Chicago Sun-Times
Staff reports on all things politics - from City Hall to Springfield to Washington, D.C.

February 2013 Archives

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Today's front page of USA Today shows a photo of President Obama hugging someone in front of a new Rosa Parks statue, while a young boy to the right of the photo looks on.

The children aren't identified in the photo's front page caption, but it turns out those are Jesse Jackson Jr.'s kids -- featured on a national daily front page paper.

Obama is hugging Jackson Jr.'s daughter, Jessica, 12, and Jackson's son, Jesse III, who is 9, is pictured to the right. Obama made his way over to the kids, who by then were with Rev. Jesse Jackson -- their grandfather -- after the ceremony and shook hands. President Obama then took a separate photo with both of Jackson Jr.'s kids afterward.

In the backdrop is a statue of Rosa Parks, the Civil Rights-era activist. The statue now appears in National Statuary Hall, an area inside the U.S.Capitol devoted to sculptures of prominent Americans.

The Wednesday dedication of the statue was to be a big moment for Jackson Jr. before he resigned from congress last November, amid a federal investigation. Earlier this month, Jackson and his wife, Sandi, pleaded guilty to looting his campaign fund of $750,000 to pay for personal luxuries.

Neither parent attended the ceremony as originally planned. The Rev. Jackson's wife brought the children to the event.

"It was touching to see President Obama reach out to Jesse's children at the ceremony,"
said Ken Jakubowski, a family friend.

Jackson had initiated legislation that paved the way for the statue and worked to sign on Sen. John Kerry to carry the legislation in the U.S. Senate.
"Yesterday's unveiling of the Rosa Parks statue in Statuary Hall represents a real triumph for Congressman Jackson. He may be gone from Congress, but Congressman Jackson's legacy of standing up for "a more perfect Union" will be stamped in the Capitol forever."

Jesse Jr. was to give a speech at the dedication, which he penned before June 10, when he left Congress. The dedication was to happen last year but it was delayed during Jackson's leave of absence. It went on when it became clear he would not attend.
Jackson Jr. resigned from Congress in November.

SPRINGFIELD-Despite a GOP outcry, the Illinois Senate signed off Thursday on an expansion of the state's Medicaid program as part of President Barack Obama's health-care overhaul.

Gov. Pat Quinn praised the Senate's 40-19 vote as a move that would help "increase access to health coverage for the uninsured." The measure now moves to the House.

"This is clearly the right, moral, fiscal thing to do," said state Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), the bill's chief Senate sponsor.

Under the plan, Senate Bill 26, she said 342,000 currently uninsured Illinoisans would be eligible for the first time to participate in Medicaid, the state's health insurance program for the poor and disabled.

The federal government would fully reimburse the state for its costs for the first three years then cover 90 percent of costs in subsequent years, Steans said.

The expansion would provide coverage to individuals making 133 percent of the federal poverty level -- or $14,856 annually. A family of four with household income of $30,656 annually could participate.

Senate Republicans complained that even with the federal subsidies, the cash-strapped state can ill afford taking on more spending obligations when it has $9 billion in unpaid bills and a $97 billion unfunded pension liability that has left Illinois' credit rating in tatters.

"This is a massive expansion of a program that's already been bankrupting the state. We're going from 2.3 million and adding 600,000 people in one year," said state Sen. Matt Murphy (R-Palatine).

"I know the president used to sit in this chamber. I know many of you are awed by him. But this is not good policy for a state that came into this situation in already horrible shape," he said.

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As Chicago's longest-serving mayor, Richard M. Daley filed a $433 million lawsuit against the gun industry, only to have it dismissed by the state Supreme Court.


First Lady Michelle Obama may be catching heat for a recent ABC interview and for upstaging Jack Nicholson at the Oscars on Sunday.
In a stop in Chicago on Thursday, she shrugged if off.

"I don't think about that stuff," she said in a pooled media interview. Mrs. Obama said criticism of her recent appearances doesn't bother her.

"My bangs set off a national conversation," said Mrs. Obama during the interview in which she also hinted at a more international second term agenda. "We've got a lot of talking going on," she said. "Everybody's kitchen table conversation is now accessible to everybody else. It's absolutely not surprising."


"There's no logic in that, she said, adding "It doesn't have anything to do with me. Anyone in this position has a huge spotlight and in modern day media the spotlight just gets more intense. I don't attribute this to me or Barack. The culture has just shifted."

SPRINGFIELD-Thursday marked just another day at the office in the Democratic-led Illinois House, which sunk to new depths in futility in trying to solve the state's $97 billion pension crisis.

House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) set aside part of the day for the House to take test votes on four separate pension-reform ideas - ending annual retiree cost-of-living increases entirely, withholding those increases until the state's pension systems are 80-percent funded, boosting the retirement age to 67 and increasing employee pension contributions by another 5 percent per paycheck.

In order, here is how many votes each idea got: 2, 5, 1 and 3.

More than 60 of Madigan's House Democrats voted against each plan, and Republicans didn't vote at all, arguing the whole exercise was nothing more than a "charade" orchestrated by the speaker, who was the only "yes" vote on each measure.

Madigan, who presides over a 71- to 47-seat majority over Republicans in a chamber where it takes 60 votes to pass most things, has publicly said nothing of late himself about his intentions on the pension front -- let alone explain his purpose behind permitting Thursday's kamikaze pension roll calls.

"What are we doing here today? Illinois politics at its finest? Another day of games? Another day of waiting? Another day of putting off the inevitable on an issue that is not going away but that gets worse every single day we put it off?" House Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego) asked incredulously.

"We are sick and tired of this gamesmanship. Do we have to play politics 365 days of the year. Is that what it's become?" he continued.

State Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook), who presented the four amendments to the bills carrying Madigan's name, defended Thursday's approach.

"We don't have 60 votes on this yet, and we have to engage in a process that'll get us there. Maybe this isn't exactly what we want. We needed to shake things up. We need to do something a little different than what we've been doing," Nekritz told her colleagues.

"We have to get to something that we're for. If this is a process that can get us to something we're for, let's go ahead," she said.

With Madigan holding his chamber's gavel and building on his majority in November, the House failed to pass a pension package last May, during a special legislative session Gov. Pat Quinn called in August, during the fall veto session and during the early-January lame-duck session.

A Madigan spokesman said Thursday's votes still had a productive purpose, when asked by reporters how the inaction squared with the speaker's expectations.

"Well, I don't know that there were any expectations. But people always talk about that we need to have roll call because we've heard that debate, right? We've heard people complain about stifling bills, stifling amendments. So we're trying to offer an alternative this year on several significant issues. That'll continue," he said.

"We're still trying to find the plan that'll have 60 votes here, 30 votes in the Senate and the signature of the governor," Brown said.

The state's failure to act on pension reform has hit Illinois' pocketbook, with Standard & Poor's downgrading the state's bond rating to the lowest level of any state in the country because of the pension impasse. That move prompted Quinn's administration to put the brakes on a $500 million bond issue.

Thursday's spinning-in-place House session drew criticism and ridicule from at least one union leader.

"These new draconian proposals are not only grossly unjust, but worse yet, they don't even solve the problem. Illinois has a fiscal crisis, not a benefits crisis, and these amendments fail to address the root cause. Today's amendments are unfair, unconstitutional and unproductive," said Dan Montgomery, president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers.

Contributing: Zach Buchheit

At an event in Chicago aimed at boosting sports and physical education in schools today, First Lady Michelle Obama came back onto the stage in workout clothes and gave a spirited, passionate pitch to 6,000 Chicago Public School students about not only staying active, but eating right, working hard in school and telling them "it's on you!" to turn off the TV.
Michelle Obama told the students at the event that she, too, grew up on the South Side and knows what it's like to be them.
"I am you!" she screamed to them.
She told them she grew up without much money. Her family lived in a small apartment, she shared a tiny room in an apartment with her brother, Craig. She said it was so noisy sometimes, she couldn't think.
Mrs. Obama told the students it's their choice to eat candy and chips instead of fruits and vegetables.
"You gotta turn off the TV. Move away from the SCREEN!" the First Lady implored.
She told them she got to where she was because she worked diligently in school.
"You got one job at this age and that's to be the best student you can be," Mrs. Obama said. "Do your homework, not just when you feel like it."

At an event in Chicago aimed at boosting sports and physical education in schools today, First Lady Michelle Obama came back onto the stage in workout clothes and gave a spirited, passionate pitch to 6,000 Chicago Public School students about not only staying active, but eating right, working hard in school and telling them "it's on you!" to turn off the TV.
Michelle Obama told the students at the event that she, too, grew up on the South Side and knows what it's like to be them.
"I am you!" she screamed to them.
She told them she grew up without much money. Her family lived in a small apartment, she shared a tiny room in an apartment with her brother, Craig. She said it was so noisy sometimes, she couldn't think.
Mrs. Obama told the students it's their choice to eat candy and chips instead of fruits and vegetables.
"You gotta turn off the TV. Move away from the SCREEN!" the First Lady implored.
She told them she got to where she was because she worked diligently in school.
"You got one job at this age and that's to be the best student you can be," Mrs. Obama said. "Do your homework, not just when you feel like it."

UPDATED....

SPRINGFIELD-Rep. Jim Sacia has become an Internet celebrity.

During Tuesday's long House debate on concealed-carry legislation, the Republican from far northwestern Illinois made an analogy that tied together guns and castration in one fell swoop.

Now, a YouTube video of his floor speech has drawn more than 14,000 views, and one top black lawmaker condemned Sacia's remarks as the "most offensive statement" he'd heard.

"I have heard only positives," Sacia told the Chicago Sun-Times Thursday, when asked the reaction he has gotten since his speech. "My secretary in Freeport got one call from a lady in Chicago who insists I have a mental problem, but I would have expected that from someone in Chicago. The feedback has been unbelievably positive."

Spending seven hours on the House floor Tuesday, House members on both sides of the gun divide clashed heatedly while voting up or down on more than a dozen amendments to a concealed-carry bill carried by House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago).

With reporting by Zach Buchheit

SPRINGFIELD-Gov. Pat Quinn and state government's largest employee union struck a three-year deal Thursday that will give 35,000 state workers no pay increases the first year and 2-percent increases during each of the next two years.

Those details, confirmed by two sources familiar with the tentative deal, were a key part of a settlement between the governor and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 that was reached at about 1 a.m. Thursday.

The proposed agreement, which still must be ratified by the union, ends a 15-month stalemate between AFSCME and a governor it helped to elect in 2010.

"At a time when the state is facing unprecedented financial challenges, this agreement is fair to both hard-working state employees and all taxpayers of Illinois," Quinn said in a prepared statement. "I want to thank the women and men who have stayed at the table for more than a year for their commitment to reaching an agreement."

The union's chief sounded a similarly upbeat tone in describing the settlement, which brought to an end the longest negotiation in state history.

"AFSCME is very pleased that we were able to reach an agreement that protects our members' standard of living, and is fair to them and all Illinois citizens, even in these very challenging economic times," AFSCME Council 31 executive director Henry Bayer said.

The union intends to take the deal to its members, and the ratification process will get underway during the week of March 4, AFSCME's statement said.

Quinn and the union have been negotiating for a new collective bargaining agreement for more than a year and had agreed to extend the terms of a state contract that expired last June. However, the governor's administration announced in November that talks had stalled and the contract was left untouched.

The Quinn administration had rejected the union contract in a spat over retirement health insurance and $60 million in unpaid wage increases that Quinn had previously promised. The conflict persisted even as the state had claimed it extended the union's contract three times over the previous 11 months.

In December, a Cook County judge ruled in favor of AFSCME in the pay dispute with Quinn's administration, determining that the state must pay wages to 30,000 state workers that the governor withheld since July 2011.

The governor had promised pay increases to state government's largest employee union but then pulled back, saying the General Assembly had failed to appropriate enough money to cover the pay increases the administration negotiated with the union - a point upon which Cook County Circuit Judge Richard Billik conceded.

But Billik nonetheless ruled the state is bound by the contract Quinn's administration negotiated with AFSCME and even if the funds don't exist now, workers eventually must be paid what they were promised.

SPRINGFIELD-The former head of a Chicago group that helped promote black nurses pled guilty Wednesday to mail fraud and money-laundering for her role in a state grant fraud scheme in which she siphoned off $500,000 for her personal use.

Margaret Davis, the former program director for the Chicago Chapter of the National Black Nurses Association, agreed to the plea deal with prosecutors in federal court in Springfield and could face a prison term of up to 41 months.

"Did you do what he said you did," U.S. District Judge Sue Myerscough asked Davis, 62, after assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy A. Bass read details of her plea agreement in open court.

"Yes, your honor," Davis replied.

"I'm pleading guilty because I am guilty," she said moments later.

Davis will be sentenced July 22.

In June 2011, federal prosecutors in Springfield charged Davis and another Chicago nurse Tonja Cook with siphoning $500,000 from state grant funds for Davis' "personal use."

Davis admitted that from December 2005 to June 2009, she solicited on behalf of her organization and received 15 different grants and contracts totaling $1,062,000 from four different state agencies.

Davis got a $460,000 state grant to train minority nurses in 2006 with sponsorship from former state Sen. Rickey Hendon (D-Chicago), who has not been charged with wrongdoing in her case.

That minority-nurses training grant sponsored by Hendon came from the state Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, then headed by Jack Lavin, who's now Gov. Pat Quinn's chief of staff.

Another $577,473 in grants Davis obtained came from the state's Department of Public Health when it was headed by Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, a longtime friend of President Barack Obama, and Whitaker's successor, Dr. Damon Arnold, the Sun-Times previously has reported.

There is no indication that Whitaker, Arnold or Lavin are targets of any investigation.

Hendon, a West Side Democrat, unexpectedly retired from the Senate in February 2011.

Last June, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that "thousands of dollars" in state grants awarded to Davis' organization to bolster health care in minority communities instead went to pay Hendon campaign workers and Democratic candidates Hendon supported.

That explosive allegation came from Davis' co-defendant, Cook, in four interviews with state and federal authorities between October 2010 and May 2011, records show.

SPRINGFIELD-In a racially charged vote, the Senate served up a dramatic defeat for Gov. Pat Quinn Wednesday in his bid to strip the Southern Illinois University board of loyalists to university President Glenn Poshard, the one-time Democratic candidate for governor.

Unprecedented in recent memory, the Senate's unanimous rejection of three Quinn appointees to the SIU board was led by Downstate Democrats who oppose administration efforts to reinstall an anti-Poshard trustee, southern Illinois podiatrist Roger Herrin, as chairman.

Quinn nominated Belleville lawyer Sandra Cook, former Northeastern Illinois University administrator Melvin Terrell and former State Board of Education spokesman Lee Milner as replacements for those whom the governor removed this week from the SIU board.

Quinn's administration pulled the plug on Edwardsville school superintendent Edward Hightower, East Alton lawyer John Simmons and O'Fallon contractor Mark Hinrichs.

The three were involved two years ago in a bid to drive Herrin out then as the board's chairman after they and Poshard expressed complaints about Herrin's job performance, accusing him of micromanaging university affairs.

But in a harsh repudiation of the Democratic governor, the Senate Wednesday rejected Quinn's choices, without a single senator voting in favor of Cook, Terrell or Milner. Twenty-three senators voted against the governor's nominees, and 32 others took no position and voted "present."

"Gov. Quinn is disappointed that members of the Senate would dismiss three SIU graduates and stellar candidates for the university board - including two veterans and a national leader for diversity in higher education- without even the courtesy of a hearing," Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said.

She denied that Quinn has his eye on putting Herrin back in control of the SIU board or that the governor has any personal beef with Poshard.

"Gov. Quinn selected three honest, dedicated public servants after careful review to increase enrollment, advance academic achievement and build SIU into a world-class institution," she said. "The students of Southern Illinois University's three campuses deserve better than they got today."

Herrin, a Quinn appointee and one-time SIU board chairman, has clashed sharply with Poshard over his management of the university, blaming the 1998 gubernatorial candidate for not stemming declining enrollment and doing a poor job of overseeing university finances.

Herrin owns nursing homes and banks and has donated more than $27,000 to Quinn, state records show.

In a blistering floor speech Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader James Clayborne (D-Belleville) accused Herrin of not making minority enrollment a priority and questioned the desire to put him back in charge of the SIU board.

"It concerns me there's a push to make this individual the chairman of the board. What direction are we going? What message are we sending by appointing or placing an individual on this board, who does not believe that everybody should receive an opportunity to go to college, that we'll close the doors on those individuals not because of their merit, not because of the hard work they put into it, but because they're a minority?" Clayborne said.

"This is not the '50s or '40s or '30s. We're beyond that," he continued. "We should be looking at people based on their merits, but I hate to say there are some people who want to take us back to the past. I tell you we should not go back to the past."

Herrin did not respond to messages left at his office and with his wife.

Sen. William Haine (D-Alton), whose district includes SIU's Edwardsville campus, said he knew little about the Quinn appointees' backgrounds and questioned the governor's desire to see three pro-Poshard trustees driven from the board.

"Looking at it as a legislator, it ain't broke. So why are people being publicly dismissed without a goodbye or saying thank you for your service?" Haine said.

"I'm not on the board of trustees. But I do trust the board members that I know who have invested time and treasure in the school, and they say [Poshard] is doing a good job. I don't have any evidence to the contrary except rumors that some guy, Dr. Herrin, doesn't like Poshard. But that's between Dr. Herrin and other members of the board. I'd guess the majority of the board is satisfied with Glenn Poshard," Haine said.

Poshard could not be reached Wednesday.

SPRINGFIELD-First it was guns. Now it's pensions.

House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) intends to devote a session of the Illinois House Thursday to up-or-down test votes on a series of politically dicy positions on pension reform that are sure to provoke an outcry from public-sector unions.

Madigan, who employed a similar tactic during a marathon Tuesday session that dealt with more than a dozen concealed-carry proposals, will seek votes on four newly filed amendments that would seek to cut benefits for current and retired rank-and-file state employees, lawmakers, university employees and public school teachers outside of Chicago.

"It's going to be the first of a number of sessions where we look at the ways people can stabilize the pension systems," said Madigan spokesman Steve Brown. "It's part of a long conversation about what steps need to be taken to pass a bill out of the House and the Senate and be signed by the governor."

The first amendment would completely terminate any annual increases in retirement income for all employees hired before Jan. 1, 2011, and the second amendment would do the same but only for any year during which the pension systems are not at least 80 percent funded.

The third amendment would set the minimum retirement age at 67, unless the employee is at least 62 years old with at least 10 years of service. But even then, the employee's retirement salary would be reduced by one-half percent for each full month he or she is under age 67.

Madigan's final amendment would require all employees hired before Jan. 1, 2011 to contribute an additional 5 percent from their state salaries towards retirement.

While Brown admitted there's no specific reason behind why these particular measures were chosen, he said the Speaker views them as the big-ticket items involved in threatening the state's worst-in-the-nation funded pension system.

"They've been discussed, and they're viewed as some of the most expensive features that threaten the stability of the pension systems," Brown said.

The move has already received strong criticism from the unions as well as the Illinois Educational Association, which called the move "a serious attack" on pensions.

"Tell your representative that the only proposals they should support are those calling for guaranteed funding of the state pension systems and for a dedicated source of revenue for pensions, such as pension obligation bonds," said an IEA statement sent to its members Wednesday. "Also, be sure to tell your representative that the employee contributions must not be increased more than two percentage points."

Similarly, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 warned its members of the move and called for action to prevent the amendments' passage. AFSCME called Madigan's series of amendments "a direct attack on state workers' fundamental right to collective bargaining."

UPDATED...

SPRINGFIELD-A top House Republican and House Speaker Michael Madigan's Democratic point person presented a new bipartisan pension plan Wednesday they claim will wipe out nearly a third of the state's pension shortfall and guarantee a fully funded system in 30 years.

Along with an additional 19 Republican and 11 Democratic House sponsors, House Republican leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego) and Democratic pension point person Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook) say their bill will shave $28 billion from the state's $96 billion unfunded pension liability by raising employee contributions, limiting retirees' cost-of-living adjustments and creating a hybrid retirement plan for newly hired teachers and university employees.

"This legislation is the most complete, fairest bill we could come up with that will solve our pension crisis," Cross said in a prepared statement. "When it passes and becomes law, it will also loosen the pension squeeze on our state budget. We've filed and supported many bills and concepts along the way, but we believe this is the answer."

But the state employee unions aren't biting, according to a statement from the labor coalition known as We Are One Illinois, which called the measure "a step backwards" that "would harm retirement security for a new generation."

"Like the previous approach, HB 3411 continues to focus on unfair, unconstitutional benefit cuts that erode the value of retirees' pensions," the statement said.

The package is much like the proposal from Nekritz and Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) floated in the Legislature late last year that failed to pass in either chamber. At the start of this year's new session, the legislation was worked into part of Senate Bill 1, which is Senate President John Cullerton's (D-Chicago) pension plan.

"We consider this a modification of [Nekritz and Biss'] previous proposal," said Cullerton press secretary Rikeesha Phelon. "That previous proposal became Part A of Senate Bill 1. With Sen. Radogno's input we are now looking to redraft Senate Bill 1 to reflect their changes."

However, the new legislation expands on the Nekritz-Biss plan and creates a new tier of suburban and downstate teachers and university employees hired after Jan. 1, 2014 who would be required to begin contributing to their pensions.

New teachers and university workers would pay into a system that combines elements of a defined-benefit and defined-contribution retirement plan, while leaving negotiations between the employer and employee and the state free of any burden. The "cost-shift" has long been an area of contention for most Republicans and some downstate Democrats.

"The idea is to let the local school district have the control, along with the teachers, of what [employees' contributions] will be, coupled with the defined-benefit plan," Cross said.

House Speaker Michael Madigan has indicated that the plan is a good start but also that there is more work to be done.

"It's a good step, and previously, many Republicans including Tom Cross have said [the cost-shift] can't happen," said Madigan spokesman Steve Brown. "But a lot more has to be done to make a dent in the cost of pensions and the unfunded liability."

We Are One Illinois isn't exactly pleased with the cost-shift proposal either, saying defined-benefit plans are more efficient because they "generate better returns, diversify holdings and spread risk more effectively."

The Cross-Nekritz plan also raises the age of retirement for most state employees under age 45, raises employee contributions by 2 percent, and limits cost-of-living adjustments to the first $25,000 of employees' pensions or the first $20,000 if the employee is eligible for Social Security.

With a stipulation for a guaranteed 100 percent funded system by 2043 included in the bill, the state's five pension systems would have the power to take the state to court if the General Assembly fails to completely meet actuarially set payments.

Missing from the bill is an option for pensioners to choose between accepting certain benefits like the annual cost-of-living adjustments and forgoing others like health care benefits. Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) has insisted that such a provision is needed for any bill to survive a constitutional challenge in court.

Cross and Nekrtiz believe any pension package passed will end up in court because of the state constitutional mandate that says pension benefits shall not be diminished or impaired. But still, they think their bill includes a form of "consideration" for employees that will stand up in court.

"I think there's a school of thought from us that is the way this is drafted along with the language on making the payment is a form of consideration," Cross said. "You are saying to an annuitant or a potential annuitant, 'we want to make sure you have a pension,' and in terms of consideration I think that's a pretty big step."

But the unions disagree.

"The bill clearly defies the Constitution and diminishes benefits unilaterally," the We Are One Illinois statement said. "If overturned, that means Illinois will be in a deeper hole, and the Legislature will have kicked the can down the road again."

Also absent from the bill is a measure to make permanent the state's temporary increase in income tax rates, which is set to expire by 2015.

"I think that if we pass this bill tomorrow, and we wave a magic wand and enjoy the $2 billion in savings that this would provide us, we still have enormous fiscal pressures," Nekritz said. "We're gonna have to take a look at all that in 2014 and see how that works."

Permanently extending the income tax increase is, however, included in a recently introduced bill from assistant House Democratic leader Lou Lang (D-Skokie). Lang claims his bill will make the state's five pension systems 80 percent funded over 50 years, and it includes raising the retirement age to 67, increasing employee contributions by 3 percent over six years and a cost-shift from the state to colleges, universities and local school districts over 17 years.

Paul McKinley calls himself an "ex-offender" who wants to get other ex-offenders to work. That's why he ran as a Republican candidate in the special primary to replace Jesse Jackson Jr.
McKinley served prison time for robbery, he says. Now he's on a mission to offer "street repentance."
"Street repentance means to help a young man to not go in the same direction that I went," McKinley says in this campaign video.
With 99 percent of the precincts reporting late Tuesday, McKinley was in the lead with just a couple of dozen of votes over Eric Wallace.

With reporting by Zach Buchheit

SPRINGFIELD-Legislation that would make Illinois the 10th state to legalize gay marriage eked out of a House committee late Tuesday in a sign it still may be short of votes to pass the full legislative chamber.

The Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act advanced out of the House Executive Committee by a 6-5 vote with the panel's four Republicans voting against the plan. State Rep. Eddie Jackson (D-East St. Louis) also voted "no," the lone Democrat on the panel to do so.

"What we have here tonight is a chance to make an important step for the state of Illinois, to make Illinois a more just state, to make Illinois a state that respects all of its citizens equally under the law," said state Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), the bill's chief House sponsor.

Advocates of Harris' legislation waited for more than seven hours for the committee to take up the issue after the House was consumed for much of the day by a marathon floor debate over amendments to concealed-carry legislation.

Harris assembled a pair of high-powered black ministers in a bid to help shore up shaky support among some African-American legislators like Jackson. The legislation is backed by Gov. Pat Quinn and Mayor Rahm Emanuel and already has passed the Senate.

Testifying in support of the bill were the Rev. B. Herbert Martin, former Mayor Harold Washington's minister, and the Rev. Otis Moss III, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ, which is President Obama's former church on the South Side.

"Today, as a son of the South, born in the little town of Mound Bayou, MS, the largest all-black town in America, also as a father, a grandfather, a great-grandfather, an ordained member of the clergy and with an abiding conviction to justice and equality, I call upon you this evening to protect all Illinois residents under the law and support Senate Bill 10," Martin told the panel.

Moss said the legislation "enhances our ideals as a state and nation" and urged the committee to "ensure all citizens are included in the cathedral of democracy, that they may have life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

Other religious groups lined up against the initiative, saying it undermined traditional religious values that define a marriage as a union between a man and woman and threatened religious institutions like Loyola University and Maryville Academy with having to sanction same-sex marriages.

"Religious freedom belongs to all people. It's not confined to four walls of a church or to a certain individual. It belongs to every American. This bill fails to protect religious freedom, that is the constitutionally protected freedom that belongs to every American," said Kellie Fiedorek, litigation counsel with the Washington, D.C.-based Alliance Defending Freedom.

Beyond Jackson, there were other fissures within the Democratic Party. Harris' bill drew opposition from state Rep. Luis Arroyo (D-Chicago), who voted to let the legislation move to the House floor but said he likely wouldn't be a supporter once it's called for a final vote.

"I don't think I could vote for this bill on the floor of the House because of my religious beliefs and because of the churches in my district I represent and support," Arroyo said.


Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) throughout his campaign said he was confident he'd have the numbers to win the race to replace disgraced U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.

When Beale was left in the dust by Robin Kelly on Tuesday, Beale was taken aback.

With 98 percent of the precincts reporting, Beale ended up with 6,342 votes, or 11 percent to Kelly's 30,351 votes or 52 percent.

"When the numbers started coming in I just said, 'Wow, that's what money buys you,'" Beale said Tuesday night, referring to the $2.2 million that Michael Bloomberg plowed into the race. Bloomberg supported Kelly and her stance on gun control. That raised the ire of Beale, who questioned by Bloomberg chose Kelly to back over him, when she hadn't held elected office in years.

Beale's not-so-gracious concession speech was countered by Debbie Halvorson, who was the target of Bloomberg's ads. She tried to shrug off the attacks during her address to supporters tonight, instead pointing out that Democrats in the district needed to unite and back Kelly since she still faced the general election in April. Halvorson won 14,336 votes, or 24 percent.

A Democrat is strongly favored to win in the general election, however, in the heavily Democratic 2nd congressional district.


From our reporter Casey Toner, who was on the scene:

A crowd chanted "Robin! Robin!" as Robin Kelly went before the lectern to give her victory speech after a decisive primary win Tuesday night.
Standing before a crowd of gun violence victims and supporters, Kelly declared that her Democratic primary congressional victory sends a message that "tells the NRA that their days of holding the country hostage are over."
"Their days of scaring congress into submission non gun control are coming to a close," Kelly said.
If she gets elected to the seat in April, Kelly vowed to close gun show loopholes, ban semi-automatic rifles and high capacity clips.
She thanked the liberal website DailyKos.com for their support in her campaign and vowed to be their "champion in congress."

"You are the reason we made it this far," Kelly said. "You are the reason I know in my core we are going to end the senseless killing that is robbing us of a generation."


Mayor Bloomberg's Statement on Robin Kelly's Victory in IL-2

New York City, NY - The following is Mayor Michael Bloomberg's statement on the special election in Illinois' 2nd Congressional District:

"This is an important victory for common sense leadership on gun violence, a problem that plagues the whole nation. And it's the latest sign that voters across the country are demanding change from their representatives in Washington -- not business as usual. As Congress considers the President's gun package, voters in Illinois have sent a clear message: we need common sense gun legislation now. Now it's up to Washington to act."

Bloomberg's SuperPac poured $2.2 million into ads attacking Kelly's biggest opponent -- Debbie Halvorson. Halvorson refused to move off her position opposing a ban on assault weapons.

Robin Kelly miles ahead in 2nd CD race.

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With about half of the vote counted, former state rep Robin Kelly has a sizable lead over her opponents, carrying more than 50 percent of the vote in Cook County and the city.

SPRINGFIELD-In a key test vote, Chicago-area mass-transit users couldn't take concealed weapons on public trains or buses under legislation that moved forward in the Illinois House Tuesday during a more than a seven-hour session on guns.

But in later action, the House went on record supporting a broad concealed-carry amendment written by gun-rights advocates, an initiative that was adopted shortly before 9 p.m. by a 67-48 margin. It explicitly permitted guns on public transportation.

The mass-transit amendment by Rep. Deb Mell (D-Chicago) and backed by gun-control advocates advanced 65-45 with four voting "present." It represented one of the biggest of more than a dozen votes the House took Tuesday that could help shape a broader concealed-carry bill that likely will surface in the chamber this spring.

"I've been on trains before where there might be a character who's a little agitated," Mell said. "Just the thought that people might be pulling out guns and there being a big shootout, I just think that's too risky."

Gun-rights advocates argued that L riders and those aboard CTA and Pace buses and Metra or Amtrak trains should have the ability to protect themselves against armed criminals under a constitutionally protected right to bear arms.

"We're going after the good guys, not the bad guys, representative, and that's what is so disheartening about his legislation," said Rep. Jim Sacia (R-Pecatonica), who voted against her plan.

Mell's amendment was one of more than a dozen amendments that were considered Tuesday in the House in response to a December federal court decision that threw out Illinois' prohibition against allowing gun owners to carry their weapons in public - the only such ban in the country.

An amendment pushed by Rep. Brandon Phelps (D-Harrisburg), the leading House champion of concealed-carry, won a majority in the House but fell short of the 71-vote supermajority that could be required in the House once a final concealed-carry package gets voted on. That supermajority also would be needed to fend off a possible veto by Gov. Pat Quinn.

Backed by the National Rifle Association, Phelps' amendment dictates that the State Police "shall" issue $80 concealed-carry permits to those who undergo training and haven't been adjudicated as mentally ill. His plan would bar concealed weapons in government buildings, bars, airports, schools, child-care centers, casinos, amusement parks, stadiums, arenas, community colleges and universities.

The state would be authorized to revoke a concealed-carry permit only in cases where someone violated the law five times or more in two years.

"We are under a court order. We believe we have a reasonable bill that complies with the court's decision and direction," Phelps said. "We should have one standard for our state."

The votes served as important tests on a variety of gun-carrying restrictions that could be incorporated into whatever final concealed-carry handiwork that House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) allows to be voted out of his chamber later this spring.

The House voted Tuesday in favor of amendments to bar concealed weapons in or around schools, child-care centers, casinos, government buildings and stadiums and arenas.

But amendments banning the weapons in amusement parks, bars and restaurants that serve alcohol and at protests, rallies and other public gatherings failed.

The string of votes stirred angry protests from downstate and suburban House members aligned with the National Rifle Association.

Critics expressed opposition to an exercise they said ignored the state's major problems while providing fodder for direct-mail attack pieces in the 2014 legislative campaigns.

"Why can't we do this right?" yelled Rep. Dennis Reboletti (R-Elmhurst). "We're the laughingstock of the nation. We don't talk about pensions today. We're not talking about the budget today.

"It's gun week here in the state Capitol, so we'll play these games until we can get roll calls that can be used against every body so we can say, 'There's Reboletti, he wants guns in schools,'" he said. "More nonsense."

These numbers are for suburban Cook County only

U.S. Representative, 2nd District
29 of 263 Precincts Reported


Vote For 1
Precincts Reporting Status Bar
% Votes
Robin Kelly (Democratic)

57.33%

1,932
Clifford J. Eagleton (Democratic)

0.45%

15
Toi W. Hutchinson (Democratic)

2.17%

73
Anthony A. Beale (Democratic)

7.69%

259
Mel ''MR'' Reynolds (Democratic)

0.71%

24
Victor Jonathan (Democratic)

0.06%

2
Gregory Haynes (Democratic)

0.06%

2
Charles Rayburn (Democratic)

0.06%

2
John Blyth (Democratic)

0.18%

6
Ernest B. Fenton (Democratic)

2.58%

87
Anthony W. Williams (Democratic)

0.89%

30
Fatimah N. Muhammad (Democratic)

0.27%

9
Larry D. Pickens (Democratic)

0.21%

7
Deborah ''Debbie'' Halvorson (Democratic)

23.44%

790
O. Patrick Brutus (Democratic)

0.15%

5
Joyce W. Washington (Democratic)

3.77%

127

Treasurer, Cit

This is for city of Chicago only, still waiting on suburban Cook County, Will and Kankakee

DEM - U.S. Representative, 2nd District
41 out of 170 precincts (24.12 %)

DEM - Robin Kelly 2,200 56.11 %
DEM - Clifford J. Eagleton 14 0.36 %
DEM - Toi W. Hutchinson 62 1.58 %
DEM - Anthony A. Beale 688 17.55 %
DEM - Mel ''MR'' Reynolds 34 0.87 %
DEM - Victor Jonathan 3 0.08 %
DEM - Gregory Haynes 4 0.10 %
DEM - Charles Rayburn 6 0.15 %
DEM - John Blyth 5 0.13 %
DEM - Ernest B. Fenton 83 2.12 %
DEM - Anthony W. Williams 28 0.71 %
DEM - Fatimah N. Muhammad 14 0.36 %
DEM - Larry D. Pickens 12 0.31 %
DEM - Deborah ''Debbie'' Halvorson 560 14.28 %
DEM - O. Patrick Brutus 3 0.08 %
DEM - Joyce W. Washington 205 5.23 %

Election 2013 Live-blog

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votehere.jpg
Photo by Joseph P. Meier // Sun-Times

It's a big night in some parts of the region as it's an election night including in the 2nd Congressional District which has been without a rep since Jesse Jackson, Jr. resigned in November. It's been a surreal, heated race that fits the long, tangled history of the seat but today's weather could hold turnout down to record low levels meaning the playing field could be evened up a bit.

So follow all of the developments at suntimes.com, on Twitter at @suntimes, and below where several of our reporters will be sharing updates and thoughts on the evening's events as results trickle in.

Low voter turn-out today was already expected.
Top that off with today's blizzard-like conditions and we could have a 2nd congressional district race that's up for grabs.

Conventional wisdom had candidates Robin Kelly and Debbie Halvorson battling for the lead, but don't discount Ald. Anthony Beale (9th). Aldermen know how to get their people out to vote.

Then again, look at Kelly's vast operation. She has 320 people on the ground today, knocking on doors and personally driving those who need a ride. Beale, too, said yesterday he would offer rides.

"The weather has not affected our turnout expectations," said Kelly campaign manager Jonathan Blair. :We have not had a problem getting voters to the polls. What we've got is about 320 people on the street who are knocking on doors and asking if they've voted. Anybody who needs a ride, we're giving people a ride."

"We have about 50 people on the phone. In our universe, we're giving two full passes -- going to every house twice. In one part our universe we've gone out to three times. It changes by precinct, it's not any one given region."

SPRINGFIELD-Gun-owners wouldn't be permitted to carry their weapons in or around schools, child-care centers, casinos or government buildings under legislation that advanced Tuesday in the House despite protests from Republicans and Downstate Democrats.

The epic gun-control debate of 2013 crept forward despite angry GOP protests that a bid to vote on components of a concealed-carry law piecemeal was little more than a game of political one-upmanship by ruling Democrats.

The first significant vote came shortly after 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, when the House sided with a bid to bar the carrying of concealed weapons on or near school property. By 5 p.m., the chamber had meandered to the fifth of 27 amendments to a concealed-carry bill carried by House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), signaling the potential of a very late night.

Earlier, the House GOP stormed off the House floor, upset that gun-rights members were being asked to vote on prohibitions against carrying concealed guns into and near schools rather than a comprehensive concealed-carry bill.

"Why can't we do this right?" yelled Rep. Dennis Reboletti (R-Elmhurst). "We're the laughingstock of the nation. We don't talk about pensions today. We're not talking about the budget today.

"It's gun week here in the state Capitol, so we'll play these games until we can get roll calls that can be used against every body so we can say, 'There's Reboletti, he wants guns in schools,'" he said. "More nonsense."

The House came into session at about 2 p.m. after Republicans and Democrats met separately behind closed doors to plot strategies on how to vote on 27 different amendments to Madigan's concealed-carry legislation.

House Republicans fell 13 votes shy of sending Madigan's bill back to committee then pushed for another close-door meeting as debate was underway on the second amendment of the day, one sponsored by Rep. Michael Zalewski (D-Riverside).

Zalewski's measure, which he characterized as a "reasonable restriction," would ban carrying loaded firearms onto or "near" school property.

House debate resumed at about 3:30 p.m. Tuesday.

The House embarked on a marathon series of politically divisive votes to lay down limits on where exactly gun owners can legally carry their weapons in public after a federal appeals court in December tossed Illinois' prohibition on concealed-carry and ordered lawmakers to craft a law permitting it by early June.

Tuesday's unusual maneuver orchestrated by Madigan, a traditional proponent of gun-control measures, was aimed at focusing on 27 different tweaks to pending concealed-carry legislation -- House Bill 1155 -- bearing his name.

Nearly a dozen different legislators filed amendments Monday to Madigan's bill, laying out specifically where gun owners could take their weapons once the state answers a December federal court order to end Illinois' outright ban on carrying concealed weapons.

Some of the places the amendments would bar gun owners from taking their weapons include government buildings, child-care facilities, casinos, hospitals, stadiums and arenas, protests, museums, universities, public transit, amusement parks and churches.


Numbers released by state board of elections show that the suburban portions of the 2nd congressional district hold 75 percent of registered voters in the 2nd congressional district.

There's about 120,000 voters in the City of Chicago, making up less than 27 percent of the registered voters.

Of course, this special election is all about who actually shows up to the polls.

Here's the data:

Voter Registration Data
Total: Approximately 448,000 registered voters in the 2nd Congressional District
About 120,000 (26.8%) in 170 precincts in Chicago
About 231,000 (51.6%) in 263 precincts in South Suburban Cook County
About 32,000 (7.1%) in 27 precincts in South Suburban Will County
About 65,000 (14.5%) in 85 precincts in South Suburban Kankakee County

As for early voting, here's the numbers in the City, according to the Chicago Board of Elections

Early Voting in Chicago
Chicago saw 2,768 use early voting as of close Saturday (2.3% of those registered).
In the 2009 Special Primary, Chicago had 1.3% of those registered use Early Voting.

Absentee Voting in Chicago
Approximately 690 have either used or applied to use some other form of absentee voting/nursing home voting/grace period voting. There are 28 applications from military/overseas.

ELECTION DAY: Need a roadmap? Click here and get the details

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Just last week Jesse Jackson Jr. pleaded guilty to looting his campaign fund. Today, the special election to replace him has arrived.
Here's a list of the candidates who remain active in the race. There's 18 in all.
Toi Hutchinson will appear on the ballot but the Illinois state senator bowed out of the race earlier this month.

Want to know where to vote?
Finding Your Polling Place in the 2nd Congressional District
For Chicago voters: www.chicagoelections.com/voterinfo.php
For Suburban Cook County voters: http://www.cookcountyclerk.com/elections/voterprofile/Pages/default.aspx
For Suburban Will County voters: https://www.thewillcountyclerk.com/connect/site/publicpages/PrecinctFinder.jsp
For Suburban Kankakee County voters: http://www.kankakeecountyclerk.com/polling-places.html

Voter Registration Data, according to the State Board of Elections
Total: Approximately 448,000 registered voters in the 2nd Congressional District
About 120,000 (26.8%) in 170 precincts in Chicago
About 231,000 (51.6%) in 263 precincts in South Suburban Cook County
About 32,000 (7.1%) in 27 precincts in South Suburban Will County
About 65,000 (14.5%) in 85 precincts in South Suburban Kankakee County


Want to know some history of the race?

Here's some links:

-- New York City Mayor Bloomberg's SuperPac, Independence USA, launches media campaign against Debbie Halvorson because of her past high rating with the NRA. Halvorson calls ad "act of desperation" and inaccurate.


kelly.jpg
Robin Kelly

-- Robin Kelly's gun-centric campaign gains steam as she notches numerous endorsements, including of congresspeople -- and eventually of Independence USA, Bloomberg's committee.

-- Halvorson accuses New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg of trying to buy 2nd district with attack ads.

photo-26.JPG
Halvorson talks to volunteers at her Steger, Ill. campaign office on Monday.

photo-27.JPG
Anthony Beale talks to a potential voter on Monday on Chicago's South Side.


-- First sign of Jesse Jackson Jr.'s federal troubles

-- A top candidate Toi Hutchinson drops out nine days before election.

-- Anthony Beale claims he was asked to bow out too, but refuses.

-- Vast field in race for 2nd district.

-- Last-minute pitches in the race for first.


Videos by Natasha Korecki


GOP leader Cross thinks Pat Brady should keep his job

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SPRINGFIELD-A top Illinois GOP leader Monday placed his support behind state Republican Party chairman Pat Brady in a leadership battle that could result in Brady being fired from the post for supporting same-sex marriage.

"I think he should stay," House Republican leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego) said.

"I think we need to be a party that's in a growth mode and including people, not excluding. The point to me is you can have different opinions in our party - you may be for marriage equality, you may be opposed to marriage equality. But it doesn't mean you're any better or worse as a Republican. You're still a Republican."

Brady, who has held the unpaid position since 2009, was told Friday about the special meeting of the party's state Central Committee to consider firing him. Unable to attend the March 9 meeting in Springfield, Brady said he isn't sure where the votes stand in the committee.

"Anything can happen in those meetings," he said. "I think it will really damage the party. There's really no upside for the Republicans in this mess."

Brady made public his support for marriage equality legislation - which has passed in the Senate - last month and in doing so, spurred an effort by state Sen. and 14th District Committeeman Jim Oberweis (R-Sugar Grove) to oust him. Oberweis got the fifth and final committee member signature needed to call the meeting last week, but a three-fifths majority vote from the 19-member panel will be needed to fire Brady.

Brady indicated he would not change his stance and said he thinks Republicans could benefit with a more open approach.

"We're a party that welcomes a diversity of opinions, and that's how I feel most people feel about it," Brady said. "But Jim Oberweis doesn't feel about it that way, and he wants a purity test...and it hasn't worked."

Oberweis could not be reached for comment.

Cross seemed to also lean towards more open party guidelines.

"Regardless of your opinion, we've claimed to be a party of a big tent," he said. "There's a place for everybody, in my opinion, and that's why I think [Brady] should stay."

The same-sex marriage legislation that passed out of the Senate is scheduled for a hearing Tuesday in the House Executive Committee.

SPRINGFIELD-In a pivotal showdown on guns, the Illinois House plans Tuesday to begin a marathon series of politically divisive votes to lay down limits on where exactly gun owners can legally carry their weapons in public.

The unusual maneuver orchestrated by House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), a traditional proponent of gun-control measures, will focus on 27 different tweaks to pending concealed-carry legislation bearing his name.

Nearly a dozen different legislators filed amendments Monday to Madigan's bill, laying out specifically where gun owners could take their weapons once the state answers a December federal court order to end Illinois' outright ban on carrying concealed weapons.

Some of the places the amendments would bar gun owners from taking their weapons include government buildings, child-care facilities, casinos, hospitals, stadiums and arenas, protest, museums, universities, public transit, amusement parks and churches.

Both sides of the concealed carry debate also have filed competing measures that say the State Police "may" or "shall" issue the permits - a legislative divide as wide as the Grand Canyon when it comes to setting the agency's power in deciding which gun owners could carry their weapons and which ones couldn't.

"It gives every member of the House a chance to participate," Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said of the unusual approach in debating such a huge array of amendments one by one.

Brown wouldn't say where his boss is positioned on any of them but added, "He's always been someone who's sided with folks concerned about gun safety."

Tuesday's agenda follows two lengthy House Judiciary Committee hearings last week on gun control aimed at coming up with a concealed-carry law by early June, the deadline a federal appeals court set in December for Illinois to expand gun accessibility in public places.

The court threw out the state's outright prohibition on concealed carry and last week rejected an appeal by Attorney General Lisa Madigan to reconsider its decision. Madigan's office has not indicated whether it will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Gun-rights groups see the House speaker's theatrical tactic Tuesday as an effort to impose the strictest possible limitations to make guns inaccessible in virtually every public place.

"As I read the amendments, the anti-gunners are trying to create a regulatory prohibition that would make it impossible to carry a gun. If you take the list of places they won't let you carry and add them altogether in your daily life, it would be close to impossible to carry a firearm," said Todd Vandermyde, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association.

"The anti-gunners know they're on the losing end of this argument, and they're trying to pass a carry law in name only and do what Chicago did, which is thumbing the legislative nose at the Supreme Court and now the Court of Appeals," he continued. "They're trying to structure a ban by regulation."

Automatic budget cause caused by political gridlock on Capitol Hill would have a dramatic impact on Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel warned Monday.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday condemned Minister Louis Farrakhan's suggestion that "gang bangers" are "natural warriors" who could be trained to protect Nation of Islam's assets.

By Natasha Korecki
Political Reporter
@natashakorecki

Candidates for the 2nd congressional race to replace disgraced former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. crisscrossed the vast, diverse South Side and south suburban district on Monday, giving last-minute pitches to turn voters their way.
Low voter turnout is already expected in the special election, but a forecast of snow on voting day had candidates worried even fewer people go to the polls.
Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) was outside of a South Side Jewel grocery store on 87th Street, passing out flyers to customers and even running up to cars that slowed as they passed.
"I need your vote tomorrow!" he yelled out.
Beale said he planned a full day that would mean visits throughout the district, ending in Kankakee.
"We're the only campaign with a ground game," Beale claimed. "They're running their campaign from behind a computer," he said of his biggest rival, Robin Kelly. But Beale said it was impossible to count the number of doors his people had knocked on.
Kelly's campaign says it knows its numbers, claiming to have 200 people scattered in the field and having knocked on 110,000 doors since January.
"We have a massive, massive field operation," said Kelly spokesman Jonathan Blair.
At a campaign stop at BJ's Market & Bakery, 87th and Stony Island, Kelly said she began early shaking hands at train stations and she would circle back to the stops by day's end.
"I'm kind of known for the trains. I did it as a state rep...That's like, my claim to fame," she said. Door knocking and phone banks would also continue. "The troops and myself are working really hard."
Candidate Debbie Halvorson, a onetime U.S. Rep., meanwhile, swung through the district, making stops in Chicago Heights, then heading back to her campaign office in Steger. Halvorson was to head to Kankakee by day's end.

While President Obama is co-starring in a horror story with Congress - "The Sequester," complete with Roger Ebert's favorite red countdown clock - Michelle Obama is sticking with the big screen theatrics.

The first lady was a surprise presenter at the Academy Awards Sunday night. Well, not at the show - she actually did her part from the White House. But she helped present the Best Picture award, with co-presenter Jack Nicholson, to "Argo."

Lynn Sweet has details on the back story, as the Hollywood scenesters say.

From the AP report:

Mrs. Obama said all of the nominees demonstrated that "we can overcome any obstacle."

She said that message is "especially important for our young people" and thanked Hollywood for encouraging children "to open their imaginations."

The first lady was introduced by Jack Nicholson, who noted that the Best Picture trophy is usually announced solo.

Mrs. Obama wore a silver, art deco-inspired gown by Indian-born American fashion designer Naeem Khan. It was the same dress she wore for the Obamas' dinner with the nation's governors at the White House Sunday night.

85th Academy Awards -_Newm.jpg
First lady Michelle Obama, appearing on screen, and actor Jack Nicholson present the award for best picture during the Oscars at the Dolby Theatre on Sunday in Los Angeles. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Earlier this week, Kara Spak shared five fun facts you may not have known about Seth MacFarlane.

A sixth she might have included: the Lincoln assassination is funny to him.

Check out the clip of him cracking wise in a joke that landed with a thud.

Of course, as Lori Rackl points out, MacFarlane was mostly mediocre in a meandering Academy Awards telecast. So maybe a memorable thud was better than meh.

SPRINGFIELD-In a letter sent Thursday, the Illinois Legislature's Republican leaders handed the ball off to their Democratic counterparts and the governor, urging them to take action on the severe budgetary pressures facing the state.

House Republican leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego) and Senate Republican leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) called on Gov. Pat Quinn, House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) and Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) to address the state's backlog of unpaid bills, swelling pension payments and unresolved union negotiations.

"While a bipartisan approach has been undertaken to enact many solutions, full execution of these solutions requires unreserved follow through by the majority party which is in charge of the executive branch and both chambers of the General Assembly," the letter stated.

The letter points to the difficult choices legislators will face due to budget constraints outlined in the governor's three-year budget projection, especially a pension contribution that will increase to $6.7 billion in the next fiscal year.

The GOP leaders' letter also mentions the "financial and emotional uncertainty" union members have faced "due to the lack of a collective bargaining agreement" with the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees union. Henry Bayer, AFSCME Council 31 executive director, has suggested Quinn could soon push the union to strike, but Quinn denied the accusation earlier this week.

"I don't do that," Quinn said. "Basically, you know, it's a give and take. We have a good team, and they have a good team."

Cross and Radogno also pointed to a $2 billion backlog of unpaid bills in the state's Group Health Insurance program and a still unsecured $300 million in program savings built into the FY13 budget.

The Republican leaders say those savings combined with reforms enacted in Medicaid and the state's Community Care Program should be saving Illinois billions of dollars. However, they say the reforms have yet to be implemented and are costing the state more than $2 billion in lost savings.

"With FY13 already more than half over, it is imperative that actions to address these concerns be implemented without delay," the letter said. "Deferring these actions to be part of the FY14 budget discussions will simply continue the erosion of the state's fiscal condition entering the new fiscal year.

"We look forward to your response on how you plan to address these FY13 issues."

WASHINGTON--Turns out President Barack Obama hand-edited his Inaugural Address and the White House released a photo of one of the marked up pages. Take a look....

Obama SOTU notes.jpg
(White House photo)

SOTU_Large-1.jpg
A zoomed in look of the same photo.

Headline corrected version

SPRINGFIELD-Though closely divided on pension solutions, a large majority of Illinois voters are against making the state's income tax increase permanent, according to a poll released Thursday by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute.

"There's a general feeling that state employees are going to have to take some losses in their pension plans, but a majority of people in Illinois is not supportive of draconian measures," said John Jackson, a visiting professor at the institute.

Voters responded fairly evenly on a number of potential fixes to the pension problem, but a proposal to make the state's recently passed income tax hike permanent received the strongest opposition with more than 63 percent against it and 44 percent "strongly opposed" to the idea.

Passed by the General Assembly in 2011, the 2 percent hike is set to completely expire by 2015. However, Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie) introduced the most recent pension-fix package in the Legislature Wednesday, and his bill makes the increase permanent with proceeds going to the five retirement systems.

Gov. Pat Quinn joins the ranks of the nearly two-thirds of the poll's voters against the idea and thinks a pension solution needs to address more than only a new stream of revenue.

"I think we have to deal with it on a comprehensive basis," Quinn said at a press conference Wednesday. "It's not just about revenue. It's a lot more than that.

"We have a law in place that I've supported, and it goes until the end of 2014. And we'll go with that."

Most of the poll's voters agree that purely a boost in revenue is not the best route to address the state's $4 billion budget deficit either. Nearly 55 percent said the gap should be fixed by cutting waste and inefficiency, while close to 30 percent sought a combination of budget cuts and revenue increases. Most were also against expanding the state sales tax, with 43 percent strongly opposed.

On Wednesday, Quinn didn't say which specific provisions he'd like to see in a pension proposal but called Senate Bill 1, sponsored by Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago), the "right vehicle."

"The bottom line is to get the best bill we can to save the money we need to save in order to have a good state," Quinn said. "We cannot just run in place. Illinois' economy needs this reform on pensions done now because we can't have our economy held hostage to it."

One part of Senate Bill 1 would temporarily suspend and reduce retirees' annual cost-of-living (COLA) increases, which are one of the most significant forces behind Illinois' swelling pension costs.

When asked about capping COLA increases at the first $25,000 of retirees' pensions, poll-takers were evenly split, with about 45 percent in support and 44 percent opposed to the idea. But a 57 percent majority opposed suspending retirees' annual COLA increases for the next six years, with only about 36 percent in favor of it.

Respondents were also divided when asked about increasing the age retirees could receive full pension benefits from 65 to 67 years old. Though nearly 59 percent supported this proposal, 35 percent were strongly in favor of it and 29 percent were strongly opposed.

Along those lines, voters responded with 49 percent in favor and about 48 percent against the idea of increasing the age retirees could receive state health benefits from 65 to 67 years old.

The poll's respondents also voted closely when asked about the highly controversial proposal to make local school districts outside of Chicago pay more of the cost of their teachers' pensions. Chicago districts already make these payments, while state money funds teachers' pensions outside of the city.

Overall, 45 percent of voters favor the cost-shift, while about 42 percent are against it. Most support came from Chicago and its suburbs where nearly half of the voters favor the idea, but only about 36 percent of downstate voters showed support.

The poll surveyed 600 registered voters across the state from Jan. 27 through Feb. 8 and has a plus or minus 4 percent margin of error.

SPRINGFIELD-Facing a free-speech outcry, an Illinois lawmaker decided Thursday to pull the plug on anti-bullying legislation he introduced to require website managers to pull down anonymous, hate-filled Internet posts if they were requested to do so.

A measure sponsored by state Sen. Ira Silverstein (D-Chicago) would have made website administrators, upon request, to remove comments by any anonymous posters unless those people attached their names to their posts and confirmed their Internet Protocol addresses and home addresses.

The plan called the Internet Posting Removal Act, which Silverstein introduced earlier this month, was inspired by anti-bullying legislation that surfaced in New York but died in that state's legislature last June.

"I'm going to kill the bill," Silverstein said Thursday afternoon after the legislation drew national attention and provoked criticism from Internet free-speech advocates like the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Earlier in the day, before deciding to mothball his legislation, Silverstein explained its motivation.

"It really has to do with cyber-bullying," he told the Chicago Sun-Times. "The Internet is a great thing, and everyone is for it. Saying something is one thing; but once you put it on the Internet, it's there forever."

Silverstein said his intention wasn't to clamp down on free-speech rights and that he merely was looking for a way to stop hate speech, particularly if it was directed at children or teen-agers.

"These things can be very vicious," he said, referring to anonymous attacks on the Internet.

But even if that was his point, one Internet free-speech advocate slammed the legislation as an unconstitutional affront to the First Amendment.

"You can't, as a general policy, just simply allow speakers to be unmasked upon request. That conflicts with Supreme Court precedent going back to as long as we've had free speech and even before there was an Internet," said Nate Cardozo, a staff attorney with the San Francisco-based Free Speech Foundation.

Cardozo noted the obvious concerns that could arise if administrators for Internet message boards involving homosexuality, medical issues or domestic violence, for example, were compelled to identify someone who had legitimate reasons to seek anonymity.

"This proposed law would simply make speech about anything but the most banal of topics impossible," Cardozo said.

Cardozo said the legislation also would violate the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution because Illinois has no authority, on its own, to regulate what may be posted on the Internet as a whole.

Rahm_Feb21_poll.jpg Kinda, sorta bad news for Mayor Emanuel this morning as a poll conducted by Crain's Chicago Business and Ipsos of 600 voting-age Illinois residents showed Da Mayor's approval rating at a lowly 19 percent while his disapproval rating was at 50 percent. The poll reportedly included plenty of residents beyond the city limits and the respondents were voting-aged, not necessarily registered voters. So the results should be taken with a big, ol' grain of salt, especially considering the fact that suburban voters are less likely to approve of anything happening in the scary city where the weak are used for sustenance by The Machine.

Anyway, once you drill the numbers down by location, the news isn't quite as bad as the overall results indicate but there's still a reason for to say "Hmmm," while vaguely nodding your head. From Crain's:

Specifically, just 2 percent of Chicagoans surveyed said they strongly approve of the mayor's job performance, with 12 percent somewhat approving and 5 percent leaning that way. At the opposite end, 13 percent strongly disapprove, 9 percent somewhat disapprove and 13 percent lean toward disapproval.

In Chicago, that gives Mr. Emanuel a net minus 16 rating, down from the plus 4 he had in September, when 37 percent approved and 33 percent disapproved.

While the drop to minus 16 is notable, the drop still is only half of the minus 31 rating when you throw in the people who can't vote for mayor in Chicago but will complain about it anyway when they get taxed so much at Garrett's Popcorn. It's not like a drop is that surprising given the bump in the city's murder rate so there's no real reason for Rahm to sweat about re-election in 2015 just yet, especially given the way other candidates tucked tail and ran when announced his candidacy last time. Provided Rahm and the CPD can figure out a way to stop teenagers getting killed and get the murder rate down, things will even out. Besides, if there's a bigger past time in Chicago than vehemently complaining about something - be it politicians or sports teams - but refusing to let go of those objects of consternation, I've yet to find it.

WASHINGTON--The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson on Thursday in an MSNBC interview said his son, former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. who is facing prison time, is going through "a sad chapter, but not his last chapter."

Asked what future awaits his son, Jackson said, "I do not know whether politics or not. I know it is a sad chapter, but not his last chapter. He is 47 years old. He is a writer, he is a thinker, he is a speaker, he is a strategist and so his will for public service continues. He is down, but he will get back up again, and he will get back lots of family love.

"He is down, but he will get back up again, and he will get back lots of family love," Jackson said.

Jackson Jr. faces a sentence of up to five years after pleading guilty on Wednesday in federal court to a variety of schemes to convert campaign funds--and other money--to personal use. His wife Sandi, a former Chicago alderman, plead guilty to a charge of filing a false federal tax return. She will be sentenced on July 1; Jackson has a June 28 sentencing date. U.S. District Court Judge Robert Wilkins told both former political office holders that with their guilty plea, they forfeit the right to public office.

SPRINGFIELD-Counter to the National Rifle Association's demands, Gov. Pat Quinn said Wednesday that guns should not be allowed on buses and trains in the Chicago area.

"We do not want people carrying loaded weapons, concealed on their person, on mass transit in the Chicago area," Quinn told reporters at a press conference in Springfield. "Whether it's the CTA or Metra, I'm opposed to allowing concealed carry on our mass transit."

Quinn's statement follows a nearly four-hour concealed carry debate during a House Judiciary Committee meeting Tuesday that touched on the prospects of allowing guns aboard public wheels. Testifying at the hearing, NRA lobbyist Todd Vandermyde said his organization considers allowing guns on public transportation a non-negotiable issue.

But in what could become a central point of conflict in the whole concealed carry debate, Quinn made clear he thinks an array of public places should be deemed gun-free.

"We do not want people carrying loaded weapons, concealed on their person, at our universities, at our mass transit, at our churches, sports stadiums," he said. "We've got to make sure the public comes first when safety is at stake."

Pointing to a federal appellate court's ruling giving the state until June 9 to enact a concealed carry law, Quinn said the court's opinion allows for "reasonable limitations to protect the public."

If the Legislature fails to act by the deadline, gun-rights advocates have said the right to 'constitutional carry' would set in, giving Illinois residents without a permit free range to carry openly or concealed weapons and ammunition in any location.

But while the federal appeals court decided last December to give the General Assembly 180 days to make decisions on concealed carry, some gun-control advocates at Tuesday's hearing, including Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez's office, consider the ruling a soft deadline.

Paul Castiglione, Alvarez' director of policy, told committee members only the U.S. or Illinois Supreme courts could rule a statute - like the state's ban on concealed carry - unconstitutional and that his office would continue to enforce the law as it is come June 9.

"We will definitely be prosecuting [Unlawful Use of a Weapon] cases," he told the committee. "Absolutely...there's no doubt about it."

Rep. Michael Zalewski (D-Riverside), a former prosecutor and member of the House Judiciary Committee, asked Castiglione to "tread lightly" on his conclusion and warned it's "really dangerous" for one state's attorney to have a different view than other state's attorneys.

"If there's any sort of dissenting belief or belief that there's no real ticking clock here, its going to cause a lot of us who wish to come to a constitutional, fair, balanced approach to this issue, a more difficult slog ahead," Zalewski said.

On Wednesday, Quinn agreed that a deadline is a deadline.

"Well, you know, a federal court order is a serious matter," Quinn said. "I take it seriously. I think we need to comply with it.

A second House hearing on concealed carry is scheduled for Feb. 22 in Chicago.

Meanwhile, on other issues, the governor voiced strong concerns about legislation sought by Commonwealth Edison that would effectively undo rate cuts imposed against the utility by the Illinois Commerce Commission.

"I think it's disturbing that utilities, and not just that company, but all the utilities think they can kind of go around the Illinois Commerce Commission and sort of make the General Assembly the super commerce commission," Quinn said. "That's not a good path to follow in my opinion."

Former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. arrived at a federal courthouse Wednesday morning, where when he's expected to plead guilty to misusing $750,000 in campaign money. With him was his wife, former Ald. Sandi Jackson, who's expected to plead guilty to federal charges hours later.

Sun-Times columnists Lynn Sweet (@LynnSweet) and Natasha Korecki (@NatashaKorecki) are live-tweeting from the courthouse:

JACKSON ENTERS COURTHOUSE IN D.C. TO PLEAD GUILTY

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Former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. arrived at a federal courthouse Wednesday morning, where when he's expected to plead guilty to misusing $750,000 in campaign money. With him was his wife, former Ald. Sandi Jackson, who's expected to plead guilty to federal charges hours later.

Jesse Jackson Jr., looking trim in a suit, appeared somber and serious as he walked into the U.S. District Court, down the street from the U.S. Capitol. When asked for comment by the assembled media, Jackson turned and said nothing. Sandi Jackson was also with him, her guilty plea is set for 2:30 p.m. (Eastern).

Jackson Jr. is in court with his family, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and his wife, as well as Jackson Jr.'s brothers Jonathan and Yusef are all in court.

His actual plea isn't scheduled until 10:30 a.m.

The U.S. Attorney's office, FBI and IRS have scheduled a 5 p.m. news conference to discuss both the Sandi Jackson and Jesse Jackson Jr. cases.

Biden: "Buy a shotgun"

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WASHINGTON--Vice President Joe Biden's weapon of choice for personal protection: a shotgun, he said yesterday during a forum on gun violence hosted by Facebook and Parents Magazine. "Buy a shotgun," he said.

Biden also smacked down a questioner who said drug bans did not work, so why would a gun ban "be different," noting no one in the Obama team is suggesting a gun ban--and what's the alternative " we just legalize all drugs? .....That would go real well in Parents magazine."

Biden used a pragmatic approach in arguing for a ban on assault weapons and a limit on the number of bullets in magazine clips, aiming at those who say they need the firepower for self-defense: "You don't need an AR-15"--a semi-automatic rifle-- if there is a problem at home because "it's harder to aim, it's harder to use," he said.

Biden owns two shotguns at home--referring to his Delaware residence--and in taking a question during the forum said
"if you want to protect yourself, get a double-barrel shotgun, have the shells -- a 12-gauge shotgun -- and I promise you -- as I told my wife -- we live in an area that's wooded and somewhat secluded.

"I said, Jill, if there's ever a problem, just walk out on the balcony here, walk out, put that double-barrel shotgun and fire two blasts outside the house. I promise you: Whoever's coming in is not going to -- you don't need an AR-15. It's harder to aim, it's harder to use, and in fact, you don't need 30 rounds to protect yourself. Buy a shotgun. Buy a shotgun."

The Obama administration is not proposing any overall gun ban. Biden had a strong answer when he was asked "if the ban on drugs did not work with taking them off streets, how do you think a ban on guns is going to be different?"

"There is no ban on guns. No one's banning the gun. No one's taking my shotguns. I have two shotguns at home. They're in a -- in a cabinet. They're locked. There is a ammunition there as well. No one is going to come and take my gun," Biden said.

"No one's going to take anyone's gun. We're talking about a background check.

"And the analogy to -- if there was a ban on drugs, how could there be a ban on -- you know, how would any regulation of the type of weapon available out there, why would that make sense? Are you suggesting we have no -- we just legalize all drugs? Is that what you're suggesting? That would go real well in Parents magazine. Let's talk about everybody being able to -- no matter what your age, go out and be able to purchase cocaine. What do you think about that idea? Look, these comparisons are not appropriate, quite frankly.

"But secondly, the idea on -- you should have no law unless the law you have prevents all violations of that law, that is not the way society works. That is not the way we -- the moral disapprobation of society has an impact on behavior in societies. And the moral disapprobation of the idea that you can leave a loaded gun around your house, there shouldn't be gun safety practiced by families that own weapons, et cetera, is a very important element in seeing to there's greater gun safety and security for our children."


Endorsements rolling in for former state Rep. Robin Kelly are riling her competitors in the race to replace Jesse Jackson Jr.

Today, U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) put his support behind Kelly. Kelly, a New York native, worked as chief of staff to former State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias and most recently was an administrator under Toni Preckwinkle. Preckwinkle initially endorsed Toi Hutchinson, but when Hutchinson dropped out on Sunday, Preckwinkle endorsed Kelly.

Taking issue with Quigley's endorsement today is Ald. Anthony Beale, who earlier today lashed out at President Obama, questioning his commitment to reducing gun violence.

"Like most of the marquee names of people who are supporting Robin Kelly, Congressman Mike Quigley lives outside of the 2nd Congressional District. As Congressman Quigley has recounted on a number of occasions, when he ran in the special election to fill the vacancy left by Rahm Emanuel, he didn't have any endorsements and was outspent 5-1.

The 2nd District belongs to voters in the 2nd CD and they alone will make the final decision as to who will represent them in Congress.

I'm confident about my campaign and my ability to win this election despite efforts to anoint one candidate as the inevitable winner. I believe our message of jobs as the only antidote to crime, poor education, foreclosure and community instability is what voters will respond to in the 2nd CD."


An apparently frustrated Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) released a campaign statement today saying that President Obama "needs to stand with us in Chicago," on gun violence.

The statement appears to reflect frustration from a campaign that feels snubbed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg's SuperPAC, Independence USA, which has poured hundreds of thousands of dollars to back candidate Robin Kelly instead of Beale in the race for Jesse Jackson Jr.'s old seat.
In all, the political action committee has committed $2.1 million to the race and has spent much of it blasting frontrunner Debbie Halvorson's position against an assault weapons ban.

Beale: "understands Mayor Bloomberg's passion for gun control. What the campaign doesn't understand is selecting one candidate out of a field of 17. Especially, when one of the candidates is an elected official in the Chicago City Council currently and the other candidate hasn't been in office since 2006," a statement released by Beale's campaign staff said.

In an unusual turn for a candidate seeking election next week in a heavily African American District, the Beale statement, released Tuesday, went on to question President Obama's commitment to reducing gun violence.

"All of my opponents are saying I will stand with the President, but President Obama needs to stand with us in Chicago," Beale says in the statement. "We never stopped fighting this fight."

It then cites a series of articles that question Obama's past positions on gun control, then points back to Beale: "By comparison, Anthony Beale's record on guns is the strongest and most consistent of anyone in this race for the 2nd CD."

That includes Christian Science Monitor article in September 2012: In making that comparison (gun control records of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney) Obama has only ever signed laws "expanding gun owners' rights."

"It's not so shocking then that the Brady Campaign "gave Obama an F" in January 2010," Beale's statement concludes.

Debbie Halvorson and Anthony Beale have asked Michael Bloomberg to stop pouring millions of dollars in outside money on the 2nd congressional district race. Now Second congressional district candidate Joyce Washington has done the same.
Today, she held a news conference to talk about Bloomberg's influence in the race.


President Obama today released a statement announcing former Afghanistan Gen. John Allen is retiring. Allen was the subject of a Defense Department inquiry over emails with a Florida socialite Jill Kelley. The Pentagon cleared Allen in the inquiry. Kelley was the subject of harassing emails sent by Paula Broadwell - the biographer of former CIA Director David Petraeus. It was Kelley's discussions with an FBI agent in Florida that ultimately exposed the Petraeus scandal, leading to his resignation.

"Today, I met with General John Allen and accepted his request to retire from the military so that he can address health issues within his family. I told General Allen that he has my deep, personal appreciation for his extraordinary service over the last 19 months in Afghanistan, as well as his decades of service in the United States Marine Corps. General Allen presided over the significant growth in the size and capability of Afghan National Security Forces, the further degradation of al Qaeda and their extremist allies, and the ongoing transition to Afghan security responsibility across the country. He worked tirelessly to strengthen our coalition through his leadership of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), and to improve our relations with the Afghan government. Above all, he cares deeply for the men and women in uniform who serve our nation - as well as their families - and I am grateful for the sacrifices made by his family in supporting him during his service. John Allen is one of America's finest military leaders, a true patriot, and a man I have come to respect greatly. I wish him and his family the very best as they begin this new chapter, and we will carry forward the extraordinary work that General Allen led in Afghanistan."

kelly_feb19.jpgFormer state Rep. Robin Kelly said Monday night that she doesn't know the man who has been the biggest contributor to the 2nd congressional district race.

"It's ridiculous. I have nothing to do with what he's doing, I never did. So whatever people are saying is untrue and ridiculous. I don't know the man," Kelly said after the AARP debate in Matteson.

Southtown (Sun-Times Media) reporter Casey Toner was there reporting.

"I have no contact with him. I don't know him, never saw him, never been in the same room with him," Kelly said of Bloomberg, whose Super Pac just poured $700,000 in outside spending to boost her campaign. "I just think these are desperate measures."

Kelly landed Bloomberg's endorsement on Friday.

The discussion arose after one of Kelly's chief rivals, Debbie Halvorson, held a news conference Monday afternoon decrying Bloomberg's SuperPAC and its influence in the race. Halvorson has been pounded in TV commercials put on by Independence USA, Bloomberg's political action committee that targets congressional candidates who are out of step with President Obama's gun proposals.

Meanwhile, candidate Ald. Anthony Beale is raising questions about Kelly's gun record, arguing he has a more proven record opposing guns than Kelly. And another candidate, Joyce Washington, held a news conference today telling Bloomberg to stay out of the race.

Asked whether Bloomberg's money will be a deciding factor, Kelly said she would see after 7 p.m. Feb. 26 -- the day of the primary special election.

"I'm running my race. Regardless of Bloomberg, I'm running my race."

Transcript: President Obama's remarks about the Sequester

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REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
ON THE SEQUESTER

South Court Auditorium


10:50 A.M. EST


THE PRESIDENT: Good morning, everybody. (Applause.) Please have a seat. Well, welcome to the White House.

As I said in my State of the Union address last week, our top priority must be to do everything we can to grow the economy and create good, middle-class jobs. That's our top priority. That's our North Star. That drives every decision we make. And it has to drive every decision that Congress and everybody in Washington makes over the next several years.

As early as this week, the public could get its first real glimpse of former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. since last June -- and it's likely to come in a federal courthouse when he pleads guilty to federal charges.

One of Sandi Jackson's lawyers, Tom Kirsch, told the Sun-Times on Monday that Sandi is expected to enter her guilty plea when she appears in court for arraignment this week.

Last week, one of Jesse Jackson Jr.'s lawyers, Brian Heberlig, told the Sun-Times that Jackson, too, was expected to plead guilty.

No date has been released yet, but last week, lawyers said the court hearing could come as early as Wednesday. A U.S. Attorney spokesman in D.C. said the office was still awaiting confirmation on hearing dates.

Both Jacksons have been assigned to the same judge, but they are expected to have separate hearings before U.S. District Judge Robert L. Wilkins.

Both Jackson and his wife, Sandi, were charged Friday with massive misuse of campaign money from the congressman's campaign account.

Jesse Jackson Jr. disappeared from Congress on June 10. The Sun-Times has previously reported that federal authorities believed he was tipped off to the investigation into his campaign funds that was already underway.


WASHINGTON--Jay Leno targeted disgraced former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) in his Tonight Show monologue on Monday night. Jackson was charged with siponing campaign funds for personal use including purchasing:

*a $5,000 football signed by U.S. presidents.
* $9,600 for furniture.
* $43,000 for a men's men's Rolex watch.
*$5,50 for fur capes and parkas .
*Thousands for memorabilia of Martin Luther King, Jr., Bruce Lee, Michael Jackson and Jimi Hendrix.

LENO ON JACKSON: "Among the items he bought were Bruce Lee memorabilia, a black and red cashmere cape, and a Michael Jackson hat. Well, at least he didn't waste the money on something stupid."

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama's White House has two developing storylines on Tuesday: the impact of the sequester--the automatic spending cuts poised to start hitting a week from Friday if Congress does not act--and press corps concerns about access to the president.

THE BUDGET CUT STORYLINE: Obama at 10:45 a.m. ET will be flanked by police and fire personnel as he delivers comments urging Congress to avert the looming congressional-made budget crisis.

From the White House: "The President will deliver remarks to urge action to avoid the automatic budget cuts scheduled to hit next Friday if Congress fails to find a path forward on balanced deficit reduction. He will be joined at the White House by emergency responders - the kinds of working Americans whose jobs are on the line if Congressional Republicans fail to compromise on a balanced solution. If these cuts go into effect, hundreds of thousands of jobs could be lost and middle class families all across the nation will feel the devastating impact; FEMA would need to eliminate funding for State and local grants that support firefighter positions and State and local emergency management personnel, hampering our ability to respond to natural disasters and other emergencies.

"With less than two weeks before these cuts hit, the President will challenge Republicans to make a very simple choice: do they protect investments in education, health care and national defense or do they continue to prioritize and protect tax loopholes that benefit the very few at the expense of middle and working class Americans?"

THE OBAMA ACCESS STORYLINE:
I expect this to be a topic at the 11:30 a.m. briefing at the White House in the wake of a lack of access to Obama during his Presidents Day weekend in Palm Beach which including golfing with Tiger Woods.

The concern escalated to the point where White House Correspondents Association's president Ed Henry issued a statement on Sunday: "Speaking on behalf of the White House Correspondents Association, I can say a broad cross section of our members from print, radio, online and TV have today expressed extreme frustration to me about having absolutely no access to the President of the United States this entire weekend. There is a very simple but important principle we will continue to fight for today and in the days ahead: transparency."

The White House released its own statement, from Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest:

"The press access granted by the White House today is entirely consistent with the press access offered for previous presidential golf outings. It's also consistent with the press access promised to the White House Press Corps prior to arrival in Florida on Friday evening."

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WASHINGTON--When Newt Gingrich was running for president during the contentious GOP primary, Obama's top strategist, David Axelrod, wondered if he could stand the scrutiny. Said Axelrod about Gingrich at a December, 2011 press briefing, "just remember the higher a monkey climbs on a pole, the more you can see his butt," citing the "homespun wisdom" of Ald. Dick Mell (33rd). All that's in the past. Fast forward to Tuesday night: Gingrich sits for an interview with Axelrod at the University of Chicago's Institute of Politics.

The "Conversation with Newt Gingrich" starts at 6 p.m. CT at Mandel Hall,1131 East 57th St., with the event billed as a
"a wide-ranging conversation about his career, his views and the future of politics today." Axelrod is the IOP founder and director.

To register for a ticket to hear the former Speaker of the House: http://gingrich.eventbrite.com/


WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama says her new bangs are the result of a mid-life crisis during an interview with cookbook author/talk show host Rachael Ray on a segment to run Wednesday. Mrs. Obama said she didn't have a lot of other options to express herself--she can't go out and buy a sports car.

Mrs. Obama turned 49 on Jan. 17.

Ray is a safe interview for Mrs. Obama; she's been a booster of her signature project, healthy eating, appearing with her on Jan. 25, 2012 for the announcement Mrs. Obama made about new school lunch standards in Alexandria, Va.


U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill) is visiting a series of countries in the Middle East and Africa on a week-long trip he says aims to review a variety of operations including the use of drones, which has grown increasingly controversial over the last year.

His office describes the visit as his first overseas trip since he became chairman of the Senate's Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.

Durbin will travel to Bahrain, Djibouti and Uganda.

This is from Durbin's office:

"One issue that will be raised at each stop will be the increased use of drone technology for intelligence gathering and anti-terrorism operations. As our reliance on the technology grows, tough legal and moral issues have been raised and must be addressed. Durbin announced that he will chair a hearing on these issues in his Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights in March.

Bahrain
Bahrain is home to the Navy's Fifth Fleet, which directs all naval operations in the Persian Gulf, Red Sea and Arabian Sea. The Fleet provides important support for our troops in Afghanistan, combats piracy in the Arabian Sea and off the Horn of Africa, and gives the U.S. an important logistical, intelligence and security presence in a region that includes Iraq, Iran, and Yemen.

While there, Durbin plans to meet with our Ambassador, top naval officials at the Fifth Fleet Headquarters, tour our naval facilities and meet with sailors based in Bahrain. Durbin also plans to meet with senior Bahraini officials and civil society activists. In 2011, Bahrain's government launched a violent crackdown on protesters during the so-called "Arab Spring." Brutal violence was reported along with human rights abuses. Protests and violence continues today; a 16 year old protester was killed by government security forces on Thursday.

Djibouti
The U.S. military's primary base in Africa is Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti. Camp Lemonnier is the headquarters for Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa, our military's main counter-terrorism, regional security, military training, intelligence, and humanitarian operation on the continent. The base is home to over 3,000 U.S. troops, civilians and contractors.

In Djibouti, Durbin plans to meet with our Ambassador and embassy team, top military officials based at Camp Lemonnier, soldiers, airman, and U.S. Agency for International Development staff based in the region. Durbin will be briefed on ongoing military operations across Africa, including efforts in Kenya, Somalia, Uganda and Central African Republic.

Uganda
Uganda has become the launching point for numerous U.S. military and humanitarian efforts in recent years. The U.S. military is engaged in efforts to train local forces and aids in the tracking of Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) forces in the countryside. The LRA has terrorized the region for decades, engaging in numerous human rights violations including the use of child soldiers, mass rape, abductions and sex trafficking.

While in Uganda, Durbin plans to meet with the Ugandan Minister of Defense, the U.S. Ambassador and embassy staff, as well as U.S. military staff stationed in country. Topics of discussion will include U.S. military assistance, ongoing operations, training, human rights issues and roundtable discussion on Uganda's anti-homosexual legislation and their own human rights record. Durbin will also raise regional security issues, including efforts to stabilize eastern Congo after recent violence by the M23 rebel group.

As Chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, Durbin oversees funding for the military and intelligence communities, our national security requirements and the daily needs of over two million active duty and reserve servicemembers. Durbin is the second-highest ranking member of the United States Senate and also sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and its African Affairs and International Operations Subcommittees.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg continues to steal headlines in the 2nd congressional district race -- at the same time that two candidates accuse him of trying to "buy" the election from New York.
Bloomberg's Super-Pac, Independence USA, issued a filing on Sunday indicating it would spend another $700,000 to support candidate Robin Kelly and oppose Debbie Halvorson. Halvorson has been the subject of attack ads for the last several weeks because of her A rating with the NRA. She and Ald. Anthony Beale, who is also running for Jesse Jackson Jr.'s seat, accuse Bloomberg of trying to buy the election.

From the FEC:

SCHEDULE E

INDEPENDENT EXPENDITURES

FILING FEC-855743

Committee: INDEPENDENCE USA PAC

SKDKnickerbocker

1818 N. St. NW
Suite 450
Washington, DC 20036

Purpose of Expenditure: Direct Mail Services
Name of Federal Candidate supported or opposed by expenditure: DEBORAH HALVORSON
Candidate ID: H8IL11113
Office Sought: House of Representatives
State is Illinois in District 02
Date Expended = 02/15/2013
Person Completing Form: Diane Gubelli
Date Signed = 02/16/2013
Amount Expended = $8814.30
Calendar YTD Per Election for Office Sought = $1415786.76

SKDKnickerbocker

1818 N. St. NW
Suite 450
Washington, DC 20036

Purpose of Expenditure: Media Buy and Production; also opposes Deborah Halvorson and Toi Hutchinson
Name of Federal Candidate supported or opposed by expenditure: ROBIN KELLY
Candidate ID: H2IL02172
Office Sought: House of Representatives
State is Illinois in District 02
Date Expended = 02/15/2013
Person Completing Form: Diane Gubelli
Date Signed = 02/16/2013
Amount Expended = $730335.94
Calendar YTD Per Election for Office Sought = $2146122.70

image.jpg
Debbie Halvorson delivers remarks in the South Loop on Monday
Photo by Natasha Korecki

Debbie Halvorson, a candidate for Jesse Jackson Jr's old congressional seat accused her top opponent -- Robin Kelly -- of improperly colluding with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's SuperPac.

Halvorson held a morning news conference calling out Bloomberg for pouring $1.4 million into attack ads that specifically target Halvorson, who opposes an assault weapons ban. Last week, the attack ads expanded, hitting Toi Hutchinson as well. Hutchinson has had a previous high rating with the NRA but had flipped on the issue, now supporting a ban. That change though, came after Hutchinson ran for congressional office. Halvorson said she supports "common sense" laws to combat gun violence, including universal background checks and a federal gun trafficking law.

"We cannot allow Bloomberg to buy this district from New York," Halvorson said.

Halvorson cited a Capitol Fax article published Feb. 1 that said Robin Kelly was telling donors that her strategy involved allowing Bloomberg to target both Halvorson and Toi Hutchinson. The article cited an anonymous source.

Halvorson said she is raising the issue now because Hutchinson dropped out of the race on Sunday.

"All of this truly raises eyebrows and questions surrounding Bloomberg's attempt to purchase this election," Halvorson said. "The Kelly campaign continues to hide behind Mayor Bloomberg. Our district has been fooled by the sounds of "honesty and integrity" for far too long. We don't need another public relations campaign designed to hide unethical behavior."

The Kelly campaign responded in a release charging that Halvorson had gone "off the rails."

"Halvorson has made a series of bizarre, unsubstantiated claims to the media is recent days, indicating her campaign has reached a new level of desperation," said a Kelly campaign statement. "These wild accusations have no basis in reality, and are an attempt to distract the voters from the dominant issue in this campaign: gun violence."

For its part, the Bloomberg SuperPac, Independence USA, is preparing to spend up to $2 million in the race. The political action committee aims to target candidates that it feels are not strong on the gun issue.

Last week, Stefan Friedman, spokesman for Independence USA
PAC told the Sun-Times:

"The scourge of gun violence knows no state boundaries, and Mayor
Bloomberg has been clear that whether it's in New York, Illinois,
California or anywhere else, he is committed to getting guns out of the
hands of criminals by supporting President Obama's gun safety package.
Debbie Halvorson opposes President Obama's proposal, and it is important
that voters get the facts about her record."

Another candidate in the race, Ald. Anthony Beale, charged Sunday that he had done more to combat gun violence than Kelly.

Ald. Anthony Beale is running for the 2nd Congressional district -- and he's feeling left out. His spokeswoman in a statement complained that the media has failed to report on Beale and similarly, Beale complains that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has focused his efforts on electing his opponent Robin Kelly, even though Beale has similar anti-gun stances.

Beale raised questions about why Toi Hutchinson dropped out of the race a little more than a week before the election.

Beale's statement:
"The circumstances of her departure from the race, however, are very troubling. We are letting a New York billionaire and the mayor of New York City dictate the terms and possibly the outcome of the 2nd District special election. Voters deserve better. If we let the Mayor of New York decide the next congressman from Illinois, then we really are the 2nd City and the 2nd District.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has poured nearly one-and-a-half-million dollars into this race--and has promised to spend a total of two million dollars to help my opponent, whose credentials on the gun issue add up to no more than sponsoring a gun bill 10 years ago. My opponent keeps touting her record on guns, but she hasn't served in the state legislature since 2006.

I'm the only candidate in this race with a record on guns. I've been working to address gun violence for 14 years...on the ground, in the streets and neighborhoods where people who are affected by it live. My experience combating gun violence isn't just something I latched onto to win an election."


Toi Hutchinson may have dropped out of a competitive race just nine days before the Feb. 26 special election, but Ald. Anthony Beale's campaign said it isn't going anywhere.

Beale spokeswoman Delmarie Cobb told the Sun-Times Sunday that the campaign received a call last night "I won't say from who" pushing Beale to clear the way for former state Rep. Robin Kelly.

Cobb accused Kelly's campaign of "in a desperation move," trying to pressure other candidates to clear the field, claiming that the more than $1 million in money attacking Kelly's opponents isn't having the effect it believed it would. Kelly is a front-runner in the race, having out-raised her opponents and receiving a steady stream of endorsements. Cobb said despite Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Independece USA SuperPAC pouring $1.4 million into attack ads in the race, ostensibly to benefit Kelly while attacking Debbie Halvorson, internal numbers show that Halvorson's numbers are mostly holding.

"By now, Debbie should be destroyed," Cobb said of the attack ads. "We know for a fact that the needle isn't moving. Robin's numbers aren't increasing and Debbie's are going down very slowly."

Cobb would not release the campaign's internal numbers. However, she said:
"I'm just telling you, we feel fine," Cobb said. "All the activity that's going on in this race, is reinforcing what we believe -- we are contenders in this race."

For its part, the Kelly campaign said Cobb's claim is the first they heard of such a phone call to Beale.
"The call didn't come from us," Kelly spokesman Jonathan Blair said.

WASHINGTON--State Sen. Toi Hutchinson pulled out of the Democratic primary to replace disgraced former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. on Sunday, throwing her endorsement to chief rival former State Rep. Robin Kelly days before the election, with that move consolidating African-American and progressive political support for Kelly.

"I am ending my campaign for Congress today and throwing my support behind Robin Kelly. I urge those who have been supporting me to now work hard for Robin over the next 9 days," Hutchinson said in a statement released Sunday morning.

Hutchinson's decision comes after New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg had emerged as the major player in the Illinois Democratic Second Congressional District primary spending--$1.4 million as of Friday--by his anti-gun Independence PAC USA. The PAC started to take aim at Hutchinson on Friday in a massive TV buy.

The primary had split usual progressive allies, with Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle backing Hutchinson and Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Rep. Danny Davis and Rep. Bobby Rush supporting Kelly.

To underscore the new unity, Hutchinson, Kelly, Preckwinkle and Schakowsky all were part on the Sunday statement.

The new alliance is aimed to defeat former Rep. Debbi Halvorson in a contest where racial politics--Halvorson is the only white --and gun politics--Halvorson ran for re-election in 2010 with the support of the National Rifle Association--are in play. The Second Congressional District is heavily African-American.


The unity is crucial because the Democratic primary field is crowded and the winner on the Feb. 26 balloting will need only a plurality--not a majority--of the votes. Halvorson, Kelly and Hutchinson have been the front-runners. While there are likely portions of the sprawling district--with voters in Cook, Will and Kankakee Counties--who may be sympathetic to gun rights issues--they are likely to be Republicans--who would have to be persuaded to pull a Democratic primary ballot on Tuesday.

The Bloomberg PAC has been pounding at Halvorson for weeks, coming out for Kelly--and against Hutchinson in that Friday TV spot. PAC spokesman Stefan Friedman told me Saturday the PAC was poised to spend at least $2 million in the contest.

Preckwinkle endorsed Hutchinson in January, snubbing Kelly--who she hired to be her chief administrative officer.

Kelly, in her statement said, while "Hutchinson and I haven't agreed on everything, we have a strong mutual respect, share a passion for public service and dedication to the people in Chicago and the Southland. I'm pleased to have her on our team. Likewise, I am excited that Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has joined our campaign. She has been a strong voice in the fight against gun violence in the county. In Congress, I will work with Senator Hutchinson, President Preckwinkle and other leaders throughout our district to get guns off our streets and bring jobs to our neighborhoods."

"This election is too important for our party to remain divided," Schakowsky said.

Kelly will discuss the state of the race at a press conference at 2:30 p.m. CT at her Richton Park campaign office, 3707 Sauk Trail.

Below, statements from Senator Toi Hutchinson, Robin Kelly, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky.

Senator Toi Hutchinson: "I am ending my campaign for Congress today and throwing my support behind Robin Kelly. I urge those who have been supporting me to now work hard for Robin over the next 9 days. I have said from day one that this campaign is not about me or any one person; it's about moving America forward and standing with President Obama to create new jobs and safer communities. Robin is a friend, and has captured momentum in pulling our community together. I am simply unwilling to risk playing a role going forward that could result in dividing our community at time when we need unity more than ever. In the wake of horrendous gun related crimes all across our country, I agree with Robin that we need to stand together to fight gun violence, but Debbie Halvorson been wrong headed in her refusal to moderate her views on banning dangerous assault weapons. President Obama needs a strong voice and a partner in Congress to win these important fights and I do not believe Debbie Halvorson would be that voice or partner."

Robin Kelly: Today is a good day for the Second Congressional District. While Senator Hutchinson and I haven't agreed on everything, we have a strong mutual respect, share a passion for public service and dedication to the people in Chicago and the Southland. I'm pleased to have her on our team. Likewise, I am excited that Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle has joined our campaign. She has been a strong voice in the fight against gun violence in the county. In Congress, I will work with Senator Hutchinson, President Preckwinkle and other leaders throughout our district to get guns off our streets and bring jobs to our neighborhoods."

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle: "Robin Kelly and Toi Hutchinson are both very strong, independent woman and public servants. I consider them both friends of mine. During Debbie Halvorson's one term in Congress, she opposed President Obama on dozens of issues including critical Wall St. reform and extending benefits for the long term unemployed. She has also vowed to fight his common sense plans for stronger gun laws. I'm proud of Toi for agreeing to put voters before her own ambitions. She is young and has a bright future ahead of her. I did not want to see her campaign close with negative attacks at a time when Robin Kelly is surging with momentum to capture the Democratic nomination for Congress. Robin is a strong leader and will thrive in Congress. I wish her all the luck in the world and I know we will work closely together on issues of mutual importance to our Southland constituents."

Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky: "This election is too important for our party to remain divided. I'm thrilled that Senator Hutchinson has joined me today in supporting Robin Kelly's campaign for Congress. Senator Hutchinson is a strong leader with a bright future. I applaud her for doing what is best for the Democratic Party today and joining the Kelly campaign so Robin can go to Washington to work with me and President Obama for common sense gun safety laws."


Sources say that State Sen. Toi Hutchinson has told her staff she is dropping out of the 2nd Congressional District race.

A source close to the situation said Hutchinson will put her support behind Robin Kelly, a former state Rep. and onetime friend to Hutchinson.

It's a stunning turn of events in a competitive race that has seen former U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson, Hutchinson and Kelly in the lead for weeks.

One source said to expect a news release in the morning announcing Hutchinson putting her support behind Kelly.

The news isn't entirely surprising, given the rumors swirling the last couple of days about Hutchinson.

Her campaign staff had gone dark for the last several days, not returning calls that questioned why Hutchinson had not reported fund-raising for the month.

Hutchinson battled a huge money drop from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's SuperPAC. Bloomberg's political action committee, which targets pro-gun candidates, has already spent $1.4 million pummeling Halvorson on the airwaves. She also faced questions over having once had her mother on her state senate campaign payroll, working as her scheduler. Hutchinson did not keep her mother on her payroll once she ran for congressional office.

While the commercials hit Halvorson over her A rating with the NRA, the TV spots benefited Kelly, who has continued to gain momentum in the race. Kelly has used her long opposition to guns to her advantage in the race. Bloomberg then came out in favor of Kelly.

Insiders say the move could be a boost to both Kelly and Halvorson. Halvorson has been battling Hutchinson's hold on parts of Will and Kankakee counties. But Kelly and Hutchinson were also fighting over some of the same backing.

Some of Hutchinson staff members were incensed over the news, saying they were taken by surprise.
"They're outraged over this. They were working their butts off for her."


Live video: President Obama in Chicago

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President Barack Obama arrives in Chicago on Friday to speak at a school in Hyde Park. Live video after the jump.

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama hits Chicago on Friday afternoon to highlight the "ladders to opportunity" he talked about in his State of the Union address Tuesday: education and local development programs designed to vault more people into the middle class.

Obama is speaking at the Hyde Park Career Academy, 6220 S. Stony Island Ave, and is also going to address the gun violence that took the life of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton about a mile from his Kenwood home on Jan. 29 -- a murder he spotlighted in his Tuesday speech.

He is expected to be meeting privately with about two dozen youths who are part of the "Becoming A Man" program at the school. Mayor Rahm Emanuel met with the teens who were part of that program last week.

I'm told City Hall is anticipating Obama will highlight the success of five high schools in Chicago specializing in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics--known as STEM programs-- as well as throw a spotlight on early childhood programs Emanuel has championed. The schools are Michele Clark Academic Prep, Corliss, Chicago Vocational, Lake View and Sarah Goode STEM Academy.

The Chicago early childhood programs would be in the mix as national examples because Obama is calling for expansion of pre-school opportunities for every low-and-moderate income child in the nation, much more ambitious then the current Head Start programs serving only the very poor.

On leading more people to the middle class, Obama is proposing increasing of the federal minimum wage to $9-a-hour--up from $7.25--and a boost from the $8.25 rate imposed on Illinois employers.

The last time Obama was in Chicago was in November, to mark his re-election.

Below, from the White House, details from Obama's proposals to make sure "hard work" leads to a "decent living."

THE WHITE HOUSE:

There's a basic bargain in America. It says that no matter who you are or where you're from, if you're willing to work hard and play by the rules, you should be able to find a good job, feel secure in your community, and support a family. President Obama has fought for the middle class, and has made historic investments in making sure that there are ladders of opportunity for those working hard to make it to the middle class.

The President's plan builds on the progress we've made over the last four years to expand opportunity for every American and every community willing to do the work to lift themselves up. But there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the challenges we face. It will take a collaborative effort--between business and federal, state, and local officials; faith-based and non-profit organizations; kids and parents--to ensure that hard work leads to a decent living for every American. The President's plan:

· Rewards hard work by raising the minimum wage to $9.00: Right now, a full-time minimum wage worker makes $14,500 a year. That means too many Americans who are putting in an honest, hard day's work are living in poverty. That's unacceptable. The President's plan raises the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.00, which would directly boost wages for 15 million workers and reduce poverty and inequality.

· Provides high-quality preschool for every child: Let's give every child the fair shot he or she deserves. For America to succeed in the 21st century, we must have the most dynamic, educated workforce in the world, and that education has to start early in life. But today, most four-year-olds aren't in a high-quality public preschool program. The President's plan partners with states to expand high-quality preschool to every child.

· Partners with communities to help them rebuild and put people back to work: A child's zip code should never determine her destiny; but today, the neighborhood she grows up in impacts her odds of graduating high school, her health outcomes, and her lifetime economic opportunities. This year, the Administration will begin to partner with 20 communities that were hardest-hit by the recession to help get them back on their feet. Working with local leaders, the President's plan targets resources at creating jobs, public safety, education, and housing.

· Creates pathways to jobs for all Americans: The President's plan offers incentives to companies that hire Americans who've got what it takes to fill a job opening, but have been out of work so long that no one will give them a chance anymore. His plan also supports summer and year-round jobs for low-income youth. This is in addition to his plan to equip Americans with the skills they need for the high-tech, high-wage jobs of the 21st century.

· Expands early childhood opportunity for all Americans: In addition to providing access to high-quality preschool for every child, the President is proposing to make a significant investment in early learning opportunities for our youngest children--birth through age three--by expanding Early Head Start, child care, and other health and education programs.

· Strengthens families: The President is proposing to remove financial deterrents to marriage for low-income couples; as well as continuing to support the critical role that fathers play in enhancing the intellectual, emotional, and financial well-being of their sons and daughters.

The President's Commitment to Ensuring Hard Work Leads to a Decent Living

· Rewarding hard work by raising the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour: The President believes that no one who works full time should have to raise their family in poverty. But right now, a full-time minimum wage worker makes $14,500 a year - which leaves too many families struggling to make ends meet, with a family of four supported by a minimum wage worker still living below the poverty line, even counting tax credits for working families. That's why the President is calling on Congress to raise the Federal minimum wage to $9.00 and index it to inflation thereafter. The President is also proposing to raise the minimum wage for tipped workers, which has not been increased for over twenty years. The erosion in the real value of the minimum wage has been a factor in increasing inequality in recent decades. The President's proposal would address this problem by raising the minimum wage and indexing it to inflation so that working families can keep up with rising costs.

o Raising the minimum wage mostly benefits adults, and especially working women: Around 60 percent of workers benefiting from a higher minimum wage are women, and few are teenagers - less than 20 percent.

o Raising the minimum wage helps parents: The average worker who would benefit from a rise in the minimum wage to $9 an hour brought home 46 percent of his or her household's total wage and salary income in 2011, according to the Current Population Survey.

o For a working family earning $20,000 - $30,000, the extra $3,500 per year from raising the minimum wage would cover:

§ The family's spending on groceries for a year; or

§ The family's spending on utilities for a year; or

§ The family's spending on gasoline and clothing for a year; or

§ Six months of housing.

· Providing high-quality preschool for every child: For America to succeed in the 21st century, we must have the most dynamic, educated workforce in the world, and that education has to start early in life. Every dollar invested in early learning and development programs saves about $7 down the road in higher earnings that yield more revenue, and lower government spending on social services and crime prevention. The President is presenting a plan to provide access to preschool for every child, while also incentivizing states to expand access to full-day kindergarten.

o The President's proposal will improve quality and expand access to preschool, through a partnership with all 50 states, to extend federal funds to expand high-quality public preschool to reach all low- and moderate-income four-year olds from families at or below 200% of poverty. The U.S. Department of Education will allocate funding to states based on their share of low- and moderate-income four-year olds, and distribute funds to local school districts and other partner providers to implement the program. The proposal would include an incentive for states to broaden participation in their public preschool program for additional middle-class families.

o Funds will support states as they ensure that children are enrolled in high-quality programs. In order to access federal funding, states would be required to meet quality benchmarks that are linked to better outcomes for children, which include:

§ state-level standards for early learning;

§ qualified teachers for all preschool classrooms; and

§ a plan to implement comprehensive data and assessment systems.

o Preschool programs across the states would meet common and consistent standards for quality across all programs, including:

§ well-trained teachers, who are paid comparably to K-12 staff;

§ small class sizes and low adult-to-child ratios;

§ comprehensive health and related services; and

§ effective evaluation and review of programs.

· Partnering with communities to help them rebuild and put people back to work: A child's zip code should never determine her destiny; but today, the neighborhood she grows up in impacts her odds of graduating high school, her health outcomes, and her lifetime economic opportunities. Working with local leadership, the President is proposing to align a number of his signature revitalization initiatives from the Department of Education, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Justice, and the Department for Agriculture to ensure that federal programs and resources are focused intensely on 20 communities hardest hit by the recession.

We've seen this approach work in places like San Antonio, TX where Mayor Julian Castro is revitalizing neighborhoods that have been distressed for decades, leveraging significant private investment to focus funding where the need is greatest and the evidence of impact is strongest. In San Antonio, the United Way is working alongside teachers and cops to improve young people's chances at graduating from high school.

The Administration will designate each of these areas as "Promise Zones" through a transparent, competitive process that can bring a number of programs to bear, including:

o Targeted investments can transform high-poverty communities into places of opportunity that can attract private investment, improve education, and create jobs. Such investments may include:

§ Targeting neighborhoods to reduce violent crime by providing Department of Justice funding for local law enforcement and community leaders;

§ Transforming high-poverty neighborhoods by leveraging Department of Housing and Urban Development grants to attract private investment to tear down distressed public housing and build new mixed income homes, while ensuring that low-income residents do not get displaced; and

§ Ensuring students in these communities graduate high school prepared to enter the workforce or are prepared for college by utilizing Department of Education funding to expand early education, after school and summer instructional time, as well as reduce dropout rates.

Promise Zone tax incentives to stimulate growth and investments in targeted communities. These incentives will includes tax credits for hiring workers and tax write-offs for capital investment within the Zone.

o Helping local leaders navigate federal programs, cut red tape, and use federal resources more effectively.

· Creating pathways to jobs: The President's plan helps low-income youth find summer and year-round jobs, teaches our kids the real world skills they need to find a job, and offers incentives to companies that hire the long-term unemployed. These steps are critical to ensuring that our economic recovery reaches all Americans. In his FY2013 budget, the President proposed a Pathways Back to Work Fund to help support job and work-based training opportunities for long term unemployed and low income adults, , and support summer and year-round jobs for low-in­come youth. The fund would build on the successful efforts of the Recovery Act's TANF-ECF program, which helped support job opportunities for 260,000 low-income individuals in 39 States and DC, and the Administration's Summer Jobs+ effort in 2012. The President has shown a commitment to continuing to provide support to unemployed Americans by proposing wide-ranging reforms to the unemployment insurance program, some of which were adopted in the Middle Class Tax Relief and Jobs Creation Act of 2012. Recognizing that the opportunity to acquire the skills to get and keep a good job starts early and through education, the President will also announce:

o Modernizing America's high schools for real-world learning: The President is announcing a new competition to kick-start a redesign of high schools to emphasize real-world learning. The President's plan will invest in redesigning high school to focus on providing challenging, relevant experiences, and reward schools that develop new partnerships with colleges and employers, and that create classes that focus on technology, science, engineering, and other skills today's employers are demanding to fill jobs open now and in the future. In addition, the President is proposing to strengthen and reform our federal investment in career and technical education to better align programs with the needs of employers and with the demands of higher education.

· Expanding early childhood opportunity for all Americans: Today, far too many kids are already behind academically and developmentally by the time they start school, and never truly catch up--compromising our ability to compete in a global economy and sidelining huge pools of untapped talent.

o Starting early childhood education from birth. In addition to providing high-quality preschool for every child, the President's proposal will grow the availability of high-quality early learning programs for young children to ensure that the expansion of preschool services for four-year-olds is part of a cohesive and well-aligned system of early learning for children from birth to age five. This investment will focus on our existing infrastructure of federally-funded programs such as Early Head Start, and the Child Care and Development Fund to expand services and boost their quality.

o Extending and expanding voluntary home visiting: For our youngest at-risk children and parents, the President will also propose a substantial investment to expand voluntary home visiting programs that provide nurses, social workers, and other professionals to connect families to assistance that will improve a child's health, development, and ability to learn. This will help ensure that our most vulnerable Americans are on track from birth, and that later educational investments rest upon a strong foundation.

· Strengthening families: The President will also continue his commitment to support healthy marriages for all families, including removing deterrents for low-income couples to get married and supporting the critical role that fathers play in enhancing the intellectual, emotional, and financial well-being of their sons and daughters. The Administration proposes to allow existing federal programs, like the child support program, to implement models that get more men working and engaging with their children. The Administration also proposes to allow States to test strategies to overcome financial deterrents to forming safe and stable two-parent households and marriage in federal programs.

Building on the Progress We've Made

In addition to the President's comprehensive reform agenda to increase access to high quality education for all Americans, the Administration will build on a strong foundation in these key areas that help create ladders of opportunity.

· Increased access to early childhood education: The Administration's significant investments in Head Start, Early Head Start, and child care funding have increased access to early education for hundreds of thousands of young children. We increased the number of children served in Head Start and Early Head Start by 61,000 and boosted child care funding, while implementing historic reforms to ensure that Head Start children are served only by the best programs. Under the President's leadership, enrollment in Early Head Start in particular has nearly doubled. The Race to the Top - Early Learning Challenge has rewarded 14 states that have agreed to raise the bar on the quality of their public and private early childhood education programs, establishing higher standards across programs and providing critical links with health, nutrition, mental health, and family support for our neediest children.

· Supporting strong families and marriage: The Affordable Care Act invests more federal funds in voluntary home visiting services for low-income parents and newborns--providing hundreds of thousands of families with services on maternal and child health, parenting skills, nutrition, child abuse prevention, and parental education and employment. The President fought to extend an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) that reduces "marriage penalties" in the tax code for working parents with children. Finally, the President has a long-standing and deeply personal commitment to encouraging both parents to be actively engaged in a child's life, with a particular emphasis on reaching fathers through partnerships and modernizing our federal programs.

· Revitalizing Neighborhoods: Since 2009, the President has invested more than $350 million in more than 100 of the nation's persistent pockets of poverty through two of his signature programs. Fashioned after the Harlem Children's Zone, the Administration has invested in Promise Neighborhoods to support high-poverty communities in building a 'cradle through college' pipeline of educational supports to help young people graduate high school and pursue higher education. Choice Neighborhoods helps transform neighborhoods with distressed public housing and concentrated poverty into opportunity-rich, mixed-income neighborhoods, by aligning investments in improved housing with expansion of high-quality educational opportunities.

· Partnering with local leaders to support distressed cities: In 2011, the White House launched Strong Cities, Strong Communities, a unique partnership between Mayors and the federal government to drive economic growth in chronically distressed cities. Through federal teams on the ground and specialized technical assistance, the pilot is helping seven Mayors implement their economic visions to promote strategic partnerships between government and businesses that create jobs, implement strategic city planning, and use taxpayer dollars more efficiently.

· Providing jobs and skills training for low-income youth and adults: The President's Pathways Back to Work Fund would build upon success in the Recovery Act, which helped place 372,000 low-income youth into summer and year-round employment and supported job opportunities for about 260,000 low-income individuals in 2009 and 2010. The President's Summer Jobs+ Initiative in 2012 also secured commitments from the private sector, non-profits and government at all levels to provide opportunities for low-income and disconnected youth. In total, more than 150 Summer Jobs+ partners committed over 300,000 training and mentorship opportunities, including over 100,000 paid jobs.

o Reforming our Unemployment Insurance System to Help Put People Back to Work: The President has already shown a commitment to continuing to provide support to unemployed Americans and to make our unemployment system more of a back-to-work system. The President proposed, and Congress adopted in the Middle Class Tax Relief and Jobs Creation Act of 2012, wide-ranging reform to the unemployment insurance program that encourage states to adopt work-sharing programs to prevent layoffs, help the unemployed start new businesses, and give states authority to run pilots helping workers on unemployment insurance get on-the-job experience designed to lead to employment.

§ Strengthening economic security for all working Americans through tax relief: As part of the end-of-year fiscal deal, the Obama Administration secured permanent middle-class tax relief, preventing a $2,200 income tax increase this year for the typical family of four. The President fought hard to include extensions of Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit improvements that provide critical assistance to 15 million low- and moderate-income working families with children.

SPRINGFIELD-- The Illinois Senate advanced legislation Thursday to transfer $6.6 million to the cash-strapped fund that licenses doctors in Illinois and to increase the licensing fees doctors pay to cover the tab.

The money would go to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation's medical disciplinary fund and would be used to process its growing backlog of doctors' license applications.

The agency's paperwork overload is so immense because it had to reassign 18 of its 26 medical unit employees last month due to a fund shortfall of $9.6 million. All of the fund's revenue is generated from doctors' licensing fees, which haven't changed since 1987.

Without the emergency infusion of money into the fund, proponents of the legislation fear the state will lose doctors and scare away medical students looking for a place to start their careers.

"A lot of residents are graduating next month, and a lot of them who do want to come won't because 18 employees laid off can't do the paperwork," said Sen. Antonio Munoz (D-Chicago). "If we don't do something to get this [done], we won't get the pick of these doctors. They'll leave to go to other states because they won't wait the 10 months to a year to get their license."

Under the legislation, sponsored by Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago), the state would borrow the $6.6 million from its local government tax fund and pay the money back in six installments starting July 1, 2104 and ending Jan. 1, 2018.

To foot that bill, doctors' licensing fees would increase from $300 to $700 for three-year licenses until July 1, 2018 when they would be lowered to $500. The fee to renew a license would also increase from $100 to $230 per year for Illinois residents until 2018 when it would be lowered to $167.

The legislation passed in the Senate with a mostly partisan 38-19 vote where the majority of debate focused on the fee increase for doctors.

"Doctors agreed to a fee of $500," Cullerton said. "This is a $700 fee for four and a half years. That's a fee paid once every three years. We're talking about less than $70 a year that we're disagreeing with the doctors on.

"I get their point, but we have a potential crisis here because we have a number of
doctors that may truly not come to this state [because of the backlog]."

With its passage in the Senate, the bill has moved to the House chamber where Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) is sponsoring it.

Meanwhile, the Senate voted 53-2 Thursday to send a bill to Gov. Pat Quinn that would give the governor two additional weeks to submit a state budget for the next fiscal year.

gay_marriage_feb14.jpg
AP Photo/Seth Perlman

SPRINGFIELD-Illinois moved a step closer Thursday to becoming the 10th state to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry as the state Senate approved legalizing gay marriage in a vote one backer described as "one for the history books."

"It is time Illinois get rid of its second-class status for a segment of our residents and allow everyone the opportunity to reap the emotional, social and economic benefits and obligations of marriage," said state Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), the bill's chief Senate sponsor.

Steans' legislation passed the Senate 34-21 vote, with two present votes, and now moves to the House.

After a tearful closing statement by Steans, applause erupted in the chamber the moment the roll call surpassed the necessary 30 votes it needed to move to the House.

But her bill was decried by a mostly unified Republican front as an affront to the Bible.

"We are knocking down one of the central foundations of society with this bill," said state Sen. Dale Bivins (R-Dixon), a "no" vote who cited poet Robert Frost and the Scriptures in pushing the bill's defeat.

"From the Old Testament to the New, there's nothing that supports same-sex marriage," he said.

Watch it live: Illinois Senate debate on gay marriage bill

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The Illinois Senate is debating the gay marriage bill in Springfield on Thursday, with a vote expected later in the day.
Watch it live after the jump

WASHINGTON--Mayor Rahm Emanuel is in Washington today, though the trip is not on his public schedule. Emanuel will be meeting with all the members of the Illinois Congressional Delegation at a lunch where the discussion is supposed to center on Illinois and Chicago issues. Emanuel also has a series of other meetings planned, according to City Hall.


More than $1.2 million poured into attack ads in the 2nd congressional district from outside sources is eroding the strong lead once held by candidate Debbie Halvorson.

The attack ads hit Halvorson hard on the gun issue, saying she's the wrong choice because of her NRA 'A' rating and her disagreement with some of President Obama's gun reform agenda. To a lesser extent state Sen. Toi Hutchinson has also been a target but she has changed her position, now supporting an assault weapons ban.

On Wednesday, Robin Kelly -- who is benefitting from the attacks because she has an F rating from the NRA -- said she has no control of the SuperPAC money that's immersing the airwaves with attack ads on her opponents.
Kelly said the fact that the money is coming from a group formed by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg simply points to the fact that gun violence is a national issue.

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who endorsed Kelly on Wednesday, said she has spent years watching the NRA pour money into campaign funds, steering an issue because of the group's strong financial backing. The new SuperPACs essentially level the playing field, she said.

Schakowsky's endorsement meanwhile continues to boost Kelly, who is picking up momentum in the final weeks before the Feb. 26 special primary.
Schakowsky who in the past has put her support behind Halvorson, noted Kelly's agenda on guns is in line with President Obama's.

sheila_feb13.jpg
AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File


News of Sheila Simon not wanting to run as Pat Quinn's side-kick in 2014 isn't entirely surprising to people close to her.

Sources tell the Chicago Sun-Times that for weeks, Sheila Simon has expressed an interest in running for higher office, possibly Illinois Attorney General, should Lisa Madigan step aside to run for governor. However, she has not made up her mind.

Simon is a former Jackson County prosecutor, worked with building a domestic violence centers in Southern Illinois and has taught in law school.

Simon recently hired a new political director: Bill Doerrer. Doerrer is a onetime Barack Obama field person.

"The Lt. Governor is exploring all options that will allow her to serve Illinois in a greater capacity," said Doerrer.

Simon has expressed interest weeks ago in running for another office, sources with knowledge of the interest say.

If Madigan were to run for governor, the flood gates would open for the much-coveted Attorney General position. Another person who behind the scenes has expressed interest is State Sen. Kwame Raoul.

Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon will not run with Quinn in 2014

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SPRINGFIELD-Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon announced Wednesday morning she will not seek another run alongside the poorly polling Gov. Pat Quinn as Illinois lieutenant governor.

"Serving as lieutenant governor has given me an opportunity to advocate on important issues that affect our state, but it is time for me to do even more," Simon said in a prepared statement. "I want to serve the people of Illinois in a role where I can have an even greater impact."

Simon has yet to say just what her new role will be.

The lieutenant governor skirted questions Friday from the Chicago Sun-Times about whether she would be Quinn's running mate and indicated her office was not ready to discuss where she will take her political talents next.

Simon did not shoot down the possibility of going after Attorney General Lisa Madigan's position if Madigan were to run against Quinn in the 2014 primary election for governor

"When we're ready to talk about it, we'll let you know," Simon said Friday.

Simon originally notified Quinn of her decision to not run for re-election last December.

A statement released from Simon's office Wednesday highlighted her career in public service as a lawyer, especially focusing on her efforts to combat domestic violence.

"My career has been dedicated to advocating for the people of Illinois," Simon said in the statement. "I look forward to continuing that service."

WASHINGTON--Democratic House hopeful Robin Kelly picked up the endorsement Wednesday of Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) in the Democratic primary for the seat vacated by former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.). Earlier this week Kelly got the backing of Reps. Danny Davis and Bobby Rush, both Illinois Democrats.

SPRINGFIELD-Attorney General Lisa Madigan and state Treasurer Dan Rutherford would be the Democratic and Republican nominees for governor in 2014 if the primary elections were held now, according to a new poll released Wednesday that spells trouble for Gov. Pat Quinn.

Among Democrats, the governor trails the three-term attorney general in a hypothetical 2014 matchup by a 31.9 percent to 22.9 percent margin, the poll by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute showed. Former U.S. Commerce Secretary and White House Chief of Staff William Daley, the brother of former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, drew 11.9 percent.

On the Republican side, Rutherford held a narrow lead over state Sen. Bill Brady (R-Bloomington), the GOP's 2010 nominee for governor. The spread between those two stood at 10.2 percent for Rutherford and 9.7 percent for Brady.

Rounding out the potential GOP field, U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill) had 9.1 percent, former U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) at 5.9 percent and state Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale) at 3.2 percent, the Simon poll showed.

The survey was performed on 600 registered voters between Jan. 27 and Feb. 8. The margin of error in the Democratic sample was plus or minus 5.5 percentage points, while the spread for Republicans stood at plus or minus 7.2 percentage points.

For Quinn, the negative poll results represent a critical blow for the first-term governor as girding among the candidates for the 2014 campaign begins, and fundraising commitments are sought.

Those polled gave Quinn poor remarks for the work he has done, with only 32.8 percent giving the governor positive job-performance ratings. The poll showed 51.3 percent disapproving of the governor's job performance.

Those findings represent a sizable slide for Quinn since the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute's polling unit last was in the field. Last summer, 42.2 percent of those surveyed carried a positive view of the governor's job performance while 49 percent disapproved.

Wednesday's poll results are in line with polling in November by the Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling firm, which showed Madigan beating Quinn in a hypothetical one-on-one pairing by a 64- to 20-percent margin. That poll had Daley beating Quinn by a 37- to 34-percent margin.

THE PRESIDENT: Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, fellow citizens:

Fifty-one years ago, John F. Kennedy declared to this chamber that "the Constitution makes us not rivals for power but partners for progress." (Applause.) "It is my task," he said, "to report the State of the Union -- to improve it is the task of us all."

Tonight, thanks to the grit and determination of the American people, there is much progress to report. After a decade of grinding war, our brave men and women in uniform are coming home. (Applause.) After years of grueling recession, our businesses have created over six million new jobs. We buy more American cars than we have in five years, and less foreign oil than we have in 20. (Applause.) Our housing market is healing, our stock market is rebounding, and consumers, patients, and homeowners enjoy stronger protections than ever before. (Applause.)

So, together, we have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and we can say with renewed confidence that the State of our Union is stronger. (Applause.)

But we gather here knowing that there are millions of Americans whose hard work and dedication have not yet been rewarded. Our economy is adding jobs -- but too many people still can't find full-time employment. Corporate profits have skyrocketed to all-time highs -- but for more than a decade, wages and incomes have barely budged.

sotu_transcript.jpg
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

THE PRESIDENT: Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, fellow citizens:

Fifty-one years ago, John F. Kennedy declared to this chamber that "the Constitution makes us not rivals for power but partners for progress." (Applause.) "It is my task," he said, "to report the State of the Union -- to improve it is the task of us all."

Tonight, thanks to the grit and determination of the American people, there is much progress to report. After a decade of grinding war, our brave men and women in uniform are coming home. (Applause.) After years of grueling recession, our businesses have created over six million new jobs. We buy more American cars than we have in five years, and less foreign oil than we have in 20. (Applause.) Our housing market is healing, our stock market is rebounding, and consumers, patients, and homeowners enjoy stronger protections than ever before. (Applause.)

So, together, we have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and we can say with renewed confidence that the State of our Union is stronger. (Applause.)

But we gather here knowing that there are millions of Americans whose hard work and dedication have not yet been rewarded. Our economy is adding jobs -- but too many people still can't find full-time employment. Corporate profits have skyrocketed to all-time highs -- but for more than a decade, wages and incomes have barely budged.

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From Gawker comes this amazing moment of bipartisan fun between President Obama and Sen. Mark Kirk before the speech. If they can explode the fist bump together, perhaps there's still hope for our nation yet.

Below, watch the GOP response to the State of the Union, delivered by Florida's Sen. Marco Rubio and read the transcript here.

After the jump, find Rand Paul's Tea Party response.

When the president took the stage tonight to give the State of the Union speech, there were two to three dozen people in the room who lost family members to gun violence.
The family of Hadiya Pendelton, who was gunned down about a mile from Obama's home in Chicago one week after she attended the Presidential Inauguration, was sitting in the same box as First Lady Michelle Obama.
But there was another representative of another Chicago tragedy.
Next to U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth was Denise Reed, who knows of the violence ravaging Chicago all too well.
On March 3, it will be seven years since her daughter, Starkesia Reed, was killed.
The 14-year-old Englewood student was getting ready for school at 8 a.m. one morning when she was shot dead by a random bullet that went through a wall in her home. They were fired by a young man who was upset over a girlfriend issue and he came to Starkesia's block and, using an AK-47, began spraying it with bullets.
"For my family and myself, she is very much alive in our hearts and in our activities. We don't want her passing to just go away. This was a child who lost her life, to senseless violence," Denise Reed said.
Reed was a guest of U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, (D-Ill.) who invited her
Reed helped found Purpose Over Pain, a group that works to get illegal guns off the streets, "to support young people, to give them alternatives," as well as support the parents of children who were recently taken by gunfire.
Her daughter's killer was sentenced to 150 years in prison.
"It will never bring my daughter back," Reed said. Reed said she wants to spread the word that the issues of violence on the South and West sides is more complex than simply gangs and drugs.
She says she's hoping Obama will push for gun control, saying it would work to curb inner-city violence, adding that the weapon used to kill her daughter was a so-called "assault" military-styled weapon. "It wasn't due to gangs," she said of the shooting. "It was due to an altercation over a girl."
Duckworth said she initially thought to invite a wounded veteran to the speech because Duckworth, an Iraqi war vet, attended her first State of the Union as a wounded vet. Duckworth said she reconsidered as she wanted to join in an effort to put ant-gun violence high on the agenda.
"I just think about the loss to our society, to our country, to someone like Starkesia, who would have been a fabulous doctor," Duckworth said. "There are so many of these young people whose futures are so bright. This is the cream of the crop. These were going to be the kids who were the leaders."

Below, find the full official document of "The President's Plan for a Strong Middle Class and a Strong America."

February 12, 2013

Remarks of President Barack Obama - As Prepared for Delivery

State of the Union Address

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Washington, DC

As Prepared for Delivery -

Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, fellow citizens:

Fifty-one years ago, John F. Kennedy declared to this Chamber that "the Constitution makes us not rivals for power but partners for progress...It is my task," he said, "to report the State of the Union - to improve it is the task of us all."

Tonight, thanks to the grit and determination of the American people, there is much progress to report. After a decade of grinding war, our brave men and women in uniform are coming home. After years of grueling recession, our businesses have created over six million new jobs. We buy more American cars than we have in five years, and less foreign oil than we have in twenty. Our housing market is healing, our stock market is rebounding, and consumers, patients, and homeowners enjoy stronger protections than ever before.

Together, we have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is stronger.

But we gather here knowing that there are millions of Americans whose hard work and dedication have not yet been rewarded. Our economy is adding jobs - but too many people still can't find full-time employment. Corporate profits have rocketed to all-time highs - but for more than a decade, wages and incomes have barely budged.

Welcome to our live coverage of the Presidential State of the Union address. Above, you'll find live streaming video of the speech once it begins. Below, find reaction and analysis from pundits including the Sun-Times' Lynn Sweet, Mark Brown, and Scott Fornek. We'll also include fact-checking from Politifact as it becomes available. CNN also has an interesting interactive page that refreshes tweets from lawmakers, divided by party.

Be sure to check out Lynn Sweet's blog for more details on what to expect during tonight's speech.

SPRINGFIELD-The spiritual leader of Roman Catholics in the state capital Tuesday urged the Illinois Senate to vote down legislation authorizing gay marriage and offered pastoral help for gays and lesbians to "live a life of chastity."

"As the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, I strenuously object to this legislation and hope our elected officials will see the value marriage contributes to the common good of our society," said Bishop Thomas John Paprocki, who testified against the same-sex marriage legislation.

The bill sponsored by state Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) is scheduled to be voted on by the Illinois Senate on Thursday, which also is Valentine's Day.

Paprocki described "true marriage as a fundamental human good that unites one man and one woman in a unique sharing of the whole of their lives."

He went on to express empathy for same-sex couples and offered help to gays and lesbians confronting their "condition."

"The Catholic Church has great love and compassion for those who experience same-sex attraction and offers pastoral help for people dealing with this condition to help them live a life of chastity," Paprocki said in a written statement issued late Tuesday afternoon.

"This is a separate issue, however, from the definition of marriage as a natural institution between a man and a woman committed to an exclusive and life-long relationship open to the potential to bring new life into the world," he said.

The gay-marriage legislation (Senate Bill 10) has the backing of President Barack Obama, Gov. Pat Quinn and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

On Tuesday, Quinn reiterated his belief that the legislation will pass the Senate and ultimately reach his desk.

"I do think the Senate will vote yes for marriage equality on Thursday," the governor told reporters in Chicago. "I intend to sign that bill this year."

WASHINGTON--First Lady Michelle Obama State of the Union guests dramatize the big issues President Barack Obama will talk about in his State of the Union address on Tuesday night as well as the causes she cares most about. Her box in the House chamber will include Chicagoans Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton and Nathaniel A. Pendleton Sr., whose daughter, Hadiya was shot to death on Jan. 29 about a mile from the Obama family home in Kenwood.

Mrs. Obama's guests are the faces of issues concerning: female soldiers; youths who needs the DREAM Act passed to stay in the U.S. legally; STEM educators; early childhood education; growing small business; wounded vets; the CEO of Apple; Hurricane Sandy hero; vocational education; gays in the military; health care; Hispanics, equal pay for women; the Oak Creek, Wisc, shooting; income tax breaks; the Sandy Hook shooting; health care; healthy eating and voter suppression.



Here is the list, from the White House

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

February 12, 2013

Guest List for the First Lady's Box

State of the Union Address

February 12, 2013

First Lady Michelle Obama

Dr. Jill Biden

Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President

The following individuals will be seated in the box with the First Lady and Dr. Biden at the State of the Union Address:

Sergeant Sheena Adams (Vista, CA)

Team Advisor & Lead Instructor, Female Engagement Team

A native of Kauai, Hawaii, Sergeant Adams joined the Marine Corps in 2003 and attended recruit training in Parris Island, S.C. In 2010, Sergeant Adams joined the Female Engagement Team (FET) and was deployed to Helmand Province, Afghanistan from September 2010 to April 2011 in direct support of 1st Battalion 8th Marines in Musa Qal'eh District. Sergeant Adams received her Combat Action Ribbon and Navy and Marine Corp Achievement Medal (second award) after successful completion of the deployment. In September 2011, Sergeant Adams returned to 1st Marine Expeditionary Force Advisor Training Cell, as Team Advisor/Liaison and lead FET instructor, where she re-engineered the Period of Instruction for future FETs.

Alan Aleman (Las Vegas, NV)

DREAM Student

Alan Aleman was born in Mexico City, Mexico. In high school, Alan watched his friends come of age - driving around town with their new licenses and earning some extra cash from their summer jobs at the mall. Although Alan knew he could not do those things because of his immigration status, he was determined to get a good education. Last year, when Alan heard the news that the Obama Administration was going to provide Deferred Action for undocumented youth like him to emerge from the shadows, he was one of the first to sign up. Alan was among the first people in Nevada to get approved. In that moment, Alan said, "I felt the fear vanish. I felt accepted." Today, Alan is in his second year at the College of Southern Nevada. He's studying to become a doctor and he hopes to join the Air Force. Alan is currently working at Hermandad Mexicana, where he is in charge of final review for DACA applications.

Jack Andraka (Crownsville, MD)

Winner of the 2012 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair

Jack Andraka, 16, of North County High School, was awarded first place for his new method to detect pancreatic cancer at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair 2012, a program of Society for Science & the Public. Motivated by the death of his uncle due to pancreatic cancer, Jack created a simple dip-stick sensor based on diabetic test paper to test blood or urine to determine whether or not a patient has early-stage pancreatic cancer. His study resulted in over 90 percent accuracy and showed his patent-pending sensor to be 28 times faster, 28 times less expensive and over 100 times more sensitive than current tests. President Obama strongly believes that we need more students like Jack who are passionate about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and has hosted two White House Science Fairs to celebrate students participating in such competitions.

Susan Bumgarner (Norman, OK)

Early Childhood Educator

Susan Bumgarner's home state of Oklahoma is a national leader in providing access to high quality preschool for all children, and she has been an early educator in the Oklahoma system for more than twenty years. Susan was educated at the University of Oklahoma and influenced by family members who taught and studied there. Susan has written curriculum, trained Head Start teachers, taught infants and toddlers, and prepared parents by teaching Early Birds readiness class. In 1992 Susan began teaching pre-kindergarten at what is now Wilson Arts Integration Elementary School, a public school. "My work is enthralling and my students are amazing, creative, intelligent people," she said. "It is an honor to facilitate their playful transition into the formal world of learning."

Deb Carey (New Glarus, WI)

Small Business Owner, New Glarus Brewing Company

Deborah Carey's decision to start New Glarus Brewing Company was rooted in doing what was best for her family. As she worked on a business plan, her husband Dan, a master brewer, gathered the materials, grains and equipment needed for start-up. In 1993 they negotiated to rent a warehouse in New Glarus, exchanging the lease for stock in the New Glarus Brewing Company. They sold their home and raised $40,000 in seed money, but still needed more funding. Deborah pitched her story to local newspapers, and the media attention brought $200,000 from investors. In the early days, the couple worked hard to establish the brewery's reputation for consistent quality beers and developed a very loyal customer base. Today, New Glarus Brewing Company has grown to 50 full-time employees, and registered growth in profits of 123 percent from 2007 to 2009, becoming Wisconsin's number one micro-brewery relative to sales volume.

Sergeant Carlos Evans, USMC (Cameron, NC)

Wounded Warrior

Sergeant Evans, born in Puerto Rico, was on his fourth overseas deployment when he sustained injuries in Afghanistan that resulted in the loss of both of his legs and his left hand. Recovering at Walter Reed Medical Center, Sergeant Evans met the First Lady and later visited the White House for a Wounded Warrior Tour. At that time, the President signed his prosthetic arm. He credits the support he has received from private organizations to the First Lady and Dr. Biden's efforts in Joining Forces. In 2012, he received a custom home from Operation Coming Home and now resides in North Carolina with his wife and two young daughters.

Tim Cook (Cupertino, CA)

CEO of Apple
Before being named CEO in August 2011, Tim was Apple's Chief Operating Officer and was responsible for all of the company's worldwide sales and operations, including end-to-end management of Apple's supply chain, sales activities, and service and support in all markets and countries. He also headed Apple's Macintosh division and played a key role in the continued development of strategic reseller and supplier relationships, ensuring flexibility in response to an increasingly demanding marketplace.

Prior to joining Apple, Tim was vice president of Corporate Materials for Compaq and was responsible for procuring and managing all of Compaq's product inventory. Previous to his work at Compaq, Tim was the chief operating officer of the Reseller Division at Intelligent Electronics. Tim also spent 12 years with IBM, most recently as director of North American Fulfillment where he led manufacturing and distribution functions for IBM's Personal Computer Company in North and Latin America.

Tim earned an M.B.A. from Duke University, where he was a Fuqua Scholar, and a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Engineering from Auburn University.

Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton and Nathaniel A. Pendleton Sr. (Chicago, IL)

Cleopatra and Nathaniel's daughter Hadiya Pendleton was murdered on January 29, 2013, when she was shot and killed in Harsh Park on Chicago's South Side. Hadiya had participated in President Obama's public inaugural celebration on January 21, 2013. She was an honor student and band majorette at King College Prep High School. First Lady Michelle Obama attended Hadiya's memorial service on Saturday, February 6th.

Menchu de Luna Sanchez (Secaucus, NJ)

Registered Nurse, NYU Langone Medical Center

When Hurricane Sandy cut the power at NYU Langone Medical Center, Menchu Sanchez, a Registered Nurse, devised a plan to transport twenty at-risk infants to intensive care units around the city. She organized the nurses and doctors to carefully carry the babies down eight flights of stairs with only cell phones to light the way. Even as Menchu's own home was flooding, she thought only of protecting the babies in her care. Menchu was born, raised, and educated in the Philippines and she immigrated to the United States in the 1980s. She has worked as a nurse in New York for more than 25 years, and has been at NYU since 2010. Menchu currently lives in New Jersey with her husband and two children, both of whom are in college.

Bobak Ferdowsi (Pasadena, CA)

Flight Director, Mars Curiosity Rover

Bobak Ferdowsi, aka NASA's "Mohawk Guy," is a member of the Mars Curiosity rover team at NASA and Caltech's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. After the successful landing of the Curiosity rover in August 2012, President Obama called to congratulate the team on their success, and singled out Bobak for his unique haircut that captured the imagination of millions of people around the world. The Curiosity rover is a car-sized robot equipped with a laser, chemistry set, and drill for assessing whether Mars ever had an environment able to support small life forms. Bobak is an Iranian-American and science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) professional who, in addition to his inspiring day-to-day work on the Mars Curiosity mission, volunteers as a FIRST robotics mentor to get more boys and girls excited about STEM education.

Bradley Henning (Louisville, KY)

Machinist, Atlas Machine and Supply

Bradley Henning's high school has one of the best machining programs in Kentucky. He got hooked on machining in his sophomore year, and by the time he graduated, Bradley had taken enough vocational classes to get hired as a full-time apprentice with Atlas Machine and Supply in Louisville, Kentucky. For the past four years, Bradley has worked under a veteran machinist and is taking additional classes to earn his full certification. Today, at 23, he is a card-carrying Journeyman Machinist at Atlas, and responsible for mentoring the next generation of apprentices. Bradley is committed to a career in manufacturing and sees a bright future ahead. "This is going to be my lifelong career," he said. "I come in every day with a smile on my face. I learn something new every day...I love that."

Tracey Hepner (Arlington, VA)

Co-Founder, Military Partners and Families Coalition

Tracey is a co-founder of the Military Partners and Families Coalition (MPFC), which provides support, resources, education, and advocacy for LGBT military partners and their families. Outside of her work with MPFC, Tracey works full time for the Department of Homeland Security as a Master Behavior Detection Officer. She is married to the first openly gay or lesbian general officer in the military, Army Brigadier General Tammy Smith.

Peter Hudson (Evergreen, CO)

Co-Founder and CEO, iTriage

Dr. Peter Hudson, the co-founder and CEO of iTriage, is a physician and entrepreneur with more than 15 years of experience founding and growing healthcare-related businesses. His focus has been on creating efficiencies within the healthcare delivery system, and empowering healthcare consumers with technology. Using open government data, Dr. Hudson launched iTriage in 2009, a company focused on prompting citizens to actively engage in their own healthcare. Through the app, an example of government inspired innovation, smartphone users can locate nearby providers based on their symptoms, make appointments, store their personal health records, save medication refill reminders, and learn about thousands of medications, diseases and procedures.

Governor John Kitzhaber (D-OR)

Governor John Kitzhaber has built on his experience as a former emergency room doctor to transform health care delivery in Oregon. Now in his third term, Governor Kitzhaber is working with the Obama administration to scale up innovative models that show how government can do more with less. These performance partnerships, which emphasize federal flexibility and local accountability, are key to achieving improved health care outcomes and efficiencies, better results for our students and building the infrastructure we'll need to unleash the 21st century economy.

Mayor Marie Lopez Rogers (Avondale, AZ)

Marie Lopez Rogers served on the Avondale City Council for 14 years before being elected as the city's first Latina Mayor in 2006. Growing up in migrant farm labor camps and picking cotton alongside her parents in fields where her City Hall now stands, Mayor Rogers never imagined that she would be guiding the transformation of the region. Mayor Rogers currently serves as Chair of the Maricopa Association of Governments. In Dec. 2012, she was named president of the National League of Cities, an organization dedicated to helping city leaders build better communities. She and her husband Ed have been married for 43 years and have three children and six grandchildren.

Amanda E. McMillan (Jackson, MS)

Pay Discrimination Victim

For a number of years Amanda McMillan worked as a secretary for the owner of a Forrest City Grocery Company. She was doing many of the same duties as male salespeople, but at lower pay. Despite repeatedly asking to be officially promoted to the better and higher-paying job in sales, she was told by the company that the job of a salesman was too dangerous for a woman, and that she would not be a good mother if she were on the road meeting customers. With the help of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), she sued the company for sex discrimination. The lawsuit charged that Forrest City Grocery denied sales positions to an employee because she was a woman and paid McMillan less than men doing the same work. When asked why she has pursued the case, McMillan said, "I'm doing this because it was wrong and I could never look my girls in the face and then tell them they live in America and could be anything they wanted to be."As a result of the suit, Forrest City Grocery agreed to pay $125,000 in monetary damages and agreed to disseminate employment policies to employees and provide ongoing training for management on sex discrimination. Amanda, a mother of three, currently lives in Jackson, MS.

Lee Maxwell (Wilton, IA)

Graduate, Kirkwood Community College Wind Technician Program

In 2012, Lee Maxwell graduated from Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He gained twenty six separate certifications in everything from reading blueprints to driving forklifts. Today, he's responsible for turning on the power for new wind turbines that are being built all around the country. Kirkwood started its wind technician training program three years ago in partnership with Iowa-based Clipper Windpower, combining an industry-based curriculum and donated equipment to give students the hands-on experience they need to succeed.

Lieutenant Brian Murphy (Oak Creek, WI)

Lieutenant Brian Murphy was the first police officer to arrive at the scene of the tragic Sikh temple shooting in Oak Creek, Wisconsin last August. Lt. Murphy directly confronted the shooter, and took fifteen bullets to his head, neck, and body before the rest of the police force arrived. When his fellow officers moved to assist him, he waved them off and told them to protect the threatened citizens who remained in the temple. When asked how he was able to respond with such bravery, Lt. Murphy responded, "That's just the way we're made." Today, Lt. Murphy is on medical leave from the force and still recovering from his injuries. Lt. Murphy has served as a police officer for more than twenty years and previously served in the Marine Corps and the United National security force. He lives with his wife and children in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.

Lisa Richards (Arlington, VA)

#My2K Participant

Lisa Richards, a single mom, was one of thousands of Americans who shared stories about what paying $2,200 more in taxes would mean for her family by using #My2K. She wrote, "It's 20 weeks of groceries, two years worth of gasoline, 1/3 of a new roof (which I need), six months of utilities." With the passage of the middle class tax cuts at the beginning of the year, Lisa and millions of Americans like her did not see did not see an income tax increase. Born in Philadelphia and raised in New York and Dallas, Lisa has called the Washington, DC area home for more than 25 years. She now lives in Arlington, Virginia with her seven-year-old daughter working freelance and contract work for a variety of website clients.

Kaitlin Roig (Greenwich, CT)

1st Grade Teacher, Sandy Hook Elementary School

Kaitlin Roig has taught first grade for six years at Sandy Hook Elementary, and has always had a passion for education and working with children. She attended and received her Master's degree from the NEAG School of Education at the University of Connecticut, where she was a member of the Order of Omega Honor Society, The Historical Honor Society, and the NEAG honor society. In addition to her teaching, Kaitlin also started a running club called Marathon Mondays for third and fourth grade students at Sandy Hook Elementary. She will be running the New York City Marathon this year.

Abby Schanfield (Minneapolis, MN)

ACA Beneficiary

Prior to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, Abby would have lost coverage upon turning 21 and would not have been able to obtain care due to her several pre-existing conditions. Abby is a member of TakeAction Minnesota's healthcare team, a grassroots organization that advocates for progressive policies ranging from health care to economic reform. Abby was influenced by her experiences growing up with a chronic illness, and the privileges that come with being insured. A recent graduate of the University of Minnesota, Abby hopes to work in public policy, focusing on women's and community health.

Haile Thomas (Tucson, AZ)

Let's Move! Champion

Haile Thomas is a 12 year-old Youth Advisory Board member with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. She is Co-Founder/Director of the HAPPY Organization, an Arizona nonprofit dedicated to improving the health and wellness of youth through education, outreach, and advocacy about proper nutrition and healthy lifestyle choices. Haile hosts an annual H.E.A.L. (healthy eating, active lifestyle) Festival on Global Youth Service Day in Tucson. She created the Healthy Girl Adventures Club to inspire girls to embrace healthy habits, and produces online cooking videos aimed at encouraging kids to get cooking. Haile is also the Youth Spokesperson and Jr. Chef Consultant for Hyatt Hotels.

Desiline Victor (Miami, FL)

Desiline Victor, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Haiti and retired farmworker, is 102 years old. On October 28, the first Sunday of early voting in Florida, Desiline went to vote at her polling place, a local library. When she arrived at 10:00 a.m., wait times were up to six hours. Determined to vote, she stood in line for three hours, until 1:00 p.m. After citizen advocates complained that the elderly woman was struggling on her feet, a poll worker asked Desiline to come back at a later time. On Desiline's second visit that evening, she was finally able to cast her ballot. When she emerged from the building with her "I Voted" sticker, the crowd of thousands of waiting voters erupted into applause. Several voters remarked that the lines were long, and they needed to get home, but because of Desiline they would continue to stand and wait. Desiline resides in North Miami, where she is lovingly known as "Granny" among the city's Haitian community. A spirited and independent centenarian, she enjoys attending church services and cooking her own meals.

###

WASHINGTON--Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.) State of the Union address Tuesday night is Keith Bryant, a student trustee at Joliet Junior College.

From Foster: "Bryant is a nontraditional student who began studies at JJC after leaving a career in construction. Bryant is studying network system security and information technology and expects to graduate in May of 2014.

"I am honored to have Mr. Bryant as my guest for the State of the Union address," said Foster. "His story serves as an important reminder of the need to invest in education and in training to equip workers with the skills needed to succeed in today's economy. As we face potentially devastating cuts from the sequestration, I urge my colleagues in Congress to remember people like Mr. Bryant who are working to build a better future for their families and communities with training and education to get them on the path towards a career that will last."


WASHINGTON--Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) guest for the State of the Union address on Tuesday night is Denise Reed, whose daughter, Starkesia, was shot to death in Chicago at the age of 14.


From Duckworth: "Denise Reed is a founding member of Purpose Over Pain, an organization committed to the relentless pursuit of solutions to gun violence. State Senator Dan Katowski recommended that Duckworth invite Reed as a way to further the debate on gun violence.

"I am inspired by Denise Reed's courage in sharing her story and proud to have her with me on Tuesday to stand against the tragic shootings that have taken place in Newtown, Chicago and throughout our country," said Duckworth. "We cannot wait on the sidelines while children like Starkesia are needlessly taken away from their families. My colleagues and I must show the same determination and bravery as Mrs. Reed in demanding common sense reforms that will help protect our children."

WASHINGTON--Reps. Peter Roskam and Adam Kinzinger, both Illinois Republicans, and Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) guests for the State of the Union speech Tuesday night are family members. Kinzinger is bringing his sister, Roskam is taking one of his kids and Lipinski is taking his wife.

WASHINGTON--In 2005, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) started his tradition of asking wounded Illinois soldiers to be his guest at the State of the Union--with then Army Major Tammy Duckworth his guest that year. Now Duckworth is a member of Congress--in a political career launched by Durbin, who met her that State of the Union night.

On Tuesday, Durbin's guest is Sergeant First Class Pedro Ortiz-Roman from Chicago.

"Sergeant First Class Ortiz has given so much in service to our nation. I think it is only fitting that he is here tonight to be a part of this special moment in our nation's history - the State of the Union address," said Durbin. "I am humbled by his service and honored to introduce him to my Senate colleagues and have him as my guest this evening."

Bio, via Durbin release:

Sergeant First Class Pedro Ortiz-Roman was born in Caguas, Puerto Rico, and moved to Chicago as a child. He joined the Army in April 2001. After spending five years in the Ranger Battalion in Savannah, Georgia, he served five additional active duty years with the 7th Special Forces Group before joining the U.S. Army National Guard 20th Special Forces Group.

During his 12 year career, Sergeant First Class Ortiz deployed on a total of 7 combat tours to Iraq and Afghanistan in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation New Dawn. In Iraq he received a Purple Heart and Army Commendation Medal with Valor while saving fellow Rangers pinned by enemy fire. His additional deployments to train commandos include South Africa, Suriname, and Panama.

Sergeant First Class Ortiz suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder while deployed in Panama in March 2012. After receiving treatments in Florida, he was moved to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he has been treated for the last six months. He plans to return to his wife and two children in Chicago when released from Walter Reed.

WASHINGTON-- Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.), a congressional leader on immigration reform, guest for the State of the Union address on Tuesday night is Gabino Sanchez, a South Carolina man facing deportation because he entered the country illegally when he was 15.

Gutierrez has been highly critical of President Barack Obama's deportation policies and has been championing Sanchez's fight to stay in the U.S.

From Gutierrez:

The Congressman met Sanchez in November 2011 and pledged to help him fight deportation. The Congressman accompanied Sanchez to his first supervision appointment with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Charleston, S.C. to ask that his deportation case be closed and attended two subsequent hearings (March 12, and May 15, 2012) before an immigration judge in Charlotte, North Carolina


In May 2012, Sanchez was granted a 12 month continuance in his case as he pursued relief from deportation, which under current immigration laws, allows him a permit to work legally and apply for a driver's license, which he has done. This month, Sanchez was granted an additional month to apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the special deportation relief process set up by the Obama Administration for immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.

Representative Gutierrez sees the deportation case against Sanchez as a test of the President's deportation policies, and especially the guidelines, announced by President Obama in 2011, that are supposed to prioritize deportations of immigrants who have committed serious crimes like rape and murder and apply "prosecutorial discretion" to close deportation cases against immigrants with deep ties to the United States, U.S. citizen children, and no significant criminal history.


WASHINGTON--Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) guest for the State of the Union on Tuesday night is Illinois Senate President Sen. John Cullerton (D-Chicago).

Former U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh once called his opponent's attack on his child support payments "graceless," and stood beside his older son at a news conference asking that an ad calling him "deadbeat Joe," be pulled from the airwaves.

But now the Tea Party Republican is no longer in office, he has asked a Cook County Circuit Court to modify his child support payments. According to his ex-wife's attorney, Jack Coladarci, Walsh is behind in payments.
Walsh says he is asking a court to modify his payments since he no longer has the job in Congress. He describes the filing as routine and said he has no intention of skipping on payments.

Walsh, who preached fiscal responsibility to other House members, had been behind $115,000 in child support payments back in 2011. He and his ex-wife, however, then came to an agreement and settled the matter.

Last week, Walsh announced over Twitter that he was filing papers with the Federal Election Commission to launch a new conservative SuperPAC aimed at rivaling Karl Rove.

Walsh also famously attacked Sandra Fluke for testifying before Congress that health insurance should cover contraceptives for women.
Said Walsh: "Go get a job!"


Early voting has begun in the race to replace former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.

There are 21 candidates in the race, including 16 Democrats running in the Feb. 26 primary.

Here's voting info from the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners:

On Tues., Feb. 12 (Lincoln's Birthday), Early Voting for Chicagoans registered in the 2nd Congressional District will be offered only from 9 a.m. to noon and only at the Chicago Election Board, 69 W. Washington St., Lower Level.

On Wed., Feb. 13, Early Voting for Chicagoans in the 2nd Congressional District will return to its regular non-holiday schedule of 9 am to 5 pm, Mon. thru Sat, at all sites:
- 69 W. Washington St.
- Jackson Park
- Jeffery Manor Library
- Palmer Park, and
- Vodak/East Side Library

WASHINGTON--The parents of slain Chicago teen Hadiya Pendelton will attend President Barack Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday as guests First Lady Michelle Obama, sitting in her box in the House chamber for the speech.

Mrs. Obama, White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, all South Siders, traveled to Chicago on Saturday to attend the funeral for the 15-year-old, shot to death in a park about a mile from the Obama family Kenwood home.

I reported on Sunday that Cleopatra Pendleton will be at the State of the Union; on Monday a White House spokesman confirmed that Nathaniel Pendleton, Hadiya's father, will also be at sitting in Mrs. Obama's box.

On Sunday I asked Jarret about their visit home for the funeral. "It's very personal for us," she replied.

"The first lady and I grew up in Chicago and before we moved to D.C., we raised our daughters about a mile from where Hadiya was killed. Chicago still feels like home and our hearts just goes out to the Pendleton family who raised an amazing daughter and we thought it would be important to demonstrate the grief that we're feeling in person.

"It's a reminder at a very personal level about what each of these children mean to us. We may not have known her, but she's feels like a part of our family, too.

"There have been so many tragic deaths around the country and the individual deaths don't receive the attention that the tragedies in Aurora or Newtown receive, but the impact it has on the family involved is just as devastating."


The CREDO SuperPAC -- which was involved in successful efforts opposing U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh last year -- is jumping into the 2nd Congressional District race to replace Jesse Jackson Jr.

Like the other political action committees that have taken interest in the campaign, CREDO is targeting candidates Debbie Halvorson and Toi Hutchinson, both Democrats who have past A ratings with the NRA.

CREDO is using a "data-driven field campaign to ensure voters know about Halvorson and Hutchinson's pro-NRA records. CREDO Super PAC is working with Progressive USA Voters to add a strong ground game that will reach voters through face-to-face conversations urging Illinoisans to vote against Halvorson and Hutchinson."

"The NRA will not win another seat in Congress, especially not in Chicago where gun violence is ravaging local communities," Becky Bond, President of CREDO Super PAC, said in a statement. "CREDO Super PAC is deploying a field campaign to ensure Chicago voters know that both Halvorson and Hutchinson have pledged their allegiance to the NRA, not the voters of Illinois's second Congressional District."

CREDO joins Progressive Kick as well as Mayor Michael Bloomberg's SuperPAC in their investment in the 2nd congressional district. Tactically, it's a good investment to make in a short election cycle that began for all intents and purposes in December for the Feb. 26 primary special election.

CREDO complains that Halvorson, who opposes a ban on military-style assault weapons and high capacity magazine clips, and "has raked in $10,000 from the NRA." And, they say Hutchinson, a state senator, opposed state legislation to restrict semi-automatic weapons, as well as increased reporting of lost and stolen firearms.

Hutchinson has since changed her stance on these issues, now supporting a ban on semi-automatic weapons and signing onto gun control legislation in the statehouse.

Candidate Robin Kelly, who has made guns her main issue in the race, has touted her "F" rating by the NRA.
Kelly, who was chief of staff to then-Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, served in that office in the years that the state invested more than $7 million into Alliant Tech Systems -- the largest ammunitions manufacturer in the world. Kelly says she was far removed from making any decisions regarding that investment.


WASHINGTON--Democratic House hopeful Robin Kelly, running to replace Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., picked up the endorsement Sunday of Reps. Bobby Rush and Danny Davis, both Illinois Democrats. On Tuesday, I'm told Kelly will be Rush's guest when President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union Address in the House chamber.

Early voting in the Illinois Second Congressional District starts today--Monday.
The primary is Feb. 26 and the winner in the heavily Democratic district faces only nominal Republican opposition in the April general election.

In making the endorsement, Rush and Davis said in statements:

"Our communities are facing an epidemic of gun violence, and we need more members of Congress who can be trusted to fight for common sense gun control measures. Robin Kelly is a woman of integrity and conviction, and President Obama, Congressman Davis and I need her as our partner in ending gun violence," said Congressman Bobby Rush.

"Robin Kelly has the kind of pragmatism that you need to get results in Washington, while never compromising her beliefs like many do. If we are going to stop the NRA in their tracks, and make our communities safe again, Robin Kelly is the right woman for the job," said Congressman Danny Davis.

WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama comes home to Chicago on Friday, adding the trip to his post-State of the Union swing to push his second term policy plans to bolster the economy--and to address gun violence in Chicago and other cities.

The White House announced the trip on Sunday, the day after First Lady Michelle attended a funeral for a South Side teen gunned down near their Kenwood home.

His visit will throw a spotlight on the city's inability to curb shootings--with 506 murdered in 2012, a 16 percent increase from 2011.

Obama's Tuesday State of the Union address is expected to dwell on the economy with a portion devoted to Obama's push for legislation to curb gun violence, proposed in the wake of the Sandy Hook school massacre.

A White House official said on Sunday Obama will travel to Chicago for "an event amplifying some of the policy proposals included in the State of the Union that focus on strengthening the economy for the middle class and the Americans striving to get there.

"He'll, of course, also talk about the gun violence that has tragically affected too many families in communities across Chicago and across the country."

On Saturday, Mrs. Obama, White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett and Education Secretary Arne Duncan--all raised on the South Side--attended the funeral for Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year-old shot to death on Jan. 29, just days after traveling to Washington for Obama's inauguration.

They sat in the sanctuary of the Greater Harvest Baptist Church with other family, friends and dignitaries of the youth mourning her life cut short when she was murdered last month at Harsh Park, 4458-70 S. Oakenwald, about a mile from the Obama house on South Greenwood.

Jarrett's family home is a block north of the Obama residence.

The Chicago trip appears to have been added to the Obama schedule for this week--or kept under wraps, because it was not part of his week ahead calendar publically released last Friday.

Obama is buttressing his State of the Union messages next week with domestic travel to discuss his priorities. On Wednesday, Obama travels to Asheville, North Carolina; on Thursday he heads to the Atlanta, Georgia area. On Friday, the day of his Chicago trip. Obama meets with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano of Italy in the Oval Office in the morning.

Obama's last visit to Chicago was in November, where he celebrated his re-election to a second term at McCormick Place.

Obama returns as he is addressing gun violence for the first time in his presidency--and amidst calls that he personally takes action to stop the shootings in the city that launched his political career.

Chicago has been grappling with youth violence for years. On Oct. 7, 2009, Obama dispatched Attorney General Eric Holder and Duncan to Chicago to try to find ways to end chronic brutality in the city after Fenger High School student Derrion Albert was fatally beaten.

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Mike Klonowski at podium with Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago team in the Capitol on Jan. 3, 2013 discussing Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) stroke recovery treatment. (photo by Lynn Sweet)


WASHINGTON--Recovering stroke victim Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) is inviting Mike Klonowski, a Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago physical therapist who treated him, to be his guest at the Tuesday State of Union Address.

The RIC on Facebook said, "Therapists Rock! That's the message our very own former patient, Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) wants everyone to hear -- so to shine a much-deserved spotlight on these very talented and committed caregivers, Senator Kirk has invited RIC's Mike Klonowski -- a mainstay on our 9th floor AbilityLab(TM) -- to be a special guest at Tuesday's State of the Union address.

"We couldn't be prouder of Mike and our entire RIC team of Physical, Occupational and Speech Therapists. Leveraging RIC's world-class science and care, we thank you for your work to Advance Human Ability," the entry said.

Klonowski was part of the RIC team who helped Kirk, who returned to the Senate on Jan. 3 almost a year after suffering a stroke.

WASHINGTON--Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the number two leader in the Senate and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) hit the Sunday talk shows on this weekend before President Barack Obama's Tuesday State of the Union address.

Durbin will be on NBC's "Meet the Press" along with Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the House Majority Leader.

Schakowsky will be on CNN's "State of the Union with Candy Crowley." The show is on live at 8 a.m. Chicago time and rebroadcasts at 11 a.m.

Simon ducks possibility of 2014 run with Quinn

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SPRINGFIELD-While Gov. Pat Quinn has publically committed to a 2014 run for re-election, his running mate has yet to say if she's willing to take the plunge with him.

That was true again Friday.

Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon evaded questions about another run with Quinn during an interview regarding a group she is leading to discuss firearms issues.

"I think I'll choose to keep the focus on the firearms working group," Simon told the Chicago Sun-Times when asked if she was up for a second tour as Quinn's running mate.

Quinn, who was branded the nation's least popular governor in a November poll by Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling, faces potential 2014 primary opponents in Attorney General Lisa Madigan and former White House Chief of Staff William Daley.

But each of those two potential contenders has yet to solidify a gubernatorial bid.

On Friday, Simon did not shoot down the possibility of going after the attorney general's slot if Madigan were to run against Quinn.

"When we're ready to talk about it, we'll let you know," she said.

Simon, a 1987 graduate of Georgetown University's law school, spent four years as a Jackson County prosecutor and a decade as a Southern Illinois University law professor.

She recently launched a firearms working group of 15 freshmen members of the General Assembly to meet with stakeholders on all sides of the gun-control debate as the Legislature works to craft a concealed carry law.

The group's first meeting was Wednesday in Springfield, though the event was closed to the media in order to "create an environment where people can ask lots of questions," Simon said. The group's next meeting is scheduled for Feb. 15 at St. Sabina church in Chicago.

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SPRINGFIELD-Auditor General William G. Holland was arrested in Springfield for allegedly driving under the influence of alcohol.

State police in a marked vehicle stopped 61-year-old Holland, of Springfield, at 11:43 p.m. Wednesday night after driving erratically, according to reports filed at the Sangamon County circuit clerk's office.

Police reported that while driving a 1999 red Ford on a dry, clear night, Holland "committed improper lane usage, had a very strong odor of an alcoholic beverage on his breath, red bloodshot, glassy eyes, [and] failed all standard field sobriety tests."

"Mr. Holland was not driving a state vehicle and was not on state time - he was alone," said Jim Dahlquist, administrative manager for the Illinois office of the auditor general, in an email Friday afternoon.

"We do not anticipate any impact on [Holland's] ability to carry out his duties."

After making the arrest, police took Holland to Sangamon County jail where at 12:35 a.m. he refused to commit a breath test for blood alcohol concentration.

Springfield resident Amy Schmidt, 47, posted Holland's $100 bail, the required 10 percent of the $1,000 bond.

Holland had a clean driving record prior to Wednesday, a spokesperson for Secretary of State Jesse White said Friday, and as a first-time offender his driver's license could be suspended for a minimum 12 months if he is convicted.

Holland is scheduled to appear at the Sangamon County courthouse on March 14.

The auditor general audits public funds of the state and reports findings and recommendations to the General Assembly and to the governor. Holland was first appointed to the post in 1992 and was unanimously reappointed to his third consecutive 10-year term last August.

Holland did not return phone calls by press time Friday morning.

The story was first reported by the Illinois Times, an alternative weekly newspaper in Springfield.

By Natasha Korecki
Political Reporter
@natashakorecki

Federal agents from Washington D.C. visited Chicago as recently as last week interviewing witnesses about former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., a source with direct knowledge of the effort told the Chicago Sun-Times.
"They're still investigating. They're questioning people to corroborate," Jackson's statements to federal authorities, said the source.
The feds were questioning witnesses about activity in Jackson's congressional campaign fund including for transactions specifically in 2009, 2010 and 2011, the source said.
Sources said the 17-year South Shore congressman signed a plea deal last week that acknowledges wrongdoing with respect to misusing his campaign fund.
The source said that Jackson had told others that he tried "protecting" his wife, Sandi Jackson, but "they wouldn't let him."
Earlier this week, the Sun-Times reported that Sandi Jackson is now the target of a separate investigation by federal officials.
Two sources with knowledge of that probe say that authorities believe Sandi Jackson had direct knowledge of alleged misuse of campaign money.
The investigation continues to stun those close to Jackson, who was a target of a different federal probe back in 2008 and 2009, involving Rod Blagojevich's attempted sale of Barack Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat. The Sun-Times first reported in 2010 that a fund-raiser with long ties to the Jackson family told federal authorities that Jackson in October of 2008 had directed him to approach the Blagojevich camp with a $6 million offer for the Senate seat. However, that fund-raiser, Raghuveer Nayak, alleged the conversation was private. Nayak also told authorities that at Jackson's behest, he secretly paid for airline trips for a Jackson female friend to fly from Washington to Chicago.
Nayak himself is now under indictment for conduct involving surgical centers he owns in Illinois and Indiana.


carolyn murray.jpeg Carolyn Murray. Photo by Joel Lerner, Sun-Times Media Group

WASHINGTON--Evanston's Carolyn Murray, whose son Justin was shot last year, will be the guest of Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) at President Barack Obama's Tuesday State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress.

Schakowsky is throwing a spotlight on Murray as Congress is considering a variety of measures to curb gun violence, prompted this time by the Sandy Hook school massacre and Obama is expected to push the House and Senate to act in his address. Democrats are being asked to use their State of the Union guest tickets to bring victims of gun violence to the House chamber for the speech.

Justin Murray, 19, was visiting from San Diego when he was gunned down in front of his grandmother's Evanston home on Nov. 29, 2012.

As Schakowsky noted in a release, "as a prior Naval Reservist and longtime community activist, Ms. Murray began organizing a gun buyback program in the summer of 2012. She even organized an event held on December 15, less than three weeks after Justin's death, where nearly 50 guns were collected.

"Ms. Murray continues to take a stand against gun violence through her work as the Co-Chair of West Evanston Strategic Team and with the Evanston Community Foundation.

"I'm so grateful to welcome Carolyn Murray as my State of the Union guest this year. Ms. Murray has turned her pain into power through her tireless work against gun violence and she is truly making a difference in our community, preventing further violence and saving lives," Congresswoman Schakowsky said. "Our home district in Illinois has seen a great deal of gun violence already this year. It's crucial that we take action against gun violence, so that we can prevent the senseless deaths in the future."

"I'm very excited to join Congresswoman Schakowsky at the State of the Union Address in honor of my son, Justin," said Ms. Murray. "Too many young people have been killed by guns, and it must end. As the mother of a young victim, I'm committed to doing everything in my power to end gun violence. The time is now for Congress to act to save lives."

Former U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh took to Twitter this morning to criticize Michelle Obama for coming to the Saturday funeral of Hadiya Pendleton.


In a series of Tweets, Walsh seemed to mock the first lady's decision.
""Heartbroken" Michelle Obama attending funeral of Hadiya Pendleton. I guess the other 553 murder victims didn't break her heart, " Walsh wrote. "I guess the other 553 murder victims didn't break her heart. Most of the 553 Chicago murder victims in 2012 & 2013 were young black males. Is she attending this funeral to make a political point?"

The White House announced Thursday that Mrs. Obama will attend the funeral Saturday for Pendleton, killed last week by gunfire in a park about a mile from the Obama' Kenwood home. Mrs. Obama will be accompanied by Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to the president, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Video: Watch 2nd congressional candidates debate

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CAN TV captured tonight's 2nd Congressional District debate at Governors State University in University Park. FOX Political Reporter Mike Flannery moderated.

quinn_feb7.JPGSPRINGFIELD-Gov. Pat Quinn signed a $2 billion-plus package to fund road construction, avert layoffs in the state's child-welfare agency and pay health-insurance bills for state workers after it passed the Senate Thursday despite GOP no-votes.

The legislation the governor signed sailed out of the Senate 38-15 and came one day after Quinn called on lawmakers to send him the supplemental spending bill designed to fund construction and cash-starved areas of state government for the next five months.

In a statement released Thursday afternoon, Quinn described the legislation as one "that will put people to work and protect the most vulnerable among us."

The measure covers spending for more than $600 million worth of unpaid healthcare costs for state employees, $675 million in spring road construction and $25 million to avert layoffs in the Department of Children and Family Services.

The legislation didn't require new revenue sources because it essentially rearranged existing state and federal money already in the state budget.

"This is a good initiative. It'll support human services and community-based mental health, which is desperately needed," said Sen. Dan Kotowski (D-Park Ridge), the bill's chief Senate sponsor.

The legislation was fast-tracked, passing the House and Senate in two days, but not without a misstep the Quinn administration acknowledged could have a "significant impact" in hindering roadwork envisioned under the plan.

The administration intended to dip into the state's Road Fund, which pays for road and bridge work, for $125 million to fund state employee health care costs. Instead, the legislation set the Road Fund diversion at $176 million.

Rather than slow down the legislation, as Senate Republicans sought, the head of the Illinois Department of Transportation, Ann Schneider, promised in a letter to a key Senate Democrat not to exceed the $125 million diversion originally envisioned.

But that pledge wasn't enough to assuage wary Republicans, who voted against the stopgap spending deal after their bid to delay passage of the bill was ignored by Senate Democrats.

"We're left in a position because we rushed and have a flawed draft where we have to take the word of the administration rather than just having the bill right and not having to worry about what happens after this," said state Sen. Matt Murphy (R-Palatine), who voted against the plan.

Legislators deliberate where to allow concealed carry

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SPRINGFIELD-Illinois residents could be permitted to carry handguns in parks and cars, said a key Chicago state senator involved in the evolving gun-control debate at the Capitol.

"There are going to be a number of places that are obvious places that we want to protect, but there are going to be some others more in the gray area," said Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago), who introduced a concealed carry bill Tuesday.

"I imagine parks - parks are very public. I think parks are a place that you could have it."

The remarks were in response to Gov. Pat Quinn's annual State of the State address, in which the governor mentioned 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton who was recently murdered in a Chicago city park.

In his speech, Quinn called for a comprehensive public safety agenda that would keep guns out of everyday places like schools, sports stadiums and shopping malls.

But state Sen. Tim Bivins (R-Dixon), who as a retired Lee County sheriff of 20 years can carry anywhere except on a plane or in a federal building, said he would consider allowing guns in shopping malls to prevent incidences like the shooting that took three lives at a Portland, Ore. mall last December.

Bivins, the Senate Republican point person on concealed carry, thinks proper training should be the primary focus.
"In law enforcement most of your liability comes, when lawsuits fly, from lack of training," he said. "If you're going to discharge your weapon you have to know that you cant discharge it with a crowd of people behind what you're shooting at."

The need to act on gun legislation weighs heavily on lawmakers since a December federal appeals court ruling struck down the state's concealed carry ban, giving the governor and legislators until June 9 to make Illinois the 50th state to allow some form of concealed carry.

Quinn also included in his speech a plea for a ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. But including that initiative in a concealed carry plan would be "a dangerous approach," Raoul said.

"I'm for an assault weapons ban, but the focus of the discussion needs to be on the secondary market, the transferring of guns," he said. "And I don't see the focus of this gun debate being on that."

Sen. Bivins agreed that an assault weapons ban needs to be left out of the concealed carry debate, saying, "It's just an emotional response to a problem."

"The assault weapons ban - somewhat of a red herring I think - doesn't matter if you're pro-gun or anti-gun," he said.

Meanwhile, the House chamber will address gun-control issues later this month as Speaker Michael Madigan has scheduled hearings in the House Judiciary Committee on Feb. 19 in Springfield and Feb. 22 in Chicago.

House Bill 997, sponsored by Rep. Brandon Phelps (D-Harrisburg), has gotten the most attention in that chamber with bipartisan support and allows licensed residents to carry handguns openly or concealed on their person and in vehicles.

Phelps' bill prohibits licensees from carrying in most bars, parts of airports, elementary and secondary schools, college and university buildings, courthouses, casinos, sporting stadiums and arenas, public libraries, jails and prisons, residential mental health facilities and child care facilities.

And while private landlords would not be allowed to prohibit residents from carrying, business owners could. Finally, guns would be prohibited from most state buildings, however, state legislators could allow licensees to bring firearms into their district offices.


The SuperPAC Progressive Kick Independent Expenditure Committee jumps into the race by hitting Debbie Halvorson and Toi Hutchinson on the gun issue. Again, it hammers away at the gun issue even though Hutchinson has changed her stance -- now supporting a ban on military-style assault weapons. Halvorson, meanwhile, is already the target of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Independence USA PAC attack ad. The PAC filed notice with the FEC this week that it's spending another $382,429.75 on a media buy targeting Halvorson.


SPRINGFIELD-House Speaker Michael Madigan has scheduled two hearings later this month to take up gun-control legislation, including how to respond to last December's ruling that struck down Illinois' law that banned residents from carrying concealed firearms.

The House Judiciary Committee will convene on at noon Feb. 19 at the state Capitol and at 10 a.m. Feb. 22 at the Michael Bilandic Building in Chicago to take up the gun issue.

"In light of events in recent months in Illinois and in other parts of the country, it's appropriate and necessary that we give a full vetting to proposed state legislation on this matter," Madigan said in a prepared statement.

"These hearings will provide an opportunity for gun safety advocates, gun rights supporters and members of the law enforcement community to offer their views and argue their cases to legislators and the people of Illinois," he said.

On Wednesday, Gov. Pat Quinn laid out a broad gun-control package that would ban the sale and possession of military-style, semi-automatic "assault" weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines and ramp up reporting of mental health cases to the State Police, who administer state gun permitting.

Quinn also said he believes any concealed carry legislation needs to explicitly bar gunowners from taking their weapons into shopping malls, schools and sports arenas and stadiums and undergo fingerprinting before being eligible for a concealed carry permit.

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Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media

New legislation is hitting the floor in the nation's Capitol today that takes aim at corporations that have off-shore "tax shelters," as a way of keeping profits from being taxes. Its backers say it will generate more than $590 billion in tax revenue over the next decade.

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) is introducing the Corporate Tax Fairness Act, which aims to control the country's deficit and eliminate tax loopholes which she says are subsidizing big oil companies and corporations that are shipping jobs and profits overseas. Schakowsky introduced the bill in the House while U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) introduced it in the Senate.

Under current law, U.S. corporations are allowed to defer or delay U.S. income taxes on overseas profits until this money is brought back into the United States.

U.S. corporations are also provided foreign tax credits to offset the amount of taxes paid to other countries. Today, U.S. corporations have an estimated $1.7 trillion of un-repatriated foreign profits sitting offshore, according to the bill sponsors.

Schakowsky tells the Sun-Times that corporations are using this as a tax loophole to shelter their profits by simply having post office boxes overseas. For instance, she says in the Cayman Islands there is a five-story building "that is the so-called home of 18,000 businesses." The companies are taking advantage of a tax loophole by sheltering some of their revenues.

The building is filled with post office boxes, she said, which are there: "For the sole purpose of tax avoidance," Schakowsky said. "It is money that we should be collecting from these wealthy corporations."

Some of the companies targeted: General Electric, Exxon Mobile, Pfizer, Microsoft, as well as others.


New happenings this morning in the 2nd congressional district.

-- Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart announces he's behind Ald. Anthony Beale (9th). Of course, this isn't a surprise, since Beale's campaign disclosures showed Dart's campaign committee had donated $1,000 to Beale.

-- Robin Kelly, who is building momentum in the race, announces she's backed by 100 ministers.

-- Toi Hutchinson last week announced she was backed by a slew of ministers.

-- Meanwhile, the candidates are to attend a forum tonight at Governors State University in University Park.

SPRINGFIELD-A lineup of possible 2014 GOP gubernatorial wannabes took turns beating up Gov. Pat Quinn Wednesday, saying his State of the State speech amounted to a re-election treatise that showcased why his leadership has left Illinois' checkbook in ruins.

"This governor has succeeded at delivering a lot of rhetoric, but the results have failed. Last year we convinced him we needed to resolve the pension crisis. He's failed to deliver any results," said state Sen. Bill Brady (R-Bloomington), Quinn's 2010 Republican opponent for governor.

"Clearly, it's a campaign speech," Brady told reporters. "He's on the ropes within his own party with Lisa Madigan and Bill Daley nipping at his heels, but I think the people of Illinois are smarter. I'm just not confident that this is any different of a Pat Quinn than what we've seen over the last three or four years."

State Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale), who narrowly lost in the 2010 GOP primary to Brady and is mulling another run for governor next year, said Quinn focused too much on social issues and not enough on the state's financial needs.

"He's been the governor for four years. He has a Legislature controlled by his own political party, and we've done nothing on pension reform. There's no leadership by Pat Quinn of his own political party," Dillard told reporters.

"This state is being pile-driven into the ground by [House Speaker] Mike Madigan and Pat Quinn, and it is now or never. And I wish Pat would have focused more on how he's going to create private-sector jobs like other states have done around us and how he's going to solve the pension crisis because we should be about solving the pension crisis, not worried about social issues and these other things," Dillard said.

State Treasurer Dan Rutherford, a Pontiac Republican who also is eying a 2014 gubernatorial bid, steered clear of the anti-Quinn rhetoric and instead simply urged the governor and lawmakers to make pension reform a "top priority."

"The fact of the matter is that because of its finances, the state of the state is in need of repair. Illinois' credit rating is officially the lowest in the nation. We need strong leadership to get our state back in line," Rutherford said in a prepared statement.

But U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Illinois), who is another Republican considering a run for governor, derided Quinn's speech as a lesson in failed leadership.

"Each State of the State address by Gov. Quinn has become a precursor to Illinois sliding further in the wrong direction," Schock said in a prepared statement.

Quinn "lamented the need for solutions, but lacked the leadership and boldness needed to enact those solutions. Illinois cannot and will not move forward until we first address our state's leadership deficit," Schock said.

SPRINGFIELD-After hearing Gov. Pat Quinn's 38-minute State of the State address Wednesday, Attorney General Lisa Madigan commended the speech but kept her cards close in regards to a 2014 primary run for governor against Quinn.

"I'll let you guys know when I have an opinion on that," Madigan told reporters after the speech. "If I made a decision you guys would know about it."

Since the presidential inauguration last month when she hinted at a gubernatorial campaign, Madigan has been on the radar of the handful of other potential candidates, though Quinn has not publically commented on the possible challenge.

The governor embraced Madigan and several others as he entered the House chamber to deliver his address, which Madigan, who had her own copy of the speech, said focused on the critical issue facing the state.

"I thought he focused on what was the most important issue facing the state, which is the pension issue," she said. "And obviously until that's resolved, everything else needs to be addressed, but it's really hard to move passed that."

Madigan wouldn't say whether she thought Quinn demonstrated enough leadership to find a pension solution, but she acknowledged he had at least identified the issue.

"The other issues that he addressed are obviously important issues, but, you know, the top three issues are pensions, pensions, pensions," she said. "And so until that's resolved, it's very difficult to move forward on any other issues that require revenue. And he seems to recognize that, and now the real issue is getting the work done and making that happen."

And does Madigan think the governor presented any fresh ideas to get the job done? Again, it seems the attorney general is keeping her cards close.

"Well obviously he's going to be working with the legislature to make those other things happen, but again making sure that everybody in the state capitol realizes that we have to address the pension issue - that's job one," she said. "And so I do think he talked about that. I do think he made that point. So I think that's a good day for him."



Ald. Anthony Beale's campaign for 2nd Congressional District is rejecting a poll recently released by former state Rep. Robin Kelly that shows the 9th ward alderman with just 10 percent of the vote.
"There's no way that I believe this poll is accurate," said Beale campaign spokeswoman Delmarie Cobb.
The poll, just released hours ago, puts Kelly in the lead of top candidates in raw numbers and a statistical tie with Debbie Halvorson when the margin of error is taken into account. Previously, the Halvorson had led in every poll.
Cobb's argument is voter turnout will be greatest in the city and Beale is the only city candidate in a field of 16 Democrats. The 2nd congressional district stretches into Will and Kankakee counties.
"Forty percent of the vote comes from the city. Sixty percent of the vote comes from the South Suburbs. You've got, Toi, Robin, Debbie and everybody else running for the 60 percent. Anthony has ... - 98 percent of the 9th ward is in the 2nd congressional district."
Cobb broke it down like this:
- 7th ward: "We have friends in the 7th ward who are helping us."
- 10th ward: "Ald. Pope is staying neutral. We have friends in the 10th ward that are working very hard for us."
"He has the majority of the alderman in the City helping him. He's the only City candidate running. The 9th ward is already used to voting for him."
She accused Kelly as being a one-issue candidate and a "Johnny-come-lately" when it comes to gun violence.
"We have an equivalent of a Sandy Hook every year," in Chicago schools. "So it didn't take Sandy Hook to motivate Anthony ... he's not a Johnny-come lately to this issue and he's not a one-note singer. "

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Al Podgorski/Chicago Sun-Times

Former State Rep. Robin Kelly is gaining momentum in the race to replace Jesse Jackson Jr., according to a new poll released by Kelly's campaign.

The poll came on Feb. 4-5 and shows Kelly leading previous front-runner Debbie Halvorson, who has been hammered by an outside SuperPAC TV commercial. With an almost 5-percent margin of error, however, the two are in a statistical tie for the 2nd congressional seat, according to the poll. The poll shows Kelly leaping 11 points from January to February.

According to GBA Strategies, Kelly leads with 26 percent of all likely voters, with Halvorson slipping into second place with 22 percent and state Sen. Toi Hutchinson in third place with 20 percent.
Kelly has seized on the gun issue in the campaign, trumpeting her lifetime F from the NRA and lambasting her opponents -- Hutchinson and Halvorson -- for having high ratings with the NRA.

The details: The survey is of 400 likely voters in the February 26th special primary election. Interviews were conducted on February 4-5 and respondents were reached on both landlines and cell phones. Results for the survey carry a margin of error of +/- 4.9 percent at the 95 percent confidence interval.

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From Kelly's campaign:

• Kelly moves into first place. After sitting behind both Halvorson and Hutchinson in an early January survey, Kelly now leads the pack at 26 percent of likely voters.

o Kelly has wide base of support. Kelly's lead is broad as she expands her support in every corner of the district. She now leads among African American voters
across the district and throughout Cook County--both in the city and the suburbs.

o Kelly's leadership on gun control resonating. Among those voters who volunteer that they have heard Kelly's message on preventing gun violence and taking on
the NRA, she wins a whopping 65 percent of the vote.


Debbie Halvorson accuses Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle of colluding with Toi Hutchinson in a "smear campaign" trying to falsely link Halvorson to voting against President Obama.

"Toi Hutchinson and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle have begun a smear campaign by telling voters that while in Congress Debbie Halvorson voted 88 times against Obama backed bills," Halvorson says in a statement.

The same issue came up when Halvorson ran against Jesse Jackson Jr. in last year's primary.
Jackson incorrectly accused Halvorson of voting against Obama-backed bills. A Sun-Times analysis showed that Jackson actually voted against Obama more than Halvorson.

The Preckwinkle email, obtained by the Sun-Times, Preckwinkle asks for donations for Hutchinson, whom she endorsed in the primary race.

Here's text from the email:

"Dear Friends,

We have narrowed the gap! Early polls have shown Debbie Halvorson leading, but Toi Hutchinson is closing the gap. She and her campaign have been gaining momentum and endorsements by the day.

OUR BIGGEST DEADLINE OF THE CAMPAIGN IS MIDNIGHT! We are only $6,498.02 away from meeting our fundraising goal. Every dollar of support goes to electing Toi Hutchinson to office and being a strong advocate for the members of our community.

Will you help us cross that line?


Click here and support us in stopping Debbie Halvorson


Your support today will make us stronger over the final weeks. We are in a tough fight with Debbie Halvorson. She has voted against President Obama 88 times. We cannot allow this to happen; we must elect Toi Hutchinson to stand with President Obama and Democrats in Congress

Your support brings us one step closer to victory on Election Day, February 26th.

SPRINGFIELD-Looking to salvage his political future, Gov. Pat Quinn aimed Wednesday to appeal to his Democratic base heading into a bumpy 2014 re-election bid, pushing for a minimum wage hike, tighter gun control and gay marriage.

Delivering his fourth State of the State speech, Quinn said Illinois has "moved forward" since his 2009 arrival as governor but said the state is at "a critical juncture" as it faces the politically toxic task of solving a $95 billion pension crisis and improving the state's worst-in-the-nation budget ranking.

"We have moved Illinois forward, but we have much more to do," Quinn told a joint session of the General Assembly. "At this point, each and every one of us has a choice to make about what we want our Illinois to look like.

"Do we want, in the years to come, a prosperous Illinois where working people continue to have good jobs, where businesses thrive and where all our children have a world-class education? Or do we want to stop the progress and watch our economic recovery stall," Quinn asked.

The governor challenged lawmakers to remain focused on reeling in pension benefits for state workers and retirees and downstate and suburban teachers, saying ballooning pension payments continue to threaten everything else the state must pay for.

"We have a tall task ahead of us," Quinn said. "This is no small issue. And doing what's hard isn't always what's popular at the moment. But, we must remember that hard is not impossible."

In what had the feel of the first speech of the 2014 campaign cycle, Quinn urged state lawmakers to raise the state's $8.25 an hour minimum wage to $10 an hour during the next four years, which faces universal resistance from business leaders.

"Our businesses are only as good as the employees who drive their success," he said. "Nobody in Illinois should work 450 hours a week and live in poverty. That's a principle as old as the Bible. That's why, over the next four years, we must raise the minimum wage to at least $10 an hour."

Quinn also pushed for tough gun-control measures, invoking the name of slain Chicago teen Hadiya Pendleton, who has emerged as the lastest and prettiest face of the city's unchecked killing spree.

"We cannot wait for another tragedy to happen before we take action," He said. "We must move forward with a comprehensive plan that includes gun safety legislation, mental health care and violence prevention strategies," he said.

Quinn called for a ban on the sale and possession of military-style "assault" weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. He said concealed carry legislation that a federal court has ordered must "ensure that guns are kept out of everyday public places because don't belong in our schools, shopping malls or sports stadiums."

The governor made a renewed pitch for legalization of gay marriage after a Senate panel Tuesday advanced legislation to do just that.
"Marriage equality is coming to Illinois," he said.

Quinn's big ideas and their prospects of going anywhere this spring run headlong into his exceptionally low standing with voters and his own political vulnerability as he enters the second half of his first full term.

In November, only one in four Illinois voters thought he was doing a good job, while 64 percent disapproved of his job, according to a survey by Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling, which characterized Quinn as the least popular governor in the country.

That poor public support has clipped Quinn's power to move things in the Legislature and left him weakened heading into the 2014 election cycle, where three-term Attorney General Lisa Madigan and former U.S. Commerce Secretary William Daley have not ruled out challenging the governor in a primary.

Ex-U.S. Rep Joe Walsh: "I'm not going away"

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Former U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh may have lost the election, but he's waging a new fight.

The conservative Tea Party Republican announced this week he's launching a new SuperPAC to battle what's considered the face of the Republican Party -- Karl Rove.

Walsh announced the effort over Twitter, saying: "I'm filing the paperwork to form a SuperPAC to support freedom-loving conservative alternatives" to Rove. Rove is a commentator on FOX News.

Walsh had the help of SuperPAC money in his race against Tammy Duckworth, to no avail. Duckworth beat Walsh soundly in a redrawn 8th Congressional district. The SuperPAC Now or Never poured millions of dollars into anti-Duckworth ads during the race.

Walsh arguably did himself in during the race because of his penchant for forceful declarations. Just before the November election, he told reporters that there was absolutely no case where an abortion was necessary to save the life of a mother.

In a rare move, he backpedaled, holding a news conference the next day.

SPRINGFIELD-The Democratic-led House backed a stopgap spending plan Tuesday to fuel road construction, pay for state workers' health care and stave off child-welfare agency layoffs despite GOP beefs the move would cost $2 billion with no way to pay for it.
The appropriation bill, which passed the House by a 63-52 vote and now moves to the Senate, was pushed by Gov. Pat Quinn's administration to infuse money into cash-starved pockets of state government midway through the 2013 budget cycle.
"There's nothing new, unusual, strange or odd about this bill," said House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago), the bill's chief House sponsor.
"It's time for us to show our commitment to school children, to the mentally ill, to the abused and neglected children of the state of Illinois," Currie continued.
The measure covers spending for more than $600 million worth of unpaid healthcare costs for state employees, $675 million in spring road construction and $25 million to avert layoffs in the Department of Children and Family Services.
But with Republicans insisting there was no clearly identified way to pay for most of the spending, the plan was ridiculed as more of the same in a state that lets unpaid bills accumulate to more than $9 billion.
"The house is on fire. This state can't pay its bills," said state Rep. David McSweeney (R-Barrington Hills). "If we're going to increase spending, let's cut."

SPRINGFIELD-Legislation to make Illinois the 10th state to allow same-sex marriage passed a Senate committee Tuesday with new language designed to give churches more protection from having to allow wedding ceremonies at their facilities.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), passed the Senate Executive Committee by a 9-5 vote and now heads to the Senate floor for a full vote expected to occur on Valentine's Day.

"We think we have the votes, but [we are] cautiously optimistic," Steans said. "You never know until you're actually pushing those buttons. People are people."

The same Senate panel approved similar legislation during the lame-duck legislative session in early January. But that plan stalled when backers acknowledged absences of three key votes kept them below the minimum 30-vote threshold needed to pass the Senate.

A central question before the committee then was how institutions receiving public funding would be required to receive same-sex marriage ceremonies. But that language has been dropped from the bill this time, Steans said.

"We didn't do anything with public funding in this bill," she said. "There have been concerns about that in the original language. That language is all removed. We're not touching that."

Tuesday's debate focused on whether churches are defined as public accommodations under the state's Human Rights Act, which says the availability of public accommodations shall not be determined on the basis of sexual orientation.

Though the word "church" does not appear under that section of the law, one definition of a "public accommodation" comes close, describing "an auditorium, convention center, lecture hall or other place of public gathering."

Some of the bill's opponents say a lack of clarity in this area could cause trouble in the courts. Joseph La Rue, legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, testified before the committee that the bill doesn't clearly exempt churches from renting out their facilities such as in other states like New York.

"What Illinois' bill says is public accommodations decisions will be subject to the Human Rights Act and to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and nobody knows for sure what that means," he said.

"Nobody knows how this will play out. And so instead of giving churches protection, the Legislature is simply punting the ball down the field for future courts and future legislatures to decide, and that leaves churches in a very precarious spot."

While La Rue and other opponents would like to see an explicit exemption for churches, Steans believes it is unnecessary and doesn't foresee any legal issues.

"Public accommodation issues really get into if you're opening a public business, and you're advertising and renting and all that stuff," she said. "That's not what a church is typically doing."

Among others who testified in the packed room before the committee were Suzie Hutton and her partner Danielle Cook. The Bloomington-Normal area residents and their son, Kaleb, also came to Springfield last month to support same-sex marriage.

Cook told the committee that in order to ease the tension of explaining her civil union with Hutton to friends, she would often joke that their relationship was finally "civilized."

"But it hurts," she said, tearing up. "It hurts because our relationship is recognized differently. People often unintentionally offer less respective dignity to our relationship because marriage is the standard in our society."

Following an emotional debate last month when supporters waited hours in the Capitol before being called to testify, Hutton said they felt more confident and prepared Tuesday.

"I think it was an excellent experience to go through it because we knew a little bit more about it, and we're just excited," she said. "Every day we're one step closer to having marriage."

Gov. Pat Quinn praised Tuesday's development, which he said marked another step toward "providing equal rights to all people in Illinois."

"I thank the members of the Senate Executive Committee for advancing this measure today and look forward to working to pass this bill through both houses in the days to come," he said in a prepared statement.


Ald. Anthony Beale's campaign is blaming a "glitch in the software" for failing to identify the origin of $44,000 of the $49,000 in donations to his congressional campaign.

Beale's campaign for congress will file a new congressional financial disclosure after the Chicago Sun-Times asked questions about $44,000 in donations that weren't accounted for in filing documents last week.

Beale, who is running for Jesse Jackson's former seat in the 2nd Congressional district, had claimed almost $50,000 in receipts in its campaign fund but only accounted for $5,000 of it in a form filed with the Federal Elections Commission. Federal election laws say that only donations less than $200 need not be itemized.

"We're doing an amendment. There was a glitch in the software," said DelMarie Cobb, Beale's campaign spokeswoman.
"We called them, we were very upset. When you asked me, I did not know what you were talking about but the moment I looked at it, it was clear as day."

Cobb said the new filing will be "completely redone and will consist of 15 pages."

She said the glitch happened when the $44,000 was inputed on the wrong line, one that was for non-itemized contributions. The Sun-Times first asked Beale's people about the discrepancy on Friday.

This is part of our look back at the special investigation performed by the Sun-Times and the BGA using the Mirage Tavern. Click here to check out all the entires in this ongoing series. For best results, view PDFs in "full screen" mode.

The Mirage Tavern, Part XXIV by

KIRK-CST-010413-06_30409129.JPG
Illinois U.S. Senator Mark Kirk is helped up the US Capitol steps by Vice President Joe Biden (2nd from right) and West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin (left), U.S. Senator Dick Durbin is at far right, as many other Senators line the Capital steps on Thursday morning January 3, 2013. | Jon Sall~Sun-Times

When Illinois' junior Sen. Mark Kirk returned to the Senate last month, it was a triumph for friend and foe alike.

On both sides of the aisle, Kirk was applauded after making his climb back up the Capitol steps to return to office - ne easy task, as Lynn Sweet reported on Jan. 4.

Now Sen. Kirk is talking about just how difficult that return was. In an op/ed column he wrote for the Washington Post, Kirk talks about the struggle it's been since his stroke - the fear he felt the day it hit, the fight to get back and how he's changed as a person and a senator as a result of being stricken.

Kirk, who writes that he was always a "glass half empty guy," before his stroke says he's become much more positive and optimistic as a result of surviving not only the stroke, but the rehabilitation:

I'm different from what I was. My left leg and left arm might never work like they once did, but my mind is sharp. I'm capable of doing the work entrusted to me by the people of Illinois, but I am forever changed.

0991 - MIRAGE TAVEN OPERATED BY SUN-TIMES AND BETTER GOVERNMENT ASSOCIATION 1978 -- 0028A.JPG

This is part of our look back at the special investigation performed by the Sun-Times and the BGA using the Mirage Tavern. Click here to check out all the entires in this ongoing series. For best results, view PDFs in "full screen" mode.

The Mirage Tavern, Part XXIII by

Thumbnail image for kelly_feb1.JPGIllinois 2nd congressional candidate Debbie Halvorson may lead in the polls for the Feb. 26 special primary, but she's trailing when it comes to raising money.

Former state Rep. Robin Kelly (pictured right) leads with State Sen. Toi Hutchinson in second place, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission that trickled in late last night.

Does that mean much in a special election?

The answer is no, if you ask U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) who was far outspent when he ran in 2009 to replace Rahm Emanuel. Halvorson, a one term former U.S. rep has said she doesn't need to depend as much on fund-raising since she has more name recognition in the district.

Here's how the top candidates fared in just the last two months. For an overview of a ramped up week in the race for Jesse Jackson Jr.'s old seat: click here.

Click the name below to view the candidates' financial filing.

Robin Kelly reported total receipts of $200,000 and about $198,000 cash on hand.

Toi Hutchinson reported a total of $135,000 in receipts and $129,637 cash on hand.

Debbie Halvorson reported $50,000 in receipts and $44,000 cash on hand. The total includes a $25,000 loan to herself. Note: this may be updated, according to the campaign, following a "big fund-raiser" last night. Stay tuned.

Anthony Beale reported just shy of $50,000 -- though the filing only shows $5,000 in contributions, including from Tom Dart and Ed Burke's committees. There's $44,000 in unitemized contributions. That means he's saying almost all his donations came in amounts less than $200. A Beale spokeswoman is getting back on this. He had about $44,000 cash on hand.

This is part of our look back at the special investigation performed by the Sun-Times and the BGA using the Mirage Tavern. Click here to check out all the entires in this ongoing series. For best results, view PDFs in "full screen" mode.

The Mirage Tavern, Part XXII by