Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in Illinois

November 5, 2019

November 4, 2019

The (Champaign) News-Gazette

Political hardball in Washington

The impeachment fat was already in the fire. Last week’s partisan vote by the full U.S. House of Representatives to proceed with a formal impeachment process produced a roaring blaze. It won’t be long before the impending conflagration starts claiming victims.

But who will they be — Republican legislators who are challenging the effort to remove President Trump as one of the worst cases of sour grapes in world history or Democrats who insist a cancerous presidency must be removed from the body politic?

One thing appears certain — this has far more to do with the 2020 presidential election than it does with the most recent of a long line of allegedly impeachable offenses committed by this country’s most unorthodox of chief executives.

While much is unknown about what will transpire in the weeks, perhaps months, ahead, two things appear certain.

House Democrats will pass articles of impeachment against Trump that set the stage for a Senate trial and potential removal from office. Senate Republicans will reject impeachment allegations, and Trump will remain in office.

Not only will Trump, almost assuredly, remain in office, there may not be a trial.

Republicans are laying the groundwork — indeed, it’s Democratic-groundwork — to waylay the impeachment process before it gets off the ground in the U.S. Senate, and they can thank the late Democratic U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd for the precedent.

In 1999, as the Senate impeachment trial of former President Bill Clinton was set to begin, Byrd filed a motion to dismiss impeachment charges. All that was required for passage was a majority vote, and Byrd’s proposal was barely defeated in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Clinton’s impeachment trial went forward, but he was acquitted. Just 45 of 100 Senators supported Clinton’s conviction, a number well short of the required two-third’s majority.

Is a similar measure in the offing? If the Democratic House majority can vote to impeach Trump, the Republican Senate majority can dismiss the impeachment charges.

Lost in all of this gamesmanship is the substance of the allegations against Trump, the claim that he threatened to withhold foreign aid to Ukraine unless that country’s top officials conducted an investigation of Hunter Biden’s business relationship with a Ukrainian oil company.

Hunter Biden is the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, one of the leading candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee have been conducting a closed-door investigation of the charges, releasing piecemeal bits and pieces of the evil.

Under the House vote, that process now will be formalized before the House Judiciary Committee and public hearings will be held and witnesses called.

Democrats insist they’ve been nothing but fair during this entire process, an assertion Republicans emphatically reject. But the majority party in the House has kept a firm grip on rules that limit Trump’s and committee Republicans’ participation in the investigation.

Democrats insist the GOP will have more latitude in the judiciary committee hearings while, at the same time, insisting they maintain veto power over whatever it is Republicans wish to do in presenting evidence undercutting the Democratic narrative.

If that sounds like a recipe for a partisan knife fight, it’s because this will be a partisan knife fight.

The impeachment process is, by its very nature, political. But it certainly should not be thoroughly politicized, as the proposed Trump impeachment is.

Ultimately, the decision will be left to the voters in the 2020 election to decide how to proceed. Democrats are betting they can rough Trump up enough to make his re-election impossible while Republicans are taking the position that voters will not appreciate Democratic overreach.

Who wins the bet will be determined by which party maneuvers the most skillfully as the impeachment and election process unfolds over the next 12 months.


November 3, 2019

The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan

Athletes generate money, let’s allow them a piece of the pie

Let’s imagine a Southern Illinois University football player makes a leaping interception against Missouri State next week.

Let’s imagine one of SIU’s staff photographer captures the photograph, which features the leaping defensive back framed perfectly by the goalposts. It’s a photograph that screams for the player to be immortalized on a poster.

For the sake of argument, let’s imagine SIU decides to print a thousand photos and sell them for $10 apiece — that’s a cool ten grand. Until this week, the player would get absolutely nothing, zip, nada, not a penny.

If you’re thinking that doesn’t seem fair, you’re right.

However, this week the NCAA Board of Directors passed a resolution permitting students to benefit from the use of “their name, image and likeness.”

It’s a long overdue move in the world of big-time college athletics. It remains to be seen what effect the rule will have on mid-majors like SIU, but at least athletes will have the opportunity to make a few extra dollars for their toils.

The naysayers, and there are plenty, will argue that athletes are getting paid via their scholarships. And, there is an element of truth to that — athletes who receive a “full-ride” scholarship are getting good value for their labors on field, floor or court.

And, this shouldn’t provide hardship on universities to come up with additional payroll money — we’re talking about funds generated by the sale of an athlete’s name, image or likeness.

But, there is another side to this picture.

Unlike football and basketball players, athletes playing baseball, volleyball, or those who swim or run track, aren’t getting full scholarships. And, under NCAA regulations, most cannot hold jobs and get paid for anything regarding their sports.

If these athletes don’t come from wealthy families, they are likely walking around campus virtually penniless. There isn’t spare change for a lunch with friends, no money for date night or no Saturday night pizza with friends.

This regulation seems to unfairly target athletes.

Imagine being a music student on campus. Imagine you are a talented guitar player. There is nothing to stop you from joining a band and making some cash. Perhaps you are an art student whose work appears in galleries on campus. There is nothing to stop you from accepting commissions to paint portraits — even if you have a scholarship in your field.

What’s worse, if you are an athlete at a Power 5 conference, your university is likely cashing in on your athletic abilities in a big way. The next time you walk down a busy sidewalk take note of the apparel being worn — there’s a good chance you’ll see a Kentucky sweat shirt, a Notre Dame cap or a North Carolina T-shirt.

And, let’s not forget that Michigan, among others, sells 100,000 tickets for football games. That basketball tickets at some basketball powerhouses are sometimes passed down from generation to generation. The amount of money generated by college athletics is astronomical.

No matter how you look at it, the money is generated by the players. Take the student athletes out of the picture and you’re left with a cavernous empty stadium. It only makes sense that students be given some cut of the action.

It is up to the schools to figure out how to make it work.

The momentum that pushed this change into reality came from a recent law in California that allowed students-athletes in that state to cash in. Coincidentally, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced his support for the measure just hours before the NCAA adopted the new rule.

To use the obvious pun, this shouldn’t be a political football. It’s only fair for athletes to share in the money they are largely responsible for generating. It’s as American as apple pie.


October 31, 2019

(Arlington Heights) Daily Herald

Legislature should be serious about reviewing ethics

In the aftermath of bribery charges filed against a state representative, leaders of the Illinois General Assembly offered responses ringing with the typical righteous indignation.

“I have instructed my staff to begin bringing together stakeholders and experts to closely examine our ethics and lobbying laws and find ways to strengthen existing law,” declared House Speaker Michael Madigan in a prepared statement.

Senate President John Cullerton said the legislature should consider repeating the joint House-Senate review of ethics and campaign finance laws that followed the impeachment and expulsion of Gov. Rod Blagojevich in 2009.

You’re not alone if you hear Capt. Renault’s cynical order to “round up the usual suspects” echoing somewhere in the distance.

How hard should it be, after all, for the longest-serving speaker in the history of the House of Representatives to identify the possible touchpoints of corruption and conflict of interest for legislators? And, really, how did it never come to the notice of someone in the legislature that lawmakers ought not be able to manage companies that provide lobbying services to business clients?

State Rep. Luis Arroyo, who manages the lobbying firm Spartacus 3 LLC, was charged Monday with attempting to bribe a state senator to get support for gambling legislation that one of his clients wanted. If true, the legal offense reflected in the charges is obvious. But under any circumstances, the ethical impropriety of permitting a lawmaker to profit from clients who are lobbying him and his fellow legislators is equally clear. Just as clear, in fact, as allowing lawmakers who profit from contesting property tax assessments to write or influence legislation related to property taxes.


Speaker Madigan, of course, is famously a partner in a law firm that specializes in appealing commercial property tax assessments. But he’s not the only Illinois legislator who files such appeals, and just last month the state’s Property Tax Relief Tax Force refused to study the practice or investigate potential conflicts of interest involving it. So, with the federal probes of Illinois lawmakers growing ever more numerous -- Sen. Tom Cullerton, of Villa Park, is facing charges of embezzlement, Chicago Alderman Ed Burke is under indictment and we haven’t yet seen the fallout from raids on the offices of Sen. Martin Sandoval -- it’s difficult to take seriously leaders’ promises to fight corruption or establish stronger ethical standards.

If they want to demonstrate some sincerity, they could start, as we urged in August, by closing the revolving door that allows former legislators to immediately become lobbyists. Then, in the House, they could pull HB361 out of the black hole of the Rules Committee. The bill, filed by Naperville Republican Grant Wehrli, increases fines for legislators who violate certain ethical standards, and, surprise, it picked up no fewer than 25 co-sponsors in the last two days.

Another House bill, HJR 87, which aims to set up an ethics task force in the wake of the Arroyo charges, surely deserves support in spirit. The precise scope and mission of such an ethics review may be open to discussion, as President Cullerton notes, but the need for such a study cannot be denied.

It just has to be imbued with the gravity it deserves. And, it ought to be empowered to identify all potential ethical lapses, not just those that the legal system has conveniently pointed out but also those that any fair-minded person would easily recognize, even if they involve sitting lawmakers and someone as powerful as the House speaker.