Monday, February 27, 2006

Procurement and pension clean-ups happening, but you'd never know it

I guess good news doesn't really sell, because the press rarely covers the legislative moves to clean up Illinois government that, over time, really do make the state a cleaner place.

The press coverage is all about pay-to-play, as if contracts are auctioned off on the rail to the highest bidder.

And when good news does happen, like Senator Schoenberg's SB 2847, which was voted out of the Executive Committee unanimously (signaling a consensus between the Senate Dems and the GOPs, especially since the co-sponsors include Senators Dillard, Garrett, Radogno and Harmon).

Bills like these are good things, and I do believe that the workhorses of the legislature don't get nearly enough credit from much of the press.

I guess as Miller says, coverage follows conflict. The inherent problem is that legislating is a consensus-seeking process (either with the majority caucus or the entire body), so most bills don't get covered very well. There's not a lot of transit funding discussion, even though it's a huge policy debate, largely because the CTA, Pace and Metra are all largely getting along.

Maybe that's why the Governor gets a lot of coverage -- he's good at creating conflict (some good, some bad).

Anyway, SB 2847 should be voted on this week. Let's see if anyone covers it (and let's hope it passes).

Friday, February 24, 2006

Bad-ass bureaucrat of the month: Jesse Ruiz.

What a bitch-slap of bigotry!

What do you do if some sleazy law firm is trampling on the constitutional rights of immigrants by telling a school district to scare off immigrants from the public school?

Shut that school down!

In an unprecedented move for justice, the Illinois State Board of Education, led by lawyer Jesse Ruiz, voted to de-recognize the Elmwood Park School District because they had been (illegally) asking students if they were citizens or not.

And so instead of wringing their hands and sighing about local control and misguided priorities and hoping for a better day, Ruiz and the Board took emergency action and shut down the school!

And they say government moves slowly....

Days like today make me more partisan. It's hard for me to imagine that a Republican-appointed Chairman of the Board of Education would have so boldly stood up for justice, especially with the anti-immigrant fifth or so of the Republican electorate.

Grace period voting has begun -- Sun-Times has a nice write-up

This is a cool story.

It's here.

Last becomes first: Cal City voter makes history

LaRhonda Shorter went to the Cook County clerk's office Wednesday morning hoping to change her address so she could vote in the March 21 primary.
The Calumet City woman left the office as a history-maker.
Shorter cast the first vote in that primary Wednesday, as she was the beneficiary of a first-time voter registration feature.
Though registration officially closed Tuesday, the state is allowing qualified residents a "grace period" until March 7 to register -- with the caveat that they must either vote right there or have an absentee ballot mailed to their home.
Shorter said she had no idea she'd missed the registration deadline and was taken aback by the significance of her 9:30 a.m. vote.
"I just threw something on, figured I'd go down, change my address," the former Chicago resident said. "This is just funny -- the whole thing is amazing."
Five county voters took advantage of the late-registration rule, while nine registered and voted with the Chicago Board of Elections, officials said.
The late-registration benefit is separate from the first-time early-voting provision, which allows anyone already registered to vote beginning Monday.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Grace period voter registration starts tomorrow

If you are not registered at your current address, it's not too late!

You have a grace period of two more weeks to register to vote or to update your address, but you must do so at the office of the county clerk or election commission.

Thanks to Representative Robin Kelly and Senator James Meeks, Illinois citizens may register to vote for an additional 14 days past the regular deadline of 28 days before the election. That regular deadline is today, Tuesday, February 21. The additional two weeks of voter registration is a grace period, and grace period registration is available from Wednesday, February 22nd through March 7th.

This is the first election where grace period registration is permitted.

For details on the new law (which was SB 2133 in the 93rd General Assembly and is now Public Act 93-1082, read it here), see this page.

The bill passed both houses largely on a party-line vote and is one of the many bills that make life better for people because of a Democratic government.

Cook County Clerk David Orr's office deserves credit for supporting the bill early, and the Illinois Association of Clerks and Election Administrators also deserve credit for not opposing the bill (and coming to negotiate in good faith).

I don't think this new grace period is widely understood, so bloggers can help get the word out to include more people in the election.

Progressives putting resources into states (and Illinois is a fine example)

The Progressive Legislative Action Network ( has launched their website after months of waiting for their launch. It's a great site, with a nice blogroll that includes this little piece of the pie.

I think it will be a helpful reminder to progressives that state and local governments are the best tools for implementing justice. The federal government is largely a sinkhole of depressing ideologues and corporate power-brokers figuring out how to roll back the New Deal. Some of the most active ideologues wear black robes, and those guys can really get you down.

Not so in the states. It's fun and refreshing to be around Springfield. The good guys are running the show. And consistent with their good guy way of running things, they let Republicans have far more influence and ability to participate in the legislative consensus-seeking process than the federal GOP allows the federal Dems. And before Illinois GOPers start complaining, I think the fairest comparison is between a member of the minority party in DC to a member of the minority party in Springfield. How many Democrats are co-chairs or chairs of Congressional Committees? How many Democratic bills ever get called for a vote in DC? Yeah, not so much.

I've had a project in mind for months and hopefully someone in bloggerland will take me up on the offer. The project is to look at every single bill that the General Assembly has passed (and the Governor has signed) and explain it. Not in any great detail, but a few paragraphs about what the bill does would help to lay out how life has gotten better for people in Illinois because of the work of a Democratic government.

We don't do a very good job of telling that story. And we should, because we've got a great story to tell.

Groups like PLAN can help with the effort to tell the story of what Democratic governments are doing. I did notice that PLAN's tone is rather negative. "The right-wingers dominate politics! We must stop the total tsunami of right-wingers who infiltrate our federal, state and local government!" (Read the report or the cover story in In These Times here to see what I mean). And the Center for Policy Alternatives ( has been very helpful, certainly to me, for the last few years at laying out the successes of progressive legislators and suggesting lots of model bills for advocates and legislators to work for.

But, maybe I'm biased because I'm living in the Capital of Blue America, where the real debate is in the Democratic primary over the best way to raise the standard of living for most people. Speaking of which, 30 days until the primary grind is over. If you haven't sent in a check to a candidate of your choice, do it now. And if you haven't ever volunteered for a political campaign, now is the time. It really is the efforts of thousands of volunteers that make the Democratic Party the party of the people -- and that have given us the chance to help implement the best public policies in the nation.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Governor's budget address aimed at the middle class

Governor Blagojevich's budget address today demonstrated his team's superb message discipline. He aimed his pitch directly at the middle class, and he cleverly defined the middle class as those earning less than $75,000 a year.

His call for universal pre-school echoed his proposal for universal health insurance for children (AllKids). It also sparked the loudest (positive) response from the General Assembly. The meat of his argument is that middle class families get the shaft. They do the work. They pay the taxes. But they make too much money for most government programs and not enough money to buy private pre-school for their kids.

It's a very Clintonian message (at least in 1992) when he campaigned for the forgotten middle class who work hard and play by the rules but somehow get left behind. And like Clinton, who worked to raise the marginal income tax rate on money earned above $300,000 or so from 35% to 39.6% (and thus raised enough money to balance the budget and make life better for just about everyone), Blagojevich is working to fund universal pre-school by closing corporate tax loopholes that essentially enrich the rich.

It's a great theme for Democrats, and his talent at laying it out gives me more hope than I've had in a long time that he can overcome his current below-50% approval rating to get re-elected. His putative opponent, Judy Baar Topinka, is a well-liked (especially by Democrats, I've found), but not nearly as disciplined with her message; perhaps because, as a moderate Republican in a blue state, she doesn't have a particular message. I think her campaign is fueled more by a surprising of affection and respect from the electorate and the elected, and not so much by a platform or a mission.

That's a good thing for Blagojevich's re-election, since he'll run on a strong, well-defined and frequently-repeated message of making life demonstrably better for people. That's what Democrats are all about. And telling that story about government seems to me to be a great way to win elections.

(On a quick side note, I wonder whether the $10 billion pension obligation bond really does outweigh the two years of not paying into the funds. When Blagojevich made that claim in his address it sure seemed reasonable to me, but the howls of protest from the Republicans -- reminiscent of a Question Time response in the House of Commons -- demonstrate there's a different opinion. If the Administration has put more dollars into the pension fund than any other Administration, does it really matter if the dollars were all put in the first year and not equally distributed over all four years? And yes, I know the 1995 law called for a steep ramp-up in contributions these fiscal years, but shouldn't Blagojevich get credit for the huge contribution two years ago?)

Friday, February 10, 2006

Sweden wants to be an oil-free economy by 2020

Saw this post on a new blog from the I-GO car-sharing people (started by the Center for Neighborhood Technology), citing a Guardian article.

The country wants to get off oil entirely.


According the the Minister of Sustainable Development (the equivalent of our Secretary of Energy):

Ms Sahlin has described oil dependency as one of the greatest problems facing the world. "A Sweden free of fossil fuels would give us enormous advantages, not least by reducing the impact from fluctuations in oil prices," she said. "The price of oil has tripled since 1996."

That's scary.

Go Swedes!

Russ Stewart calls a Claypool win over Stroger

Russ Stewart, a columnist I admire because he includes actual vote totals in most of his analysis, predicts a 55-45 Claypool victory over Stroger for Cook County Board President.

His column is here.

Stewart remarks here:

Stroger won the 1994 primary with 47.1 percent of the vote, largely because of a huge black vote but also supplemented by a sizable vote produced in white wards by committeemen allied with Daley. Stroger got 82.3 percent of the vote in the 20 black-majority wards. In white-majority areas, he got 26.4 percent of the vote on the Northwest Side, 33.4 percent on the Southwest Side, 39.5 percent on the Lakefront and 34.7 percent in the suburbs.


So, the Stroger campaign needs to improve upon the 1994 results, because there's only one candidate in the 2006 race, not two, and clearly one needs 50% of the vote to win.

There isn't much upside potential in the black vote for Stroger. It's my impression he has already maxed that one out.

As Laura Washington put it in the Sun-Times a few weeks ago (butchering her a bit): "the mood in the hood is that once an office goes black, it never goes back."

Not exactly a policy declaration, but pretty clear nonetheless.

However, with Barack Obama and Jesse Jackson Jr. both officially neutral in the race, there's some potential for some black votes to move to Claypool's camp.

In order for that to happen, however, Claypool has to somehow deliver the message that cutting the bloated bureaucracy results in more services, not less.

It's a hard message to get through, not because it is inaccurate, but because it is counterintuitive.

And Claypool needs a black messenger to deliver the message to black voters. So far, there haven't been many takers.

Maybe Cook County smokers (led by their champion, Eric Zorn...) who will face another $1.00 increase in their pack of smokes thanks to a new budget passed this month (which Claypool and Quigley and the 5 GOPers voted against), can help fuel a Claypool revolt.

Claypool's campaign website is here and I can't find a Stroger site.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Capitol capital strategy for smoking out the loyal opposition

Let's say that you are the Speaker of the House or the President of the Senate.

Let's also say that you think the State ought to issue some bonds to finance roads, transit and schools for the first time in three years. This requires a 3/5 vote, so Republicans must vote for the bond.

Finally, let's say that the growing specter of the gubernatorial election leads to increasing calculation by Republican strategists to vote against any bond, based on the hope that a Republican candidate will beat the Democratic incumbent.

What can you do to either (a) put the pressure on Republicans to vote for the bond or (b) educate the electorate that the Republicans are to blame for the lack of a bond?

That's the dilemna facing Speaker Madigan, President Jones, their respective staffers and strategists and Governor Blagojevich and his team.

On the policy side, it's almost certainly the right thing to do to issue a bond and finance some transit, school and road projects. Governor Blagojevich tends to frame the debate in terms of generating construction jobs, but I think the more compelling policy reason for the bond is the investment in our infrastructure that benefits all of us. I'd say there's a rather strong consensus that the State should implement a capital plan this year.

So, how can the Democrats leverage that very strong consensus on the need for a capital plan to either force Republicans to support one or successfully assign blame to them for the lack of a capital plan emerging?

There's a tremendous amount of civic education that accompanies any attempt to cast blame on the GOP. The requirement for a 3/5 legislative vote in both chambers for any capital bill is not widely known, so it isn't widely known (among the electorate) that Republicans have a veto over any capital bill. That suggests that the average voter will likely blame the incumbent just as much as the Republican legislators for the lack of a capital bill -- to the extent any average voter is moved by the lack of a capital bill.

However, the best way to explain that dynamic to voters is to force a vote on a capital bill and give Republican legislators an opportunity to either implement a bill or vote against it.

'No' votes are crucial for any Democratic attempt to blame the Republicans for the lack of a capital bill. If there is no vote on a capital bill, it's very hard to make the case that the Republicans are at fault. If there is a roll call, it's a bit easier.

With a roll call, Republicans must calculate the extent to which they will be blamed by presumably unhappy voters with the roads not paved, the transit not expanded and the schools not built. And with the message discipline that the Blagojevich campaign has shown, it's certainly conceivable that they will figure out how to successfully pin blame on the 'do-nothing Republicans.'

I think that's why the Blagojevich Administration is so energetically selling the projects in the proposed capital plan -- if they can successfully convey to voters that the Republican legislators are denying them something they want (this road, this particular bridge, that particular school), then the legislators might need to defer to the governor's Democratic-friendly plan in order to avoid a local backlash. It's hard to do, because they are trying to make people feel like the Republicans might take something away from them that they don't actually already have.

It reminds me of an old psychological trick. Let's say you've got a 100 dollar bill in your pocket. Someone approaches you and offers to flip a coin -- if you win, you get $100, and if you lose, you have to give them your $100. Generally, people shy away from those 50-50 odds, because they feel like they at risk of losing something.

Now, imagine you are walking down the street and you find a $100 bill on the street. Before you pick it up, someone else steps on it, and offers to flip a coin -- if you win, you get the $100 bill on the street and if you lose, he gets it. Generally, people are more open to that game, because they don't feel they are at risk of losing something they have.

It's illogical, since the odds are the same, but people are not fully rational. In other words, people are more averse to losing something of value than they are attracted to the possibility of winning something, even when the odds are exactly the same. It just depends on how people perceive the game -- possible losing something important (very bad) or possibly gaining something important (pretty good, but not nearly as bad as losing something).

Somehow, Blagojevich and the Dems must convey to people that they are at risk of losing something of value -- the specific projects in the capital plan -- in order to bring Republicans on board or generate a base of angry voters who blame the legislators who voted no to take away their projects.

And I think it's easier to do that with roll call votes. Maybe that makes the Democrats appear weak or unable to deliver, but I think it's better to lose a vote because of Republican opposition and attempt to make that issue a significant part of the general election debate.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Revenue options -- Voices for Children has a good white paper

Here is an excellent white paper on ten revenue options for the Illinois General Assembly to finance school construction dollars.

Some interesting ones include a new single family home construction fee of $1,000 or so, because new single family homes generally means new kids and that means new schools; capping or means-testing all of the tax breaks that currently flow to the wealthiest of us and the big kahuna (sp?) taxing services purchased by households.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Mangieri versus Giannoulias primary a fascinating look at the Democratic Party

Statewide primaries are fascinating exercises. They illuminate the different types of people who define the party. Elected officials, who usually have a finely-tuned sense of the political consensus in their area, as well as a very good read on the wishes of the higher-ups in the party, are great symbols for how different parts of the state are thinking.

The only vigorously-contested statewide primary Democrats have this year is the open seat for Treasurer. Judy Baar Topinka, the Republican with the most cross-over appeal, is running for Governor. Her heir apparent is another suburban woman legislator, Christine Radogno, who managed to clear the GOP field. She'll be a formidable candidate for whichever Democrat survives the primary.

The two men competing for the slot are Knox County State's Attorney Paul Mangieri (campaign website here) and Chicago banker Alexi Giannoulias (campaign website here).

The best thing one can say about Mangieri's campaign is that he is backed quite strongly by Speaker Michael Madigan. The second best thing one can say is that he had the fortitude to run for the office early when the Republicans were flirting with Jim Edgar and conventional wisdom suggested that Judy Baar Topinka was likely to run for re-election (along with every single other statewide official). A run for Treasurer against Topinka was considered about as much of a kamikaze mission as running against Jesse White or Dan Hynes or Lisa Madigan (at least, that's my view of conventional wisdom last summer), and Mangieri was essentially the only elected official willing to campaign for the job.

Once the Republican ticket shook itself out and Topinka relinquished her seat, progressives found themselves a bit out of sorts. Mangieri has been a pro-life official, and after Barack Obama's stunning 70% plus victory in the last statewide primary (a race he wasn't supposed to win), these was a lingering sense that another progressive ought to get the seat -- or at least, not just concede that precious post to a pro-lifer without a primary.

Populist Representative Mike Boland and blogging Representative John Fritchey (both of whom would be considered progressive) flirted with a run, but Speaker Madigan convinced Boland to run for re-election in his increasingly Republican district and Fritchey, for a number of reasons, decided he didn't want to run either.

That one.

Into the void stepped an unlikely candidate:
Alexi Giannoulias. The son of Greek immigrants who started the very successful Broadway Bank in Chicago, a young, good-looking former semi-pro basketball player and a bit of a man about town, Giannoulias had the money and connections to put together a fairly impressive campaign in short notice. One very important connection: Barack Obama's political man in Illinois, Dan Shomon, who played a crucial role in creating the candidacy. (At least, I credit Dan, but I'm just a third-hand observer, and not a participant in the campaign).

Speaker Madigan's main motivation in supporting Mangieri, according to press accounts, is the desire to avoid a Chicago-only ticket. All statewide Democrats live in Chicago. That's not a great message to send to Downstaters, who tend to place a higher degree of importance to a candidate's domicile than people from the city. (One quick anecdote: a College Republican from Champaign County told me in 1998 that he'd be happy with the Salvi-Durbin U.S. Senate race no matter what, because either the Republican would win or a the Downstater Dick Durbin would win. This is from a fairly partisan guy.) I recall seeing faxes in 2002 showing a map of Chicago with the residences of all the Democratic statewide candidates (including Tom Dart), calling for an end to Chicago dominance of Illinois politics. I'd imagine that message resonated a bit Downstate.

Sensing a possible problem for the 2006 re-election campaign, Speaker Madigan moved to fill the gap by supporting a Downstater.

Progressives (however defined) are far less motivated by the risk of a Chicago-only ticket. The endorsers of
Giannoulias (read them here) are essentially the base of the Obama coalition: white north side progressives and south side blacks. Pro-choicers and the gay community are early supporters as well.

Because Mangieri doesn't have a campaign website that lists his endorsements (symptomatic, I think, of his supporters, who value a hard-working precinct campaign far more than a fancy website), it's hard to say exactly who his endorses are. But I do know that Speaker Madigan has made it a point to work on collecting supporter for his primary campaign, so it's safe to say that there are far more elected officials who support Mangieri than Giannoulias, as Obama certainly inspires affection and devotion from the electorate, but Speaker Madigan earns more political deference from elected officials.

The best political shorthand for the pre-primary battle is Obama versus Madigan. I'm not suggesting there's any sort of a fight between these two men, but they are both good symbols of the wings of the party that are backing each candidate. I have heard that Obama's endorsement (his first really high-profile endorsement since his election to the Senate) has been worth its weight in gold (and the web designer for Giannoulias certainly thinks so). So this will be a really interesting six weeks.

Perhaps the most interesting question for progressives is whether it's a smarter move to back a Downstater in order to help solidify the Democratic Party's standing Downstate generally (and perhaps marginally improve Blagojevich's re-election chances) or to support a Chicago progressive who can help escalate the progressive wing's internal clout in the party, but perhaps marginally hurt the other statewide's relection chances.

After seeing the inspiring litany of bills that the Democratic majority in the General Assembly have been able to pass in the last three years, I'm growing more sympathetic to the Speaker's sense of strategy. I might be over-valuing the importance of a non-Chicago-only ticket (or put another way, I might be overestimating the risk of a Downstate backlash to a Chicago-only ticket), but I'd like to dampen the potential for a Chicago-only ticket backlash any way possible.