(Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
August 29, 2013

President To Issue New Executive Orders On Guns

The White House says President Obama will issue two new executive orders on guns — one to curb the import of military surplus weapons and another that closes a loophole allowing some felons to get around background checks.

The two actions — to be announced by Vice President Joe Biden at the swearing-in of Todd Jones, the new director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — will join 23 others that the president has issued in an effort to reduce gun violence.

They are part of a set of recommendations from the vice president unveiled in January.

"Even as Congress fails to act on common-sense proposals, like expanding criminal background checks and making gun trafficking a federal crime, the President and Vice President remain committed to using all the tools in their power to make progress toward reducing gun violence," the White House said in a statement on Thursday.

According to the statement, "felons, domestic abusers, and others prohibited from having guns" can skirt background checks by registering the weapon as a trust or corporation.

"The proposed rule requires individuals associated with trusts or corporations that acquire these types of weapons to undergo background checks, just as these individuals would if the weapons were registered to them individually," the statement says.

The second would halt a practice of special approvals to import U.S.-made military weapons from other countries. The White House says since 2005, the government has authorized the re-importation of more than 250,000 such firearms.

The new policy would "deny requests to bring military-grade firearms back into the United States to private entities, with only a few exceptions such as for museums," the statement says.

Kwame Raoul
(Seth Perlman/AP)
August 29, 2013

Sen. Raoul Says He Won't Run For Illinois Governor

State Sen. Kwame Raoul says he's not jumping into the 2014 race for Illinois governor.

The Chicago Democrat has been weighing a run for months and had boosted his fundraising. In a statement Thursday, Raoul indicated that he will focus on his role as chairman of a legislative conference committee that's working on Illinois' pension crisis.

Raoul said he made his decision after talking with his family and evaluating his resources, and noted that he did not want to "create unnecessary divisions.''

Raoul had been exploring a run for attorney general if Lisa Madigan chose to run for governor. When Madigan chose to seek re-election, Raoul said some colleagues encouraged him to challenge Gov. Pat Quinn and former White House chief of staff Bill Daley in the Democratic primary.

U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Taylorville) and Erika Harold (R-Urbana)
August 29, 2013

Davis, Harold Want More Information About Possible Syria Strike

Washington is considering a possible military strike against Syria for allegedly using chemical weapons. Illinois’ 13th district congressman and his Republican Primary challenger both say President Obama still needs to make his case for military action.

U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Taylorville) said he does not know much more about the situation in Syria outside of what he’s heard from the news media. The freshman lawmaker said he hopes the president gets Congressional approval before pursuing a military strike.

“I’m not going to be in favor of authorizing approval for a strike or boots on the ground of American soldiers without the president coming to the table and explaining to the world and explaining to America and the constituents I represent why it’s important to engage in that action,” Davis said.

A United Nations inspection team is in Syria looking at the possible use of poisonous gas, but Davis criticizes the U.N. for not starting its investigation sooner.

Meanwhile, Erika Harold of Urbana, who is challenging Davis in the Republican Primary, said she can’t support a military strike either without knowing more information

“When we’re talking about deploying American resources and putting American troops in harm’s way, I think we have to have a very high standard in terms of determining is this the best use of American force and is there an identifiable American objective that can be achieved,” Harold said.

Congressional leaders are expected to be briefed later on Thursday about the situation in Syria.

Joe Hendrick and Senator Bill Brady
(Amanda Vinicky/IPR)
August 29, 2013

Running For Lieutenant Governor Is A Risky Business

For the first time, candidates for governor in Illinois will choose their second in command.

They used to get stuck with whomever primary voters choose for lieutenant governor, whether the two got along or not.  It is an opportunity for candidates to find a running mate they work well with or perhaps someone to balance out the ticket.

It is expected at least some of the six men will try to broaden their appeal by pairing up with a woman, or to someone from a different part of the state.

The new selection process might also have unintended consequences.

For a role that is widely thought of as so irrelevant, even candidates for the position periodically suggest eliminating it. Elections for lieutenant governor have wreaked a lot of havoc in Illinois politics.

Take the scenario that led to this new method of selecting someone for the role.

In 2010, with party leaders' attention elsewhere, a wealthy pawn broker and political newcomer named Scott Lee Cohen beat out four Democratic legislators in the race for lieutenant governor.

"And I focused on that position because I felt it was the right office to allow me to bring in my business experience, and to be honest my life experience," Cohen said after the primary, when word had spread that Cohen had once been arrested for domestic abuse, creating an outrage.

It looked like Cohen could drag down the Democrats' gubernatorial nominee, incumbent Pat Quinn. 

Democratic leaders pressured Cohen to step down. It worked out for Quinn; he basically got to handpick Sheila Simon as a running mate. but it was a big enough scare that in 2011, the General Assembly changed the process.

Starting with the upcoming election, candidates for governor and lieutenant governor must run as a team  -- in the primary, as well as in the general election.  That has left voters like Niles Township Republican Committeeman Joe Hendrick wondering:  "Who's the lieutenant governor candidates?"

The shirt he was wearing at Republican Day at the State Fair was visual proof of his status as an undecided voter. It was covered in stickers - including one for each of the four Republicans running for governor. Hendrick said whom each of the candidates chooses for a running mate might help him make up his mind.

"I don't know that it would matter, but it could matter,” he said. "Either positive or negative, I mean if they put out someone that balances them but ... is .... extremely one way, then I might not be enthusiastic about that candidate."

For now, rumors abound.

On the Democratic side, Lt. Gov. Simon chose to run for another office rather than stay on with Quinn. The Governor's not ready to say who'll replace her, only saying earlier this month that "there are a lot of good people out there, we're working on that.”

Democratic challenger Bill Daley, a former U.S. Commerce Secretary, is also reportedly still searching.  Republican candidates are beginning to make their declarations.

There are campaign insiders who admit that it has not been easy finding a credible, experienced politician willing to pair up with a candidate who isn't even assured of getting out of the primary, but none of the candidates profess to having trouble, including Sen. Bill Brady (R-Bloomington). 

As the GOP's nominee for governor in 2010, Brady was matched with Jason Plummer, then a relatively unknown, 29-year-old lumber company heir. Political strategists say Plummer did not help Brady win. Brady said while Plummer was a great candidate, he is excited about the opportunity to run as a team.

“This gives you an option to be ideologically on the same path,” Brady said.

Brady said he sees no downside to this new method, but Jim Nowlan said he does.

Nowlan is now a member of the state's Executive Ethics Commission, but in 1972 he was a 28-year-old legislator and the Republican's nominee for lieutenant governor.

"And was clearly not the first choice of incumbent Gov. Dick Ogilvie, but he was had enacted the income tax and was not particularly popular," he said.

Nowlan said Ogilvie's initial choices had turned him down. 

They feared they had be paired with a likely loser, ending - or at least putting a dent in - their political careers. 

They predicted correctly - Ogilvie and Nowlan lost. Nowlan said it is an indicator of what may be happening behind-the-scenes as candidates for governor court potential running mates for 2014.

"It creates some challenges for the governor candidates because prospective running mates will look at the prospects and say 'Gee, I could lose in the primary with you,' " he said.

Whereas before, it was up to a lieutenant governor to win or lose a primary on his or her own; after that, there was a 50/50 shot at winning. But now candidates for that post will be tied, for better or for worse, to a gubernatorial candidate from the onset. 

The ’14 field is crowded -- there's a six-way race for governor.

"That's why it is difficult for House members in the legislature to give up their seats in order to run for a post where they could lose at two gates on the running course," Nowlan  said.

Nowlan said it is a great opportunity for some up-and-comers, but they're also taking a big risk.

And even if they do win, this new method of match-making means there'll be a tighter link between governors and their number twos in the future. 

A lieutenant governor's sole, constitutional responsibility is to be on standby to take over -which is exactly how Pat Quinn came to be governor, following Rod Blagojevich's ouster.

Though Quinn stood by Blagojevich until nearly the end, it was well known the two weren't close. That saved Quinn during the 2010 campaign. He was able to overcome accusations he'd been part of Blagojevich's schemes.

From here on out, lieutenant governors will not be able to make that excuse.


Pat Brady
(Seth Perlman/AP)
August 27, 2013

ACLU Hires Former Illinois GOP Chair To Lobby For Same-Sex Marriage

The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois has hired former state Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady to lobby for a same-sex marriage bill in Springfield, months after his own support of same-sex marriage sparked a controversy that led to his resignation.

The ACLU confirmed Tuesday that it has hired Next Generation Public Affairs, the lobbying and public relations firm Brady co-founded after he left his party job in May.

“I think the very core of the conservative movement, which I consider myself a part of, is application of equality under the law for all,” Brady said Tuesday in an interview with Illinois Public radio station, WBEZ in Chicago.

Brady will focus on lobbying House Republicans in hopes of getting the same-sex marriage bill passed during this fall’s veto session, he said. He will also tap the political donors he cultivated during his four years as party chairman to raise money for groups that support gay marriage, and for Republican lawmakers who may be hesitant to cast a yes vote, fearing a challenge in next year’s primary.

Brady’s hiring comes after the ACLU launched a $10 million national push in June, aimed at winning support for same-sex marriage from Republican lawmakers and voters in a handful of states, including Illinois.

Steve Schmidt, a GOP strategist who was formerly a top advisor to Arizona U.S. Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, is heading up the national effort.

Brady declined to say how much the ACLU is paying him.

He quit his unpaid party post May 6, following a months-long controversy sparked by his public support of same-sex marriage, a stance which contradicts the GOP platform. Brady rankled some party bosses on the State Central Committee when he announced his support for the bill without telling them first.

He survived an attempt to oust him in April, but there was a quiet agreement reached among party bosses that he would leave later on his own terms.

Despite the past controversy, Brady now said he has no problem working for the liberal ACLU, even if it means taking flak from social conservatives.

“Liberty, freedom and equality under the law are all things that Republicans and conservatives have believed in for a long, long time,” he said. “So I don’t have any qualms with that, and I really excited  to help work with them and get this done right in Illinois.”

Illinois’ same-sex marriage bill cleared the State Senate on Valentine’s Day, with Sen. Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington) casting the lone GOP yes vote. A push to call the measure for a vote in the State House fizzled in the final hours of the spring session, after supporters backed off because they thought it might fail.

Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn has said he will sign the bill into law if it gets to his desk.

But getting a same-sex marriage bill through the Democrat-controlled State House may require Republican votes, as not all Democrats support it. The two GOP State Representatives who are publicly supporting the bill, Ron Sandack of suburban Downers Grove and Ed Sullivan Jr., of Mundelein, say there are a handful of Republicans who might be persuaded to vote yes.

Meanwhile, the National Organization for Marriage, which opposes gay marriage, has vowed to spend money to defeat Republican lawmakers who vote in favor of same-sex marriage.

But there are also plenty of deep-pocketed GOP donors ready to support those lawmakers in the March 18 primary, Brady said.

“There’s gonna be, I think, plenty of money to help those people,” he said.

Illinois’ political calendar has made the future of the same-sex marriage bill more difficult to predict.

The bill could be called for a vote when lawmakers head back to Springfield for their fall veto session in late October and early November.

But state lawmakers will not find out until Nov. 18 whether they will have challengers in March’s primary, which could make some lawmakers hesitant to cast a controversial vote before knowing whether there will be someone to use it against them in next year’s primary.

Pat Quinn
(Seth Perlman/AP)
August 27, 2013

Gov. Quinn To Travel To Japan For Conference

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is set to travel to Japan next month for a conference.

It's the 2013 Midwest U.S.-Japan Association Conference. Nine states, including Illinois, are members of the association. Governors, lieutenant governors and business officials usually attend.

Quinn told reporters Tuesday in Decatur that Japan is a top customer for Illinois' soybeans. He says attending the conference is an opportunity to grow exports.

According to the conference schedule, the Chicago Democrat will give a speech at the conference that runs Sept. 7-10.

Quinn traveled to Japan on a trade mission in 2011.

August 27, 2013

Inmate Released Early Accused Of Murder

The Associated Press has learned the suspect in a Decatur murder is one of 1,600 Illinois inmates released early as part of the state's revamped good-behavior release program.

Joshua A. Jones is in the Macon County Jail after he was arrested on suspicion of murder for the fatal shooting of 22-year-old Marvin E. Perry on Aug. 17.

Jones served 19 months of a four-year sentence for drug-dealing and left prison May 3, five months early. 

Department of Corrections spokesman Tom Shaer says the rules were followed. It was the 28-year-old's first time in prison.

A top Illinois House member wants to make sure the Department of Corrections followed its own rules in granting Perry early release.

House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie says “there's no fail-safe'' in releasing prison inmates. The Chicago Democrat says even non-violent former prisoners can pick up a gun after returning to the street.

A revised early release plan started last spring.

Gov. Pat Quinn shut down a similar one three years ago after hundreds of violent prisoners were quietly let go within days of arriving at prison.

Currie sponsored the 2012 legislative revamp of early release. She plans to look into the Jones case.

The Illinois State Capitol
(Seth Perlman/AP)
August 26, 2013

Illinois Capitol Renovations Aim For Historical Look

In Springfield, the west wing of Illinois' Capitol building is nearing the end of a two-year, $50 million renovation.

Workers are putting on the finishing touches — striking a balance between modern building requirements and historical details.

The door handles are flipper style — that's easier to use for people with disabilities — but they're cast with the state seal. There are lighted emergency exit signs, of course, but they are in an old-fashioned font.

The main purpose of the renovation was to address safety concerns — fire exits were said to be drastically insufficient. But since that would require effectively gutting the space, the decision was made to return it to what architects call the "period of historic significance."

Architect of the Capitol Richard Alsop said in this case, that is 1867 to 1908.

"That's the time period where the original architect — his design intended for the building — and any renovations that were done, were either done with the original architect or those who shared his design intent," Alsop said.

Since that time, stenciling and scrollwork have been painted over. Spaces have been re-purposed.

 There was even an entire floor added — a mezzanine that had most recently been home to the Statehouse press corps. Alsop said these changes were not in keeping with the vision of that original architect, Alfred Piquenard.

"If you had gone to Piquenard and said, should the building have a mezzanine, he would have said, 'Absolutely not,' " Alsop said. "He would have said, 'no.' That's my worst French accent, I'm sorry."

The current renovation removed the mezzanine and restores or recreates a lot of other French accents — like elaborate paintings and intricate chandeliers.

Money for the project came from a special construction fund -- not the regular state budget. The west-wing renovation comes after the House and Senate chambers were re-done several years ago. Alsop said the north wing is the next logical step, but there's no timeline for when that might happen.

Employees are set to begin moving back next month -- including the press, which will have office space in the basement, in what used to be the cafeteria.

August 26, 2013

Madigan Pension Fix Would Save Less Than Estimated

The estimated savings on a pension proposal backed by Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan earlier this year is nearly $25 billion less than originally thought.

That's because the Teachers Retirement System - one of Illinois' five pension systems - says it made a mistake in its calculations. The change was outlined in a Monday letter to a bipartisan panel tasked with coming up with an approach to solving Illinois' nearly $100 billion pension crisis.

Madigan's plan involves across-the-board cuts in benefits. It was originally touted to save Illinois about $187 billion over 30 years. However, the new estimate is about $163 billion in the same time period.

Another plan from Senate President John Cullerton, which had union support, was estimated to save roughly $47 billion over the same timeframe.

DuPage County Auditor Bob Grogan
(Courtesy of Bob Grogan)
August 26, 2013

DuPage Auditor Running For State Treasurer

DuPage County Auditor Bob Grogan says he's running for state treasurer.

The Republican put out a news release Monday saying that he will announce his candidacy during a news conference Tuesday at the Du Quoin State Fair.

Grogan has served two terms as DuPage County auditor. He is an accountant and lives in the Chicago suburb of Downers Grove.

Republican Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford has announced that he is running for governor.

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