Illinois Public Media News
With the expectation that Illinois will lose one of its congressional seats, the state's politicians are poised to begin their once-a-decade finagling over drawing the state's political boundaries based on new census data.
On Tuesday, Census Bureau officials plan to release initial population estimates for the nation. A continuing population shift from the north to the south and west means Illinois is likely to lose one of its 19 seats in the House, and the clout that goes with it.
While nationally the reapportionment is expected to help Republicans, Democrats in Illinois have an advantage because they control both chambers of the General Assembly and the governor's office, which are tasked with determining how the new political lines are drawn.
Census data so far suggests new Hispanic-dominated districts could emerge, particularly with growth in some Chicago area neighborhoods. States are required under the Voting Rights Act to respect the interests of minority voting blocs.
Other scenarios include a lost seat in downstate Illinois, which has lost population.
"It could be good news for Democrats," said U.S. Rep. Phil Hare, who lost a former Democratic stronghold to tea party-backed GOP challenger Bobby Schilling in November, but could benefit from redrawn lines if he decides to run again in 2012.
Pat Brady, chairman of the Illinois Republican Party, warned that the GOP would push back if the Democrats in Springfield become too "heavy handed" and don't cooperate in creating new congressional and legislative districts that are competitive for both sides.
He appealed to Gov. Pat Quinn to make sure that Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton play fair.
"When it's too much one-party control, there's unintended consequences, and it's going to backfire," Brady said. "I don't think for a second that (Illinois House Speaker) Mike Madigan's not going to shove this right down our throat."
Steve Brown, a spokesman for Madigan, said that the Illinois process will comply with federal election laws. "That makes who's in the majority, who's in the governor's office, not nearly as important as some of the hand-wringers want you to think," he said.
So-called redistricting is a tedious and politically charged process that protects strongholds, affects influence in Washington and makes or breaks political careers. The task over the next few months is analyzing population data while considering geography, race and political interests so legislators can re-divide the state's population into nearly equal pockets.
"Redistricting is the most political activity that occurs in a decade," said Chris Mooney, a political science professor at the University of Illinois in Springfield. "It's almost purely about who gets what and who wins what seat."
Officially, the state legislature comes up with a plan and approves it like a bill. It also requires the governor's signature. In cases of deadlock, Illinois leaves the key decision over which party gets to draw the political map to random chance: One year, the secretary of state picked the winner out of Lincoln's stovepipe hat.
The process, outlined in the 1970s Constitution, can drag for months and undergo court challenges. Efforts to reform the system stalled earlier this year.
Each decade brings a set of unpredictable and unprecedented circumstances. This year is the first time since the current redistricting laws have been in place that Illinois has both a Democratic governor and Democratic-majority in both houses of the legislature.
The last time Illinois redrew its congressional map -- in 2001, when Republican George Ryan was governor and the state Senate was Republican majority -- the state also lost a seat.
Two Illinois congressmen, then Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Democratic U.S. Rep. Bill Lipinski, came up with a plan that largely protected incumbents. But it left out Democratic Rep. David Phelps, whose district was combined with others.
State Sen. Kwame Raoul, a Chicago Democrat, heads a committee which has been looking at overhauling the state's redistricting laws. He said there has been surprisingly little chatter on new boundaries so far, which he believes means the state legislature will maintain a central role instead of "just punting to the congressional delegation."
The sprawling 17th District, which the GOP's Schilling just won, hugs a long stretch of the state's western border, but juts into central Illinois to include Decatur and portions of Springfield. Hare said lines could be drawn to pick up more Democratic areas from Republican Rep. Don Manzullo's 16th District.
Another scenario includes making two districts from the 17th District and two others represented by Republican Congressmen Aaron Schock in the 18th District in west-central Illinois and Tim Johnson in the 15th District, which covers a chunk of eastern Illinois.
Brady said he doesn't see any district being particularly safe, and that any of them -- Democratic or Republican -- could be subject to change. And he said he's confident that GOP candidates will be competitive, especially those who won in November.
"No matter how they slice and dice it, we're going to have good candidates," Brady said.
The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) is investigating nearly four dozen cases in which people became sick with salmonella after eating at Jimmy John's restaurants in nine counties, including Champaign, McLean, and Cook.
The reported incidents took place between November and early December. No new cases of salmonella have been reported in the last couple of weeks, according to the IDPH. However, the agency is continuing to investigate the outbreak.
"Right now the Department of Public Health is investigating the producers and suppliers of alfalfa to determine where the potential beginning of this problem is," said Tom Green, a spokesperson with the health department. "While the investigation is ongoing, there's no reason for people to stop going to Jimmy John's because of something that happened in November and early December."
Green said not all of Jimmy John's restaurants get their sprouts from the same vendor. A company spokesperson said it closely monitors its food suppliers, and will remove the sprouts from its sandwiches if there is a health warning.
People who eat alfalfa sprouts and become ill with diarrhea and a fever should contact a physician, said Green. Illness usually wears off after three to seven days.
The companies working with the U.S. Department of Energy to develop the FutureGen clean-coal project say they've cut the list of six potential carbon dioxide storage sites to four.
The FutureGen Alliance announced Monday the city of Quincy and Pike County north of St. Louis are no longer being considered, but Tuscola in Douglas County is still being considered. Other sites under consideration include Christian, Fayette and Morgan counties.
"This next step in the site selection process keeps FutureGen 2.0 on track," said U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) in a press release. "While the geology was not ideal in the communities that received disappointing news today, the four communities that remain in competition will now have the opportunity to strengthen their proposals. Hosting FutureGen 2.0 in Illinois will create thousands of good-paying jobs and put our state on the forefront of clean coal research and technology."
Morgan County in western Illinois is the location of the power plant FutureGen plans to refit with newer technology. Carbon dioxide from the coal used at the plant in Meredosia would be piped to the underground storage site. The Energy Department earlier this year scrapped plans to both build a new FutureGen plant and store CO2 in Mattoon.
The FutureGen 2.0 project and pipeline network is expected bring in around 1,000 jobs to downstate Illinois and another 1,000 jobs for suppliers across the state.
The alliance said it expects to pick a site in February 2011.
The committee has been named, and a website is up and running for the search for a new vice president/chancellor for the University of Illinois Urbana campus.
U of I spokesman Tom Hardy said the website will be providing information to two different constituencies.
"One, it's a portal for those who might be interested in the position - getting information about the search and then going deeper into the website to learn more about the campus itself and the university itself," Hardy said. "And it's also a way to keep the very many constituents of the campus as to what's going on, who the members of the committee are."
Hardy said the website will eventually feature the formal position announcement and white paper describing the job duties and the U of I Urbana campus, and he said it will also include a Facebook link, and information about upcoming town-hall style meetings --- as ways to gather input from the university community.
"(The search committee) was done in the presidential search process earlier this year, that resulted in Mike Hogan coming on as president," Hardy said. "I think that the search committee for the president and everybody involved viewed those as beneficial. And again, it's just another kind of two-way communications tool that the committee can use."
With the announcement of the Urbana Chancellor Search committee, the U of I is now looking for two new vice-president/chancellors --- one at the Urbana campus, and another at Springfield. In Urbana, Richard Herman resigned last year, and interim Vice-President/Chancellor Robert Easter plans to retire once a successor is found. In Springfield, Harry J. Berman became interim vice-president/chancellor, after Richard Ringheisen stepped down at the end of October.
Hardy said the U of I hopes to have new chancellors in place at both campuses in time for the fall 2011 semester.
The members of the Urbana Chancellor Search Committee are:
FACULTY Douglas Beck, Physics (Chair) James D. Anderson, Educational Policy Studies Nicholas Burbules, Educational Policy Studies Andreas Cangellaris, Electrical/Computer Engineering Kim Graber, Kinesiology and Community Health Anne D. Hedeman, Art and Design William Maher, University Library/ Archives Robert Warrior, American Indian Studies Matthew Wheeler, Animal Sciences
ACADEMIC PROFESSIONAL: Tim Barnes, International Programs and Studies
STAFF Debbie Kemphues, Office of the Provost and VCAA
STUDENTS: Amy Allen, Engineering Carey Hawkins, Grad. (Law/Education) David Olsen, Business
DEAN Ruth Watkins, Liberal Arts and Sciences
Conservation groups upset over a plan to reuse a former Army weapons facility in western Indiana say the group charged with finding a new role for the property is not addressing concerns about a restored prairie on the site.
The Newport Chemical Depot Reuse Authority hopes to develop a business and industrial campus on 11 square miles at the Vermillion County site that once produced and stored the deadly VX nerve agent. Conservationists tell the Tribune-Star that the plan would destroy all but about 44 acres of the state's largest restored black-soil tallgrass prairie. They want the group to reconsider.
Phillip W. Cox of the Wabash Valley Audubon Society says the Army spent nearly $128,000 from 1994 to 2005 to restore 336 acres of tallgrass prairie.
Students Adopt StoryCorps Model to Learn English
Every week on NPR, people share their memories and stories on the long-running series, StoryCorps. As Illinois Public Media's Sean Powers reports, a Champaign elementary school is adopting the StoryCorps model - complete with musical backgrounds -- as a way to teach English.
A new $5.5 million federal grant through the U.S. Department of Agriculture is trying to tackle childhood hunger.
The program will solicit research projects from across the country to study reasons people go hungry, and the effectiveness of food assistance programs.
Craig Gundersen, a consumer economics professor with the University of Illinois, will work with the University of Kentucky Center for Poverty Research to identify studies eligible for funding. Gundersen said he hopes this program will unlock some of the mysteries surrounding childhood hunger.
"We don't understand why some children are suffering from hunger and others are not," he said. "There really hasn't been any research on that. We're also trying to find out what causes all of a sudden a child to be in a household not suffering from hunger. Then all of a sudden, he or she is a household where they do suffer from hunger."
According to U.S. Census Data, within a four year period, the number of households in Illinois on food stamps went up by more than a hundred thousand. Around 60-percent of those households had children under the age of 18.
Local efforts to address childhood hunger with groups like the Eastern Illinois Food Bank have been successful, according to Gundersen. In 2009, the USDA devoted more than $60 billion to fight childhood hunger. This new grant seeks to help put an end to it by 2015, a deadline set by the Obama administration. However, Gundersen raised doubt over whether that is a realistic timetable.
The deadline to submit research proposals for the grant program is March 10.
Residents of Illinois' capital city said goodbye to their leader Saturday, tossing flowers at Springfield Mayor Tim Davlin's hearse as it carried his body past city hall, the Statehouse and the state fair's grounds for the last time.
Hundreds of mourners packed Springfield's Blessed Sacrament Church for funeral services, one day after thousands paid their respects during visitation. Davlin's daughter, Tara, gave an emotional speech during the service, The (Springfield) State Journal-Register reported.
Tara Davlin read a thank-you note she'd written her father last October during a trip to Ireland. The note thanked him for walking her down the aisle at her wedding, holding her hand while she delivered her children and for her thick skin.
She said her father had asked her to read the note at his funeral.
"I had no idea it would be so soon," she said.
Friends at the service remembered Davlin for his infectious smile and deep love for his family, city and the Chicago Cubs.
The mayor died Tuesday morning from a close-range gunshot wound to the chest. His body was found by Springfield officers responding to a 911 call. An autopsy indicated the 53-year-old Democrat fired the fatal shot himself.
Residents stood along the street as Davlin's body was driven past the city's landmarks, led by city police and fire vehicles. At city hall, supporters tossed carnations onto the hearse in honor of Davlin's St. Patrick Day parade tradition of handing out the flowers.
The procession ended at Calvary Cemetery, where Davlin was to be buried.
Davlin was to have appeared in court Tuesday to address questions about his handling of the estate of a cousin who died in 2003.
He had been mayor of the city with 120,000 residents since April 2003. He told Springfield radio station WFMB last month that he would not seek a third four-year term next spring because he wanted to leave office before getting burned out. Davlin, who had four children and four grandchildren, insisted then that financial issues had nothing to do with that decision involving the nonpartisan post he called "grueling."
Staab Funeral Home, which handled arrangements, said contributions may be made to the Timothy J. Davlin Grandchildren Scholarship Fund in care of Heartland Credit Union or to Blessed Sacrament Church's building fund.
(Photo by Jenna Dooley/IPR)
Champaign city leaders may have taken the wraps off a new public recreation space southeast of downtown, but it is still covered in a thick layer of snow.
Beneath the snow is a new detention basin, the latest phase of the Boneyard Creek flood control project that's been decades in the making. However, city councilman Michael LaDue says the 11-million dollar Second Street Reach project is much more than just a place to hold excess water.
"On the ground it looks better than it looked on paper, and every effort was made by highly trained professionals to make it look as good on paper as possible," LaDue said during Friday's ribbon-cutting ceremony. "This beats the schematics. This is spectacular."
The pond is surrounded by walking paths, water features and a small amphitheater. Work also surrounded a stone-arch bridge in a corner of the park, one of the original bridges over Boneyard Creek from the mid 19th-century. City planner T. J. Blakeman said some additional work still needs to be done on the site - much of it to be done in the spring. But he said the walking paths are now open to the public.
(Photo by Tom Rogers/WILL)
University of Illinois administrators want its Extension service to develop a campus-level location to better promote its mission and fundraising.
The campus review of Extension has been completed, in a year when some offices have closed and jobs have been cut. But the report does not suggest eliminating any more jobs. In the latest of cost cutting measures entitled 'Stewarding Excellence', Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Richard Wheeler said Extension should consider moving from its current location within the school of ACES to a campus level position.
The letter co-signed by Vice President and Interim Chancellor Robert Easter also suggests that would increase U of I Extension's visibility and opportunities for funding. But Wheeler says a lot has yet to be determined, including making sure that any further re-structuring be done while considering USDA regulations.
"Making sure that we are staying within the permissible ranges of that extensive regulatory system, and the funding mechanism for that matter," Wheeler said. "Most of extension money comes from outside the campus, and will be very crucial. But I don't think any of us can anticipate exactly what organization will emerge at the end."
The 'next steps' for U of I Extension also asks that its Interim Dean Robert Hoeft and Associate Chancellor Bill Adams generate a plan to implement these recommendations, which include combining the functions of Public Engagement and Extension into one office to 'bring coherence to an outreach portfolio that has traditionally been diffuse and poorly aligned.'
They are to develop a preliminary report by early spring. Wheeler says there's no clear-cut model from other states for running the extension service. He said the present model has just worked for Illinois, since the programs involve more than agriculture.
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