Illinois Public Media News
An increasingly confident Mitt Romney called President Barack Obama an "economic lightweight" Monday as the Republican presidential candidate looked beyond Tuesday's Illinois primary to a general election showdown with the incumbent Democrat.
Romney's chief rival - Rick Santorum - kept the focus on the GOP front-runner, arguing that nominating the former Massachusetts governor would deprive the party of a defining issue to use against Obama in the November election - health care. "Obamacare," Santorum said, was based on "Romneycare," Massachusetts' 2006 health care law.
Courting voters in Obama's home state, Romney acknowledged that the economy was moving in the right direction as hundreds of thousands of jobs have been created, the unemployment rate has dropped and consumer confidence has jumped. Romney suggested it was in spite of the president.
"The economy always comes back after a recession of course," said Romney, previewing what could be a general election argument. "There's never been one that we didn't recover from. The problem is this one has been deeper than it needed to be and a slower recovery than it should have been."
The former venture capitalist said he's better equipped to steer the economy.
"There are dramatic differences between me and President Obama," Romney said during a morning campaign stop at Charlie Parker's diner in Springfield. "I'm not an economic lightweight. President Obama is."
Romney extended his delegate lead Sunday in Puerto Rico, where he trounced rival Rick Santorum and scored all 20 of the Caribbean island's delegates. Romney has collected more delegates than his opponents combined and is poised to win the delegate battle in Illinois, even if he loses the popular vote, thanks to missteps by Santorum's shoestring operation.
Brushing aside skepticism from the party's right flank, Romney aides have been emphasizing their overwhelming mathematical advantage in the race to 1,144 delegates - the number needed to clinch the GOP presidential nomination and face President Barack Obama in the fall.
Santorum has all but conceded he cannot earn enough delegates to win, but claimed he was in contest for the long haul because Romney is a weak front-runner.
"I looked at the leading candidate for president on the Republican side and I said 'He can't be the nominee,'" Santorum told several hundred people at the Venetian Club in Rockford. "He can't be the nominee because he would take away from the Republican Party in this crucial election, the most important in your lifetime, he would take away the central issue in this campaign. He is uniquely disqualified to go and make the case against Obamacare because he developed the blueprint for Obamacare."
In 2006, then-Massachusetts Gov. Romney instituted a sweeping health care system in the state that required everyone to have insurance. It was the model for Obama's divisive health care overhaul that he signed into law two years ago this Friday.
"Why Illinois would you consider voting for someone for president on the Republican side who is for Romneycare, the blueprint for Obamacare, and for government mandates?" Santorum asked. ".... . He will give every single important issue on this subject matter away. There is no difference between the two."
He also accused Romney of forcing Catholic hospitals to provide the morning-after pill when he was governor. Santorum argued that the pill "caused abortion."
As a gubernatorial candidate in 2002, Romney signed a Planned Parenthood questionnaire that he supported using state tax dollars to fund abortion services through Medicaid for low-income women, according to a copy of the questionnaire. He also pledged support for increased access to emergency contraception such as the "morning-after pill," which he now condemns as an "abortive pill."
Santorum said that he'll "go out and compete in every state," calling Illinois a "two-person race."
"What I've said is, I think it's going to be very difficult as this goes on for anybody to get that magic number" to clinch the nomination, Santorum said in an interview on CBS's "This Morning."
Santorum called Romney a "big-government heavyweight," responding on MSNBC Monday to the former Massachusetts governor's recent assertion that he couldn't match up on economic expertise. Santorum told CBS he thinks the chances of a brokered GOP convention in August "are increasing."
In nationally broadcast remarks Sunday, Santorum sidestepped when asked if he would fight Romney on the convention floor if he failed before August to stop the former Massachusetts governor from getting the required number of delegates.
Romney aides privately likened the situation to the Black Knight in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" who loses his arms and legs in battle with King Arthur but insists he has only a flesh wound. The Romney camp suggested that Tuesday's performance would extend Romney's delegate advantage, even if he loses the popular vote.
Santorum cannot win at least 10 of the state's 54 delegates because his campaign failed to file the paperwork.
Polls suggest a Romney edge in Illinois. At a Romney campaign stop Sunday, voters were divided.
"I'm leaning toward Santorum, but I wanted to hear him in person," said Nichole Warren, a 32-year-old stay-at-home mom from nearby South Beloit. "I hear (Romney) talk and I hear a lot of Obama in him, and that scares me."
But Sid Haffenden, a 61-year-old retired toll-way worker, said, "Santorum has too much baggage." He added, "I want a businessman."
At this rate, Romney is on pace to capture the nomination in June unless Santorum or former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is able to win decisively in the coming contests.
Both have said they would stay in the race and perhaps force the nomination to a fight at the GOP's convention in Tampa if Romney doesn't amass enough delegates to arrive with a mandate. That would turn the convention into an intra-party brawl for the first time since 1976.
Including Puerto Rico's results, Romney has now collected 521 delegates, compared to Santorum's 253, Gingrich's 136 and Paul's 50, according to The Associated Press count.
(Photo by Brian Mackey/IPR)
The price of regular-grade gasoline is as high as $4.09 a gallon in Champaign-Urbana. Area gas stations started raising their prices last Friday, as University of Illinois students prepared to leave for spring break.
Patrick DeHaan of the price-tracking site GasBuddy.com says the $4 price mark is a significant one ... which retailers usually avoid as long as they can.
"You know, there's a lot of negative PR associated with it", says DeHann, "and the station gets a lot of fingers pointed at them. So generally the station would be willing to accept less profit to keep the price down. But unfortunately when it comes to be too much, when push comes to shove, stations will raise their price over that mark, if they absolutely have to." Now that they've reached the $4 point in Champaign-Urbana, DeHaan says motorists can expect prices to decrease --- but only in the short-term.
"After prices go up across a widespread area, they tend to go down in the days following", says DeHaan. "But I do expect the long-term trend will remain upward. So, for the Champaign-Urbana area, we'll see the roller-coaster ride continue. Prices will go up sharply, and they may go down a few days after, then they may go up even higher."
DeHaan advises motorists to put off buying from gas stations that have just raised their prices ... because it's likely that prices will start going down again. He expects gasoline prices to continue rising through May, with some dropoff possible in June.
DeHaan says gasoline prices in Champaign-Urbana are following a trend that's common throughout the Great Lakes states. He says the higher prices are due to several factors, including problems with a Midwest pipeline, retooling and maintenance at oil refineries and concerns among oil speculators about possible conflict with Iran.
Indiana's first statewide smoking restrictions have been signed into law by Gov. Mitch Daniels.
The governor signed the smoking ban bill and other legislation during a ceremony Monday at his Statehouse office. The smoking ban proposal narrowly cleared the state Senate this month after compromises expanding the number of exemptions were added to the bill over the objections of health advocates.
Daniels says that although everyone might not have been happy with the bill, it was best to get something approved while lawmakers had the "energy'' to handle the issue.
The ban that is to take effect in July will still give people plenty of places to light up as it exempts Indiana's bars, casinos, retail tobacco shops and private clubs, such as veterans and fraternal organizations.
Republican presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are campaigning in next-up primary states of Illinois and Louisiana, while Puerto Ricans get their say in picking the GOP's presidential nominee.
Puerto Rico's residents cannot vote in general elections, but are set to award 20 delegates in their Sunday Republican primary.
Meanwhile, Romney was hoping to cement his lead in Illinois ahead of Tuesday's primary, with chief rival Santorum in Louisiana ahead of that state's vote on March 24.
Both Santorum and Romney weighed in on Afghanistan as the campaign briefly moved to the Sunday morning talk shows.
Romney said that President Barack Obama has failed in Afghanistan, and he blamed the president for the chaos there. Romney told "Fox News Sunday" that the president should have been "more engaged" with military commanders and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
The former Massachusetts governor has emerged as the only Republican candidate not to question the U.S. commitment in Afghanistan, even as polls show that most Americans want to end it.
On ABC's "This Week" that Santorum said the U.S. should commit to "winning" in the region or get out, echoing comments rival Newt Gingrich made last week.
The former Massachusetts governor and former Pennsylvania senator both campaigned in Puerto Rico ahead of the voting.
But Romney dramatically curtailed his trip to the U.S. territory Saturday in favor of spending more time in Illinois, where polls have shown him slightly ahead of Santorum.
At issue in Puerto Rico's primary is the island's political status - statehood, independence or no change. Puerto Ricans will vote on that in November.
Romney has support from much of the establishment here, including Puerto Rican Gov. Luis Fortuno, who supports making the island the 51st state. Romney is confident about his prospects for winning many of the island's delegates.
Santorum has said he would support statehood if the November vote were decisive. He also has spent days explaining his comment that English would have to become the island's main language for Puerto Rico to realize statehood. Only a fraction of Puerto Rico's residents speak English fluently.
Puerto Rico's delegates will be split proportionally among the candidates, though if someone wins more than 50 percent of the vote they'll sweep them all.
(Photos courtesy of The Associated Press)
(With additional reporting from Indiana Public Broadcasting)
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has appointed state Senator Connie Lawson to replace ousted Secretary of State Charlie White.
Prior to the announcement, Lawson served as a state senator since 1996. Before that, she served as court clerk in Hendricks County. According to Gov. Daniels, it's those experiences that make her a good fit for the position.
"She's also been a real ally in the quest for local government reform, which takes a certain amount of courage and reformist zeal," Daniels said.
Lawson, who is the second woman to hold the office, will serve the remainder of White's term, which runs until 2015. She said she is ready to get to work.
"I look forward to getting started, meeting the dedicated men and women in the various divisions of the office, and working with them to ensure that the Secretary of State's office is as efficient and effective as it can be," Lawson said.
Lawson's appointment comes a day after the Indiana Supreme Court ruled that White's 2010 candidacy was valid despite his conviction on voter fraud and other felony charges.
Gov. Daniels said even though the Secretary of State's office has seen 'less than ideal' circumstances following White's removal, the staff will make a smooth transition to Lawson's leadership.
"I don't have the impression that there'll be a big cleanup effort necessary, but Connie will put her own stamp on the place and I'm sure pretty quickly," he added.
Interim Secretary of State Jerry Bonnet is returning to his role as Deputy Secretary of State.
Democrats hoped Vop Osili would have gotten the job, but the Indiana Supreme Court ruled earlier this week that Charlie White was eligible to run in 2010. This gave Daniels the ability to appoint a replacement, rather than putting runner-up Osili in office.
U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk got a phone call from the Senate's top Republican wishing him well in his recovery from a January stroke.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky called Kirk on Wednesday at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, where Kirk is recovering.
McConnell says he assured his colleague their staffs were working together to represent the interests of Illinois in the Senate.
He says Kirk was eager to discuss policy during the call, especially his push to tighten sanctions on Iran in response to its nuclear work.
McConnell says the Senate is looking forward to having him back.
Doctors have said the 52-year-old Kirk should make a full mental recovery, although they expect the stroke will limit movement on his left side.
A grade school expansion in Urbana is reaping the benefits of a sales tax approved by voters three years ago.
Students and local officials were on hand for a groundbreaking on Friday at Prairie Elementary School for a gymnasium, three fine arts classrooms, and 12 early childhood classrooms.
Prairie Principal Yavonda Smith said physical education classes throughout the day haven't been possible due to space requirements.
"The end project is that students will be able to have a new gym," Smith said. "Having a new gym is that we will able to able have P.E. all day long, without any interruptions. We all know that movement is very important for kids in grades K-5, and so that's why we're going to make sure that we utilize the gym every single day."
District 116 School Board President John Dimit said the expansion will also provide a public entrance, allowing for community events. He said the passage of the school facilities sales tax referendum in 2009 allowed planning to move forward.
"We have to admit the project ended up being a little more expensive than what we thought, and so we worked hard to put the financing package together, and the market treated us right, because the interest rates are low," Dimit said.
Early total estimates for the project are around $15 million. Construction for the new space will take about a year and a half.
(Photo by Jeff Bossert/WILL)
The Champaign School Board has begun accepting applications to fill the seat of Greg Novak, who passed away on March 7.
Board member Tom Lockman is the contact person for applications, and he said he has already received a few of them. Lockman said he is looking for someone who possesses many of the qualities that Novak brought to the board.
"My hope is that we find someone who has great passion for the district and has a good working knowledge of the district," Lockman said. "That's what Greg certainly had and certainly brought to our board to a very large degree."
Applicants for the school board seat must be at least 18 years old, registered voters and residents of the Unit Four school district for at least a year. The Unit Four district includes Champaign, Savoy, Bondville and nearby unincorporated areas.
Application forms are available at Unit Four's Mellon Administrative Center in Champaign ... and at their website at champaignschools.org. Applications can be hand-delivered or mailed to the Mellon Center, at 703 South New Street in Champaign, IL 61820. Or they can be emailed to Lockman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The deadline to apply for the Champaign school board seat is Friday, April 6th. Finalists selected for interview will be notified on the 10th. Lockman says the school board will interview finalists on Monday, April 16th, and could make their selection that evening.
An attorney, a teacher, an insurance office manager, a nurse, and a former mayor are running in Illinois' 106th House District race. They are all newcomers to state office, running in a legislative district that are making a bid for the Illinois House in a long stretch of Central Illinois that's seen its political landscape altered through redistricting.
The five candidates have held more than 15 debates and forums, but it was simple "meet and greet" time for the candidates at a recent Republican dinner in Pontiac.
The race for the 106th includes largely rural cities like Watseka, Dwight, and Gibson City; the campaign trail stretches from the Indiana border just east of the Illinois River. It is a politically conservative area, so much so that no Democrats are running for the seat.
Former Pontiac Mayor Scott McCoy said he has more going for him than simply name recognition. He touts his experience helping his city cope with a 2007 flood, and fighting efforts to close the Pontiac Correctional Center.
Now a full-time software designer, McCoy said he also has the necessary budgetary experience to view cuts strategically. He wants to see more of what he calls "true conservatives" elected to office to make those difficult choices, and to ensure government is limited in other ways.
"I'm the candidate who wants to go to Springfield to remove government from your life, and we see that every day," McCoy said. "They're talking about banning cell phones from a moving vehicle altogether. We need less government period, and that's a great place to start to solving our issues in the state."
The five candidates are in agreement in many areas. Each supports a concealed carry measure, keeping the Dwight prison open, and term limits for legislators, but the dominant issue for all appears to be the economy. Attorney Brian Gabor said he holds an edge in the 106th district since he's been an alderman on the Pontiac City Council for nine years and a small business owner.
"I know what my clients complaint about, and that's the overburdensome that the state puts on us," Gabor said. "That's the higher taxes. The tax increases that Governor Quinn put on us. Unless and until we reverse that trend in Springfield, that trend of being anti-business, things are not going to turn around - and that's what we need to do."
Gabor said he also has a better understanding of the plights of communities, since his law firm represents small towns, dealing often with state regulations and unfunded mandates.
Josh Harms doesn't have government experience, but he is a member of one of the groups most impacted by Illinois' financial problems.
"I think it helps me immensely being a teacher, going in and saying the pension has to change because I'm in the pension," Harms said. "My wife is in the pension, my brother is in the pension, my sister-in-law is in the pension. I realize that it's got to give."
A special education teacher at Watseka High School, Harms wants local school boards and parents to have the most input on school policies, particularly in districts like his where 80-percent of students do not attend college, but still have to take additional science and English courses.
"It's so counterintuitive to me that you would take those kids who aren't college bound and force them into a college curriculum," Harms said.
Harms said the amount Illinois gives to state colleges and universities should be given to the students themselves, and those who don't finish school would repay the state in the form of a loan.
Tom Bennett is a former teacher, and a Parkland College Trustee. He said his experience sets him apart, as does his experience running a family farm and managing IT at an insurance office. The Gibson City resident said he will make connections across the political aisle in Springfield, and build a better business environment.
"I don't do much for the knee-jerk reactions," Bennett said. "I do my homework. I study the issues. I ask questions. And I don't go off in a corner, and flip a coin, or make a decision in a back room. I pull people in, I call people, and I expect folks to call me, too. That's the way I work."
Meanwhile, one candidate did not make the Livingston County dinner. Richard Thomas said he is temporarily given up his job as a nurse to campaign, and serve a single term in Springfield.
"I may have the smallest wallet, but I definitely have the largest ideas, and I think that's what democracy should be about," Thomas said.
The Dwight resident said his military background and experience forming coalitions in Springfield are at the root of his campaign for the 106th House seat. Thomas said his decision to run was born out of frustration with the way government currently operates, taking a cue from the Occupy Wall Street movement and Tea Party.
Thomas backs a welfare to work program that would let recipients do park and highway maintenance, as well as a plan to recall any elected official as soon as their first day in office
"We need a democracy in the 21st century that is more immediately responsive to we the people," Thomas said. "Imagine being locked in a bad state senator for 4 years or a bad state representative for 2 years in the 21st century."
When a winner emerges Tuesday night, he will have to wait to learn who he will face in November.
A spokesman for the state board of elections said after the primary, Democratic Party chairmen across the 106th district will meet and conduct a weighted vote to appoint a nominee. That person faces a June 4 deadline to submit nominating petitions in order to qualify for the November ballot.
(A map of the re-drawn 106th House District)
Blagojevich Enters Prison
Convicted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich never allowed himself to even think about spending the next decade of his life behind bars. Less than an hour before he began serving his 14-year sentence on corruption charges, he could hardly say that word: "prison."
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