John Shimkus
November 04, 2014

John Shimkus Re-Elected To 15th Congressional District

15th District Congressman John Shimkus (R-Collinsville), has been re-elected to the U.S. House, easily defeating challenger Eric Thorsland of Mahomet.

Now that he’s returning for a 10th term, The Collinsville Republican said he has hopes for an omnibus spending bill, as well as working on a long-term highway funding measure.

Shimkus also remains optimistic about the chances for GOP control of the US Senate.

"If Republicans take control of the Senate, Leader (Sen. Mitch) McConnell will changes the rules back," he said.  "I think there's a lot of Democrats that would like to have a chance to offer amendements.  They need to pass their bills, and then we can go to conference.  So a lot of this will be on the backs of the Senate, which has been pretty dysfunctional.  I don't think anyone would deny that's been the fact.  If they can move bills and they can get through their chamber, then we conference and we can put things on the president's desk."

Shimkus has been criticized by Thorsland as being a bit complacent after 17th years in the House, but Shimkus said his voting record speaks for itself.

Bruce Rauner
(Seth Perlman/AP)
July 22, 2014

Bruce Rauner Unveils Plans To Lower Income Tax

Republican candidate for Illinois governor Bruce Rauner says he’s willing to negotiate with lawmakers on lowering the income tax rate. 

Rauner recently released several new tax proposals, including raising sales taxes on services like janitors and travel agents.

He also has said he wants to gradually decrease the personal income tax. But he hasn’t said just how quickly he’d like to see that rate drop.  Rauner gave a few more details Monday.

"Here’s what my commitment is," he said. "We need to roll the income tax back from 5 percent back to 3 percent where it started within a four-year period. And I think 3.75 is a good place to step to next, but we’ll work out those details with the General Assembly."

Democratic incumbent Pat Quinn has advocated for keeping the income tax rate where it is - at 5 percent. His campaign said Rauner’s proposal would result in billions of dollars in cuts. They say a lot of the state’s budget must go to certain things. So most cuts Rauner would need to make would hit education and social services.   

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, left, and his Republican rival, Bruce Rauner, shake hands after they appeared together for the first time before the 2014 general election, during the annual meeting of the Illinois Education Association Friday, April 11, 201
(M. Spencer Green/AP)
July 07, 2014

Voters In Bad Mood Shaping Gov's Race

The people of Illinois are feeling particularly gloomy about their state, with its high unemployment, billions of dollars in debt and decades-long battles against corruption.  

The bad mood surfaces in public-opinion polls that startle even the pollsters. And now it's shaping one of the nation's most competitive governor's races.  

The race pits Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn against businessman Bruce Rauner, an untested multimillionaire. The contest boils down to the incumbent's insistence that it's not as bad as it used to be versus the challenger's exhortations to throw the bums out and start over.  

One survey showed that more people want to leave Illinois than anywhere else in the U.S. The cynicism among voters was also evident in the March primary election, which had the lowest turnout on record. 

June 27, 2014

Judge Nixes Illinois Term Limits, Remap Initiatives

A Cook County judge has ruled that signature-driven ballot measures calling for legislative term limits and a new political redistricting process can't appear on the November ballot.

Cook County Circuit Court Judge Mary Mikva says in a Friday ruling the measures don't meet constitutional requirements to make the ballot. 

The ruling is a setback for groups advocating the measures, including one led by Republican governor candidate Bruce Rauner. He's made term limits a cornerstone of his campaign to unseat Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn.

A lawsuit challenging the measures was filed by an attorney who represents top Democratic lawmakers.  

Attorneys for the term limits advocates say they will appeal directly to the Illinois Supreme Court next week.

Another group wanted an independent commission to oversee Illinois' political map-drawing process.

Bruce Rauner is the Republican nominee for governor of Illinois.
(Amanda Vinicky/IPR)
June 25, 2014

Rauner Plans To Close Tax "Loopholes," Change EDGE Credits

Republican candidate for governor Bruce Rauner has unveiled what he says is phase three of his plans to "Restore Illinois." It's focused on how the state taxes businesses.

In a statement — he released the plan via social media, rather than at a live event — Rauner says he wants to close "special interest loopholes."

Like a tax break for buying a racehorse.

And, in a risky move as he seeks to win newspaper editorial boards' endorsements, he wants Illinois to begin taxing newsprint.

Rauner says as more people get their information online, "antiquated protections for media conglomerates should be eliminated."

There are broader proposals too: like changes to the "EDGE" program (Economic Development for a Growing Economy), which Illinois' commerce department uses to attract companies and retain jobs.

That's been a lightning rod, after Illinois gave special allowances to companies, like Sears.

The legislature attempted to redo the EDGE program in the spring session, but the measure stalled.

Rauner says he would cap the program, and veto deals to help any select corporation.

But he offers few specifics: there are only two sentences that summarize the vague changes he'd make to EDGE.

And despite Rauner's campaign slogan that he wants to "shake up" Springfield, many of these ideas in some form or another have been introduced before

Another of Rauner's plans calls for targeting oil companies; that's something his Democratic rival, Gov. Pat Quinn, has twice suggested, to no avail.

June 23, 2014

Libertarians: Strive To Beat "Ballot-Blocking" To Get On Ballot

The Libertarian Party of Illinois is running a candidate for Governor, and all of the other statewide races, but the race could be over before it begins.

Chad Grimm, a 33-year-old health club manager from Peoria, and the Libertarian party's nominee for Illinois governor, has some unconventional political views; he believes Illinois should completely do away with a state income tax, and that there should be no -- as in zero - regulations on guns.

"People have a right to defend themself, and the Second Amendment pretty much reads - not pretty much, it reads 'the right to bear arms shall not be infringed.' Well if I have to jump through hoops in order to obtain a firearms, then that's an infringement," he said at a statehouse press conference Monday, June 23.

Grimm tops a seven person slate of Libertarians.  

Candidates for non-established parties had the past 90 days to collect and turn in a minimum 25,000 valid voter signatures if they want to make it on the November ballot. The Libertarian Party of Illinois said it turned in well over that -- 43,921 to be exact -- in hopes of making it past a potential challenge.

The party's political director, Lex Green, said he expects a challenge. He said Democrats and Republicans wrote the law to their advantage-- with its tight timeline and higher signature threshold for third parties:

"It's very clearly invoking the use of government force to inhibit voter choice and to keep other competitors off the ballot, and this is one of the things that we, as libertarians, stand very strong on," Green said. "That we would not use the force of government to achieve advantage."

Green said that leaves the Libertarian Party at the mercy of the state elections board and the "powers that be."

Libertarians began challenging the law years ago, in court; that lawsuit is still pending.

The Green and Constitution Parties also turned in petitions Monday.

In this March 18, 2014 file photo, voters cast their ballots in the Illinois primary in Hinsdale, Ill.
(M. Spencer Green/AP)
June 19, 2014

Judge Considers Illinois Term Limit Initiatives

A Cook County judge heard oral arguments Wednesday in a lawsuit challenging two efforts seeking to change how the Illinois political system operates.

The two separate ballot initiatives would ask voters to weigh in on everything from adding term limits for state legislators to how legislative districts are drawn.

Challenging the two petition drives are the Little Village Chamber of Commerce, the Chinatown Chamber of Commerce and the Business Leadership Council, as well as a number of individuals. They include former ComEd CEO Frank Clark and housing developer Elzie Higginbottom.

The challengers  are represented by Richard Prendergast and Mike Kasper, an attorney who has also represented the Democratic Party of Illinois and Rahm Emanuel, although Emanuel and Michael Madigan, the Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives and chairman of the state Democratic Party, are not parties on the lawsuit.

Prendergast told Cook County Judge Mary Mikva in a hearing Wednesday that the state Supreme Court rejected a previous attempt to add term limits. He argued the effort goes against the Illinois constitution, which states that “amendments shall be limited to structural and procedural subjects.”

To help it stand on firm legal footing, the term limit initiative also includes other components besides limiting a lawmaker from holding office more than eight years. It also reduces the number of Illinois state senators while slightly increasing the number of state representatives and increases the number of votes needed to override a governor’s veto.

Prendergast equated those other provisions to “ornaments” on a Christmas tree to please the judge. He said voters may struggle with the ballot question, since a voter could support term limits but oppose a reduction in state senators, and that those topics should be separate questions.

But Mark Campbell, a spokesman for the committee trying to get term limits on the ballot, said it’s within the limits the Illinois Supreme Court set when they ruled against a term limit initiative 20 years ago.

“What we did was specifically outlined by the Supreme Court as to what the requirements are to get on the ballot and we are very confident that our initiative, as written, does pass muster.”

Bruce Rauner, the Republican nominee for Illinois governor, backs the term limits initiative.  But the elections board is continuing to review the effort to create a bipartisan panel to draw legislative district boundaries, rather than having the boundaries drawn by political parties. Legislative boundaries are redrawn after each census.

The redistricting process was also before Judge Mikva Wednesday in the same lawsuit, with similar legal arguments from both sides. Kasper argued that ballot initiative would take away power from the governor, the attorney general and lawmakers, in addition to altering the eligibility of judges.

“Anything that’s directly related to the purpose of the amendment, which is to alter the redistricting and to make it non-partisan, which these conflict of interest rules are, is fair game,” said Michelle Odorizzi, an attorney for the redistricting ballot initiative.

June 18, 2014

"Fair Maps" Group Gets Some Latitude In Fight For Ballot Spot

A struggling effort to change how Illinois draws its legislative districts will live another day. On Tuesday, state election authorities voted to give it some extra time to prove it deserves to make it on the November ballot.

Supporters were joyous last month when a semi-truck pulled into the state board of elections' parking lot in Springfield.

A campaign to overhaul the state's redistricting process was dropping off a 27-foot-long document, filled with a half million signatures. But elections officials say after reviewing a sampling of them, not enough of the signatures are valid.

The latest action means the so-called "fair map" group will get more time to try to prove them wrong.

The group's waiting to get back information from local clerks on whether the petition names are eligible to vote as required by law.

The redistricting campaign's director, Michael Kolenc, said he's still confident.

"We worked over the last eight months, in a very methodic way, to collect good signatures," Kolenc said. "And it's because of a backroom process, an uneven, rushed process, that it had gotten to this point. It's unfortunate, but it's okay. Because we have time now to produce the evidence to show that we're going to get on the ballot. That's really what we needed. We needed that time because going through these signatures, verifying certified voter registration cards, is time-consuming, to say the least."

The redistricting effort, and another one which officials found did have the requisite number of voter signatures, could still be doomed. They are both facing court challenges, seeking to knock them off the ballot.

Oral arguments on the proposals' constitutionality are scheduled to be heard Wednesday in Chicago. The second ballot initiative would limit legislators' terms.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor
(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
June 11, 2014

Eric Cantor Defeated By Tea Party Candidate In Virginia Primary

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has lost his Republican primary in Virginia's 7th Congressional District to Tea Party challenger David Brat — a stunning upset that will rewrite the leadership of the chamber's GOP leadership.

With all but a few of the precincts reporting, Brat, an economics professor, was leading Cantor by 55 percent to 44 percent of the vote.

"I know there's a lot of long faces here tonight, and it's disappointing, sure," Cantor said, speaking to supporters. "I believe in this country; I believe there's opportunity around the next corner for all of us."

NPR's Ron Elving calls the defeat of Cantor, who was widely expected to eventually replace House Speaker John Boehner, "Truly stunning and all but unprecedented for a speaker-in-waiting."

Politico says that Brat tapped into "strong anti-incumbent fever that has taken over Cantor's Richmond-area district."

Although Cantor is a conservative and has been close to the Tea Party, "in the past two years they've been angered by his shift to support for some kind of immigration reform. Brat made that an issue, saying Cantor was no longer a real conservative," NPR's Don Gonyea says.

Even so, "Going into the elections, most Republicans had been watching for how broad Mr. Cantor's victory would be, with almost no one predicting that he would lose," The New York Times says.

The Washington Post, in an article earlier Tuesday, said Cantor was expected to prevail but acknowledged that Brat had "exposed discontent with Cantor in the solidly Republican, suburban Richmond 7th Congressional District by attacking the lawmaker on his votes to raise the debt ceiling and end the government shutdown, as well as his support for some immigration reforms."

Reuters says Cantor, the No. 2 in the House, heavily outspent his opponent, who managed to raise just over $200,000 for his campaign, according to his most recent campaign finance reports.

Tea Party-backed David Brat, an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College, has defeated House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in his Virginia Republican primary. (Steve Helber/AP)

The Associated Press says:

"[Cantor's] loss to Dave Brat, a political novice with little money, marks a huge victory for the Tea Party movement, which supported Cantor just a few years ago.

"Brat had been a thorn in Cantor's side on the campaign. ... Last month, a feisty crowd of Brat supporters booed Cantor in front of his family at a local party convention."

The Hill calls Cantor's defeat "perhaps the most significant jolt to the Republican establishment since the emergence of the Tea Party in 2009":

"While conservative activists have ousted veteran Republicans like Sens. Bob Bennett (Utah) and Richard Lugar (Ind.), a sitting majority leader has never been defeated in a primary election.

"As recently as Friday, Cantor and his team in Virginia projected confidence.

" 'I'm just not worried,' Cantor's Richmond-based political adviser, Ray Allen, told The Hill. Cantor's own polling showed him with a comfortable lead.

"Brat told The Hill he was 'peaking at exactly the right time.' "

May 06, 2014

As States Vote In Primaries, Voter ID Laws Come Under Scrutiny

Three states are holding primaries Tuesday, and voters might understandably be confused over what kind of identification they need to show at the polls.

In Indiana, it has to be a government-issued photo ID. In Ohio, you can get by with a utility bill. In North Carolina, you won't need a photo ID until 2016. But that law, along with ID laws in many other states, faces an uncertain future.

"We have Florida, Georgia, Indiana," says Wendy Underhill, of the National Conference of State Legislatures. She's ticking off the names of some of the states that required voters to show a photo ID back in 2012.

When it comes to state voting laws, Underhill has an important job: She's the keeper of a frequently consulted list of ID requirements, which seems to change almost daily. (The NCSL has this online resource of voter ID requirements.)

This year, Underhill says, there are 16 states that require voters to show a photo ID, eight of which have what are called strict photo ID rules. That means without the credential, you basically can't vote.

"But one of those is Arkansas, and so in Arkansas we don't know whether that will be in place or not," Underhill says.

Arkansas' law is one of several being challenged in the courts. Just last week, a state judge ruled twice that Arkansas' photo ID requirement is unconstitutional. But the judge said he wouldn't block the state from enforcing it in an upcoming primary.

Also last week, a federal judge struck down Wisconsin's photo ID requirement. And a Pennsylvania judge refused to reconsider his decision striking down that state's law.

"Things seemed to have changed," says Rick Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine. He says that after a period when courts were upholding state voter ID laws, some judges are now striking them down; it might be that the requirements have become stricter.

But it also "might be that the judges are learning that these laws actually don't serve the anti-fraud purpose that they are advertised as serving," he explains.

In fact, in the Wisconsin decision, the judge found no evidence that there was voter impersonation fraud in the state. Concern over that type of fraud was the main reason lawmakers said a photo ID requirement was needed. The judge also said the state's law would impose an unfair burden on black and Latino voters, because they're less likely to have the required ID.

"The tide is turning toward our favor, toward the favor of the voters," says Katherine Culliton-Gonzalez, who is with Advancement Project, one of several groups challenging Wisconsin's law. "We've just seen so many people who are confused about whether they can vote, trying very hard to get the right type of ID, looking at changing rules all the time, and elections that have just run amok."

She and other voter ID opponents say they're confident that the Wisconsin decision will be upheld. But Wisconsin's attorney general, J.B. Van Hollen, has vowed to appeal. And he says he's just as confident the judge will be overruled.

"I thought the decision was very poor," Van Hollen says.

Van Hollen notes that other courts — including the U.S. Supreme Court — have upheld similar ID laws in other states. And even though the judge found no evidence of voter fraud, Van Hollen says he has no doubt such fraud exists. Especially since right now Wisconsin voters don't have to show a photo ID.

"It's so easy to vote as if you were someone else in Wisconsin that it makes it almost impossible to prove that people are voting and impersonating others when they're voting," Van Hollen says.

That debate is likely to continue in the courts and states for months, if not years. Although Underhill of the National Conference of State Legislatures says, at least right now, no new voter ID laws are in the works.


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