Illinois Public Media News

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 14, 2012

On Last Day Free, Blagojevich Offers Last Word

(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)

On his last full day of freedom, Rod Blagojevich gave a statement to reporters in front of his home on Chicago's North side.

Blagojevich first thanked people for their support over the last three years. He said the citizens of Illinois elected him twice to be governor of the state. He called that a privilege and an honor.

Blagojevich said he fought hard for the people during his time as governor and listed some key legislation that passed during his term. He faulted himself for possibly fighting too hard and not "having more humility."

The ex-governor paused as supporters chanted, "Free our governor," before turning his statement to address his wife Patti and his two daughters. He called going to prison the hardest thing he'd ever have to do.

"How do you make sense of all of this? What do you tell your children?" he asked.

Blagojevich regretted that he would be away from his daughters for more than a decade.

"It's hard for me to say that I have to go to prison. That's a hard word for me to say," he said.

His wife Patti stood by his side during the entire statement, trying to hold back tears. The ex-governor praised her for standing by his side and being a "great mom."

After his statement, Blagojevich didn't take any questions and the family returned to their home.

The 55-year-old Democrat is due to report to a prison in Colorado on Thursday to begin serving a 14-year sentence. He was convicted of 18 criminal counts during two trials, including charges that he tried to sell or trade an appointment to President Barack Obama's vacated U.S. Senate seat.

More than 50 reporters crowded onto the street near the former Illinois governor's home as television helicopters hovered overhead.

Neighbors and supporters hung a banner over the railing of Blagojevich's home that read, "Thanks Mr. Governor. We will pray."

Current Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn told reporters Wednesday the state is a much better place than it was on January 29th, 2009, the day Blagojevich was impeached and removed from office.

"We're going to have two governors, two former governors, in jail at the same time. That's something that we never, ever want to have happen," Quinn said. "And I think that it's important that the people of Illinois, who are good and true, always come out first."

Quinn said he wishes Blagojevich's family well.

Blagojevich had announced he'd make the statement starting precisely at 5:02 p.m., which enabled prime time news to lead with his remarks. Attorneys for the ousted Illinois governor say he wants to depart in a dignified way, without a media frenzy. That fueled speculation he'd try to slip out of Chicago undetected, but his spokesman says Blagojevich never entertained that idea.

(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 14, 2012

Sen. Durbin Discusses Disaster Assistance with FEMA

Illinois U.S. Senator Dick Durbin met Wednesday with the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to talk about assisting the southern part of the state damaged by deadly storms.

A tornado tore through the Harrisburg area last month, killing seven people.

Assistance from FEMA would help with repairs and rebuilding, but the agency denied the state's request for federal help. FEMA had ruled that insurance, charities and state money could cover costs linked to the storm that tore through five southern Illinois counties.

Speaking after the meeting with FEMA, Durbin said Illinois is getting another chance.

"I still feel confident, having seen this damage and compared it to a lot of other disasters, that we have a good fighting chance for this federal declaration," Durbin said. "I want it to happen, the people down there have suffered enough. Seven people lost their lives, a lot of folks are out of their homes, the community has just pitched in in every way possible to help out. This federal declaration will help a lot of people get back on their feet."

Speculating about why Illinois didn't receive assistance from FEMA the first time, Durbin said application materials gathered were lacking information. He said he expects FEMA to get a revised application in less than a week, and then make a decision within a few days.

Categories: Biography, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 14, 2012

Hastert Tours Illinois Campaigning for Mitt Romney

For the first time in twenty years, the Illinois G-O-P presidential primary will really matter. That is according to Dennis Hastert, former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Hastert stopped in the Quad Cities on Wednesday as part of a state-wide tour to garner support for Republican Presidential candidate, Mitt Romney. Hastert said after working with all of the Republican contenders over the years, he decided to support Romney.

"I have a lot of respect for Newt Gingrich. He's a smart guy and he's very articulate," Hastert said. "As you'll find with most of the people who worked with Newt aren't supporting Newt because he's sometimes very eccentric. You never know which direction at kind of a snap of a finger he'll decide to go."

Illinois voters will decide in next Tuesday's primary, how the state's 69 delegates will be divided.

So far in the campaign Romney is in the lead with 495 delegates with Rick Santorum in second at 252.

Categories: Biography, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 14, 2012

Sen. Candidates Rose, Pliura Face Off in Only Debate

The two candidates vying for the Republican nomination in Illinois' 51st State Senate district faced each other Tuesday in their only debate.

State Rep. Chapin Rose of Mahomet and Tom Pliura of Le Roy debated each other in Bloomington. Rose said his priority is getting Illinois' budget under control. He said his experience as a fifth-term State Representative will help him cut state spending.

"This year and this current budget we actually cut $2.8 billion out of the current budget. Now, the reality is we need to go beyond that," Rose said. "We need to cut more."

Pliura has never run for public office, but if elected, he has said he will serve no more than two terms. He said his own lack of political experience will shake things up in Springfield, unlike his opponent whom he referred to as "another career politician."

"We've got enough politicians down in Springfield," Pliura said. "We need some problem solvers. We can't blame the Democrats when we got to clean up our own house."

Illinois' Republican primary is next Tuesday.

Categories: Biography, Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 14, 2012

Woman Under Arrest For Giving Cell Phone to Jail Inmate

A Bloomington woman is under arrest, and accused of bringing contraband to an inmate at the Champaign County Jail.

The Champaign County Sheriff's Department says 24 year old Allyssa C. Solava was arrested by Bloomington Police today (Wednesday) and taken to the McLean County Jail.

Solava has been working at the Champaign County Jail for the past ten months as a mental health counselor, on the payroll of an independent contractor, Correctional Health Care Companies.

Sheriff's investigators allege that Solava brought contraband, including a cell phone, into the jail and gave it to an inmate. The Sheriff's office say it learned of the matter, when a citizen's complaint about late-night telephone calls led to jail guards discovering the phone.

Judge Richard Klaus set bail for Solava at a quarter million dollars. Champaign County Sheriff's investigators say additional charges against other people are possible in the case.

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 14, 2012

Champaign Council Initiates Grocery Bag Fee

Champaign city leaders have asked staff to set up a fee charged by stores for using plastic or paper bags.

Concerns in a city survey about bag litter prompted a 2-and a half hour discussion in Tuesday night's city council study session, and a 6 to 3 vote favoring the fee. All but a handful of comments favored the plan to encourage use of reuseable bags when buying groceries and retail items.

In an online city survey, nearly 900 respondents indicated they reuse the bags, but many were also concerned about the amount of litter they produce. Cindy Eaglan of Illini Recycling says she's all for using tote bags instead, but says Champaign should focus on other areas of recycling instead of taxing seniors who can't afford the fee, and driving consumers elsewhere.

"I will not be penalized to shop here," Eaglan said. "And that's basically what you're doing. Putting a tax on bags is simply a penalty for choosing to shop in Champaign."

Backers include current and former owners of Champaign Surplus. Dan Epstein says encouraging cloth or canvas bags will help his business.

"Whether it's a few pennies per pag, or 15 cents, or some of the other quotes that were (suggested), every time you do that, there's a cost," he said. "Being able to reduce bags helps all merchants. Certainly from Champaign Surplus' pespective, I know that reduce costs will help us create jobs."

Other supporters include 10 members of the University of Illinois' Students for Environmental Concerns, who displayed pictures of bags littering Boneyard Creek and farm fields. Council member Deb Frank Feinen says a fee shows the city wants to do something about the environment, and set a community standard.

"I'm not looking for a new tax to generate revenue to fill our budget gap," she said. "I'm looking for a disincentive for people to choose plastic or paper bags at the grocery store."

Council member Karen Foster voted against the fee, saying the city shouldn't legislate over a business' right to carry the bags. Foster says the city is 'nickle and diming' people to death, and can't afford another tax. Councilmen Will Kyles and Kyle Harrison also voted it down.

Champaign City Manager Steve Carter says it will likely be summer before a fee amount is decided and set up. Proceeds would go towards an education campaign on recycling.

The vote supporting the fee didn't include an outright ban on paper or plastic bags, which Mayor Don Gerard called 'egregious'.

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 13, 2012

Daniels Seeks Federal Debt Report ‘Reunion’ Tour

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels on Tuesday urged Congress to reconsider sweeping changes called for in a federal debt report he says has fallen by the wayside in the past year.

Daniels said he would like to see a "reunion tour'' of the sweeping report drafted by former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson and former Clinton aide Erskine Bowles in 2010. The report called for a mix of tax changes and spending cuts to tackle the national debt. It was circulated but never adopted by the bipartisan commission empanelled by President Barack Obama.

Daniels made the request on a conference call with the group No Labels, which group founder Nancy Jacobson said was heard by 20,000 listeners. Since announcing last year he would not run for president, Daniels has used appearances on the national stage to push spending cuts and entitlement reform while equally criticizing Obama.

The message is essentially the same as the one he laid out in his book released last year.

"I'd like to see a Bowles-Simpson Reunion Tour next year,'' Daniels said. "If we're going to embrace this problem, nobody's going to get 100 percent of what they're looking for.''

Obama established the 18-member national debt commission in February 2010. Since then, the recommendations made by chairmen Simpson and Bowles have often been referenced in Washington _ in everything ranging from the debt-ceiling debate to No Labels' current push to get a federal budget approved _ but have gained little traction.

Daniels' Republican colleagues in the presidential contest have moved away from a debt-centric message in the last few months as the national economy has gotten stronger, but Daniels remains focused on the issue.

"There's no difference between us, Greece and Portugal and these other countries teetering on the brink,'' Daniels said. "The only difference between us is a slight difference of degrees.

Categories: Economics, Government, Politics

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 13, 2012

Judge Nixes Part of Illinois Campaign Finance Law

A federal judge in Chicago has declared part of Illinois' campaign finance law unconstitutional.

According to the ruling, the state cannot enforce contribution limits on independent political action committees, which are prohibited from coordinating with candidates or political parties. Nationally they have become a big issue in the Republican presidential contest, with the so-called Super PACs spending millions of dollars.

The Illinois lawsuit was brought by Personal PAC, an abortion-rights group.

"We weren't taking a position on the rightness or wrongness of contribution limits," said Terry Cosgrove, who is Personal PAC's president. "We were just saying we wanted to be treated like everyone else."

Cosgrove said out-of state groups like Wisconsin Right-to-Life can already raise and spend unlimited amounts of money. He said until Tuesday's decision, that gave those other groups an unfair advantage.

"The playing field is now level, and we are very happy that we will be allowed to raise the necessary funds to advocate for reproductive rights in Illinois," Cosgrove said.

Critics say the ruling could open the way for Super PACs in Illinois. At the national level, Super PACs have become notorious for allowing millions of dollars to flow into the presidential contest.

"The district court ruling today opens the door to a whole host of committees," said David Morrison of the watchdog group, Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. "Not just the plaintiff in this case, but a whole bunch of groups could jump in with a lot of money. It could change the dynamic of a number of races around the state."

Opponents had asked the court to consider Illinois' history of corruption. But Judge Marvin Aspen based his ruling on a U.S. Supreme Court decision that says political contributions are a matter of free speech.

Categories: Government, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - March 13, 2012

Mahomet-Seymour School Bd OKs $700K Budget Cut

A Mahomet-Seymour school board member said the $700,000 in budget cuts approved Monday night were difficult to make, but unavoidable.

School Board Vice President Vicki Niswander said the reductions for the 2012-2013 school year were made necessary by cuts in state funding --- and the school district will feel the impact.

"You know, as a school district, most of our money goes into personnel," Niswander said. "That means that personnel are going to have to be eliminated. And that's probably going to mean administrators; it's going to be mean teachers. It's going to mean other support that. I have no idea at this point, how we're going to that, but we have to."

The cuts include the elimination of several teaching positions ---- some through attrition. Also, the district is eliminating most of its library assistants. Superintendent Keith Oates said the loss of the library assistants will have a real impact. He said they have done more for their school libraries than just check books in and out.

"There's a lot of reading assistance, book selection, book bags that go home, especially at the elementary level," Oates said. "So, there's a lot that goes on in our libraries, they're very high quality. And a very, very difficult decision to reduce those library assistants out. That will affect the service of our libraries, without a doubt."

The Mahomet-Seymour district will also close down enrichment programs at its two elementary schools, and end its junior high football program ---- although the district notes that they had already lost many participants to a community football program.

Oates saud the state funding cuts forcing them to make budget reductions are hurting schools throughout Illinois. He predicts the Mahomet-Seymour will have to cut up to $800,000 in the following school year as well. But Oates said the district will continue to strive for excellence, even as it resigns itself to making do with less money.

Categories: Education
Tags: education

AP - Illinois Public Media News - March 13, 2012

Illinois Lawmaker Arrested for Allegedly Taking Bribe

Federal authorities arrested an Illinois state representative from Chicago on one count federal bribery charge Tuesday. Democrat Derrick Smith represents the 10th House District, which includes sections of the city's West and North sides.

The U.S. Attorney's office said it has Smith on tape accepting a $7,000 cash bribe this past weekend. Prosecutors alleged Smith took the bribe in exchange for supporting a $50,000 state grant request from a daycare center.

According to the criminal complaint, it was all set up by a paid FBI informant who did campaign work for Smith. The informant's conversations with the representative were recorded, the complaint said.

A call and e-mail to Smith's office were not returned. He appeared in court Tuesday afternoon, but made no comment about the charges.

Smith has only been a member of the House since last spring, when, with the backing of Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, he was appointed to fill a vacancy.

"I am very disappointed with the conduct alleged in the charges," White said in a statement. "I am confident this case will be handled fairly and justly by the judicial system."

Smith's arrest came a week before Democratic voters pick between him and challenger Tom Swiss. Swiss said he thinks the news could actually cause problems for his campaign, by awakening Democratic leaders backing Smith who may have been taking the race for granted.

"This is going to alert everybody to this race and there's still six days left," Swiss said. "There's a lot bigger people out there with deeper pockets and larger armies that can come in and really do an awful lot of work."

Swiss is a former local Republican official who Democrats claim has run a racially-insensitive campaign in this West and North Side district.

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