August 15, 2012

Protesters Boo Top Democrats at Illinois State Fair

Unions caused a ruckus on Wednesday at a Democratic rally at the Illinois State Fair. Although labor unions have historically been backers of Democrats, protestors instead booed them, and called Gov. Pat Quinn a liar. 

Labor unions say it's time for Gov. Quinn and other party leaders begin acting like Democrats. The protests come before a special legislative session Friday during which lawmakers are scheduled to consider cutting public employees' retirement benefits.

Governor's Day is meant to be a day for unity. A chance for Democrats from across the state to get together, and energize the ranks ahead of the fall elections.

The morning largely started off that way, at a breakfast held by the Democratic County Chairmen. Some union members were there, in protest.

"Honor the contract!" they proclaimed. "Honor the collective bargaining contract Governor. Respect Illinois workers."

Otherwise the breakfast went generally as planned. Pat Quinn got applause, and even some cheers, when he took the podium.

He did make one misstep as trying to gin the crowd up to support the President. He mistakenly called referred to Osama Bin Laden as 'Obama,' but Quinn quickly corrected himself.

"I goofed that one up," Quinn said.

Quinn's problems only got worse as the day progressed.

After the brunch, and a meeting at a Springfield hotel, Quinn hurried off to the state fair.

Throngs of state workers - mostly members of AFSCME, the state's largest public employees union - were there to greet him at the main gate. Illinois unions are traditionally allies of Democrats. It was with unions' money and manpower that Quinn was able to squeak out a win for the governor's office two years ago. However, this time they came with harsh words for the governor.

"He is breaking contractual rights and hurting working families," said John Lamb, a prison guard in Shawnee.

"I got two years to retire," said Darlene Demattia, a Dwight Prison guard. "He promised this when we started, and now he wants to take it away, you planned your entire life for this and now he wants to take it away."

"We've been promised things and Quinn has taken it away," said Lynn, a social worker from the Quad Cities who didn't want to give her last name for fear she'd get fired. "I voted for him, and I believed what he was going to do and he's not doing it."

AFSCME, as well as unions representing teachers, police, and nurses, are upset the Governor's leading the charge to reduce state employee's pensions. They accuse Quinn of undermining public employees' collective bargaining rights because Quinn's suing to withhold pay raises guaranteed in AFSCME's contract.

They are angry Quinn is closing prisons and other facilities, which means thousands of their members will be laid off.

The state fair was a chance for them to make their voices heard ... literally.

They tagged along with Quinn each step of the way. They followed the governor as he made his way through the state fair grounds. It was like Quinn was the grand marshal of a parade. Except the crowd following him was angry.

Anyone who dared side with Quinn was the subject of their fury. The disgruntled state employees and retirees even booed a woman who willingly posed with the governor for a photo.

State troopers and bodyguards kept the throng away from the governor. He went on talking to top aides and, and polished off a lunch of pork chop on a stick, as if he didn't notice.

"It's a free country, we're at the Illinois state fair and people can say whatever they want," Quinn said. "I have to make tough decisions some of those AFSCME people may not like that."

It was hard to find anyone in the audience who wasn't wearing a green, AFSCME t-shirt bearing some sort of anti-Quinn slogan. Even there, the protestors kept up their chanting, drowning out a country singer kicking off the festivities with an on-stage performance.

Lieutenant Gov. Sheila Simon was also booed. The chorus of jeers got louder at the mere mention of House Speaker Mike Madigan. Both Democrats support overhauling pensions.

The only real applause came when Secretary of State Jesse White took the stage, and when a plane flew overhead, with a banner trailing behind that read "Governor Quinn - unfair to workers." Nonetheless, Quinn took his turn at the podium:

"We all believe in the first amendment and the opportunity to speak so I will use my voice as I best can to thank everybody for coming," Quinn said.

He attempted to defend his stance.

"I think it's very important when you're governor of the state of Illinois you have to make a lot of decisions on behalf of the common good," Quinn added. "I inherited a lot of problems that I didn't create, but I'm here to repair and resolve them, reform them."

Union members say it is fair to direct their vitriol at Quinn. After all, he's the one who's calling the shots.

Earlier in the day, Speaker Madigan had come to Quinn's defense:

"Oh I think he's done a real good job under some really adverse circumstances," Madigan said. "I mean let's be honest, the guy came into office in the wake of Blagojevich, of all the problems that Blagojevich left. He came into office right as the financial meltdown was happening nationwide. He's a Democrat who doesn’t' want to cut governmental services and he's been called upon to do that. So you've got to give the guy credit. He's inherited a bad situation and he's done his best."

"Well we're trying to balance a budget, we're trying to improve the fiscal condition of the state of Illinois," Madigan noted. "People from organized labor are trying to present their people. It's just a natural conflict. It's going to be there. I don't think there's going to be any long term adverse consequences that come out of it."       

Ruby Robinson, who works for the State Department of Employment Security, said Democrats shouldn't be so sure. Robinson is from Aurora, and she is helping negotiate AFSCME's next state contract with the Quinn administration.

"Democrats you must realize you can no longer take our role for granted," Robinson said. "We will no longer be stool pigeons and we will no longer be puppets for you all. If you're going to be a Democrat you've got to prove it to us from now on."

Robinson said she will be watching on Friday  when the General Assembly convenes for a special session Quinn has called to take up the pension overhaul.

Despite her warning, Democratic Congressman Danny Davis didn't appear worried unions would be leaving his party for the GOP.

"I mean you can't tell me that organized labor wants to get in bed with right wing Republicans like Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney and think that you're going to be more from those individuals, more consideration from Tea Party types and more consideration from people who just want to keep the wealthiest as rich as they can possible get," Davis said. "If they think they're going to get more consideration from that group than they get from Pat Quinn and Mike Madigan, I don't know what planet they're living on."

Case in point: many Illinois Republican lawmakers are also clamoring to reduce teacher and state employees' retirement benefits. But don't expect throngs of union protestors showing up for the GOP's rally on Thursday, when it's Republican Day at the Illinois State Fair.

August 13, 2012

How Paul Ryan Pick is Playing for Some Illinois Republicans

Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) continues a hectic campaign schedule Monday as he heads to the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines.

There’s been glowing reaction to Ryan’s selection as Mitt Romney’s running mate from Republican politicians and pundits, around the country and in Illinois. But what about Republican voters?

Before the March primary election, <a href="">Chicago Public Radio tracked three Illinois Republicans</a> as they made their presidential picks. Now it's time to check back in, and see how they feel about Romney’s vice-presidential choice.

<strong>'Proof that Romney is Serious'</strong>

On Sunday afternoon, Eva Sorock gets ready for the weekly family dinner, pulling stuff out of the oven.

"We’re making a shrimp casserole," Sorock said. "And my husband has taken up ice cream making so we don’t have to worry about that. Having asparagus, and I made some cookies. So it’s just kind of a regular American dinner."

A regular American dinner in north suburban Wilmette. Pretty much all of Sorock’s family is happy about the selection of Paul Ryan as the Republican vice-presidential pick.

"It’s a great, great feeling because he was really my first choice from the very beginning," she said.

Paul Ryan was Sorock's first choice for president. During the primary campaign, she explained how she wished there were other candidates, such as Paul Ryan.

"He’s the mover and shaker of the Tea Party people," she said.

Sorock is a 65-year-old Tea Party member, who voted for former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum in Illinois’ March primary. She was warming to Romney even before the Paul Ryan pick.

Sorock wears a Romney button, and she plans on volunteering for him, even though she practically swore in March she wasn’t going to get involved - angry that the party’s moderates had won again.

"I mean, I always give in in the end," Sorock said with a resigned chuckle. "I mean, the biggest problems we have are defeating Obama. And we do believe in elections and Romney won the primary."

Now the announcement of Ryan as the VP choice has won him excitement - from Sorock, at least. She said Ryan has never been afraid to talk about cuts to entitlements - Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare. She called his fiscal plans “radical,” and she meant that in a good way. On Friday, when she heard the news, she ran to Twitter to celebrate.

"We have some proof that Romney is serious about doing something about the problems in the country and not just gonna sort of try and glide into the presidency," she said.

So even though it’s obvious Sorock would rather have Paul Ryan at the very top of the ticket, she will settle for #2.

<strong>'He Gets It'</strong>

Another Illinois Republican who Romney needed to work on after the divisive primary was Amy Sejnost Kovacevic, a 37-year-old from Downers Grove. She picked Newt Gingrich in the primary.

There was just always something about Romney Kovacevic could never exactly figure out. She is a loyal Republican - a precinct committeeman - who is firmly backing her party’s nominee, but to some extent, that funny feeling about Romney remains.

"I can’t put exactly my finger on it still," she said. "I don’t know if it’s how he speaks. He speaks with convictions, but [Romney's] not a Paul Ryan."

Kovacevic heard Ryan speak in May at a lunch gathering. She described her seat location with an enthusiasm you more often hear about for concerts or baseball games.

"When I heard him speak, I was literally five tables away from him," she said. "He just - he gets it."

Ryan is relatively young, 42, which Amy likes. He can speak for her generation on the impact of long-term debt issues.

There’s another thing at play here - religion.

"You know, Paul Ryan is a devout Catholic. I am Catholic. I like that," Kovacevic said. "I’m not saying Mormon isn’t favorable. I’m just saying - Paul Ryan ties more into my beliefs in Christianity, if you will," Amy said.

One of Kovacevic’s jobs as precinct committeeman is to get folks in her neighborhood to vote, and vote for Republicans. She hasn’t started yet. She thinks everyone needs a bit more time to learn about the Romney-Ryan partnership.

<strong>'Heck of a Good Chance of Winning'</strong>

McHenry County farmer Harry Alten, 74, doesn’t know much of anything about Paul Ryan. This week, at least, he doesn’t have a lot of time to learn as he is working a food booth at the state fair for the Illinois Specialty Growers Association.

"We’re selling sweet corn - boiled sweet corn on the cob. We have cider slushies - with apple cider run through a slush machine. We have watermelon, cantaloupes, ice cream - you know, soft serve ice cream - and popcorn," he said.

This weekend, he had two grown nieces visit the food booth. He said they talked about Ryan.

"Both of them said the same thing: 'He’s a good looking man. He’s got white teeth, good hair, good eyes. He looks honest,'" Harry recalled, laughing. "I asked Cathy, my one niece, I said, 'What do you think about his political attributions, do you know where he comes from?' 'No, but he’s dreamy.'"

Harry caught Paul Ryan on the TV Sunday and was impressed. He heard Ryan talk about business growth, and limited government.

"He was talking about what they should be doing," Alten said. "You know, and how bad this is - the economy is and this administration is terrible. You know, all the political rhetoric."

Alten said he is annoyed at the moment about Congress' inaction in passing a farm bill as farmers across the country deal with incredibly small harvests due to the drought. However, he has hope for this Republican ticket. He likes what he is hearing, but wants to hear more.

"Give me some straight answers. You know what I mean?" he said. "Some positive thoughts on it, not just political rhetoric. Then I would say you’d have one hell of a good - I’m sorry - one heck of a good chance of winning."

May 12, 2012

Republican Congressional Candidates Square off in Forum

Four Republicans seeking their party’s nomination in Illinois’ new 13th Congressional district took part in a candidate forum Saturday night in Champaign.

They are trying to replace Congressman Tim Johnson (R-Urbana) on the November ballot after Johnson last month announced his retirement from politics. About 250 people showed up to the forum, but it will be up to each of the Republican Party chairs in the new 13th district to select a nominee.

The contenders are former Johnson aide Jerry Clarke of Urbana, Congressional staffer Rodney Davis of Taylorville, Chicago attorney Erika Harold, and TheraKids President Kathy Wassink of Shipman.

“I know Washington, DC,” said Clarke, who worked for the Illinois House Republicans before working for Congressmen Johnson and then Randy Hultgren. “I wouldn’t be your normal freshman Congressman. I could hit the ground running.”

“The courage it has taken to stand up to Republicans and Democrats alike throughout my career is the same courage I intend to take to Washington,” added Davis, who works for Congressman John Shimkus.

Harold said she has experience engaging college students in the political process, and she pledged to help broaden the Republican Party’s reach.

“I’ve had a lot of experience reaching out to people who have not traditionally voted for Republican candidates because I’m not the stereotypical Republican,” she said.

Wassink noted that she possesses many of the qualities of people in the 13th Congressional district, and because of that, she said voters will be able to relate to her.

“I represent somebody who says, ‘She’s just like me. She’s a mother. She’s a business owner. She’s an activist. She’s a woman of faith,” Wassink said.

The candidates agreed on many of the same issues – not raising taxes, passing tort reform, and repealing the federal healthcare act. But they said one issue trumps all else – job creation.

Clarke shared what he would do to bring more jobs to Illinois.

“I would address that by unburdening the small business people and farmers from over regulation,” he said.

Davis said he would work to rein in government spending.

“If we cannot stop Obama and the Democrats from spending our nation into possible bankruptcy, we’re not going to have a country years from now,” Davis noted.

Harold is interested in pursuing renewable energy resources with ethanol, and she also wants to lower taxes on small businesses.

“I think that right now there’s sort of an unpredictability in terms of our tax policy, and so companies do not know whether they’ll be in a position to hire someone next year,” Harold said.

“There’s a new term now for our graduates - underemployed, which is very sad,” Wassink added “Jobs have to be it, but it has to start from a different language than we’ve been doing it. It’s not working.”

Republican Party chairs in 14 counties that make up the new 13th Congressional district are expected to choose a nominee by casting a weighted vote on Saturday, May 19.

“I really care about winning the race,” said Habeeb Habeeb, the Republican Party chair in Champaign County. “This is a D plus 1 district, which means it leans slightly Democrat. Any one of them can be a great candidate, but I want the candidate who can appeal and win the race. That’s important to me.”

The Republican nominee will face Democrat David Gill in the November election.

The re-drawn 13th Congressional district includes Champaign, Decatur, Bloomington, Springfield, and the Metro East area near St. Louis.


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