General Assembly overrides Rauner AV of school funding follow-up

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Illinois lawmakers voted Wednesday to override changes Gov. Bruce Rauner made to a bill needed to implement the new school funding formula.

Both the House and Senate vote to override Rauner’s amendatory veto of Senate Bill 444. The bill will now take effect as it was originally planned.

Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, said the bill was drafted by the Rauner administration to clear up technical issues with the school funding reform bill signed into law last fall.

“This is simply implementing the (funding reform) bill that was agreed to,” Manar said.

Rauner, though, used his amendatory veto powers to rewrite the bill so that additional private and parochial schools would qualify for a newly created scholarship program. The program, part of a compromise for the funding reform bill, creates scholarships for low and middle income students to afford alternatives to public schools.

Rauner subsequently announced a plan that will allow more schools to participate more quickly in the program without changing SB 444. Rauner said lawmakers should enact the provisions of that bill as they were before he changed it.

Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady of Bloomington said he opposed the override.

“I believe when we negotiate and pass something as monumental as (school funding reform) we should stick to that agreement,” he said.

Manar said there was no reason for the override vote to become a partisan issue.

Lawmakers approved a $350 million increase in K-12 education funding that is to be distributed to schools through the new formula. However, none of the money has been distributed yet as the state Board of Education works through technical issues to implement the new formula. Two days ago, education officials said they’ve identified another issue that must be addressed by lawmakers quickly so that they can finish implementing the formula.

Contact Doug Finke: doug.finke@sj-r.com. 788-1527, twitter.com/dougfinkesjr.

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General Assembly overrides Rauner AV of school funding follow-up

Ives endorsed by colleagues ahead of Rauner speech

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State Rep. Jeanne Ives, R-Wheaton, touted the endorsements of several of her colleagues in her insurgent primary challenge of Gov. Bruce Rauner ahead of his State of the State address Wednesday morning.

Ives, surrounded by state Reps. Tom Morrison, R-Palatine, and Margo McDermed, R-Mokena, as well as state Sen. Tim Bivins, R-Dixon, said there are many more colleagues who privately support her, claiming that Rauner “wasn’t the conservative reform governor we signed up for.”

“It’s unprecedented to have legislators in open revolt against the incumbent Republican governor, someone from their own party,” Ives said.

Ives and colleagues standing with her at inside the Pasfield House said though the governor’s supposed lack of interest in policy detail and the building of coalitions troubled them, it was his “betrayal” on the signing of House Bill 40, which allowed for taxpayer funding of abortion in Illinois, that broke the camel’s back.

“My background is law enforcement. What was vitally important to me and others in law enforcement is that you keep your word,” Bivins said. “We’ve seen a governor who doesn’t know what he believes.”

Ives debated Rauner Monday before the Chicago Tribune editorial board, likely their only joint appearance together. Though dismissed by Rauner in the past as a “fringe” candidate, observers on both sides said Ives performed better than the incumbent governor and lent her campaign some credibility through her performance.

“If there was any doubt in anybody’s mind that she’s up for the task, if you watched Monday’s debate, there’s no doubt in your mind anymore,” Bivins said.

Ives said Wednesday that she did not prepare for that debate, but simply spoke from the heart and with facts.

“It doesn’t give me great pleasure to sit there call out a fellow colleague, someone I had trust and confidence in when he first got elected,” Ives said. “I didn’t prepare for that debate. I didn’t think about it in terms of ‘I’m going to take him down’ and ‘I’m going to use this talking point.’ That’s not who I am. What I spoke, I spoke from the heart.”

Ives has built some momentum following the appearance, most notably receiving a $500,000 check from Richard Uihlein, a former Rauner donor. It will still be an uphill climb, however, as Rauner has more than $55 million in the bank compared to Ives’ nearly $1 million.

But with the support of several local township organizations and many of her rank-and-file colleagues, Ives said she’s a grassroots candidate who will have the resources to compete, even if she won’t be able to match Rauner’s massive warchest.

“Gov. Rauner can spend every bit of his $70 million campaign warchest, but you cannot buy back trust after betrayal,” Ives said.

Contact Brenden Moore: 782-3095, bmoore@sj-r.com, twitter.com/brendenmoore13.

Ives endorsed by colleagues ahead of Rauner speech

Some lawmakers call for ouster of lottery board chairman over tweet

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Some lawmakers of both parties are calling on the chairman of the Illinois Lottery Control Board to resign or be fired because of the disparaging way he referred to East St. Louis on social media.

The State Journal-Register reported Tuesday that Blair Garber of Evanston, a member of the Republican State Central Committee who was named to the lottery board in 2016 by Gov. Bruce Rauner, called the southern Illinois city the “shithole of the universe!”

“Governor Rauner should immediately fire Blair Garber, his handpicked chairman of the Lottery Control Board,” said Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, on Wednesday. He also said Rauner “should immediately apologize to the citizens of East St. Louis and all Illinois citizens for the disgusting comments made by his political appointee.”

Rep. Jeanne Ives, R-Wheaton, who is challenging Rauner in the March 20 Republican primary for governor, said Rauner should immediately remove Garber from the board.

“Those kinds of statements from a person in a position of service to the state of Illinois cannot be tolerated,” Ives said in a statement.

State Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for attorney general, also called on Garber to resign. And Sen. James Clayborne Jr., D-Belleville, who represents East St. Louis, said in a statement reported by Capitol Fax that Rauner should ask for Garber’s resignation.

“If the governor does not ask for Mr. Garber’s resignation then I think it is obvious how the governor feels about places like East St. Louis,” Clayborne said.

Clayborne said such comments “disparage the legacies and accomplishments” of people who have called East St. Louis home including late jazz great Miles Davis, former United Nations Ambassador Donald McHenry, Olympic gold medalists Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Al Joyner, and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., an East St. Louis native now of Springfield.

On Tuesday, Rauner spokeswoman Rachel Bold said, “There is no place for this kind of language in our political discourse.”

There was no immediate reaction from governor’s office to Wednesday’s calls for Garber to step down. Garber did not immediately respond to a message sent on Facebook.

Garber’s post on the board pays expenses, but comptroller’s records don’t show any payments to Garber for his service there.

Contact Bernard Schoenburg: bernard.schoenburg@sj-r.com, 788-1540, twitter.com/bschoenburg.

Some lawmakers call for ouster of lottery board chairman over tweet

Poll has Pritzker in lead; Biss second, then Kennedy; more than a third decided

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A new poll puts State Sen. Daniel Biss trailing billionaire philanthropist/entrepreneur J.B. Pritzker — with just six weeks until the March primary.

The We Ask America poll of 811 likely voters was taken Jan. 29-30 and shows Pritzker ahead at 29.79 percent, followed by Biss at 17.43 percent. Businessman Chris Kennedy was in third with 11.50 percent. And it shows that 37.95 percent of those polled are still undecided. The rest: Tio Hardiman, 1.73 percent; Bob Daiber, 0.87 percent; and Robert Marshall, 0.74 percent.

Biss fared well in suburban Cook, the collar counties and in Chicago, but had just 3.86 percent of voters in downstate Illinois, according to those polled. Kennedy, however, is faring the best downstate.

Pritzker’s poll numbers show his message is getting out throughout the state, with the highest numbers in downstate Illinois.

Still, the undecided tallies are telling. According to the poll, there were 39.74 percent of undecided voters in Chicago; 35.95 percent in suburban Cook; 36.90 percent in the collar counties and 37.68 downstate.

Pritzker, Kennedy and Biss are all running TV ads ahead of the primary.The are four more major debates with all six candidates scheduled to participate. Pritzker — the perceived frontrunner who has put $42 million of his own cash in his campaign war chest — noticeably went after Biss during the first televised debate, which some saw as a sign the state senator was up in the polls.

The margin of error for the poll is plus or minus 3.44 percent. The “likely Democratic Party voters” were polled using recorded and cell phone calls.

Poll has Pritzker in lead; Biss second, then Kennedy; more than a third decided

Was state Sen. Silverstein snared by Springfield’s sexist ‘handkerchief trick?’

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By now we all know about state Sen. Ira Silverstein’s rocky political road — that he engaged in “unbecoming” conduct, according to an official report, and the fallout has left him battling to survive a challenge to his ballot petitions.

Silverstein, whose district includes parts of Chicago’s North Side and north suburbs, was last week cleared by Special Legislative Inspector General Julie Porter of the more serious allegation of sexual harrassment leveled against him by victim’s rights advocate Denise Rotheimer. But buried in Porter’s report on the allegations is an intriguing anecdote that Springfield veterans say illuminates the sexist and homophobic frat-house culture that has long existed in the state Capitol.

According to the report, Silverstein told Rotheimer that he had received a series of “sexually charged” letters from another woman, encouraging him to meet with her on the President’s Gallery, overlooking the Senate floor. Silverstein said that, on the advice of a legislative aide who described it as “likely a trap,” he did not accept the invitation, and that it was indeed later revealed to have been a practical joke. He told the inspector general that, later that day, a “Senate colleague teased Silverstein for not showing up at the President’s Gallery, saying, ‘What are you, gay?’”

Rotheimer gave a slightly different version of the anecdote, portraying Silverstein as “curious” and eager to take up the invite. But Silverstein, who did not return calls seeking comment, has historical precedent for his claim to Porter that the incident was “an example of the games people play in Springfield.”

The traditional hazing of newly elected senators — typically when they introduce their first bill — has on occasion come with more than a hint of misogyny, as when state Sen. Ricky “Hollywood” Hendon in 2006 pressed freshman Sen. Cheryl Axley to reveal if she was “a true blonde.”

And according to Springfield lore, the hazing of male freshmen has often included a version of the prank Silverstein said he was targeted with. In one version, tricked legislators were encouraged to go up to the gallery for a romantic rendezvous, then had their bill called, so that everyone below could look up and laugh at them.

Another version, according to Tom Massey, who served as the Springfield press room manager for decades, dates back at least as far back as the 1950s and was known as the “handkerchief trick.” It involved a phony female admirer — typically recruited from the senate secretarial pool — demurely waving her handkerchief and making eye contact at an unwitting senator from the gallery.

The pranksters would only reveal that the woman had been a plant hours later, “when they they were out to dinner with the senator and admitted that they were responsible,” Massey said. “They’d say, ‘We pulled the ol’ handkerchief trick again!”

If the pranks weren’t always sexist, they were often mean. Massey said that one of the most memorable stunts came in the 1980s, when a legislator angry with a rival called up the caterer for the rival’s breakfast fundraiser and canceled the meal.

“When everyone showed up at the venue, there was only one cook — and no food,” he said.

kjanssen@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @kimjnews

Was state Sen. Silverstein snared by Springfield’s sexist ‘handkerchief trick?’

Editorial: Illinois should look at lowering BAC

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If the right to swing your arm ends where my nose begins, then the government has a right to prohibit how much you can drink before you get behind the wheel of a car.

A recent report recommends lowering the blood-alcohol content from 0.08 to 0.05 for someone presumed to be drunk while driving. Every state except Utah, which already uses the lower number, says a driver is drunk at 0.08 percent. The general rule of thumb is that two standard drinks in one hour will raise your BAC to 0.05 percent, and one standard drink per hour thereafter maintains that level.

The idea of lowering the threshold isn’t in play in Illinois, but it’s worth discussing. It’s been 20 years since Illinois enacted its 0.08 DUI law, which says a person is considered legally drunk if their blood-alcohol level is 0.08 percent. That’s the equivalent of four beers in an hour for a 170-pound man.

A recent Associated Press story quoted the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine as saying the drop in blood-alcohol levels would help eliminate the “entirely preventable” 10,000 alcohol-related driving deaths recorded in the United States every year.

Since 2013, the story said, the National Transportation Safety Board has called on states to reduce the legal BAC for drivers from 0.08 to 0.05. The agency cites research that shows the risk of a fatal crash more than doubles by the time someone reaches the current drunken-driving alcohol limit.

The new report points out that “alcohol-impaired driving remains the deadliest and costliest danger on U.S. roads,” accounting for 28 percent of traffic deaths, AP reported. Each day, 29 people in the U.S. die in alcohol-related crashes and many more are injured. Forty percent of those killed are people other than the drunk drivers.

The report made some suggestions to curb the amount of drinking — increased alcohol taxes and decreased availability were high on the list — but Central Illinois authorities told Lee Enterprises that the law already allows officers to arrest someone for drunk driving if they believe the driver is impaired, even if the blood-alcohol level is below the 0.08 threshold.

Increased patrol can be a strong preventative measure, but not every department has the staffing for that. Other departments may need a strong focus on deterring other types of crime.

We cannot keep impaired individuals from getting behind the wheel, but we can make it easier for people to think twice before driving drunk and for police to pull them over.

Regardless of the state’s decision in what its BAC level will be, Illinois must make DUI punishment severe and make it difficult for offenders to legally drive again.

Even that might not be enough. It only takes one accident to leave a family shattered.

Editorial: Illinois should look at lowering BAC

Utilities giving freely to AG candidates after 15 years of Lisa Madigan freeze-out

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In 15 years as Illinois attorney general, Lisa Madigan has been a thorn in the side of utilities throughout the state.

She’s battled Commonwealth Edison and parent Exelon at numerous times, not always (or even often) winning, but shining a light on how those clout-heavy companies convince state lawmakers to hike electricity rates for various reasons.

Arguably her finest hour on utility issues has come more recently. Her office nearly single-handedly demonstrated how Peoples Gas’ massive gas-main replacement program is driving up heating bills to an alarming degree, at the least raising public consciousness about a train wreck in the making.

So it’s interesting, now that Madigan is retiring, that utilities are back in the game of contributing heavily to candidates running to succeed her after 15 years on the sidelines.

When Madigan, then a state senator, first ran for attorney general in 2002, she did take utility contributions. But as an incumbent in three successful re-election campaigns she refused donations from the utilities, Chief of Staff Ann Spillane said.

Madigan’s office just was too frequently embroiled in litigation—in court or before the Illinois Commerce Commission—with the Exelons of the world to take their campaign cash, Spillane explained.

Attorney general candidates to whom utilities are contributing heavily on the Democratic side include state Sen. Kwame Raoul, who has the endorsement of the Cook County Democratic Party. The top fundraiser of the group, he’s garnered more than $37,000 in contributions from ComEd, Exelon Generation (which owns Illinois’ nuclear plants), and Peoples Gas.

Taking in nearly as much from utilities are Jesse Ruiz, chairman of the Chicago Park District and former vice chairman of the Chicago Board of Education, and Nancy Rotering, mayor of Highland Park. They’ve each received maximum contributions of $11,100 from ComEd, Exelon Generation and Peoples.

And Erika Harold, Miss America in 2003 and an attorney, is vying for the Republican nomination. She, too, has received maximum utility contributions.

Why did the utilities choose these candidates, and what do the companies hope to get for their money?

“Peoples Gas has an interest in seeing that quality candidates get elected to public office in Illinois,” a spokeswoman emailed. “We have never tied any contribution to any purpose or request and would never do so.”

“Exelon Generation, similar to its peers in the energy industry, supports candidates from both parties who it believes will support sound energy policy in the state,” a spokeswoman emailed.

“As business leaders who serve nearly 4 million customers and employ more than 6,000 Illinois residents, we are actively engaged in civic organizations and are supportive of political leaders who share our focus on creating a strong energy future for Illinois,” a ComEd spokeswoman said. “The company makes decisions about contributions as the requests are made.”

That last statement was at odds with Rotering’s recollection. “No one was as surprised as I was to get a call from (ComEd) to say they were contributing to my campaign,” she said in an interview.

Rotering joined with Madigan in a lawsuit seven years ago against the utility that resulted in an agreement to invest tens of millions more in upgrades to improve reliability in Northeast Illinois, she said.

“I have a strong record that shows I don’t do favors for donors,” she said.

But she’s not returning the contributions, saying candidates need money to get their message out, especially in a statewide campaign and with so many others running.

“If you think about the cost of running statewide, (the utility donations) are de minimus,” she said.

Asked whether refunding the donations might differentiate her more effectively than traditional paid media, she said, “I hear what you’re saying.”

Ruiz, who served on ComEd’s board for many years, pledges to be independent.

“Before her first election, the attorney general accepted campaign contributions from a number of utility companies,” Ruiz said in an emailed statement. “Since then, she has earned a reputation as a fierce advocate and champion for Illinois ratepayers, and she has stood up fearlessly against every anti-consumer initiative. I will fight just as hard for Illinois consumers—and if someone thinks they can buy influence through a donation to my campaign,they’re going to be bitterly disappointed.”

He promises not to “back down when the utility companies try to pass unfair rate hikes that hinder Illinois businesses and harm Illinois consumers.”

A representative of Raoul’s campaign didn’t respond to an email requesting comment.

Looming, of course, as the potential heavyweight on the Democratic side is former Gov. Pat Quinn, who’s forged a reputation as a battler against utilities in three decades in Illinois public life and who vetoed ComEd’s signature “smart grid” bill. That bill, enacted over Quinn’s veto by lawmakers in both parties, has resulted in regular ComEd delivery rate hikes but also has produced improved reliability performance.

Quinn hasn’t received a single utility contribution in his bid for attorney general. But he did accept contributions from the industry as governor.

Utilities giving freely to AG candidates after 15 years of Lisa Madigan freeze-out