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

June 2013 Archives

PEORIA-Republican gubernatorial hopeful Bruce Rauner on Thursday gave his first press conference since declaring his candidacy a day before. The 57-year old venture capitalist from Deerfield, Ill. continued to call out union leaders, while also criticizing Gov. Pat Quinn's ability to work with the Legislature and pass pension reform.

Rauner answered questions about solving the state's pension woes, his political intentions, Chicago crime and concealed carry, but he darted a question about his position on same-sex marriage. The following is a transcript of most of the questions posed to Rauner and his answers in the 10-minute Q&A.

Q: As a political outsider, how do you plan on working with the speaker of the House and the president of the Senate in light of the gridlock in the last couple of weeks?
A: "Well, I'm a big believer in communication and close communication with everyone in a decision-making position. I look forward to working very closely with Speaker Madigan, President Cullerton, the legislative leaders throughout. We have many problems to solve, and I'll try to take a collaborative approach.

"That said, the key folks who also need to be in the room - this is the critical issue - are the government union heads themselves. They're the ones calling the shots. People like Cinda Klickna from the teachers union, Dan Montgomery from the teachers union...They're folks who - they're the ones who need to be in the room. They're the ones who are controlling much of the political process with their funds. And they're the ones who we need to negotiate with.

"The good news is, the governorship in Illinois is very powerful, and I can sit in a room with those government union heads and negotiate. And we've got the power in the governorship with executive 'order-ability,' ability to control the spending, ability to conduct the contract negotiations. We can drive changes that can lead to different results than what's gone on in the Legislature. A lot of this work has to be, in the end, voted by the Legislature. But the decisions need to get done and led by the governor in conjunction with those union heads. And that's what I'll drive."

As he announced his run for governor or this week, venture capitalist Bruce Rauner said the best way to deal with the same-sex marriage question is by taking it out of the Legislature and putting the question to voters.

There's a bit of a problem with going that route, gay rights activists say.

It would, in effect, do nothing.

"The only way there can be a ballot initiative is an advisory referendum, which would not be binding," said Camilla Taylor, senior staff attorney with Lambda Legal, which has been in the thick of the legal and legislative battles to legalize same sex marriage. "It's simply a statement of desire on the part of the voters for the Legislature to do something."

Which puts the matter right back in the Legislature's ball park.

There is a way to amend the constitution. That too, requires action by the General Assembly.

"The only way to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot is by passing both houses with a 3/5 majority," Taylor said. If that passed both houses by a supermajority it then would go to voters.
That's not what gay rights groups are seeking. They are arguing in court (the legal battle) that the Illinois constitution already can be interpreted as allowing for same sex marriage. The group, part of a coalition of groups to change the law, is also fighting to repeal a 1996 law that banned same-sex marriage.
"There is no need to amend the Illinois constitution from our perspective," she said.

Clearly hoping to sidestep a dust-up with the far right of his party, Rauner would not say where he personally stands on the same sex marriage debate.
"My view is irrelevant," Rauner told the Sun-Times on Wednesday. "Why does that matter? There are many issues that folks can disagree about. It's OK. I would like the Republican family as the big family. We can disagree. We can have some fights, that's OK. And stay unified on the most critical issues."

Former White House Chief-of-Staff Bill Daley has a history of flirting with running for governor and U.S. senator only to back off in the end, but he said Thursday he's "not teasing this time."

A day after venture capitalist Bruce Rauner announced his bid for governor, state Sen. Kirk Dillard said he's expecting to announce his own intentions in a few weeks.

As Dillard moves forward, he does so with a boost from former Gov. Jim Edgar, a Republican darling who just gave Dillard a $20,000 infusion to his campaign fund.

Dillard, 57, of Hinsdale said he and his wife are poring over their kids' summer schedules (a 10-and-12-year-old) to find a good time to announce.

Dillard said Edgar may also attend the announcement.
"Most importantly I need Gov. Edgar's support and counsel," during the campaign, Dillard said.

ILLINOIS_PENSIONS_39522445.JPGGov. Pat Quinn, pictured here in Chicago speaking about the possibility of a special session to deal with pension reform, has an array of bills awaiting his approval now that the Legislature's regular session has ended. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

SPRINGFIELD-Amid the Capitol's last-minute hubbub, state lawmakers fast-tracked several important, sometimes overlooked, pieces of legislation to Gov. Pat Quinn's desk in the final few days of the Legislature's regular session.

It's now up to Quinn to decide what will become law. He has 60 days to sign a bill once it reaches his desk. Any veto by Quinn can be overridden in the Legislature's fall session with 36 votes in the Senate and 71 votes in the House.

Here's a list of some of the more significant bills legislators passed last week that may not have dominated headlines. The bills' language, voting records and Quinn's updated positions on many of them are included.

***Firearms regulations - Passed May 31 - Passed Senate 41-15-1 - Passed House 70-48. Quinn's office said he will sign it.

The bill would require private firearm vendors to verify with the State Police before selling or transferring ownership of a gun that the person receiving the gun has a valid Firearm Owners Identification card. It also mandates owners of lost or stolen firearms to report the incident to police within 72 hours of discovery. The bill becomes law upon being signed.

***Lowering mandatory school age - Passed May 30 - Passed House 64-52 - Passed Senate 39-18. Quinn's office said he will sign it.

Under the bill, children turning six years old on or before September 1 of each school year must attend a public school in their districts if not already enrolled in different schools. Children are presently not required to start until age seven. The bill would become law July 1, 2013 if Quinn signs it and would take effect at the start of the 2014-2015 school year.

***Online voter registration - Passed May 30 - Passed Senate 32-20-3 - Passed House 66-49-2. Quinn's office said he will sign it.

With a driver's license and the last four digits of their social security numbers, voters would be able to register to vote through the state Board of Election's website. Just one part of a larger voter-registration reform bill, the idea is meant to encourage registration and lower its cost. The idea becomes law on October 1, 2013 if Quinn signs it.

***Mobile devices to prove insurance - Passed May 28 - Passed Senate 56-0 - Passed House 117-0. Quinn's office said he is neutral.

Illinois motorists would be able to prove they have automobile insurance by showing police an electronic image of their insurance cards using their cell phones. Police would not be permitted to search phones for other reasons. Insurance companies would be allowed to offer discounts for electing to use the electronic version. The bill becomes law upon being signed.

By Natasha Korecki
Political Reporter

Boosted by a healthy campaign fund and disarray in a Democratic-controlled Springfield, Republican venture capitalist Bruce Rauner officially announced he is in the race for governor.
"I'm running for governor, to turn this state around," a video on his campaign Web site says.
The timing couldn't be better for the Republican who is trying to sell himself as an outsider as Illinois' Democratic-controlled state government implodes. Rauner, 57, of Winnetka, is building a narrative as a self-made millionaire and successful businessman who can get the state out of the mess its in because he wasn't part of creating it.
"I'm a husband, father of six, businessman, and the grandson of a Downstate dairyman who taught me to love the outdoors. I could ride a horse at 6 and milk a cow at 8 and fire a rifle at 10," Rauner said in a professionally-made video on his Web site. "I started out flipping burgers and parking cars and I helped build a start-up company into a successful business. I've met payrolls and made tough decisions. Typical politicians: they can't and they won't."
The announcement comes on the heels of gross inaction in Springfield by Democrats, who control both chambers of the state legislature as well as the governor's mansion. Democrats are still scrambling to come up with a deal to reform public pensions after the state's bond rating was downgraded.
Over the last three months, Rauner has made 65 stops around the state for a "listening tour." His campaign is planning another dozen stops in upcoming weeks. On Thursday, Rauner is expected to visit Caterpillar in Peoria.

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The City Council is meeting today and on the agenda is a vote on Mayor Emanuel's proposed tweaks to the city's parking meter lease. With the deal having already passed the committee phase, it seems likely to pass today but some aldermen will likely bring on some tough questions. And there will also be the bill to approve more night games at Wrigley Field. Watch the entire proceedings above and follow updates below.

Gov. Pat Quinn has his hands full with the state's pension crisis, but he may have a bigger problem when it comes to winning support from African-American voters who helped put him in office.

SPRINGFIELD-Attorney General Lisa Madigan moved Monday to get Gov. Pat Quinn another month to mull over newly passed legislation to give Illinois gun owners authority to carry their weapons in public places.

Madigan filed paperwork with the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals to seek a 30-day extension of a court order requiring the state to come up a law that would end the state's last-in-the-country prohibition against concealed carry.

A December ruling by the appeals panel gave Quinn and the state Legislature 180 days to craft concealed-carry legislation. That deadline expires on June 9, leaving Quinn little time to review the legislation sent to him last week by the Illinois House.

There also has been uncertainty about what exactly would happen after June 9 if no concealed-carry law was on the books. Gun-rights advocates had predicted "mayhem" in which it might be permissible for owners of even military-style weapons to take their guns anywhere they wanted.

"This request for an additional 30 days would allow the governor a reasonable amount of time to fulfill his state constitutional duties," Madigan said in a prepared statement.

"Further, if granted, this additional time would help prevent a situation in which there is no state law in place governing the carrying of handguns in public, which the Court sought to avoid in setting the original stay," she said.

The governor's office welcomed the move by Madigan, who has not ruled out a possible 2014 primary challenge against Quinn for governor.

"We think the request for a 30-day stay is appropriate," Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said. "The bill has not yet arrived. Ordinarily, under the Illinois Constitution, the governor has 60 days to review a bill upon its arrival."

Last week, the governor's office would only say Quinn intends to "review" the legislation but would not offer any sense of the governor's leanings on the legislation.

The plan that was fast-tracked through the House and Senate last week was a compromise deal that preserves existing local gun laws, including Chicago and Cook County's bans on assault weapons, and keeps gun owners from carrying their loaded weapons on public trains and buses.

OIL_DRILLING_ILLINOIS_NEXT_STEPS_39495341.JPGGov. Pat Quinn, pictured in this April 17, 2013 file photo, called Monday's downgrade of the state's bond rating "no surprise" after the House and Senate failed to pass a pension-reform package to his desk last week. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File)

SPRINGFIELD-Illinois' creditworthiness took another significant hit after a bond-rating agency Monday downgraded the state because of the legislative stalemate over passing a pension-reform package before lawmakers went home for the summer last week.

Fitch Ratings dropped its rating on the state's bonds from an "A" to an "A-" after House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) and Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) couldn't reconcile their differences on how to solve Illinois nearly $100 billion pension crisis.

"Today's downgrade is no surprise," Gov. Pat Quinn said in a prepared statement. "As I have repeatedly made clear to the General Assembly, this will continue to happen until legislators pass a comprehensive pension reform bill, and put it on my desk.

"Every time the General Assembly misses the deadline, Illinois' credit rating is downgraded, which hurts our economy, wastes taxpayer dollars and shortchanges the education of our children," the governor said.

"If I could issue an executive order to resolve the pension crisis, I would have done it a long time ago. But I cannot act alone. Legislators must send me a bill to get this job done," the governor said.


A new poll provided to the Sun-Times puts Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon in a strong position for a run for Illinois Attorney General -- particularly if she better publicizes her family lineage.

Simon is running for attorney general if Lisa Madigan makes a run for Illinois Governor, the Simon campaign said Monday.

The poll, conducted by Lake Research Partners (the same pollster used by Lisa Madigan), shows that likely Democratic primary voters have a 43 percent favorable rating of Simon (7 percent unfavorable, the remaining no opinion or unknown) and 73 percent of Democratic voters have a favorable opinion of Sheila Simon's late father -- U.S. Sen. Paul Simon.

However, the poll is clear that there are enough undecided voters -- 50 percent -- out there that the race could shift dramatically once it is underway.

As of today though, the poll shows this if there were a primary for Illinois Attorney General:

On the initial ballot, Simon garners 26% of the vote, with
all other likely candidates in the single digits
David Hoffman draws 5%,
Kwame Raoul 4%,
Jesse Ruiz 2%, and Jack Franks 1%. Fully 50% of the electorate is undecided, underscoring the room for movement in this race.
Fully 58% of the primary electorate is female, including 66% of the undecided vote. This
demographic profile obviously benefits Simon as the only woman in the race.

Chicago would add nine dedicated mobile food truck stands in high-density neighborhoods--even though only a handful of trucks have been licensed to cook on board--under a mayoral plan advanced Monday.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel's plan to throw the book at reckless motorists who endanger bicycle riders and do the same to cowboy cyclists advanced to the City Council floor Monday--just in time for the launch of a massive bike-sharing program.

As the possibility of a special session looms, Gov. Quinn has called a meeting with Democratic leaders of both houses to hash out the pension debacle.
"The Governor plans to meet with the Speaker and the Senate President tomorrow," said Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson.
Since last week, a special session has been a possibility as Quinn has repeatedly threatened lawmakers that he would not approve of their pet projects -- including a casino expansion -- if they failed to reach a compromise on pension reform.
"Everything's on the table, including special session," Anderson said.
Both houses adjourned prior to Friday's Midnight session deadline without reaching such a compromise.
The Illinois House adjourned without ever calling a John Cullerton-backed pension reform bill. The state Senate, meanwhile, voted down a Mike Madigan-backed plan.

State Sen. Bill Brady

Saying he is "disgusted" over the dismal display of inaction in Springfield, Assistant Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady is asking Gov. Quinn to call a special session to resolve the public pension crisis.

"I'm disgusted that we left Springfield Friday night with no resolution to the pension issue and a budget that spends $2 billion more than the current budget," said Brady (R-Bloomington). "Many of us, in both chambers and in both parties, have worked long and hard to bring some common sense to our pension funding, and the one-party Democrat rule has again failed the citizens of Illinois. Governor Quinn was missing in action much of the session, and the General Assembly's Democrat leaders played an eleventh-hour game of chicken that resulted in nothing being accomplished toward a solution that would put Illinois on stronger financial footing."

Brady is to hold a conference call at 1 p.m. Brady voted in favor of Senate Bill 1, the bill backed by House Speaker Michael Madigan that went up in flames in the state Senate last week.

On Friday, Gov. Quinn said only that he could call legislative leaders together this week to press the issue.

"There is something wrong in Illinois when the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate could join together to propose a pension holiday for Chicago, yet they could not send a comprehensive pension reform bill to my desk," Quinn said in a Friday statement. "I have made pension reform the top priority for the state of Illinois for more than a year. Since I convened a pension working group in January 2012, I have proposed comprehensive solution after solution, worked across the aisle, called a special session, set deadline after deadline and released study after study on the dire impact of inaction on education and our economy. I have met at length, countless times, with the leaders and legislators on this issue."

GAY_MARRIAGE-ILLINOIS_39450999.JPGRep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), pictured here on the House floor Friday, pauses to regain his composure as the gallery erupts in protest after he announced he wouldn't call the gay marriage bill for a vote. (AP Photo/The State Journal-Register, Ted Schurter)

SPRINGFIELD-The lead House sponsor pushing same-sex marriage pledged Sunday to press ahead on the issue after facing fallout from a divided gay and lesbian community frustrated by his decision not to put the issue to a vote before state lawmakers went home for the summer.

Awaking Saturday to calls for him to hand sponsorship of the bill to someone else, state Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) told the Chicago Sun-Times Sunday he was intent on moving forward to make Illinois the 13th state to recognize same-sex marriages.

"My focus is on doing the work necessary to pass marriage equality," he said.

On Friday, the final day of the legislative spring session, Harris tearfully reneged on his weeks-long promise to vote on the issue, telling House colleagues the decision to pull the plug was "mine alone" and driven by lawmakers wanting more time to think over the issue.

In a signed column a day later, the influential head of Chicago's gay and lesbian newspaper tore into Harris for that decision, urging that he give up sponsorship of the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act and saying that going back on his word was enough to warrant resignation.

"Harris made promises he could not keep," Tracy Baim, publisher of Windy City Times, wrote Saturday. "In politics, that is a reason to step down. While Harris, who has dedicated his career to LGBT and AIDS issues, deserves the chance to prove his strategy right, if he does not succeed in passing this in the veto session this fall, he should not run for re-election in 2014.

"In addition, Harris should step down now as chief sponsor of this legislation. He has proven he is tone deaf to the wishes of both the grassroots and leadership of this community. They almost all called for a vote "no matter what." Instead, Harris chose to give cover to his political colleagues, rather than follow through on his own on-the-record promise to call for a vote by May 31," she said.

Those comments were made after another leading gay activist told the Chicago Sun-Times Friday that the movement needed a new legislative backer who was not allied with House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), a supporter of the bill who nothing to secure votes for it.

"We may need to start over with a new sponsor, a sponsor who is not beholden to Mr. Madigan but a sponsor who will fight for the families here in Illinois," said Rick Garcia, policy director from the Civil Rights Agenda.

Madigan did agree after Friday's vote to extend an approval deadline for the legislation until August 31, though the Illinois House is not scheduled to return to Springfield before Oct. 22.

Before making his brief statement to the Sun-Times on Sunday, Harris voiced a similar sentiment on his Facebook account, which Saturday was filled with conciliatory notes from supporters.

"Ever Onward," he wrote. "The struggle for justice and equality will always triumph."

Harris also drew backing late Saturday from a leading gay-rights advocacy group that sprung to his defense, though not without questioning his decision not to seek a vote.

"Probably no one in that body ached more than he did in announcing his decision. And now there are calls for his resignation. That is wrong," Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois, said in a prepared statement.

"We all learned our lessons from yesterday's loss," Cherkasov continued. "Greg Harris started the marriage bill fight back in 2007, and he should finish it."

While characterizing Harris as "our stalwart leader" in the Legislature, Cherkasov disagreed with Harris' move to avoid a vote on a day the Statehouse was crowded with gay and lesbian couples who came to Springfield Friday believing the legislation would be acted upon.

Harris "relieved other lawmakers - including those who went back on their word, betraying him and the LGBT community - of their culpability. Without knowing who betrayed us, we and the rest of the equal marriage supporters cannot know whom else to hold accountable," Cherkasov said.