Understanding Illinois: A Plan B to End State Budget Impasse

Nowlan•June 29, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

All I can see ahead for state finances is short and long-term harm for the state, which will be very difficult to repair.

Gov. Rauner obviously has no Plan B for his strategy of getting House Speaker Mike Madigan to knuckle under to his demands for a “turn-around agenda,” with which I am generally supportive.

I have a Plan B.

After more than a year without funding for food for prison inmates, electric power for state facilities all over the state, and even toilet paper for state employees, among many shortages, Rauner is desperate for some funding.

It would appear that Madigan derives personal satisfaction from letting Rauner—and all of us citizens—twist slowly in the wind by refusing to deal with the governor. Yet a friend of mine who knows the speaker much better than I do said, “No, rarely is anything personal with the speaker. Absolutely the only thing in the world he cares about in political control.”

[The speaker did pass a budget that is wildly greater than the revenues to pay for it, and even the Democrats in the Senate rejected it.]

Another good friend of mine passed along a telling story, this one about the Rauner team. Friend had been invited right after the 2014 election to sit down with Rauner’s top staff to talk about the transition into the new governorship. Read More

Illinois’ Budget Standoff Must be Resolved

•June 29, 2016•

Illinois’ budget standoff must be resolved, and must be resolved now.

For a year, our state’s elected leaders have engaged in what can only be called political malpractice.

Illinois is the only state in the country that doesn’t have a budget. For a year, because of that failure, it has stiffed small businesses, social service agencies and its higher education system, leaving them trying to operate without money they’re owed. State operations have been cobbled together through a patchwork of court orders, and the mounting backlog of money owed gets deeper by the minute.

On Monday, Gov. Bruce Rauner said the state was on the verge of crisis, and that it would be an “outrageous, tragic failure” if schools don’t open on time this fall.

With all due respect, Governor, the state is already in crisis and the budget standoff has already been an “outrageous, tragic failure.”

As legislators return to Springfield today -- for the first time this month -- Illinois’ historic, serious problems have been made even worse by the failure to compromise on a balanced, long-term spending plan.

The political war between Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan has been confounding and unconscionable. Rauner has insisted on passage of the so-called Turnaround Agenda, a series of pro-business measures, as a condition of the budget. Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton have seemed focused primarily on thwarting the governor. Read More

Understanding Illinois: Face to face with Bud Thompson

Nowlan•June 22, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

I am giving readers a break from my rants about the destructive state budget impasse.

In that regard, I am hearing from savvy observers that the next real full-year budget may not come until after the 2018(!) gubernatorial and legislative elections.

Those contests will equate to a political Armageddon (a final battle between Good and Evil, depending upon your point of view). Such a delay in budgeting, the fundamental responsibility of those we elect, would be unforgivable.

Instead, I want to focus on the importance of face-to-face conversation in a world “AF” (After Facebook). In only a short decade or so, this social platform has become central to the lives of many of my friends and hundreds of millions worldwide.

The topic comes to mind following a recent visit to the postcard pretty town of Prophetstown (pop. 2,000), nestled along the Rock River between the Quad Cities and Sterling, where I wowed (he writes, modestly) the local Lions Club with a talk about Illinois.

I was invited by old friend Bud Thompson (probably nobody in the town knows his first name is Howard), who is the consummate community leader. Read More

Oh Brother: A Volcanic Eruption of the Most Unfortunate Kind

MikeBrothers•June 22, 2016•

by Mike Brothers
NP Managing Editor

I was in the fifth grade at the time and had yet to uncover my full capacity for stupid human tricks.

So when Steve Nelson and I were assigned an outside science project by Mr. Harris in the fifth grade, it became a challenge to create some sort of explosion.

That particular instinct has led me to several close calls over time.

I had just seen this old movie on television about Pompeii and how it and a bunch of other Roman cities were destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius volcano.

Even though it was old and in black and white, the way fire shot from the volcano followed by rivers of hot molten lava frightened and impressed me at the same time.

Thousands of people died as six inches of lava covered the southwestern Italian coastal towns, which gave it enough historic importance to sell to Mr. Harris.

What I talked Steve into was building our own volcano. So when we had to get project approval, that was our plan.

“Mr. Harris, we want to build a volcano like Mt. Vesuvius,” was our request.

“How?” was his reply. Read More

Growing Up In Sullivan: The Popular Horse Races

Ginther•June 22, 2016•

By Jerry Ginther
NP Columnist

When I was in grade school, I was a big fan of Walter Farley, author of The Black Stallion series. I read them all. Anytime a book report was required, one of Mr. Farley’s books was the adventure of choice so I wasn’t at all surprised when I learned recently that he was actually writing to my age group. However, when I was a freshman in high school, my English teacher suggested, after I submitted two of those reports back to back, that my coverage on the topic was sufficient for that year. She further advised that it was in my best interest to read other authors. It was about that time that I realized it wasn’t merely a suggestion.

In the vast majority of his books a young lad named Alec Ramsey was the protagonist leading an exciting life with these amazing racehorses, on and off the track. In any one of those books, I could be Alec riding the famous Black or any of the other horses he rode across the finish line. What an adventurous life! There was even a book about a colt of the Black’s becoming a harness racehorse. Actually, that story was the one that touched my life where I was at the time because I could see harness racehorses training nearly every day.

During my preteen years, and for a few more, I lived close to a training stable for harness racehorses, Roxborough Farms. Saturdays during the school year and many weekdays during the summer would find me at the stable watching the workouts being timed by stopwatches. Based on their times, decisions were made concerning which horses would go to various race tracks and which ones needed more work before going anywhere. I learned what was a fast time for a half-mile and a mile. I knew the names of every horse in the barn and kept up with their training progress. I had learned the “trade language” from being at the training track so often that I could place myself in the excitement of the stories in the books.  Read More

Letter to the Editor 6-8-2016

Taking Small Town Life for Granted

We sometimes take so much for granted when we live in a small town. I was awakened to this fact twice in the past week.

A couple of our kids from New York were visiting for a week. Our son-in-law walks with the assistance of two canes. When we went grocery shopping, he placed his canes under the basket on the shopping cart.

When he put his groceries in the cart, we were parked close enough to the cart return that he didn’t need his canes which he promptly forgot until the next morning when he went to get them to go our for the day.

Now he remembered where they were. He thought it would not be very likely that he would ever see them again, after all he is from New York! Read More

Understanding Illinois: Rauner-Madigan: We Continue to Weep for Illinois

Nowlan•June 8, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

In recent years I have been on the outer fringe of the periphery of Illinois politics and government. To refresh myself, I spent the last two days of the recent legislative session haunting the corridors of our stately capitol.

I talked with former college students of mine who are now senators, reps, lobbyists and agency officials throughout the bureaucracy.

Frustration isn’t a big enough word to capture their overall mood. Despondency, with all hopes for a better day slipping away, says it better.

Everyone in the capitol except for Gov. Bruce Rauner and House Speaker Mike Madigan will tell you, if some must do so off the record, that this second year without a state budget is hurting the state down to its foundations.

These alpha males are locked in a now highly personal death struggle that blocks out consideration of anything but political victory and, each hopes, vindication that all the state has suffered will have been worth it.

Even when a budget is enacted, the well will be so poisoned that constructive, far-sighted policymaking may be impossible until both men are gone from the scene. Read More

Understanding Illinois: Illinois GOP and Trump: Denial, Grieving, Acceptance

Nowlan•June 1, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

I covered the Illinois Republican State Convention this past weekend [or “recently”; meeting was May 20-21] in Peoria. I have been to many such over the decades as a delegate. I offer here a few items from the confab and a few observations.

What goes on at a state party convention, you might ask?

Not much, I might respond, yet that would be unfair.

Prior to our primary elections instituted a century ago during the Progressive Era, party convention delegates named candidates for state offices. Lacking that responsibility, there is little substantive business at conventions today.

Yet the affair brings together a thousand folks from all over the state. This gives party leaders an opportunity to gauge the mood of the party faithful before the November election, to reassure them about their party’s great potential and to provide training on how to maximize the vote.

The night before the floor session delegates grazed the hospitality rooms sponsored by officials to gossip and find out what people really think.

Before the Saturday general session in the ballroom of the Peoria Civic Center, vendors in the corridors hawked buttons and apparel that proclaimed the positive (Make America Great Again) and the profane (Trump the Bitch). Read More

Growing Up In Sullivan: Antiquated Modes of Communicating

Ginther•May 18, 2016•

By Jerry L. Ginther
NP Columnist

The landline telegraph was, in its day, the fastest and most dependable mode of communication available. Used by companies such as Western Union for sending messages known as telegrams over long distances, it became a large and profitable business especially for urgent matters. The newspapers also made use of this rapid method of disseminating their breaking news stories across the continent in a matter of minutes, where prior to its use news traveled very slowly, taking days to reach distant locations.

Telegraph offices were located mostly in railroad depots in every town along the tracks. At its inception, the railroads were the primary providers and users of this communication system, using it for their daily operation to know the location of each train on their lines. The station operator would telegraph the arrival and departure of the trains to a dispatcher, thereby providing him with the information needed to arrange meeting points between opposing trains.

With the advent of the landline telephone system, the telegraph became less and less used as a speedy method for transmitting messages for the public but was still relied upon heavily by newswire services, railroads and even for large operations occupying several floors in the same building, such as the stock exchanges. These businesses used a closed circuit telegraph system within the building they occupied. Read More

Understanding Illinois: Boy, Do We Ever Need “Dealmakers” Now

Nowlan•May 18, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

Veteran newsman Bob Hartley has drawn generally affectionate portraits of three large-in-life, colorful southern Illinois politicians from the mid-20th Century in “The Dealmakers of Downstate Illinois” (SIU Press, 2016).

There may be some lessons for pols today.

Until one man-one vote districting in the 1960s, deep southern Illinois often dominated Illinois politics. Today the great swath of the Prairie State south of I-70, the only identifiable region of our state outside Chicago, doesn’t even claim its own congressman, the population-starved region carved up to serve interests farther north.

Yet in chronicling the lives of John Stelle (McLeansboro, pop. 2,000), Paul Powell (Vienna, 1,700) and Clyde Choate (Anna, 5,000), Hartley brings to the fore an era in which it was quite okay for ambitious men to do well for themselves in politics while doing good for their voters back home.

Southern Illinois has always been hard scrabble, many folks without two nickels to rub together. The soil is generally thin, and the copious amounts of coal (and maybe oil and gas from future fracking) poured forth bittersweet dividends of dangerous but decent jobs, murderous labor conflict and environmental degradation.

So political jobs and government largesse have always been more important in that region than elsewhere in Illinois. Read More