U.S. Supreme Court won’t hear Blagojevich appeal

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The United States Supreme Court announced Monday it would not hear the appeal of imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

And in doing so, it might have finally ended the long, futile legal fight waged by Blagojevich ever since his early-morning arrest in December 2008.

The high court’s decision seems to leave Blagojevich with little to do now but languish in a Colorado prison, hoping for clemency from President Donald Trump as his name is thrown around as a talking point in this year’s campaign for his old job.

RELATED: Ex-gov’s ‘Hail Mary’ appeal attempt ‘unwarranted,’ fed lawyer says

Gov. Bruce Rauner even took advantage of the Supreme Court review of Blagojevich’s petition Friday by offering a Snapchat filter outside the courthouse in Washington, D.C. It let people virtually wear Blagojevich’s famous black coif, which has gone white in prison.

Former First Lady Patti Blagojevich called that move “disgusting.”

The ex-governor is not due out of prison until May 2024. The 61-year-old Democrat has already served six years of a 14-year sentence. And his name is synonymous with Illinois corruption.

A little less than three years ago, there might have been a glimmer of hope for Blagojevich in an appellate ruling that overturned five of his 18 criminal convictions. It also ordered him re-sentenced, and many experts thought Blagojevich would get a break when he returned by video link to U.S. District Judge James Zagel’s courtroom.

However, federal prosecutors asked the judge to restore Blagojevich’s original sentence, arguing he remained convicted “of the same three charged shakedowns of which he stood convicted at the original sentencing.”

Those scams included an attempt to sell then-President-elect Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat, to shake down the CEO of Children’s Memorial Hospital for $25,000 in campaign contributions, and to hold up a bill to benefit the racetrack industry for $100,000 in campaign contributions. A jury also convicted him of lying to the FBI.

In August 2016, over the sobs of Blagojevich’s daughters, Zagel did as the feds asked. An appellate court quickly affirmed Zagel’s decision, forcing Blagojevich to go to the high court.

Things have looked increasingly grim for Blagojevich, as a result. He had tried to get the Supreme Court’s attention in November 2015, during the lead up to his re-sentencing, only to be turned away in March 2016. There was little reason now to think his odds would improve.

His attorney, Leonard Goodman, presented the Supreme Court this time with two questions: Whether prosecutors in a case like Blagojevich’s must prove a public official made an “explicit promise or undertaking” in exchange for a campaign contribution, and whether more consideration should have been given to sentences handed down in similar cases.

Goodman is a member of the investor group that recently purchased the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Reader.

“Our petition lays out a compelling case that the Supreme Court needs to settle the confusion among federal courts about the dividing line between campaign fundraising, something all elected officials are required to do (unless they are billionaires) and the federal crimes of extortion and bribery,” Goodman said last year.

The attorney also complained that Blagojevich’s sentence “was more than twice as long as that given any other official convicted of corruption.”

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U.S. Supreme Court won’t hear Blagojevich appeal

McCann to announce independent bid Monday

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SPRINGFIELD – GOP State Senator Sam McCann has threatened an independent bid for governor in the past, and the two-term lawmaker says he’ll be making an announcement Monday on a similar theme.

But this time McCann may be seeking a bid for his own Senate seat in 2018, but instead of a member of the GOP caucus, he would be seeking it as an independent. The Republican announced earlier this year he would not be seeking re-election in 2018.

Rumors are flying in Springfield, according to a local news reporter’s Twitter feed: 

Screen Shot 2018-04-16 at 8.05.55 AMMcCann is a strong advocate for the state employees that live in his district, and because the district leans Republican these days, the state employee unions are concerned that a Rauner-esque Republican could fill McCann’s Senate seat. 

McCann is also a Second Amendment proponent – as well as one of the governor’s harshest critics. Just last week, the senator made these comments on his Facebook page: 

In 2016, 2017 and now with the proposed 2019 state budget, Gov. Rauner continued to eliminate state support for mental health programs. His cuts denied mental health services to nearly 47,000 people in need and cost almost 1,000 mental health workers their jobs.

We (the Illinois General Assembly) enacted a 2018 budget to support mental health over the governor’s objections and veto.

As lawmakers we can only authorize spending, we can’t make the governor actually spend the money to support mental health. To date, the governor refuses to fund $26 million worth of mental health programs despite having the full authority to do so.”

So, regardless of party and regardless of ZIP Code, the one thing that nearly all political leaders seem to agree on, at least in words, is the need to get back to investing adequately in our mental healthcare system. It needs to become less about words and more about deeds. —— ©️2018 Sam McCann

Illinois Review will update this story with more developments as they occur.

McCann to announce independent bid Monday

Morning Spin: Retiring Paul Ryan could be more ‘liberated’ in dealing with Trump, Democrat says

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Welcome to Clout Street: Morning Spin, our weekday feature to catch you up with what’s going on in government and politics from Chicago to Springfield. Subscribe here.

Topspin

Democratic U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi said the exiting Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan might be more “liberated” in dealing with President Donald Trump.

“Dealing with President Trump is no walk in the park. I don’t think it’s any secret he and the president don’t necessarily see eye to eye on a variety of issues,” Krishnamoorthi, who represents the northwest and west suburban 8th Congressional District, said on WGN AM-720.

“That being said, I was a little disappointed that he hasn’t been more forceful in pushing back on the president with regard to a variety of issues, and he’s kind of ceded some of our legislative prerogative in Congress to the president,” the Schaumburg congressman said. “I’m hoping that maybe now that he’s somewhat liberated, he’ll do that in the remaining months.”

Krishnamoorthi said he thought Ryan was “sincere” in saying he was retiring to spend more time with his family, since his father died when Ryan was 15.

But he also said Ryan “probably sees the likelihood of him serving as the next speaker going down with each passing day.”

Ryan’s departure comes amid expectations of a motivated Democratic turnout in the fall, which has prompted several ambitious challenges to Republican incumbents, including several districts in Illinois.

*On the “Sunday Spin”: Tribune political reporter Rick Pearson’s guests were Tribune reporter Hal Dardick; Northwestern Law School senior lecturer Jason DeSanto; and Krishnamoorthi. The “Sunday Spin” airs from 7 to 9 a.m. on WGN-AM 720. Listen to the full show here.

What we’re writing

*Cook County tax officials take excess campaign donations from appeals firms, ethics panel says.

*Gay rights advocates want Illinois schools to be required to teach LGBT history.

*Rod Blagojevich likely down to last legal hope as U.S. Supreme Court decides whether to take up his appeal.

*Riverwalk rising: City banking on boom to pay off cost of river transformation.

*With settlement of jilted spouse’s lawsuit, an archaic state law nears a quiet end.

*Supreme Court case could make sales tax-free e-commerce sites tougher to find.

*Look beyond the Obama center plans — here’s a water-filled vision for Jackson Park.

What we’re reading

*Three weeks after March for Our Lives, gun rights advocates rally at state capitols across U.S.

*Michael Ferro sells stake in Chicago Tribune parent Tronc to McCormick Media for $208.6 million.

*Why objects in mirror are closer than they appear.

Follow the money

*Campaign finance reports are due by midnight. They’ll update in real time here.

*Track Illinois campaign contributions in real time here and here.

Beyond Chicago

*New U.S. sanctions against Russia could come this week.

*Trump suggests via Twitter Comey should be in prison. Comey calls Trump “morally unfit.”

*Barbara Bush in failing health.

*FEMA underestimated Hurricane Maria.

*Oregon retiree gets $76,000 monthly pension.

RELATED

In Janesville, Ryan’s exit illustrates Republican divide, challenges this fall »

Gay rights advocates want Illinois schools to be required to teach LGBT history »

Cook County tax officials take excess campaign donations from appeals firms, ethics panel says »

Morning Spin: Retiring Paul Ryan could be more ‘liberated’ in dealing with Trump, Democrat says

Illinois lawmakers to vote on local net neutrality

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Illinois lawmakers are in the process of creating their own set of net neutrality standards similar to the ones rolled back by the Trump Administration.

State Rep. Ann Williams’ bill that awaits a House vote after being approved by the House Cybersecurity, Data Analytics, & IT Committee wouldn’t regulate an internet service provider, or ISP, in the way that net neutrality did. Instead, it will hold state contracts with those companies contingent on whether they abide by the now-rolled back Obama-era requirements that treat their service similar to public utilities.

In committee, Williams, D-Chicago, said companies don’t currently throttle their service or engage in other anti-consumer practices, but she says this would force them not to in the future if they wanted state business.

“There’s no action if you maintain the status quo,” she said. “We can and frequently do hold companies to that higher standard.”  

Thirty-three other states have considered similar laws.

Republican lawmakers questioned the effort to subvert President Donald Trump’s FCC, saying the rule changes in 2017 specifically prohibit states from implementing their own rules for ISPs.

“This is making more regulation that doesn’t adhere to any other state’s regulations and will become complicated and cumbersome for everybody,” said Keith Wheeler, R-Oswego, who also owns an IT firm.

Industry representatives warned that any attempt by the state to regulate the internet would be challenged in court.

“Attempts by individual states to pass disparate legislation would result in a patchwork of possibly inconsistent state laws that would be virtually impossible to implement,” said Randy Nehrt, president of the Illinois Telecommunications Association, adding that an ISP would be hurting its customer base by reducing bandwidth on popular products.

Twenty-two attorneys general, including Lisa Madigan, have sued to reinstate net neutrality.

The bill also would require ISPs to disclose their practices on their website. Any breach of the potential law would allow the attorney general to go after the company in an Illinois circuit court.









Illinois lawmakers to vote on local net neutrality

After 3 years, Rauner still not offering specifics on tech claim

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Nobody has ever accused Bruce Rauner of being terribly original in his speeches to groups and organizations.

From event to event, his remarks have varied little in the three-plus years he’s been in office.

Last week while addressing the annual Innovations in Construction, Asphalt and Transportation conference, he uncorked one of the old classics, telling folks there (many of whom worked for or with the Illinois Department of Transportation) that the state doesn’t even have computers in a lot of departments.

We get that the state can sometimes be behind the times on its technology, but not having any computers seems … unusual.

As we’ve said, he’s offered up similar versions of this tale before, never with any specific example — like naming the department or agency and its union and bringing public pressure to bear.

So, we asked him Tuesday after his remarks which ones he was talking about.

His answer? “Haha. So, because it’s a negotiation with some of the unions, I don’t want to get into too much publicly. I’ll be walking through that list at the right time, but not right now.”

(Political columnist and blogger Rich Miller has noted several times that such a laugh at the beginning is a Rauner “tell” before a statement that may not exactly be accurate.)

Still, we wanted to check around some more.

Anders Lindall, the spokesman for AFSCME Council 31 representing some 40,000 state employees — easily the bulk of the state workforce — tells us this: “You can’t believe anything Bruce Rauner says, but you can always count on him to shift the blame. The truth is that technology is widely used across state government, and nothing in the union contract stands in the way of expanding or improving it.

“Since the governor has never backed these claims with any evidence, I suspect they exist only in his imagination,” he told us.

Now, if the matter doesn’t reside in offices with AFSCME union members, and it’s a matter under negotiation, then surely it doesn’t involve any of the other unions Rauner’s administration already has reached contracts with.

For the record, according to past releases from Rauner’s office those include: downstate Teamsters; Teamsters / Professional and Technical Employees Local Union No. 916; Teamsters of Fox Valley; Teamsters Local 700 in Cook County and the master sergeants in the State Police; the International Brotherhood of Boiler Makers – Iron Shipbuilders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers; Illinois State Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers; United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America; International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; SEIU Local 1, Fireman and Oilers Division; International Union of United Food and Commercial Workers; Laborer’s International Union of North America (prevailing rate); International Association of Machinist and Aerospace Workers; International Union of Operating Engineers Local 399; International Union of Painters and Allied Trades; United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry; and the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers.

So, where’s the problem at, gov? (C.K.)

Pensions need a fix, too

Illinois governor candidate J.B. Pritzker wants to change the state constitution to allow for a graduated income tax.

He should consider another constitutional alteration, one that might have a more lasting effect on Illinois’ perpetual budget problems.

A graduated income tax has been a hallmark of Pritzker’s campaign, but the Illinois constitution prevents changes from the flat rate. Right now, that rate is 4.95 percent.

In a recent interview with the Chicago Tribune, Pritzker said if elected, he would seek to raise the flat rate temporarily and increase credits and deductions. All that would take effect while the General Assembly considers a constitutional amendment to institute a graduated tax.

Pritzker, a Democrat running against incumbent Republican Bruce Rauner, has not said what the increased rate should be.

“… Really, you’d have to negotiate with the Legislature over what those rates are and look at the budget for that year you’re putting it in place for,” Pritzker told the Trib. “So then you really couldn’t name the rates until you had that negotiating process.”

Ultimately, voters would have to approve a constitution change.

Pritzker didn’t mention a peskier aspect of the 48-year-old constitution — the part that guarantees payment of public-employee pensions. The Illinois Supreme Court has ruled unconstitutional any change to those pension benefits.

Ever-increasing pension payments, many of them generous, might be the prime contributor to the state’s budget problems. The unfunded pension obligation ballooned to at least $130 million last year.

A solution can be tricky. Those public employees eligible for a pension played by extremely flawed rules. The burden on Illinois taxpayers already is high.

If Pritzker is this enthusiastic about a graduated income tax, he should be equally insistent on perhaps streamlining pensions for future public employees, too, at the very least.

Most private-sector workers have 401(k) retirement plans, not defined-benefit plans. Public employees probably should be no different.

In concert, new income-tax and pension structures might be the best thing that could happen to Illinois’ fiscal house. But raising taxes alone isn’t going to solve anything, as history has proven.

Pritzker should advocate for pension changes as hard as he’s advocating for Illinoisans to pony up more money. He also should give us at least an idea of how much more he wants us to pay, while he’s at it. (N.V.)

Communicating clearly

By now, you’ve probably read, heard or seen about the outbreak of tainted batches of synthetic cannabis that have put dozens of people into the hospital in central Illinois.

The material has sickened more than 70 people locally in Peoria and Tazewell counties and represents more than half the cases of severe bleeding statewide.

State officials with the Department of Public Health sounded the alert and sent general guidance to county health departments around the state, urging them to make their local media outlets aware and to keep track of their contacts with media about the topic.

IDPH also kept a running tally on its website, offering an update each day of the number of reported cases by county.

In short, it seemed that they were treating this as a substantial public health topic and staying on top of keeping the public informed.

Imagine our surprise, then, when the first weekend rolled around after the outbreak began. No updates online. Not because of a couple of days free of problems, but because of a bit of verbiage we hadn’t noticed on the state site.

It pledged updates each weekday only, as though the drugs took a weekend off and perhaps somehow the flow of blood from every orifice was stanched.

We made an inquiry to IDPH about that last Monday. They haven’t seen fit to respond to us for almost a week.

But several area lawmakers also had concerns about the need for consistent public notification and reached out themselves during the middle of the week.

Reps. Mike Unes and Jehan Gordon-Booth and Sen. Dave Koehler were told the department saw it as important enough to begin updating the data daily, including weekends. And, true to its word, the department changed its website to reflect that new material would be posted each day.

Such notice is important, especially in the epicenter of a crisis. State officials — and leaders like the governor — have rightly been dinged for being slow to notify the public of, for instance, the outbreak of Legionnaire’s at the state veterans home in Quincy.

We’re glad that, after some reflection, they’re doing a better job here. (C.K.)

Chris Kaergard (C.K.) covers politics and government. He can be reached at ckaergard@pjstar.com or 686-3255. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisKaergard. Nick Vlahos (N.V.) writes “Nick in the Morning.” He can be reached at nvlahos@pjstar.com or 686-3285. Follow him on Twitter @VlahosNick.

After 3 years, Rauner still not offering specifics on tech claim

Controversial Robocall Targets Emanuel

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A new robocall is circulating that calls on Chicagoans to register to vote. The controversial call uses salty language to blame Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the City Council for ”squeezing every nickel out of voters” from red light cameras to the bag tax.

Former State Senator Rickey Hendon, who is advising mayoral candidate Willie Wilson, forwarded the call. Here’s the transcript:

“Hello this is retired State Senator Rickey Hendon, and I have an urgent message. It is time for us to get up and get busy and register people to vote. If you are progressive, Black, White, Latino or otherwise — I know you feel like I feel; you’re tired of this bullshit, the Rahm Emanuel and this sorry-ass City Council is doing to our people and to our city. If you feel like I feel, it’s time to register people to vote. It’s time to stand up and fight the power. The time is now. We’ve just proven in this last election, get rid of the Chairman of the Democratic Party Joe Berrios that we can do it if we just try, if we just make up our minds. It’s time to get rid of Rahm Emanuel and those puppets in City Council that are holding him in power. We have a good candidate, his name is Willie Wilson. Willie Wilson that’s who we need as the mayor of the city of Chicago and let me say to Black people, share this message with everybody. Everybody share this message, Black, White or otherwise. But specifically to you Black people. Listen, I know you’re tired about children dying in the streets, I know you’re tired of them closing our schools, I know you’re tired of moving us out, running us down to Mississippi and Alabama, and out of the city of Chicago. Now if you want to live down south, fine, but if you want to stay in the city of Chicago, join with me, help stop Rahm Emanuel from selling us out of the city of Chicago like Egyptians did to Jews, like we’re running away, forced from our land. We should fight against this! I need your help. You can go to WillieWilson.com, WillieWilsonforMayor.com that is, and help fight these people. Share this message. Black, White, Latino, if you’re progressive, share this message. Send it out to everybody. We have to stop this mess, that they got us in, can’t you hear our children crying from the grave, being shot down by their own people, being shot down by the police, our babies can’t even go to a party and have a good time anymore. I am tired of these red light cameras. Aren’t you tired of them just squeezing every nickel they can get out of us, bag tax, sugar tax, every damn tax they can think of? This is Rickey Hendon, join me, fight these people, fight these people, share the message, all summer long register your friends, register your enemies, register everybody, let’s fight the power!"

In an interview, Hendon says “people are ready, millennials are definitely ready, they’re just tired, no more of these excuses.”

When Wilson ran for mayor in 2015, Emanuel initially challenged Wilson’s petitions and Wilson said “he kept me tied up for four or five weeks, before I could really try to make my case.” Candidate petitions need signatures from registered voters with accurate addresses. In 1983, Harold Washington benefited from a surge in registered voters. Then there were 1.6 million registered Chicago voters. There’s been a population loss since then; today, there are 1.5 million registered.

Jim Allen, the spokesman for the Chicago Board of Elections notes it is much easier today to register since “if you have a driver’s license or state ID you can go online.” Also, “unlike the olden days when you had to register 30 days before Election Day, you can register all the way up to and including Election Day.”

Hendon says the Wilson campaign is starting early, “we got yard signs early, we got buttons early, we’re going to fight all summer long.”

With some six or seven candidates interested in running for mayor, Allen says the chances for a run off in April 2019 “are simple, if somebody doesn’t get 50 percent plus one, we’re going to have a runoff.”

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Controversial Robocall Targets Emanuel

Budget Woes, Out-Migration Color Illinois Gov. Race

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Budget Woes, Out-Migration Color Illinois Gov. Race

COMMENTARY



What’s going on in Illinois?

Pundits like to point to the recent Republican primary challenge to incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner as a “sexy” story of party infighting. Or the fact that the 2018 governor’s race will almost certainly be the most expensive in U.S. history.

But what’s playing out in Illinois, a state with the biggest pension crisis in the nation and the country’s worst outmigration problem, isn’t about party politics or campaign coffers.

It’s about something much simpler than that, and much more important: faith in the future.

People here are wondering: Should I stay or should I go?

The state’s population has been shrinking for four consecutive years. Last year, 115,000 people on net made the choice to relocate. As a result of its rapid out-migration, Illinois dropped from the fifth-largest state to the sixth-largest, falling behind Pennsylvania.

But a lot of people here aren’t in a position to leave. They have work, families and lives built in Illinois, and they’re wondering how to improve their quality of life. It’s a fundamental struggle, and it plays out in two policy arenas: jobs and take-home pay.

Illinois’ economy has picked up recently, but it’s still lagging the rest of the country. A 2017 report showed Illinois had the worst income growth of any state in the nation. And the fact that Illinoisans are shouldering one of the nation’s highest state and local tax burdens doesn’t help.

People with white-collar jobs in Chicago and the suburbs are getting by, some of them quite well. But many households are struggling, particularly those in blue-collar areas. Many downstate communities are still reeling from the recession that began nearly a decade ago.

People are sick of hearing about the state’s problems, because they’ve already been shouldering the effects of those problems for years. Illinoisans know their state has major issues – now they want to know who’s going to fix it, and how.

As they look for answers and solutions, they’re facing two divergent paths forward.

On one hand, Democratic gubernatorial nominee J.B. Pritzker is pitching a “temporary” increase to the current flat income tax, with exemptions for low-income and middle-class earners (it’s unclear who is included in this group, but there you go). This is meant to buy time until lawmakers figure out how to pass a progressive income tax, one of the crown jewels of the policy platform upon which Pritzker is running.

On the other hand, Rauner is preaching what got him elected in 2014: pro-growth economic reforms, including lower taxes, and taking on the state’s most reviled political boss: Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan.

No matter who gets elected, Illinois will never have enough money to fund core government services and cover its monumental pension obligations if politicians don’t address spending growth: From 2008-2015, state spending grew 25 percent times faster than incomes.

Politicians come and go, but problems like the ones Illinois is facing don’t go away on their own. The people of the state know what’s going on. Now what they need is simple: hope.

Things look bleak right now. But enact a few reforms, and all of the sudden Illinois looks like a totally different place.

Illinois has some of the most unfair laws in the region when it comes to negotiating with government worker unions. That, in turn, drives up the cost of operating government. But by taking a page from neighboring states – all of which have enacted laws that help rein in government worker union costs and power, including strike prohibitions and limits on what can be negotiated into government worker contracts – Illinoisans would see their state and local governments become more efficient and cost-effective.

Illinois’ pension debt has soared to $250 billion, affecting not only taxpayers but the men and women who have been promised a pension in retirement. Taxpayers continue to pour in more and more money to the system, yet debt continues to pile up. There will never be enough money to properly fund government pensions in Illinois, which is why the state should expand the 401(k)-style pension plan already offered to university workers to the rest of state government employees. Long-term, lawmakers must enact a constitutional amendment to allow for foundational pension reforms.

And ultimately, Illinois needs real fiscal responsibility. The state hasn’t had a truly balanced budget for more than 15 years. A spending cap that ties government spending growth to what taxpayers can afford would provide certainty to the budgeting process, and would stave off future tax hikes.

These changes aren’t easy, and they certainly aren’t sexy. They don’t capture the public imagination in the Land of Lincoln. But maybe, it’s finally time they should.

Hilary Gowins is vice president of communications for the Illinois Policy Institute, a think tank that promotes free markets and limited government.

Budget Woes, Out-Migration Color Illinois Gov. Race