Illinois Public Media News

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 05, 2012

An Emotional Congressman Announces Retirement

Congressman Tim Johnson (R-Urbana) announced Thursday that he will retire at the end of his current term. Johnson said family obligations are what compelled him to make this decision.

An emotional Johnson spoke at the Urbana City Building Thursday afternoon.

"I'm almost 66 years old, and my time is limited," Johnson said. "I've been serving in office for 44 consecutive years. I'm also the father of 9 children. I have 11 grandchildren, and 2 great-grandchildren. I've been a part-time father all those years, and that's not good enough."

Johnson is a lawyer and University of Illinois graduate. He said he will serve the remainder of his term, and then retire in January.

"My intention is to return in some way to the practice of law," he said. "I'll continue to be involved politically where appropriate, and continue to speak out as I see fit on the issues of the day. I also hope to be involved in teaching in some way or another. I will not be a paid lobbyist at any time in the future."

Johnson was considered a strong candidate for re-election in November. Now, it will be up to Republican County chairmen in the re-drawn 13th district to select someone to take his place. While there's no reason not to take the Congressman at his word, other reasons may have factored into his decision.

First, there is Johnson's unbeaten streak - he's never lost an election, whether as a member of the Urbana City Council in the 1970s, the Illinois House from 1976 to 2000, or in his six terms in Congress. By leaving now, he is guaranteed an unblemished election record.

That record might have been challenged this year, as the re-drawn 13th Congressional district trades away Republican strongholds in the northern portion of the old 15th District, in exchange for Democratically-leaning Madison County, and the Metro East area of St. Louis.

While Johnson is well known in Champaign-Urbana, Bloomington-Normal, Decatur, Springfield, and the rural areas surrounding those Central Illinois communities, he is less known by the electorate in the new left-leaning areas of the 13th District.

Johnson's announcement now - after the primary - also means GOP voters will not have a say in the nominee. Instead, Republican county chairmen in the 13th District will case weighted votes to determine who will replace Johnson on the ballot. . They may choose from a wide range of contenders, including current and former state representatives and senators - or even Johnson's former chief of staff, Jerry Clarke, who remains a resident of Urbana despite working for Wheaton-based Congressman Randy Hultgren.

Habeeb Habeeb is the interim chairman of Champaign County's Republican Party. He said of the 14 counties that make up the 13th Congressional District, Champaign County has the largest weighted vote based on Republican ballots cast this year.

"We will wait until the federal elections are certified on April 20, and we would like to (vote) soon after," Habeeb said.

One of Johnson's two primary opponents, Michael Firsching of Moro, said he would be interested in pursuing the Republican nomination, and hopes the party considers him before endorsing anyone else.

"I've starting contacting Republican Party groups that I have contacts with within the 16 counties," Firsching said. "I've started doing that process. But again, I haven't had much time, since it's only been since last (Wednesday) night. So I've definitely starting that process as opposed to thoroughly into it."

Firsching cautions that the GOP cannot be overconfident, or it is possible a Democrat is elected to the 13th District this fall.

Pat Brady, chairman of the Illinois Republican Party, 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. He said he is meeting with lawyers, and he said the process for naming a nominee will be slow and methodical.

He also noted that the timing of Johnson's announcement was not a surprise to him.

"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 is the presumptive Democratic nominee in the race. While the old 15th District was held by a Republican for the last 35 years, Political Science Professor Kent Redfield of the University of Illinois at Springfield said there is now a strong possibility a Democrat could take the newly drawn 13th District 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."

Gill's campaign is moving forward on the assumption that Gill is the Democratic nominee. Gill said he would not automatically accept campaign money from the Democratic Party. He has long been a critic of accepting PAC money from corporations. If the Democratic Party decides to help him, he said he would want to know where that money comes from and what level of control the party has on the campaign.

"I speak for myself, and I speak for the thousands of people that have been a part of Gill for Congress," Gill said. "So, we would have to talk about what they would want in exchange for whatever support they were interested in offering."

Gill narrowly defeated Matt Goetten in the March 20 Democratic primary, but the vote was so close that Goetten never conceded. Gill's apparent victory will not be certified by the State Board of Elections until April 20. That leaves a possibility, however slight, that neither party has a clear nominee, more than two weeks after the primary.

Last minute decisions play a role when an incumbent politician steps down, after winning a primary. Congressman Johnson said the factors leading him to choose family over politics only came together in the past few days. Other politicians have post-primary choices when faced with serious illness - like Congressman Lane Evans in 2006, or scandal, like Democratic lieutenant governor nominee Scott Lee Cohen.

Journalism professor Charlie Wheeler at the University of Illinois at Springfield said unsavory details about Cohen's private life only surfaced after he won the 2010 primary.

"He had more baggage than Amtrak," Wheeler said. "So he was forced out, because he would have, no doubt, brought the democratic ticket down. And instead they appointed Sheila Simon, and Pat Quinn gets re-elected."

Dropping out after a primary victory may signal a loss of control - but it can note new power as well - for the party officials who choose the new nominee. Sometimes, the departing candidate can have a say.

Lane Evans convinced 17th District Democratic officials to choose his chief of staff, Phil Hare, to run for Congress in his place. Professor John Jackson of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at SIU-Carbondale said another Democrat, Congressman Bill Lipinski, managed to get his son, Dan, to take his place, following the 2004 primary.

"The senior Lipinski had been in a very long time, and then he stepped aside after winning the primary, in favor of his son, who then subsequently went on to win the general election," Jackson said.

Tim Johnson said no one in his family or on his staff will be seeking his seat in Congress. He said there are candidates he would prefer, but would not make those names public.

(Photo by Sean Powers/WILL)

Categories: 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

AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 04, 2012

Carle Hospital, Four Others, Pull Application for Tax Exemption

Five Illinois hospitals, including Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana, have withdrawn their applications for tax exemptions, leaving it up to county governments whether to assess taxes on the properties.

Illinois Department of Revenue spokeswoman Susan Hofer says hospitals in Murphysboro, Moline, Monmouth and Hillsboro have also withdrawn applications in the past week. That clears county authorities to evaluate the properties and collect taxes.

The development comes as Illinois leaders grapple with a 2010 Illinois Supreme Court ruling. The court found that one hospital wasn't doing enough charity care to qualify for an exemption. That ruling called into question other hospitals' tax exemptions.

Gov. Pat Quinn authorized more rulings on hospital tax exemptions earlier this month when efforts to find a legislative compromise failed.

The revenue department is continuing to review pending applications from other hospitals.

Categories: Government, Health, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 04, 2012

Transportation Bill Preserves Funding for Transit Agencies

Federal money continues to flow out to local transportation projects, thanks to a 90-day funding measure approved by Congress and signed by President Obama last week. It is the latest in a series of just-in-time extensions that have kept transportation agencies and projects going in east-central Illinois.

Among area mass-transit agencies, Decatur Public Transit would have been hardest hit if Congress had failed to pass a short-term extension. Transit Administrator Paul McChancy said without it, they would face severe downsizing within a couple of months. McChancy said he tries not to wonder about what might happen if Congress deadlocks on the next round of surface transportation funding.

"I don't get into those speculations," McChancy said. "You know, we just have faith that Congress is going to act to support public transportation, because it is so essential to so many people. And we continue along as if full funding is expected."

Richard Brazda of Danville Mass Transit said they could survive a temporary cutoff in federal funds by using money saved up for a new downtown transfer facility. Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit uses federal funds for capital project only --- so day-to-day operations would not be affected.

Congress has until June 30 to finally agree on a long-delayed long-term surface transportation bill --- or pass another stopgap extension. The last long-term surface transportation funding measure expired in 2009. That measure had been passed by a Republican Congress under President George W. Bush. This year, a more divided Congress is struggling to agree on a new long-term bill.


AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 04, 2012

Court Defers Cook County’s Request for Courtroom Cameras

The Illinois Supreme Court is deferring Cook County's request to allow cameras in its courtrooms.

Supreme Court spokesman Joseph Tybor says the delay comes while the court waits for more results from pilot programs already under way in the state.

The court announced in January that it would allow a test of cameras in Illinois courts. Currently, 11 counties and four circuits around the state are participating in the pilot program.

Tybor tells the (Arlington Heights) Daily Herald (http://bit.ly/Hlwv2z ) that the high court will evaluate how the pilot programs proceed in those counties before expanding. He says there's no immediate timetable for that evaluation.

Categories: 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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WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 04, 2012

County Health Rankings Show Mixed Results for E. Central Illinois

Newly-released health rankings offer a mixed bag for east central Illinois counties.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, in conjunction with the University of Wisconsin, has released County Health Rankings for the state of Illinois, which rank the 102 Illinois counties according to a variety of health factors and outcomes.

Champaign County ranked relatively high on the list, at 26th in the state; but Vermilion County fared much lower, at 95th.

Vermilion County Health Department Public Health Administrator Shirley Hicks suggests leaders and the public should use the information in the rankings to "build a healthier community."

Douglas County received the 7th highest ranking in the state, by far the best among East Central Illinois counties.

A wide range of measurements determine the rankings - they include access to medical care, graduation rates, unemployment, crime rates, air quality, and access to healthy foods, among many other factors.

This is the third year these rankings have been released.

Categories: Government, Health, Politics

WILL - Illinois Public Media News - April 03, 2012

Synthetic Drugs Seized from Champaign Stores as Part of AG’s Initiative

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's effort to ban Illegal synthetic drugs has included collecting more than $50,000 in drugs on Tuesday from Champaign stores.

Madigan's office targeted Champaign and Bloomington-Normal as part of 'Operation Smoked Out.' Illinois is among the states that have banned the bath salts and synthetic marijuana. By far the largest amount - more than 1,800 packs, were seized from the Smoke Shack at 208 E. Green Street. The drugs have a street value of about $44,000. Meanwhile, more drugs valued at $13,000 were taken from Global Tobacco at 202 E. Green.

"With these businesses sitting in the heart of our campus community, keeping our teens and students safe is a priority for our department," said Champaign Police Chief Anthony Cobb. "The Champaign Police Department thanks the Attorney General's office and associated agencies for a proactive approach to removing synthetic drugs from our city streets."

The synthetic drugs are known to contain chemical compounds that mimic the effects of cocaine or methamphetamine.

In the Normal area, about $50,000 in synthetic drugs were surrendered by six tobacco and convenience stores.

"Bloomington, Normal, and Champaign have significant numbers of college students who have been enticed to purchase and use these illegal and dangerous products," said Attorney General Madigan. "Retailers in these college towns should be aware that law enforcement will soon be walking through their front door to ensure that these dangerous, illegal drugs are not for sale."

Madigan's office has proposed legislation to target the retail sale of synthetic drugs.

(Photo courtesy of the Illinois Attorney General's office)


AP - Illinois Public Media News - April 03, 2012

Rare Civil War Photo Donated to Lincoln Library

A photograph of an African-American Civil-War veteran is the first of its kind to be included in the collection of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield.

Nathan Hughes was a farmer and Union soldier, and like Abraham Lincoln he was born in Kentucky and moved to Illinois.

Kathryn Harris is with the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. She said the donated photo shows Hughes and his second wife. She said it is likely they were wealthy since they were able to afford having a photograph taken and their clothes suggest a certain level of affluence.

Harris said it is important to add a photo of an identifiable African-American to the collection.

"A lot of people are not aware of the number of African Americans who served in the Union Army and the Union Navy and that there were over 1,500 from just Illinois who served in various regiments," Harris said.

Hughes was a member of the only African-American Union regiment created in Illinois. The photograph and other materials, including his obituary, will soon be on display.

Categories: History
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