board was defeated in the primary by Stephanie Holderfield in District 1. Doenitz said he hopes the new board remembers rural parts of the county.
"There is an area outside of Champaign-Urbana besides municipaities," he said. "There is a rural area out there that needs to be represented, and that's what I've tried to do. And I hope the next board remembers that. Especially if we go to 22 members."
This month's voter-approved resolution suggests the county board be reduced by six members, while increasing the number of board districts from 9 to 11.
Champaign County's METCAD 911 staff says a disruption to service this morning was the result of a cut cable on the University of Illinois campus.
A construction crew accidentally cut the cable at Illinois Street and Matthews Avenue, by the U of I's Noyes Lab, about 8-30 a.m.. METCAD says the worst of the problems were over in an hour, when some of its staff went to Rantoul's Police station to help anyone not getting through to the dispatch facility. Anyone in the county who's unable to use 9-1-1, should call 333-8911. Greg Abbott, METCAD's deputy director of technology, says if callers don't get a ring right away, they should use the alternate number.
So far, he says only a small part of Urbana was impacted. Abbott says it's a good thing the AT & T line was cut at a time when phone traffic is slow. "Usually once everybody gets to their offices or to school in the morning our call volume drops off until around noon," said Abbott. "So if it had to happen, that was probably a good time for it to occur."
The cut line has also affected phone lines to businesses in the area. Customers at the Urbana Schnuck's weren't able to use debit cards for purchases on Thursday. Abbott says the cut line impacted some banks and cell phone towers as well. A-T & T spokeswoman Brooke Vane there's been extensive damage to several cables and the company expects complete restoration to take several days. She says crews will be working around the clock. Vaine says splicing pairs of cables together at the same time is a tedious process.
Sen. Roland Burris' appointment by a disgraced governor made him an oddity and something of an outcast in Washington. But on Thursday he said that his time in the U.S. Senate, however short, was a "towering testament" to the American Dream.
Delivering a farewell speech on the Senate floor, Burris said he was proud of what he accomplished in just under two years in Washington.
"Together we have achieved passage of the most ambitious legislative agenda since the Great Depression," Burris said. He called his time in the Senate "the honor of my lifetime."
Burris cited more than 60 bills he sponsored and 300 others he co-sponsored during his time in office. He said he was particularly proud of his work on President Barack Obama's healthcare overhaul and increasing funding for Pell Grants.
The Democrat was appointed to the seat by former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Burris will make way for Republican Rep. Mark Kirk, who won an election to fill the remainder of Burris' term and a full six-year term on Election Day. Kirk will be sworn in after Thanksgiving.
Burris is the Senate's only black member and when he leaves, there will be none -- a fact Burris said was painful to him. He used much of his speech to call for more diversity in government.
The great-grandson of a slave, Burris said his time in the Senate was "a remarkable testament to our nation's ability to correct the wrongs of generations past," but also said that is departure is a "solemn reminder of how far we have to go."
"I am today the only black American member of this Senate ... when the one 112th Congress is sworn in this coming January, there will not be a single black American who takes the oath of office in this chamber. This is simply unacceptable."
Burris has not announced what he plans to do after leaving office, but is expected to return to Illinois.
Nine candidates are vying to fill out the remaining two years of State Senator Dan Rutherford's term in the 53rd district - now that he has been named Illinois' next Treasurer. Republican leaders from nine counties will caucus on Saturday, and may take a straw vote to narrow the field of candidates down to three or four.
But McLean County GOP Chairman John Parrott Jr said a final vote vote is not expected until after the Thanksgiving holiday, probably December 4.
The field widened Wednesday, when State Representative Keith Sommer of Morton withdrew from competition for family reasons. Onarga State Representative and Iroquois County Party Chair Shane Cultra said it only seems logical to pursue the seat after eight years in the House, and 14 years before that on the Iroquois County Board, but Champaign County GOP chair Jason Barickman is also pursuing the seat. Cultra noted that could be a problem in Eastern Illinois.
"Because we're splitting the vote over here, and there's several new people now that are entering the race from McLean County and I think there's possibly a couple from Tazewell County," Cultra said. "So on the first ballot, I don't see anyone having enough votes to win."
Sommer's decision revives the candidacy of Tazewell County Board Chairman David Zimmerman who had expressed interest until deferring to Sommer. Zimmerman said he would do well in Springfield.
"I think I bring a lot of things to the table," Zimmerman said. "One would be just a lot of common sense. And my experience on the county board has taught me that 'you know what? We just can't spend more than we have."
The other front-runner for the post had been Jason Barickman, a Champaign Attorney and Champaign County party chair.
The GOP chairs will conduct a weighted vote on Saturday, based on the counties' populations. The largest ones in the Senate district are Tazewell, McLean, and Champaign Counties,but Cultra contended that the senator may not even emerge from Saturday's vote since multiple ballots may have to be cast for one person to receive just over 50-percent of the vote. He said names with the fewest votes will be removed from the ballot on each attempt.
Other announced candidates include former Saunemin Mayor Mike Stoecklin, University of Illinois Security consultant John Bambanek, Tazewell County Board member John Ackerman, Washington Mayor Gary Manier, former Pontiac Mayor Scott McCoy, and McLean County Board Chairman Matt Sorenson.
Champaign's Virginia Theater is now without a marquee.
The sign that is been part of the theater since the 1940's came down Tuesday. The city's park district opted in June to replace it with one resembling the 1921 original.
Champaign Park District spokeswoman Laura Auteberry said it is likely the theater will re-open without the new marquee in place. The Virginia closed six months ago, so crews could redo the lobby, which included plaster and electrical work, and renovated concessions. Private donations paid for the project.
Preservationists have called the marquee the Virginia's most defining feature. Auteberry said the controversy that initially arose over replacing that sign prompted the park district to make it a separate project.
"We actually pulled it out of the original planning process for the renovation so that the (Park District) Board had an opportunity to further study what we were looking at doing, and the replacement options for the marquee" Auteberry said. "So the whole process just got started a little later than we had originally anticipated."
Auteberry said the Park District board will sign off on a design for a new marquee at its meeting next month. She said the board plans to hold a re-opening event, a kind of open house, sometime in January. The Park District contends a new marquee would show off more of the Virginia's architectural significance.
Preservation planner Alice Novak said the sign change could impact the theater's position on the National Register of Historic Places. She said she expects Illinois' Historic Preservation Agency will consider such a recommendation.
"It could possibly change the standing," Novak said. "I have no doubt that somebody will present materials to the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency to see about de-listing the building from the National Register."
Novak added that could hurt publicity for the old theater. She sits on the Illinois Historic Sites Advisory Council.
(Photo courtesy of Champaign Park District)
Illinois has nine casinos, and another is being built.
If a plan percolating in the General Assembly has success, Illinois' total count would jump to fifteen. There would be a city-owned one in Chicago, and others in suburban Ford Heights, a town near Waukegan, in Rockford, and in east-central Illinois' Danville. Scott Eisenhauer, the mayor of Danville, said the new casino would create about a thousand new, permanent jobs in the area.
"The other thing that is does for a community like ours is it brings tourism dollars to the community," Eisenhauer said. "We have some, but limited tourism attraction opportunities today. This boat would bring additional tourism opportunities, convention opportunities to our community. That again increases the amount of revenue our community could receive."
The measure's sponsor, State Senator Terry Link (D-Waukegan), estimated that adding the new casinos would generate an extra billion dollars for the state's coffers.
Another change would let horse tracks have slot machines. Anti-gambling activists warn of the social dangers associated with the legislation. They say adding casinos in Illinois would cost the state, which will have to pay more to help gambling addicts. Meanwhile, current casino managers say the expansion will lead to over saturation, and may shut their operations down. Link said they are just fearful of competition.
"Go to Las Vegas," Link said. "They just built what two or three new huge endeavors out there, and I didn't see any of the old ones close down. I didn't see 'for sale" signs put up on it. Did they take a little bit of a hurt there, yeah. But like I said, they're still making profit."
Details are still being finalized, but Link said the main tenants of the gambling expansion plan are solid. He added that he expects to call the legislation up for a committee vote Wednesday. However, despite Link's hopes of advancing the measure, Governor Pat Quinn has signaled his opposition.
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