President Barack Obama awards former Illinois Rep. Abner Mikva the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Monday, Nov. 24, 2014, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington.
Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press
July 05, 2016

Abner Mikva, Liberal Voice From Illinois, Dies At 90

Abner Mikva, a former Illinois congressman, state legislator, federal appellate judge and presidential adviser, has died. The head of Mikva Challenge, a leadership organization Mikva founded, says Mikva died Monday in hospice care at Rush University Medical Center.

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Congressman Rodney Davis
Sean Powers/Illinois Public Media
March 28, 2016

Davis: Trade Embargo With Cuba Won't Be Lifted Soon

GOP Congressman Rodney Davis of Taylorville says despite the positive news coming out of President Obama's recent visit to Cuba, there are some obstacles before Congress will consider lifting the U.S. trade embargo with the island country.

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U.S. President Barack Obama, left, attends a State Dinner hosted by Cuban President Raul Castro, right, at the Palace of the Revolution, Monday, March 21, 2016, in Havana, Cuba.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press
March 23, 2016

Durbin, Bustos Push For Trade With Cuba After Delegation Visit

Democratic Illinois U.S. Senator Dick Durbin and 17th District Congressional Democrat Cheri Bustos were among those who traveled to Cuba with President Obama this week.  Durbin says he witnessed a 'spirit of cooperation' that he hadn't seen before in the island countrry. The two are pushing for the end to the U.S. trade embargo with Cuba.

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In this Feb. 12, 2016 photo, Democrat Juliana Stratton talks to residents during a bingo party at the Minnie Ripperton apartments in Chicago.Stratton, is trying to unseat incumbent Democratic state Rep. Ken Dunkin. “
Charles Rex Arbogast/Associates Press
March 07, 2016

Obama Produces Ad For Rep. Dunkin Opponent

President Obama has voiced a commercial asking voters to support Juliana Stratton, Rep. Ken Dunkin's opponent for the Democratic nomination for Illinois' 5th House District.  The race is largely seen as a proxy war between House Speaker Michael Madigan, who's supporting Stratton, and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, whose allies are supporting Dunkin.

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U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk on June 9, 2014
M. Spencer Green/Associated Press
February 22, 2016

Kirk 'Looks Forward' To Obama Nominating Scalia Replacement

Republican U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk has broken with fellow Republicans, and says President Obama should nominate a replacement for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.  The Senator says he swore an oath to uphold the constitution, "not to a party or any one individual.''

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President Barack Obama receives a standing ovation before addressing the Illinois General Assembly in Springfield.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press
February 11, 2016

Will Obama's Belief In Politics Of 'Hope' Spur Action In Illinois?

On a freezing February day in 2007, President Barack Obama announced his bid for the nation's highest office in front of the Old State Capitol in downtown Springfield -- the place where Abraham Lincoln gave his historic "House Divided" speech. At the time, Obama called for hope and change. Nine years later -- to the very day -- Obama came back to Springfield. In his last year as president, he says he believes in the "politics of hope."

The themes of Obama's speech yesterday echoed what he'd said nine years ago, back when his hair hadn't yet gone gray.

We’ve got to build a better politics -- one that’s less of a spectacle and more of a battle of ideas; one that’s less of a business and more of a mission; one that understands the success of the American experiment rests on our willingness to engage all our citizens in this work," he said. "What can we do, all of us, together, to try to make our politics better? And I speak to both sides on this. As all of you know, it could be better, and all of you would feel prouder of the work you do if it was better."

This time, though, Obama spoke before a joint session of the Illinois legislature at its current state capitol -- the very building that houses a state government that epitomizing the polarization the President was in town to decry.

A chasm between Illinois' Republican Governor, Bruce Rauner, and the Democrats who hold strong majorities in the legislature, is so deep, the state has gone 225 days without a budget, and counting. Obama only hinted at this divide in Illinois.

Though he was upfront in admitting Washington D.C. is no paragon of cooperation. "It's been noted often by pundits that the tone of our politics hasn't gotten better since I was inaugurated, in fact it's gotten worse; that there's still this yawning gap between the magnitude of our challenges and the smallness of our politics. Which is why, in my final State of the Union address, and in the one before that, I had to acknowledge that one of my few regrets is my inability to reduce the polarization and meanness in our politics. I was able to be part of that here and yet couldn't translate it the way I wanted to into our politics in Washington."

The President got nostalgic about it: He reminisced about going to fish-fries, visiting union halls, and playing a bipartisan poker game with other state legislators during his time in Springfield, and said those relationships laid a foundation of respect, which gave way to progress.

"And we didn't call each other idiots or fascists who were trying to destroy America. Because then we'd have to explain why we were playing poker or having a drink with an idiot or a fascist who was trying to destroy America," he said, prompting laughter.

It was clear that Obama felt at home and at ease. Before his speech, he stopped for soup at a favorite sandwich shop downtown, one state representative said that although she hadn't seen Obama in years, he'd noticed she'd lost weight, and the President was comfortable enough to continually go off script during his address, like when lawmakers stood, clapped or even shouted in reaction to what he said.

Most notably, that occurred after Rep. Ken Dunkin loudly said "that's right" when Obama said "Where I've got an opportunity to find some common ground, that doesn't make me a sellout to my own party."

Obama responded back saying, "We'll talk later, Dunkin."

Democrats wildly clapped, and rose from their seats.

"This is what happens, everybody starts cherry-picking," Obama said to laughter, more of which came when he added, "One thing I've learned is folks don't change."

Dunkin has gotten a reputation in some corners - namely that of his fellow House Democrats -- as a "sellout." The Chicago Democrat has sided with the Republican governor on a couple of close, controversial votes. Dunkin's fellow Democrats are flaming mad about it. As Dunkin attempts to fight off a primary challenge, he's so far received a half-million dollars of support from a conservative organization with ties to Gov. Rauner.

While most Illinois residents, and certainly a national audience, may not know the backstory, it's certainly interesting that the President is up enough on Illinois politics that he apparently does.

Rep. Dunkin is a Chicago Democrat who's sided with the Republican governor on a couple of close, controversial votes. Dunkin's fellow Democrats are flaming mad about it. As he attempts to fight off a primary challenge, he's so far received a half-million dollars of support from a conservative organization with ties to Gov. Rauner.

That this spontaneously arose during a speech in which the President called on politicians to bridge their divides shows the personal dynamics, the campaign money, and the ideological battles that all come into play.

Illinois' feuding top leaders all had a front row seat for the hour-long speech.

After, the Governor didn't have much to say about it; when asked he only said "good speech, good speech" before walking away (Rauner will have to give a major speech of his own, when he gives his budget address next week).

Senate President John Cullerton -- who met privately with Obama Wednesday morning -- has high hopes that lawmakers will take the President's message to heart, and that it could move negotiations along on a budget.

"I think it'll kind of make it ... really kind of embarrass people into not being so .... so, stuck in their ways, you know?" he said, "And hope that -- we still have a big gap to close, but if people (as I've been trying to do, by the way since I've been here) to try to do bring people together and try to pass some legislation."

Republicans by and large weren't quite that optimistic.

"I think you can never have enough reminders of the importance of coming back to a respectful tone. It's not going to change over night, the President acknowledged that," Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, said.

"I think we need to take his remarks today, and realize that we do need to work together to try and get things done. But is this going to move us off the dime a little bit on budget negotiations? I don't think so," Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, said.

"Politicians have a tendency to make really good speeches, right? We have a tendency to talk the talk. It's walking the walk that really vexes many politicians," said Sen. Sam McCann, R-Carlinville.

But most Republicans  -- including Demmer, Butler and McCann -- also said they appreciated the overall theme of Obama's remarks, and are open to some of his specific suggestions.

The President offered ideas for moving past today's fractured, media-driven, ultra-polarized politics -- like getting a handle on campaign contributions. As an Illinois voter and constituent, he endorsed legislation that's already been introduced in Springfield that would automatically register people to vote when they get or renew their driver's licenses.  He also called for moving politicians back to the middle by updating how Congressional districts are mapped -- a concept that Republicans, led by Gov. Rauner, support on the state level.

Whatever happens in Illinois, it seems, Obama may keep an eye on it, though by evening he'd once again boarded Air Force One and left Springfield.

He says this notion of building a new and better politics will be the focus for the remainder of his Presidency, and next year - when he goes back to having the title of "citizen."


President Barack Obama returns a salute as he boards Air Force One before his departure from Andrews Air Force Base, Md.,Wednesday.  He's headed to Springfield.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press
February 10, 2016

What Will Obama's Springfield Speech Be About?

President Barack Obama is returning to Illinois' capital at the twilight of his political career.  White House aides say Obama wanted to return to the place his career started to discuss how the U.S. can "build a better politics'' in which Americans aren't so starkly divided by race, religion or political party.

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