Illinois Public Media News
Indiana Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels says he'll decide soon whether he'll run for president in 2012.
But he says he doesn't have a timetable for announcing the decision once it's made.
Daniels said Tuesday that he's really only focused his attention on the decision since the legislative session ended in late April. He laughed at speculation that he would announce his plans at the Indianapolis 500 or sometime after the May 29 race.
Daniels spoke before meeting with Indiana agency heads to review improvements in state government.
The former White House budget director is being widely recruited by Republicans who hope his fiscal conservatism would appeal to voters alarmed by the national debt and big government.
Defense attorneys for former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich are paying a steep price for the tactics the team employed in the first trial.
They used a number of tricks in the first trial which resulted in a hung jury on most of the counts against Blagojevich. The most notorious trick was probably when they promised the governor would testify, but then they reneged.
Judge James Zagel said he gave them leeway because he thought Blagojevich would testify, but he said he's not going to do that this time. That was evident Monday as defense attorney Sheldon Sorosky tried to cross examine a former Blagojevich aide, John Wyma.
Prosecutors had subpoenaed Wyma in 2008 about some of his work as a lobbyist and he's testifying under a grant of immunity.
Sorosky tried to ask questions about Wyma's cooperation to suggest that Wyma got a free pass on his own legal troubles because he gave up the governor.
Zagel stopped the questioning and told Sorosky that if he has problems with the way the prosecutors handle cooperating witnesses then he can file a complaint, but that's not relevant to this trial.
Illinois lawmakers face some big decisions in the next two weeks, including how much to cut the budget and whether to overhaul workers' compensation.
The spring legislative session is supposed to end by May 31, but there are still three different budget plans on the table. They're roughly $2 billion apart on how much to spend.
Now lawmakers must decide whether to back one particular proposal or come up with a compromise.
Lawmakers are also looking to lower business costs for injured workers. The chief dispute is whether employees will have to prove injuries are job-related.
Another proposal could affect the cost of electricity. Utilities are looking for more flexibility to increase rates to pay for investment in new technology.
State employees are starting to find out just how a proposed pension reform bill in Springfield would affect them.
People who are covered under the state's traditional pension plan would pay more into their pensions under the Republican-sponsored bill to start cutting into the deep state pension fund deficit. The State Universities Retirement System (SURS) is one of four systems facing scrutiny after years of state underpayments into their coffers.
Speaking on WILL's Focus program Tuesday morning, SURS director William Mabe said state pension benefits are not overly generous to begin with, especially since SURS members don't receive Social Security for their time working in state government.
He said the bill would let people choose a self-managed retirement plan that would let them avoid the increase.
"If they were to remain in the current plan, their contributions would increase, and they could increase significantly depending on how many people move out of the current plan into the new plan," Mabe said. "It's a very complex piece of legislation that's requiring a lot of analysis. We're having our actuaries look at it and our legal counselors heavily involved in reviewing it."
Mabe said SURS currently has pension liabilities of $30 billion but only $14 billion in assets. There are exceptions to the increased contributions for police and firefighters as well as judges - who may eventually have to rule on whether the bigger bite on employees' paychecks is constitutional.
The Champaign County Board will have three more maps with re-drawn board districts to consider when it meets Thursday night.
On a 9-to-2 vote, the county's redistricting commission has forwarded two revised maps from Champaign County's Regional Planning Commission, and one of two submitted by the Champaign County NAACP. The two 'no' votes came from Royal area Republican County Board member Ron Bensyl and public commission member Diana Herriott.
But the independent, 11-member panel declined to rank the approved plans known as 1F, 3D and NAACP design B in order of preference. Champaign County Board Democrat and commission member Michael Richards said his party's caucus still needs to review two of them.
"I would assume that if the NAACP likes map B, then the caucus will like it too, but that doesn't mean they won't like 3D," he said "We presumably will want to have a game plan going into Thursday. Right now there's no game plan from the Democrats as to which map we would prefer."
Redistricting commission chair Rick Winkel, a former Republican State Senator, said he would support any of the three.
"It's compact, it looks much better than earlier maps we were working with," Winkel said. "It meets the eyeball test and doesn't look like a map with all kinds of jigsaw puzzle parts. We had some concern about that. There was some criticism of the previous map. But I think it meets the criteria that the county board recommended to us."
Richards and County Board Democrat Alan Kurtz say both of those maps are compact, and contain a majority-minority district. But other commission members say the NAACP design weakens the rural vote. And 1F got its share of criticism for splitting Urbana into five districts. Two other maps were removed from consideration - one proposed by the NAACP, and the other by prior Democratic County Board Candidate Eric Thorsland.
Commission Chair Winkel said he would have preferred to examine one map at a time, but likes the low population deviation of the three designs forwarded to the Champaign County Board. But in case the board doesn't agree on one of them, the panel has tentatively set its next meeting for Wednesday, May 25th.
A search committee will begin seeking out a new athletic director at the University of Illinois.
Ron Guenther is retiring after 19 years on the Urbana campus. The 65-year old and one-time Illini football standout says age wasn't really a factor in his decision. Guenther says was still an emotional decision for him, one that he confirmed just a few days ago.
"It's actually bittersweet, as the way I looked at it," Guenther said in a noon hour conference call with reporters on Monday. "I think there is a point where emotionally, I was very convinced I was ready. I am going to do something else, I just don't know what it's going to be."
Guenther said he had been thinking about retirement since the start of the calendar year. He says the option for a two-year extension was there, but decided the middle of last week that leaving the position was the right option. But Guenther said it's still been an emotional time.
"Even my wife Meagan said two weeks ago 'are you sure this is what you want?' And the answer was 'I'm not sure," said Guenther. "But I know in my gut that institutions are much bigger than any one person, and that this was the time in my opinion to move to new leadership."
Athletic teams under Guenther made an Illini men's basketball Final Four appearance, and Illinois football teams made six bowl appearances. But he said achievements in those programs shouldn't overshadow others.
"The run we had in tennis... and the current run that we have going in men's golf," Guenther said. "I don't think there's any one particular thing that I look at. I drive around here (the Urbana campus) early in the morning before anybody gets in and I look at the buildings, and that's a piece of it as well."
Guenther said everything is place for the Illini football team to have success, coming off a Bowl win and retaining most of the staff. And he said there's good reason to be optimistic about the basketball team with 3 solid classes, and another coming in.
Guenther helped oversee the $121-million renovation to Memorial Stadium, and he says plans to upgrade Assembly Hall are also on the right track. Guenther said he admits U of I President Michael Hogan has a lot on his plate, and that opting for the two-year extension would have been one less thing for him to think about. But Guenther said Hogan's reaction was 'what's best for you?' as the two of them discussed his decision.
U of I Business Dean Larry DeBrock will chair the committee to replace Guenther, whose last day is June 30th. Guenther is a native of Elmurst who played Illinois football in the 60's, earning MVP honors in 1966.
The St. Louis restaurant company Panera says its experiment to open several "pay-what-you-want nonprofit restaurants" has been a huge success.
Customers at these special facilities order like normal, but the cashiers simply suggest payment amounts - what customers actually put into the donation box is up to them.
Panera founder and chairman Ronald Shaich says nearly 80 percent of customers pay the full prices or more.
"The singular thing we've learned is that humanity is fundamentally good," Shaich said. "People have essentially been doing the right thing. People get it, people respond to it, they don't abuse it. I think at first some people thought that they would abuse us."
All proceeds go toward a non-profit foundation as well as a job training program for youth.
Panera's first pay-what-you-want location was in opened in Clayton. The company has since opened two other facilities in Detroit and Portland, Oregon.
(Photo courtesy of TerryJohnston/Flickr)
Former Democratic Indiana House Speaker John Gregg promised supporters a fun and energetic campaign as he kicked off his bid for the governor's office in 2012.
Gregg filed paperwork Monday to create an exploratory committee for the governor's race and put up a campaign website. He plans to officially launch his full campaign with an event later, but met with supporters at an Indianapolis produce market Monday to talk about what he would bring to the governor's office.
Gregg is known for his homespun personality and quick wit. He says Hoosiers are tired of "divisive politics'' and want someone like him who can bring people together. That's a dig at Republican front-runner U.S. Rep. Mike Pence, whom Democrats are trying to portray as too conservative for mainstream voters.
University of Illinois Athletic Director Ron Guenther says he will retire after his contract runs out June 30th.
Guenther said in a news release Monday that he's been working with the university on a succession plan and a search committee has started looking for his replacement. Guenther had talked recently about possibly staying on after June to begin work on a planned renovation of the Assembly Hall.
Guenther's 19 years on the job have been marked by a number of sports-related construction projects. They include the recent $121 million renovation of Memorial Stadium. Interim Vice President and Chancellor Bob Easter praised Guenther for his integrity and high athlete graduation rates.
Guenther is a University of Illinois graduate and played on the football team in the early 1960s.
Declaring that Chicago is ready for change, Rahm Emanuel took the oath of office Monday, becoming the 46th mayor in Chicago's history and the first Jewish resident to occupy the office.
Nearly all of Chicago's top elected officials were on hand for the occasion, as were Vice President Joe Biden and several U.S. cabinet secretaries. The event also featured the swearing in of Chicago's new City Council, City Clerk Susana Mendoza and Treasurer Stephanie Neely.
During his inaugural address, Emanuel praised outgoing mayor Richard M. Daley and his wife, Maggie, for their lifetime of service, but declared that serious challenges lie ahead.
"We must face the truth," he said. "It is time to take on the challenges that threaten the very future of our city: the quality of our schools, the safety of our streets, the cost and effectiveness of city government, and the urgent need to create and keep the jobs of the future right here in Chicago."
Emanuel placed schools atop his list of priorities and vowed to push for quick, effective change - even poking fun at his own high-strung reputation in the process.
"As some have noted, including my wife, I am not a patient man," he joked. "When it comes to improving our schools, I will not be a patient mayor."
The inauguration ceremonies took place in the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, a park which became one of the signature achievements of his predecessor, the retiring mayor Richard M. Daley.
Emanuel's inauguration capped a whirlwind - and largely unexpected turn of events - that began with an appearance Emanuel made on PBS' Charlie Rose in April of last year during which the then-White House chief of staff publicly revealed his interest in becoming mayor of Chicago one day.
The comment made national news and stirred the political dust in the Windy City, but the speculation soon dissipated as most seasoned political observers expected then-Mayor Richard M. Daley to seek a seventh term in office. Little did most people know that Daley would stun the political world in September 2010 by announcing his current term would be his last.
Daley's decision not to seek re-election set off a scramble to fill the office he came to occupy for 22 years and created a political vacuum which Emanuel raced to fill. Within weeks, he'd stepped down as White House Chief of Staff and was given a presidential send-off that was carried live on local and national television outlets.
While the list of names of potential mayoral candidates stretched into the dozens, Emanuel's name was always on the short list of top contenders given his political and fundraising skills. In the end, just six candidates remained on the ballot, though it was unclear for weeks whether Emanuel would be one of them.
During much of the fall, Emanuel fended off a series of legal battles that focused on whether he was eligible to run for mayor. At issue was whether he met the minimum one-year residency requirement to be allowed on the ballot. The battle became a centerpiece of the election campaign until the Illinois Supreme Court ultimately ruled in his favor, just a few weeks before the February municipal elections.
On Election Day, Emanuel won a sweeping victory, winning a majority of votes cast and avoiding a run-off, reflecting strength in all corners of the city.
The election not only marked a changing of the guard for Chicago, but it also marked a return to elected public office for Emanuel. Previously, he served for three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives representing the legendary 5th congressional district on the city's north side. While in office, he earned a national reputation as a key architect of the Democrats successful strategy to regain control of Congress in 2006. Emanuel then left Congress in 2009 to serve as Chief of Staff to newly-elected President Barack Obama.
The move wasn't the first time Emanuel left the Chicago area to serve a president. He worked as fundraiser and key advisor to Democrat Bill Clinton during Clinton's 1992 campaign for the presidency and for most of his two terms in office thereafter. It was his work in the Clinton administration on such projects as the passage of the NAFTA treaty that earned him a reputation as a highly effective and fearsome political operator.
But Emanuel's beginnings in politics can be traced back to the man he succeeds as mayor, Richard M. Daley. He worked as a fundraiser for Daley, helping him win election to office in 1989. That experience and those connections helped pave the way for his career since.
"I have big shoes to fill," Emanuel said Monday. "Nobody ever loved Chicago more or served it better than Richard Daley."
(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
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