Chris Essig

Walkthroughs, tips and tricks from a data journalist in eastern Iowa

Posts Tagged ‘Lieutenant Governor

Pension reform; lieutenant governor showdown

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Wow. It’s been a busy few weeks. I’ve neglected this blog for almost two weeks, so I feel obligated to finally update. So what has been happening at the Statehouse? The better question is what hasn’t been happening…

1. The biggest story of the past two weeks is probably the massive pension reform bill that Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton rammed through the General Assembly in a mere ten hours last Wednesday. Many lawmakers complained to me that the whole process went too fast, which caused them to vote against the bill. But it still passed with overwhelming majorities in both chambers:

SPRINGFIELD — New Illinois schoolteachers, university workers and other state employees would have to work longer before they retire — and possibly receive fewer benefits when they do — under a plan lawmakers approved Wednesday.

In an effort to save the state billions of dollars in pension payments in the coming decades, both the Illinois House and Senate on Wednesday approved a plan to push the retirement age for state employees up to 67.

Link.

This was huge. Many critics, including the unions, didn’t even have time to react, which I think was one of the major reasons they pushed it through so quickly. A quick stab is much quicker and cleaner than dragging it out for months, or even years.

The next day, the governor said the move would save the state billions upon billions in the coming years:

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Pat Quinn said state pension reforms approved by lawmakers Wednesday will save the state $300 million next year and more than $100 billion in the coming decades.

“That’s not chicken feed,” Quinn said at a Capitol news conference Thursday.

Indeed. But the blow back will be huge. We’ll see if it riles the governor’s race in November.

—–

2. Speaking of November, the still-vacant lieutenant governor seat on the Democratic side will finally be filled tomorrow. I’ll be there at 11 a.m. so expect more information later. But for now, everybody is kind of holding their breath.

Who the eventual winner will be is anybody’s guess. Earlier in the week, all signs were pointing towards a female senator from the suburbs:

SPRINGFIELD – A Lake County Democrat acknowledged Tuesday that a top aide to Gov. Pat Quinn contacted her about joining the race for Illinois lieutenant governor.Although Quinn has refused to indicate his choice for a running mate, state Sen. Susan Garrett said the governor’s chief of staff, Jerry Stermer, reached out to her before she applied to become the party’s nominee.

Story courtesy of myself.

That quickly changed, however, largely because Garrett has been on record as opposing Quinn’s tax increase and has refused to concede her position. Her convictions, however, eventually led to her downfall. Now, the governor is looking at another female with a good name but little legislative experience:

Gov. Pat Quinn is expected to announce today his preference for a running mate in the general election, and sources told The Southern Illinoisan Sheila Simon is Quinn’s choice.

Link.

Sheila is the daughter of Democratic icon Paul Simon, so she has a good name. But she doesn’t have legislative experience, and her only noble political race was a failure. In 2007, she lost a bid for mayor to Brad Cole, even though she had statewide support.

But regardless of who he wants, Quinn doesn’t have an official say in the matter. Instead, that is left up to the Democratic central committee. And many of the members have indicated they would support state Rep. Art Turner, who finished second in the race for lieutenant governor. But, at the same time, he lost to a Chicago pawnbroker with a very, very ugly past.

If the committee doesn’t pick Turner, the black community will be pissed:

CHICAGO (AP) – Word that Gov. Pat Quinn planned to endorse Sheila Simon for lieutenant governor prompted warnings Friday that he risks angering black voters and weakening the Democratic ticket in November.

Rep. Art Turner, the second-place finisher in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, said he will continue fighting for the job even if Quinn prefers someone else.

Link.

All this controversy surrounding an office with few official responsibilities. What a mess.

The result will be announced tomorrow morning. But don’t expect smooth sailing from there…

Written by csessig

March 26, 2010 at 8:13 pm

This weekend’s election coverage

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A. Elections, elections, elections. With the state in fiscal peril, everybody is looking to the state’s leaders and hoping–and praying–for swift and meaningful action. And with the lawmakers out of town until the election season is finished, it’s no wonder why the primaries are dominating Statehouse coverage as of late. I had a chance to cover some of the lesser-know races last week and the stories appeared in various newspapers over the weekend. And I am happy to report that I received one phone call today regarding my treasurer and comptroller stories that ran in the Herald & Review, which means at least one person is reading them.

But first a story on the incredibly-crowded lieutenant governor’s race. Last Friday, we had some down time in the office so I started browsing the State Board of Election’s web site. And I noticed one candidate for lieutenant governor, Jason Plummer, received $500,000 worth of donations from the plumbing company owned by his family. I thought it was interesting that his family would invest so much money into a race for a position that has relatively few formal responsibilities. I then noticed that he loaned his campaign an additional $150,000 just weeks earlier, meaning him and his family were pumping (no pun intended) serious dough into the race. I also knew that other candidates had pledged to self-fund their campaigns with hundreds of thousands (and sometimes millions) of dollars, meaning Plummer wasn’t alone. I discussed the issue with my bureau chief and he gave me the “thumbs up” on the story. So, I called a few people today, and, wallah, I had my first completely-independent news story that I thought of on my own. Nothing earth-shattering, but I thought it was interesting, in a nerdy, political way. And the mandatory quote:

SPRINGFIELD — The candidates for Illinois lieutenant governor may be vying for a position with few formal responsibilities, but that hasn’t stopped a trio of them from putting hundreds of thousands of dollars into the race.

Democratic hopeful Scott Cohen has loaned his campaign more than a half million dollars so far this month. Republicans Don Tracy and Jason Plummer are tapping into their own wallets and into their family businesses for cash to bankroll their primary ambitions.

And the link. It will be interesting to see how people react to this story. Some are sympathetic to self-funded candidates and wish it didn’t cost nearly that much to run a viable campaign. But others think it’s ludicrous to spend that much money on a campaign and wish the money would go a better cause, like a charity. If you have an opinion, leave it in the comments.

B. Secondly, I had three election stories run this weekend in our fine Lee Enterprise publications on the comptroller and treasurer races. Each of the three stories dealt with a particular primary race, including the Democratic race for comptroller and treasurer, and the Republican race for comptroller. In the Republican race for treasurer, Sen. Dan Rutherford, R-Chenoa, is running uncontested in the primary, so there was no need for a story.

Basically the question posed to the candidates (eight in all) was: What is your opinion of short-term borrowing? In recent years, the state has made it an annual practice to borrow money, which is usually reimbursed in a year or so, to help pay its bills short-term. Recipients of the borrowed money include human service providers, medical providers and universities. The issue became volatile this year after Gov. Pat Quinn proposed borrowing $500 million to help pay Medicaid bills and other providers. Comptroller Dan Hynes refused to sign off on the plan. Hynes, of course, is running against Quinn in the Democratic gubernatorial race. Quinn cried foul, saying Hynes was playing politics and human service providers were suffering as a result. Hynes said the state simply has too many unpaid bills as it is. Recent estimates put Illinois’ backlog of bills at $5.1 billion. That’s billion with a “B.” Both the treasurer and comptroller have to sign off on all short-term borrowing plans (although the General Assembly did consider a proposal last week that would have allowed the state to borrow money without getting approval from Hynes. The measure, however, wasn’t debated on the Senate floor).

To no surprise, the Republicans largely agreed with Hynes and the Democrats largely didn’t…

Wow, that was a long-winded set up. Anyways, here are the stories:

  1. Democratic candidates for state treasurer agree with short-term borrowing
  2. Republican hopefuls back Hynes’ veto plan to borrow short-term
  3. Democratic hopefuls (for comptroller) agree state should borrow to pay backlog of bills

Look for more election related stories in the coming weeks. And remember, folks, get out the vote on Feb. 2!