Understanding Illinois: New Dem Comptroller Could Wreak Havoc

Nowlan•November 23, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

I promise readers this is the last column, at least for a while, about my near-obsession, understandable as I think it is, over the failure of the governor and Illinois House speaker to come together somehow to forge a responsible state budget.

In the recent election, GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner reduced the speaker’s House Democratic majority from 71-47 to 67-51, and in the state Senate he gained two GOP seats, which brings the Dems’ majority in that chamber down to just under two-thirds.

The governor was unable, however, to hang onto the office of Illinois Comptroller, which had been rather securely in GOP hands under the late Judy Baar Topinka until 2014, when Rauner appointed Leslie Munger, a businesswoman, to the post on Judy’s passing.

At that time, the Democrats enacted a bill that limited Munger’s appointed tenure to two years, rather than the four years it would have been otherwise.

This is a ministerial, rather than policy, office. The comptroller writes the checks to pay the state’s bills. Yet the office has been critical to Rauner.

Because of the lack of a balanced budget, the state has been racking up billions of dollars in bills each recent year, which it lacks the revenue to pay.  Read More

Understanding Illinois: Illinois Slow Growth is Likely To Continue

Nowlan•November 16, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

I am writing this the day before the election, so as you read this you know much that I did not yet know. Thus I turn to broader topics: Where are we in Illinois at present, and whither are we tending?

Illinois has for years been growing more slowly than the nation and the rest of the Midwest, even though we have we have riches in transportation infrastructure, location, water and talent that most other states would die for.

In 1950, we were one of the four richest states in the nation, and Illinois per capita income stood at 128 percent of the national average of 100 percent. Since then, the state’s wealth has been steadily declining, relative to other states.

We are now at about 104 percent of the national average or right about in the middle.

But we were a big industrial state in the post-war era when all other major economies were flat on their backs. The heady days of the 1950s are not likely to come back soon. Read More

Understanding Illinois: Post-Election State Governance Prognosis Poor

Nowlan•November 9, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

Is there any chance Illinois political leaders will address the state’s woeful budget impasse in any meaningful way after this election? The prognosis is extremely poor.

Scores of millions have been spent by Gov. Bruce Rauner and House speaker Mike Madigan on toxic ads in state legislative races that go so far as to characterize opponents as chummy with sexual perverts.

Thus, there will be little enthusiasm among those who survive the slime for making nice with the governor or the House speaker, respectively.

Kumbaya is going to be hard to come by.

Not enough people, that is the “big people” who really count in politics, feel the pain that results from the dysfunction of our state government. Read More

Understanding Illinois: Parties and Print Media Play Declining Roles in Politics

Nowlan•November 2, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

The strange 2016 presidential campaign prompts important questions about the roles of political parties and the media in American politics. Are these institutions today fulfilling generally constructive functions for a healthy democracy?

My premise is that even with generally thoughtful citizens like you and me included in the mix, the public is nevertheless a collective “beast,” largely uninformed, undisciplined.

This beast needs mediating institutions like parties and the media to help guide it along the democratic process.

I fear that parties and the media, at least as critical mediating institutions, are being overwhelmed by an untethered tangle of 24/7 television news, digital social media, and smart phones.

George Washington decried “factions” (nascent political parties), yet parties became irresistible as a way of nominating candidates and organizing support from voters, especially as the franchise expanded rapidly in the early days from propertied white males only to everyone age 18 and over today.

Nominations by parties proceeded from caucuses of a few party leaders, in the early days, to conventions of appointed, then elected, delegates, and on to primary elections in which all party registrants could vote. Read More

Growing Up In Sullivan: The Walk Home After the Halloween Movie

Ginther•October 19, 2016•

By Jerry L. Ginther
NP Columnist

The full moon was already high in the night sky as we exited the movie theater on the town square. Many of the kids had rides waiting for them, but I did not. I had walked to the theater in the evening twilight and knew I would have to walk home alone. The walk home for me was fairly long, probably a dozen or more city blocks, and only a couple of those were in the downtown area where the streets were well lighted. Once I crossed the main highway, there would be only a dim streetlight on each corner.

The era was the late 1950s, and folks in the small town of Sullivan, Ill. were not particularly concerned for their safety on the streets after dark. Otherwise, I would not have been allowed to go to the late night show. There was just no automobile at our house; it was walk or miss the fun.

As I started down the dark street with the lights of town behind me, I became more aware of the full moon and the poor visibility between the streetlights. The moonlight was just bright enough to cast some eerie, deep shadows along the streets, making every tree and bush a black formidable form to approach. Read More

Understanding Illinois: State of Democracy in Illinois Uneven at Best

Nowlan•October 19, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

My sample election ballot offers me slim pickings in terms of votes I can cast that might make a difference. We can do better.

The presidential camps long ago conceded Illinois to Hillary. As you have probably noticed, there is little active campaigning in our state.

As most readers know, ours is not a popular election for president. Instead, it is a contest in which most states cast all their electoral votes based on the winner of the state’s overall popular vote. (Electors are apportioned to states somewhat proportionate to population.)

Thus the candidates ignore states where the popular vote outcome is, based on intensive polling, a foregone conclusion. The candidates instead focus their time and money on so-called “battleground states” such as Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio and a few others where the outcome can go either way. Read More

Understanding Illinois: Electioneering Not Much Changed Since Roman Republic

Nowlan•October 12, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

In 64 BC, Quintus T. Cicero gave the following advice to his more famous brother, during Cicero’s successful campaign for consul of the Roman Republic that year:

Exploit the weaknesses of your opponents (he had two), flatter voters shamelessly, promise them anything, and give people hope. He undoubtedly added, though it is not recorded: Spend buckets of money, as they did back then.

There are four resources available to any campaign: money, people, time and skill. All are limited, though money appears almost limitless in Illinois legislative campaigns this year.

Abraham Lincoln said the job of a campaign is to “canvas your district, identify your voters and get them to the polls.”

Nothing much has changed, except the technology and the money spent.

In Lincoln’s 1858 campaign for the US Senate, campaigning was conducted largely in person and by local party organizations. Read More

Letter to the Editor 10-5-2016

DSPs: A Casualty of the State of Illinois Budget Crisis

Their full title is Direct Support Professional, and their work is challenging, rewarding, necessary and underappreciated. The Moultrie County Beacon currently employs 86 trained and certified DSP’s who provide supports ranging from daily personal care (eating, grooming and dressing) to teaching essential skills and attending to complex medical needs for adults with developmental disabilities. DSP’s complete 153 hours of classroom and on-the-job training, criminal background checks and pre-employment and ongoing drug testing. Read More

Reading Your Local Paper is ‘Way to Know’ Your Community

•October 5, 2016•

By Layne Bruce
NNW Guest Columnist

Several years ago cyberspace was frenzied over many popular websites going dark for 24 hours to protest a federal bill meant to crack down on video piracy.

The Stop Online Piracy Act – or SOPA – was a controversial and perhaps misguided effort championed by the Motion Picture Association of America to end illegal online sharing of copyrighted material, primarily movies and music.

To protest SOPA and its potential threats to the First Amendment, Wikipedia, Google, Reddit and – heaven forbid – I Can Haz Cheezburger, among many others, all shut down for a 24-hour period to show the web-surfing world what it would be like without its daily fix of photos of cats riding in baby strollers.

SOPA was eventually defeated, but a strong, valid point was made. We had come to rely on those websites for information and entertainment. Their value to internet users was unquestioned. Read More

Understanding Illinois: Federal Courts Manage Much of Illinois Government

Nowlan•October 5, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

This is another in a periodic series of columns on “politics and policy in Illinois.”

I tell my students that policy advocates appeal to any level or branch of government that might be responsive, including the courts.
The Illinois state judiciary has not, however, generally inserted itself into state government policy and management.

As John Marshall Law School professor Ann Lousin observes, “The Illinois Supreme Court has a good sensitivity about the separation of powers.”

“The Illinois Supreme Court is not, for example, going to touch school funding because the legislature won’t touch it,” Lousin notes, to illustrate. “The court avoids making decisions where the branch cannot enforce relief.”

On the other hand, policy advocates in Illinois have been highly successful in the federal district courts, which have approved 80 “consent decrees” since the 1970s, according to a recent count by the governor’s office. Read More