An Illinois Voter’s Pulse on Election Day (November 2, 2010)

I live in the State of Illinois, where today we’ll be electing a Governor and a brand new Senator, among other offices. Though he has been gone from the Prairie State electoral canvass for over two years now, this voting day is still somewhat of a referendum on deposed former Governor, Rod Blagojevich and the dispiriting legacy he left in his wake.

In the Governor’s race, citizens have a choice between Pat Quinn, the former Lieutenant Governor for the Blago administration, who has served half a term since Roddy Boy was given the boot. Although not a perfect lawmaker by any stretch, Quinn has suffered from two major flaws: a lack of scintillating personality and the bad luck to have been the person to inherit an economic meltdown, immediately after the Illinois State legislature voted to eject Blago. In the same way I feel that President Obama has been curiously blamed for prolonged economic pains that were not his doing, Quinn seems to have paralleled Barack in microcosm.

Illinois, now officially the most bankrupt State in the Union, was well on its way to being so before Pat Quinn took the reins. However his Republican opponent for the Governor’s mansion, State Senator Bill Brady, will not have any of that – if one assesses the situation by looking at his ads. Senator Brady is fond of highlighting the statistic that Quinn has retained “75% of Blago appointees,” a thinly veiled suggestion that Rod and Pat are chums and bedfellows who have celebrated the continuity of corruption in Illinois. The problem with that assertion is that for most of Blagojevich’s term and a half, the two men were barely on speaking terms. I think “frenemies” is what the kids are calling it these days. The suggestion that Quinn’s failure to clean house and fire everyone the moment he took office means he and Rod are ideological cousins is a stretch at best.

Furthermore, one of Bill Brady’s most treasured sound bites is his claim to be an “optimist. We are facing tough times, but I’ve always believed in America and the people of Illinois. Together, we’ll make a clean break from the past and grow jobs here.” That sounds wonderful, but how exactly? What is your plan Senator Brady?

Don’t look to the candidates website for clarification:

“The four cornerstones of the Brady Better Illinois: Jobs Plan begin with the fundamentals:

•Create a stable tax climate to help jumpstart the economy
•Engage in long-term strategic planning
•Create a fair playing field to once again make Illinois competitive
•Restore accountability and transparency to the state budget process”

I think I speak for many of us when I say that the only thing more unspecific than this plan is Charlie Sheen’s diagram for getting his cocaine and booze soaked life together.

So clearly, we know I voted for the Governor’s seat in Illinois. However, the race to replace outgoing Senator, and further Blagojevich collateral damage, Roland Burris, was not as simple as it might seem for a Lefty like myself.

Clearly, I would not be using the touch screen ballot to select Mark Kirk, the Republican candidate and five term Congressman, who been caught lying about everything this campaign season. Kirk had said he won the Navy’s “Intelligence Officer of the Year” award, which he didn’t. He said he was fired upon the last time he visited Iraq. Nope. Did he learn nothing from Hilary Clinton? He said he served in Operation Desert Storm when he was in actuality a reservist in Maryland. Even his civilian biography proved to be full of half truths. Kirk has frequently spoken about his time as a nursery school teacher, a huge former campaign talking point. Turns out he was just a work-study student from Cornell.

And the funny thing is, given the weakness of Kirk’s competition, Democratic nominee Alexi Giannoulias, the Congressman had no need to embellish his record. Alexi, as my friend Tim so eloquently put it, “has failed at everything he tried.” This hardly speaks to one’s ability to make sober and reasoned decisions for the state. The 34 year-old current State Treasurer (we’re bankrupt) and former BFF of Barack Obama (until the April failure of his family’s Broadway Bank created tension) is hardly qualified to be a Boy Scout Troop Leader, let alone a man in charge of advocating for the American people.

So as I entered the ballot booth early this afternoon, absolutely despising both candidates in this contest, wishing not for the first time that the two party system would provide us more palatable options, I made a snap decision: LeAlan Jones, the Green party nominee.

The former NPR documentarian, just 13 years-old at the time of his honest portrayal of life on Chicago’s south side, Ghetto Life 101, managed to impress me more with this one accomplishment, than anything I have seen out of Kirk or Giannoulias. Republican voters have long ago written me off, and my fellow Democrats might tell me I wasted a vote. No I didn’t. I am sending a one person message to both parties in this politically scarred state to get serious and send me some real candidates. In the meantime, I wish Jones, a linebackers coach at Chicago’s Simeon Career Academy, the upset of a lifetime.

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The Waning Days of Summer (August 31, 2010)

sad

The annual battle with Seasonal Affective Disorder has arrived early for me in 2010. Typically, my serotonin levels begin to drop as the days grow shorter and colder, but this year, my brain is slipping into despondency before the heat even dies. It has been a hot, wet season and that’s my wheelhouse, so I suppose it seems curious that I have chosen to take up residence in Chicago. It seems logical that if you want to fight the winter blues, maybe leaving a City that is damp and dark for nine months of the year would be your first step. What can I say? My masochism is twofold. Apparently I require the bracing, biting cold to remind me of summer’s beauty and value, and I can’t shake this morbid fascination with Illinois politics and all the carnivalesque oddities it brings.

This year, early onset SAD is hitting me in profound ways. I don’t want to let go – of the beach, the street festivals, the outdoor restaurant seating. One of my favorite sights this year has been the scene of children playing and riding bicycles until 10:00 PM, as I sit and quietly sip wine on my balcony. The season of fun and frivolity is now behind these kids. Do they feel the loss as I do?

I am also in no humor to welcome the Fall, for reasons that have nothing to do with a Peter Pan-like desire to extend fun in the sun. If it’s September, than that means we have to start taking the November elections seriously. One need not actively participate in the gamesmanship and punditry to feel the effects. Watching the evening news, picking up the paper before your morning commute, then the often frustrating act of voting, which usually means choosing the lesser of two to three evils – it’s enough to make one wish they were still underage.

Though there are many obnoxious and odd matchups in elections across the country, the State of Illinois makes a great case for having the most dispiriting contests around. Though Prairie State politics are historically dicey, we do occasionally get the proverbial Paul Simon/Barack Obama bone thrown at us.

This year, I am very sad to report, there is no such luck. One candidate after another is guilty of complete and total buffoonery. Let’s take the Governor’s race as an example. In this corner, we have sitting Executive Pat Quinn. Quinn is the sad sack who had to step in rather unceremoniously and take the reins after the ignominious fall of one Rod Blagojevich. Quinn inherited an office beset by felony convictions and deplorable fiscal irresponsibility. However, he is a good, if boring fellow, who has spent the last two years watching every plea for reform fall on a large crowd of deaf ears. Thus Illinois now carries the title of “Most Debt Ridden, Least Business Attractive,” State in the Union. This is far from Quinn’s fault in entirety, yet it is clear that it is he who must wear the crown of thorns [cue video of vociferous booing of Governor Quinn at June’s Stanley Cup rally].

Quinn’s competition for the Governor’s mansion arrives in the form of State Senator Bill Brady, a man whose strategy thus far consists of relying on the incumbent’s low polling numbers as a path to victory. Brady has adopted any means necessary to avoid the hassle of actually discussing the issues in public. The Republican’s plan to address the shortfall in revenue and human services, according to his website, includes a resolve to “cut taxes by a billion dollars, as well as reduce spending throughout the state.” With a budget deficit currently hovering around the $13 billion dollar mark, how can Brady justify cutting taxes, and what specific programs would he cut to begin to offset the already terrific revenue imbalance? Don’t know. He won’t say. Like every other good politician in Illinois, he is going to await being voted in before delineating his plans to drag us further into the red.

In the spirit of comic relief, I will briefly mention the third party, Independent Candidate for Governor, Scott Lee Cohen. Cohen had a brief flirtation with political shame and notoriety earlier this year, after winning, then promptly resigning the Democratic nomination for Lt. Governor. The pawn broker was chased away from the Quinn ticket after surfacing allegations of domestic violence, prostitution, drug abuse and rage filled outbursts. Deviant behavior from a pawn shop proprietor? Never saw it coming!

I am almost too exhausted at this point to get into the Senate contest. On the left we have the Democratic Alexi Giannoulias, a once good friend of Barack Obama’s who has begun to see his calls go to voicemail since his business venture, Broadway Bank, was shut down by the FDIC this past January. What, you mean a Wall Street charlatan might not be the kind of ally for which the President is looking? Well why ever not? A man who previously failed to protect the State’s finances in his elected role as Treasurer, while simultaneously running a bank into the ground may be good at malfunction multi-tasking, but this hardly qualifies him to make decisions for the voting public on a greater scale.

Republican challenger Mark Kirk, a current U.S. Congressmen, has experienced PR infractions that appear relatively minor compared to the rest of this lot. He has since backtracked from a statement made at a 2002 House Committee hearing, where Kirk declared himself a recipient of the Navy’s “Intelligence Officer of the Year” award. The politician’s fib was exposed by the Washington Post in May of this year. Not so smart now, are we Kirk?

Oh and by the way, both Giannoulias and Kirk are running to fill the seat of Roland Burris, the half term Senator who may or may not have cut a deal with Blago to take the chair of newly elected President Barack Obama. Though Burris could not be prevailed upon to resign after allegations surfaced in early 2009, he has decided to decline seeking re-election in order to make room for a younger, less experienced goofball.

Pass the melatonin and another glass of wine my friends. It’s going to be a rough autumn.

The Ship’s Going Down: Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em! (February 9, 2010)

ship

Ah yum, the familiar taste of egg on our faces. Too bad I don’t care for eggs, but to be a resident of Illinois, you’d better learn to love that chicken born protein, because as long as you are a voting adult of this State, one humiliation after another is to be your lot.

It almost seems like a farway dream that a man named Obama: classy, intelligent, thoughtful and competent, could have ascended the ranks of the political mire we crawl through in the Land of Lincoln. But it did happen, a once in a lifetime gift, and enjoy it folks, because it looks more and more like that’s all we’re going to get.

Because no sooner did the primary polls close last Tuesday night, then we found ourselves in familiar territory:

http://www.suntimes.com/news/elections/2036963,CST-NWS-cohen09.article

A pawnbroker, a repeated domestic violence offender, consorter of admitted prostitutes and SuperBowl party killjoy (did you SEE that mess as he withdrew from the Lt. Governor’s race in a teary press conference, in the middle of a pub, as innocent people attempted to watch the Saints march to victory?) I would ask, fair citizens, what we have done to deserve this nightmare, except we, or at least the Democratic ilk of us, actually voted for this loser. Let this be a cautionary tale to those who think their vote couldn’t possibly matter. When you achieve a paltry 25% turnout, you get Joey Buttafucco as your candidate.

I didn’t vote for Cohen, but no matter. I am again ruined through guilt by association. And now that Cohen has quietly (ha!) exited the race, where do we go from here? Are there any good choices? It seems some would like Dan Hynes, the Democrat who just lost the nomination for Governor to incumbent Pat Quinn, to step forward. But surprise, surprise, he seems a little reluctant to fill the shoes of a man who will let his morbidly obese son weep with heartbreak next to him on national TV.

http://blogs.suntimes.com/sweet/2010/02/hynes_not_interested_in_illino.html

Between this crap and the blizzard, I need a drink already. It’s gotta be noon somewhere…

Illinois Primaries (February 2, 2010)

rock-the-vote

It’s Election Day in Illinois. Or rather, today we vote in the Democratic, Republican or Green party primaries to choose candidates for the November races. In 2010, the citizens of this State have to choose replacements for some very important positions: Governor, Senator and Cook County Board President, among others. The State and County are facing a profound fiscal crisis, due in part to the incompetence of our elected leaders for the last couple decades.

I woke up early to vote for change before work this morning, and I hope my fellow citizens follow suit, even if, admittedly, the current candidates are not exactly an exciting lot. Need it be said that I went for the Democratic ballot?

I definitely felt underwhelmed as I exited my polling place, even if proud to have done my civic duty. Be that as it may, the following results should come by day’s end: Pat Quinn a lame duck Governor (I struggled mightily with this, but ultimately went with Hynes, the current Comptroller), Stroger out (anybody will do – KK and Rosebud for Cook County Board President!), and a Democratic replacement candidate will be selected for the mercifully retirning Roland Burris.

I don’t love it, but I went with Alexi Giannoulias on the last one. I voted for inexperience here, somewhat deliberately. I have had my fill of Illinois “machine” politicians, and will gladly give someone outside the establishment a chance. How could they make things worse, I argue to myself? Definitely no future Obamas in this lot.

Oscar nominations were released today, though I have yet to peruse them. A busy news day all around. Enjoy it!

Four Studying Days Left (January 7, 2010)

I received an early morning text message yesterday from my good friend Timbo. It read: “So who are you voting for?” I felt that familiar old panic.

Because you see, good citizens of Illinois, I somehow fell asleep at the wheel again and neglected to realize the 2010 primaries were upon us. Timbo remembered that I had taken a vow in late 2008, after the whole Blago/Roland Burris dustup, never to cast an ignorant local vote again. For I must sadly own, my friends, I voted for deposed Governor Blagojevich, not once, but TWICE. I pay lavish attention to national elections, for years sometimes prior to the first vote being cast. But when it comes to my own backyard, I fall behind on who is in play and what they stand for. Why? Is this because Illinois elections are not covered on CNN or in the pages of the New York Times?

Be that as it may, there is no excuse for my lack of attention. There are so many critical issues and bureaucratic messes confronting the City, County and State. But it is not too late! With a little over four days left to cram and make decisions on who to throw support behind, I have found this handy tool an asset:

http://www.uselections.com/il/il.htm

It gives a pretty great summary of each open office, with links for additional information on the individual candidates. How did I not know we were operating without a Lieutenant Governor? For shame.

About the only vote I am sure of right now is that of the Democratic primary for Governor. I am likely to give Pat Quinn another chance. He has done the best he can with a very bad economic and PR situation post-Blago, and has managed to keep his nose reasonably clean in the process. After that I am not too sure. But I put you on notice Timbo: I will not go the ballot box unprepared this coming Tuesday.

Have you decided who should take the State of Illinois into the next decade?