WBEZ | Illinois http://www.wbez.org/tags/illinois Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Can new GOP Illinois governor deliver on the hype? http://www.wbez.org/news/can-new-gop-illinois-governor-deliver-hype-111335 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/AP586490258547.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Bruce Rauner became a Republican rock star when he unseated a Democratic governor in left-leaning Illinois, pledging to run Barack Obama&#39;s home state in the mold of GOP darlings Scott Walker and Mitch Daniels. But as he takes office this month, many are wondering: Can he deliver on the hype?</p><p>There are reasons to believe the answer is no, and that Rauner&#39;s victories may have ended on Election Day. Unlike Walker in Wisconsin and Daniels in Indiana &mdash; governors Rauner has called his role models &mdash; he inherits a state with deep financial problems and a Legislature that&#39;s overwhelmingly Democratic. That could make achieving his top priorities, such as closing the state&#39;s multibillion-dollar budget hole and switching public employees to a 401k-style retirement system, far more difficult.</p><p>But Rauner and others insist that Illinois&#39; first divided government in more than a decade won&#39;t mean four years of gridlock, but rather produce the kind of chemistry needed to end years of legislative near-paralysis.</p><p>If so, Illinois could be a notable outlier in an increasingly polarized nation of red and blue states, and could also help Republicans solve the mystery of how to become relevant again in a place that&#39;s been trending strongly Democratic.</p><p>&quot;People have cherry picked (businesses) from us and laughed at us for many years,&quot; said Republican state Sen. Bill Brady. &quot;I think now people are looking at us with a cautious but also optimistic eye.&quot;</p><p>Heightening Rauner&#39;s predicament is Illinois&#39; history of putting off major issues that other states tackled during the recession. Thus, the state now has the nation&#39;s worst-funded public pension system, slower-than-average job growth, billions in unpaid bills and the worst credit rating.</p><p>The political dynamic is now changed, either for better or worse.</p><p>With a Republican in the governor&#39;s office, GOP lawmakers will at least have an incentive &mdash; some would say mandate &mdash; to put &quot;yes&quot; votes on major initiatives rather than just uniformly opposing, and Democrats may have to compromise more.</p><p>&quot;I think they&#39;ll be very productive,&quot; said former Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady.</p><p>But first, Rauner has fences to mend. The multimillionaire private equity investor spent the year-long campaign ripping Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn and the powerful leaders of the Illinois House and Senate, calling them &quot;career politicians&quot; who drove the state into a &quot;death spiral.&quot;</p><p>Rauner, House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton made nice during a two-hour meeting shortly after Election Day. Rauner also been calling every member of the Legislature, saying he wants to get to know each one personally.</p><p>Many are skeptical. Among them are labor leaders, several of whom Rauner singled out by name during the campaign as contributing to the state&#39;s financial ruin. The unions are gearing up for a fight should Rauner move to weaken their bargaining power, as Daniels and Walker did in Indiana and Wisconsin.</p><p>&quot;Bruce Rauner has made it very clear he&#39;s very hostile to organized labor,&quot; said Tom Balanoff, president of the Service Employees International Union Local 1.</p><p>Yet Balanoff, who was one of those Rauner accused of &quot;owning&quot; state government and the Democratic Party, said his union has worked with GOP governors in the past.</p><p>Rauner himself has seemed to be lowering expectations. After telling voters during the campaign he had a plan to simultaneously lower taxes and increase spending for education, he now says the state&#39;s finances are far worse than he was led to believe. It could be a way to give himself some wiggle room while pinning blame for unkept promises on the Democrats who preceded him.</p><p>Kirk Dillard, a former top GOP state senator, said Rauner could also benefit from his friendship with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a relationship nurtured during Emanuel&#39;s pre-mayoral days as an investment banker.</p><p>The state&#39;s biggest city controls &quot;a huge block of (Democratic) votes&quot; in the General Assembly, noted Dillard, who added that Quinn and his Democratic predecessor, now-imprisoned ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, had rockier relationships with City Hall.</p><p>&quot;That&#39;s a huge plus&quot; for Rauner, Dillard said.</p><p>And while both Democrats and Republicans wonder if Rauner will be in over his head because he&#39;s never held public office before, supporters say he&#39;s navigated state and local government in pushing education reform, working sometimes with Emanuel on the issue. After a recent governors&#39; session at the White House, Rauner noted that it wasn&#39;t his first visit, telling reporters he&#39;s &quot;known a number of presidents.&quot;</p><p>Dillard says he is realistic about what Rauner can accomplish.</p><p>&quot;Gov. Rauner needs to keep his commitments to voters,&quot; Dillard said. &quot;And if he can&#39;t deliver on all of them, he needs to make it clear that it&#39;s the Democrats that are preventing him from doing so.&quot;</p></p> Mon, 05 Jan 2015 11:17:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/can-new-gop-illinois-governor-deliver-hype-111335 Illinois extends marijuana experiment to children http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-extends-marijuana-experiment-children-111327 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/AP72647615270.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Randy Gross hopes a new law allowing children into Illinois&#39; medical marijuana program will reunite his family, nearly a year after his wife moved to Colorado so their son could receive a controversial treatment to ease his epileptic seizures.</p><p>Gross lives and works in Illinois. His wife, Nicole, moved with their two sons so their 8-year-old could legally swallow a quarter-teaspoon of marijuana oil each day. While the medical evidence is thin, some parents &mdash; including the Grosses &mdash; say marijuana works for their children and they&#39;re willing to experiment.</p><p>&quot;We can tell he&#39;s feeling better,&quot; Nicole Gross said of their son, Chase, who also has autism and uses sign language. &quot;He puts four or five signs together. He&#39;ll sign, &#39;brother go downstairs play.&#39; ... He engages more, makes better eye contact. If he notices something funny on his TV show, he&#39;ll clap and pat you on the back.&quot;</p><p>The boy formerly suffered abrupt &quot;head drop&quot; seizures &mdash; at least one every two minutes, she said. Now 20 minutes go by, sometimes 30 minutes, between seizures, she said.</p><p>The dark green, pungent oil comes from a hybrid marijuana strain called Charlotte&#39;s Web, which was cultivated by a Colorado company to be heavy in a compound called CBD and low in THC, the ingredient that gets people high. It hasn&#39;t been tested in clinical trials for effectiveness or safety, but it will be legal in Illinois under a law that took effect Thursday.</p><p>Sorting truth from hype is difficult. CBD shows enough promise that two drug companies are studying it for childhood seizures with support from U.S. regulators, but those results will take years. For now, mainstream medicine regards Charlotte&#39;s Web as a folk remedy deserving of caution.</p><p>&quot;There is good evidence of long-term harm of chronic marijuana use on the developing brain under 18 years of age,&quot; said Dr. Leslie Mendoza Temple, a suburban Chicago doctor who has given accredited lectures about medical marijuana for the Illinois Academy of Family Physicians.</p><p>She considers the scientific evidence sparse, so &quot;in general, this is a medicine only to be considered when all other therapies have been exhausted and failed, and if the child is quite debilitated.&quot;</p><p>A wave of Charlotte&#39;s Web publicity, sparked by a 2013 CNN documentary, lured families to Colorado and unfairly played on their desperation, said Dr. Kevin Chapman, who treats children with epilepsy at Children&#39;s Hospital Colorado. Chapman has seen only inconsistent parent accounts that Charlotte&#39;s Web works.</p><p>When he and his colleagues reviewed the charts of 58 young patients using the oil, they found less than a third of parents reported a big reduction in seizures, and the improvement didn&#39;t show up on available before-and-after tests that measure brain waves. Families who moved to Colorado to use the drug, however, were three times more likely to report improvement than families already living in the state.</p><p>&quot;Families have to move, sell everything, pack up, leave their social network,&quot; Chapman said. &quot;It&#39;s hard to be truly objective if you&#39;ve had to do so much to get this drug that&#39;s been touted as a miracle medication.&quot;</p><p>Under emergency rules, the Illinois Department of Public Health announced in December, young patients will be able to use medical marijuana for any of the nearly 40 health conditions already authorized for adults, although some &mdash; like agitation of Alzheimer&#39;s disease &mdash; aren&#39;t childhood conditions.</p><p>Children will be required to get written certification from two doctors. Adult patients need just one doctor to sign off.</p><p>Illinois doctors will be reluctant to sign children&#39;s forms, and for good reason, said Dr. Joel E. Frader, a Northwestern University bioethicist and palliative care pediatrician at Lurie Children&#39;s Hospital in Chicago. Signing means a doctor believes there will be a therapeutic benefit that outweighs the risks.</p><p>&quot;I know there are a lot of parents who feel desperate, and my heart certainly goes out to them,&quot; Frader said. &quot;In Illinois, there has been pressure put on the state Legislature and the regulatory process to increase the scope of use for medical marijuana by families who look at this as their last hope.&quot;</p><p>No legal marijuana has yet been grown in Illinois yet. Potential growers waiting to learn whether they&#39;ve been granted permits must build secure facilities before they can plant the first crop. That means it may be summer before marijuana oil is available in Illinois.</p><p>Randy Gross, who works as a chief information officer for a trade group, hopes to bring his wife and sons back home. He tries to spend two weeks each month with them in Colorado. It&#39;s been difficult for the family, particularly his 10-year-old son, Zach.</p><p>&quot;I missed his first karate tournament. I missed my wife&#39;s birthday and Valentine&#39;s Day,&quot; he said. &quot;It&#39;s the little things like that.&quot;</p></p> Fri, 02 Jan 2015 14:03:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-extends-marijuana-experiment-children-111327 What happens to people with autism when they age out of school? http://www.wbez.org/news/what-happens-people-autism-when-they-age-out-school-111326 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/artworks-000101028088-1nyuya-t500x500.jpg" alt="" /><p><p dir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid-2de977b6-abb8-ca6e-c072-bc877bdd2ffc">It&rsquo;s early in the morning. Josh Stern waits outside his house in Wilmette for a Pace van he calls every as his ride to work. The van arrives, Josh kisses his mom goodbye and pays his fare.</p><p dir="ltr">Stern is 25. He was diagnosed with autism when he was two. He has a photographic memory that allows him to sort through loan paperwork at great speed.</p><p dir="ltr">He takes one quick glance at the numbers, hits the calculator, files the forms in order and it&rsquo;s ready to go. It&rsquo;s a skill his co-worker Ricardo Ramos says he admires.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;It&rsquo;s like a computer almost,&rdquo; Ramos said. &ldquo;He literally just keeps on doing it and you know he doesn&rsquo;t miss a detail. That&rsquo;s what&rsquo;s great about him, once you train him, he&rsquo;ll just do it.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Illinois has more than 19,000 minors who have autism. And that&rsquo;s just what the <a href="http://www.easterseals.com/explore-resources/living-with-autism/2014_autism_illinois.pdf">schools</a> are identifying. When these kids&rsquo; services expire from the state, they face the same choice as most young adults: school or work? But the transition to either of those worlds can be difficult depending on the disability.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>The day the bus doesn&#39;t come</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Josh&rsquo;s mom Linda Stern is all too familiar with what many parents refer to as &ldquo;the day the bus doesn&rsquo;t come.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;They put so much effort and wonderful work into the school experience and for most people all that work all that effort all that wonderful enriching experience just disappears,&rdquo; Stern said. &ldquo;They don&rsquo;t even understand it, it&rsquo;s like how come I&rsquo;m not going to school and I&rsquo;m sitting at home with mom watching TV all day long.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">The transitional period out of the school system in Illinois starts at age 14 &frac12;. During that time, families work with the school to create post graduation goals based on the child&rsquo;s interests and skills.</p><p dir="ltr">Though federal law requires that every child receive a transition plan, parents like Bill Casey feel the system can leave parents frustrated and confused.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Parents don&rsquo;t understand what&rsquo;s offered to them by the community service organizations,&rdquo; Casey said. &ldquo;You really have to start digging to figure what&rsquo;s available. You really need friends like Julie and Michael Tracy to help guide you in some ways to find the right avenues.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Julie and Michael Tracy run an urban farm that caters to young adults with autism. The farm harvests everything from collard greens to fresh tomatoes, and all of that goes to food pantries across the city.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;We&rsquo;re teaching them jobs skills, interviewing and resume, working with other people,&rdquo; said Gwenne Godwin, farm manager at the <a href="http://jmtf.org/portfolio/growing-solutions-farm/">Growing Solutions Farm</a>. &ldquo;We just happen to be using the medium of agriculture to do it in so that they can get a job in this industry or in any industry because they&rsquo;ve learned those vocational skills.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Casey&rsquo;s son Dan works at the farm. He feels it offers Dan an experience he didn&rsquo;t have in a school setting.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;You know kids with autism don&rsquo;t have all the victories that we all have growing up,&rdquo; Casey said. &ldquo;The baseball, the football, the debates and the like, this is something for them.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">We asked the Illinois Division of Developmental Disabilities for response to Bill Casey&rsquo;s claims about these programs, but they didn&rsquo;t provide one. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">Now, the National Garden Bureau is behind the program and these young workers are able for the first time to take home a paycheck. The non-profit has generated nearly $30,000 in donations and continues to raise funds for the farm.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Opportunities in higher education</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><a href="http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/129/6/1042">More than half</a> of people with autism struggle to find work and often don&rsquo;t seek higher education opportunities.</p><p dir="ltr">For those who do, they can turn to Jennifer Gorski. Gorski runs the Autism Clinic and TAP Training Center at University of Illinois, Chicago.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;We are hearing about these needs from people in our community quite a bit,&rdquo; Gorski said. &ldquo;We formed the ASPiE group which is a support group geared toward supporting college students that are on the spectrum.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">ASPiE (Adults Spectrum People in Education) meet once a week to have frank conversations that every college kid has such as, what&rsquo;s in store after college, questions about careers and managing course load.</p><p dir="ltr">Since social interactions can be a big obstacle for individuals with autism, ASPiE members like Jasmin Khoshnood say it helps them interact with their peers.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;It&rsquo;s been really helpful to me in terms what do with with college and how to add to professional world,&rdquo; said Khoshnood. &ldquo;Meeting ASPiE college students has been good for me as well having a peer group that is more like me I can tell things that I couldn&#39;t tell to non-autistic, neuro-typical people.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">The program at UIC Khoshnood participates in is not the norm across the state.</p><p dir="ltr">United Cerebral Palsy <a href="http://cfi2014.ucp.org/data/">ranks</a> Illinois at the bottom for the way it handles its services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.</p><p dir="ltr">&ldquo;My perspective is that it all comes down to funding,&rdquo; said Gorski from UIC&rsquo;s Autism Clinic and TAP Training Center. &ldquo;I think that the adults are a little bit behind in terms of the allocation of resources.&rdquo;</p><p dir="ltr">Come January, that funding could get even <a href="http://www.dhs.state.il.us/page.aspx?item=71009">tighter</a> when the current income tax hike rolls back.</p><p dir="ltr">Kevin Casey from Illinois&rsquo; Division of Developmental Disabilities said in a statement, &ldquo;the loss of any funding will limit and delay our ability to provide services.&rdquo;</p><p>Governor-elect Bruce Rauner has said he wants to roll back the income tax hike.</p><p>What that means for the autism community remains to be seen.&nbsp;</p></p> Fri, 02 Jan 2015 11:37:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/what-happens-people-autism-when-they-age-out-school-111326 Morning Shift: Remembering Judy Baar Topinka http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift/2014-12-10/morning-shift-remembering-judy-baar-topinka-111214 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/djwhitelightning1.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>We remember Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka and her legacy that spanned over three decades. And, we get details on what City Council members plan to vote on before the year ends. Plus, it&#39;s our weekly dose of Reclaimed Soul with Vocalo&#39;s Ayana Contreras.</p><div class="storify"><iframe src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-115/embed?header=false&border=false" width="100%" height="750" frameborder="no" allowtransparency="true"></iframe><script src="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-115.js?header=false&border=false"></script><noscript>[<a href="//storify.com/WBEZ/morning-shift-115" target="_blank">View the story "Morning Shift: Remembering Judy Baar Topinka " on Storify</a>]</noscript></div></p> Wed, 10 Dec 2014 08:04:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift/2014-12-10/morning-shift-remembering-judy-baar-topinka-111214 Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka dies http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-comptroller-judy-baar-topinka-dies-111213 <p><p>Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, the first woman in Illinois to serve in two state constitutional offices, died early Wednesday, less than 24 hours after having a stroke, according to her office. She was 70.</p><p>She served as state treasurer and comptroller, and had a humor and political style that could pump up&nbsp; Illinois&rsquo; sometimes stuffy political scene.</p><p>&ldquo;I am a Republican. I&rsquo;m also a conservative, but I&rsquo;m not crazy,&rdquo; Topinka told a crowd supporting same-sex marriage last year.</p><p>That style helped her get elected to the state legislature in the 80s.</p><p>She ran statewide in the 90s and became the first female state treasurer, a job by all accounts she valued.</p><p>&ldquo;Judy Baar Topinka was someone who was both financially conservative, but also very reasonable in wanting to make sure that the State of Illinois paid its bills on time,&rdquo; said Laurence Msall, who heads the Civic Federation, a budget watchdog group. He said even in the 90s, Topinka was warning about bad spending and borrowing habits of state government and some of the practices that have earned Illinois its poor financial reputation.</p><p>As she won more elections, Topinka became more involved in the state Republican Party, becoming its chair. In 2004, she led the party to a candidate who would spectacularly lose against Barack Obama for the U-S Senate seat.</p><p>Remember Alan Keyes?</p><p>Two years later, Topinka made the decision to quit her post as treasurer to run for higher office. She ran against Rod Blagojevich for governor. It was an ugly, negative campaign. But after the fact, Topinka said she&rsquo;d felt an obligation to take on Blagojevich.</p><p>&ldquo;I gave up a job I absolutely adored. I loved being state Treasurer,&rdquo; she told WBEZ in January 2009. &ldquo;I was good at it. But he had to be stopped. I thought I could do it and I thought that good would triumph over evil. Obviously it did not.&rdquo;</p><p>Topinka lost that election.</p><p>After Blagojevich was arrested - when she was not a candidate for office - Topinka talked in a way most politicians don&rsquo;t: challenging the voters who went for Blagojevich, who eventually went to prison for corruption.</p><p>&ldquo;It makes us all look like a bunch of bozos,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;Not only that we got taken to the cleaners by this guy for four years, but that we were stupid enough to elect him for a second four years. I mean, what does that say about the people of the State of Illinois?&rdquo;</p><p>But she didn&rsquo;t stay away from politics for long. In 2010, Topinka&nbsp; won the race for state comptroller, the person who writes the checks for the government.</p><p>Pat Brady, the former chair of the Illinois Republican Party, said her bounce-back - and moderate politics - should be a model for other Republicans running statewide.</p><p>&ldquo;In Illinois, if you want to win, look at the Judy Baar Topinka model, which is the model that Mark Kirk followed. Somewhat the model that Bruce Rauner followed,&rdquo; Brady said.</p><p>Pat Pavlich says her stands on politics were grounded in her neighborhood life. Pavlich used to be township supervisor for Riverside, Topinka&rsquo;s home community, and she&rsquo;s a long time friend.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;I don&rsquo;t know if you&rsquo;re familiar with the Houby Day Parade, but that was a favorite of Judy&rsquo;s. It was a part of her Czech heritage coming out,&rdquo; Pavlich said.</p><p>Pavlich says even in more recent years, when she&rsquo;d need a cane or walker, Topinka couldn&rsquo;t be kept from walking that Houby Day Parade, a festival about mushrooms.</p><p>Topinka had her vices. She smoked. She liked caffeine.</p><p>She also liked polka, and Pavlich says she just liked taking care of people and her beloved dogs. And she thrived on the theater of politics and the responsibility of government.</p><p>There were others interests, too. In the few years she was out of politics, Topinka returned to her early training - journalism - and briefly had her own radio show on a small west suburban-based station, WJJG. She called it The Judy Show.</p><p>And it was all she needed to let that charismatic personality come through.</p><p>Lawmakers who shared the political stage with Topinka spoke warmly of her public and private personality.</p><p>&quot;I am heartbroken to hear of the passing of my friend, Judy Baar Topinka,&quot; Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn said in a statement. &quot;Judy was a trailblazer in every sense of the word. Never without her signature sense of humor, Judy was a force of nature (who) paved the way for countless women in politics.&quot;</p><p>Gov.-elect Bruce Rauner, a Republican, called Topinka one of the state&#39;s &quot;all-time greats&quot; and noted her &quot;one-of-a-kind personality (that) brought a smile to everyone she met.&quot;</p><p>Topinka, a Republican and native of the Chicago suburb of Riverside, won a second term last month in a tough race with Democratic challenger Sheila Simon, the former lieutenant governor. She always described herself as someone who knew state government inside and out.</p><p>&quot;I know who makes things run. I know who talks and doesn&#39;t make things run. I know what agencies could be doing that they&#39;re not doing,&quot; she told the AP in 2006. &quot;I&#39;m just a worker bee.&quot;</p><p>Topinka was born in 1944 to William and Lillian Baar, the children of Czech and Slovak immigrants. They lived in Riverside, near Cicero and Berwyn, two blue-collar Chicago suburbs where Eastern European immigrants had built communities. Her mother ran a real estate business while her father was serving in World War II. After the war, she continued to manage the business, turning it into a prominent suburban firm.</p><p>She went to Northwestern University then became a reporter for a suburban Chicago newspaper chain. She married and had a son, Joseph, but divorced in 1981 after 16 years. That year, Topinka began serving in the Illinois House. She says she ran because corrupt officials were ignoring the community&#39;s needs.</p><p>During the comptroller&#39;s campaign, Topinka likened her job to being a &quot;skunk at a picnic&quot; &mdash; a reference to the task of writing checks to a state with a backlog of unpaid bills.</p><p>Topinka seemed to relish doting on people and offering motherly advice. One summer, she spent as much time warning reporters covering a Chicago parade about the dangers of the sun and urging them to wear hats and sun screen as she did talking about politics.</p><p>Those who knew Topinka personally knew a woman with flare. She played the accordion, loved to dance polkas and said about anything that came to mind. She loved her dogs and fed them McDonald&#39;s cheeseburgers. She spoke four languages, English, Czech, Spanish and Polish.</p><p>When she ran for governor in 2006 she told the AP that Illinois is &quot;a miraculously wonderful place to live.&quot;</p><p>But, she said, &quot;I feel it&#39;s being hurt and abused.&quot;</p><p>&quot;If I don&#39;t stop it, I&#39;d be complicit in watching it go down the tubes, and I don&#39;t want to do that,&quot; Topinka said. &quot;So I&#39;m running.&quot;</p><p><em>Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow him <a href="http://twitter.com/tonyjarnold" target="_blank">@tonyjarnold</a>.</em></p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/topinkabush.png" title="President Bush is introduced by Republican candidate for Illinois Governor Judy Baar Topinka, left, at a campaign fundraiser at the Drake Hotel, Friday, July 7, 2006, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)" /></div><p>Topinka previously served three terms as Illinois state treasurer, was a former Illinois GOP chairwoman and ran for governor in 2006, losing to now-imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.</p><p>Topinka was born in 1944 to William and Lillian Baar, the children of Czech and Slovak immigrants. They lived in Riverside, near Cicero and Berwyn, two blue-collar Chicago suburbs where Eastern European immigrants had built communities. Her mother ran a real estate business while her father was serving in World War II. After the war, she continued to manage the business, turning it into a prominent suburban firm.</p><p>She went to Northwestern University then became a reporter for a suburban Chicago newspaper chain. She married and had a son, Joseph, but divorced in 1981 after 16 years. That year, Topinka began serving in the Illinois House. She says she ran because corrupt officials were ignoring the community&#39;s needs.</p><p>During the comptroller&#39;s campaign, Topinka likened her job to being a &quot;skunk at a picnic&quot; &mdash; a reference to the task of writing checks to a state with a backlog of unpaid bills.</p><p>Topinka seemed to relish doting on people and offering motherly advice. One summer, she spent as much time warning reporters covering a Chicago parade about the dangers of the sun and urging them to wear hats and sun screen as she did talking about politics.</p><p>Those who knew Topinka personally knew a woman with flare. She played the accordion, loved to dance polkas and said about anything that came to mind. She loved her dogs and fed them McDonald&#39;s cheeseburgers. She spoke four languages, English, Czech, Spanish and Polish.</p><p>When she ran for governor in 2006 she told the AP that Illinois is &quot;a miraculously wonderful place to live.&quot;</p><p>But, she said, &quot;I feel it&#39;s being hurt and abused.&quot;</p><p>&quot;If I don&#39;t stop it, I&#39;d be complicit in watching it go down the tubes, and I don&#39;t want to do that,&quot; Topinka said. &quot;So I&#39;m running.&quot;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Judy Baar Topinka in Her Own Words</span></p><p>If you followed Topinka&#39;s life and career in Illinois you probably have heard her spout off. WBEZ gathered a few of our favorites here.</p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/180866235&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Topinka remembered</span></p><p>Many in Illinois politics offered their rememberances of Topinka Wednesday morning in statements and on social media</p><p>For Illinios state senator Christin Radogno, a fellow Republican, it was Topinka&rsquo;s refreshingly non-political style that first drew her in years ago:&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;I wasn&rsquo;t particularly political at that time at all, but she really struck a cord with me. She was very blunt, honest, but always humorous&mdash;not an angry kind of a person.&nbsp; I mean, we have people who are blunt and honest but that have an angry undertone but she never had that. She definitely struck a cord with me, she was always blunt and honest.&quot;</p><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Early this morning, Illinois lost one of its all-time greats. <a href="https://twitter.com/CompTopinka">@CompTopinka</a> was a tremendous friend, and Diana and I will miss her deeply.</p>&mdash; Bruce Rauner (@BruceRauner) <a href="https://twitter.com/BruceRauner/status/542639529447141376">December 10, 2014</a></blockquote><script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Judy Baar Topinka was a trailblazer in every sense of the word. Her leadership improved Illinois &amp; paved the way for women in politics.</p>&mdash; Governor Pat Quinn (@GovernorQuinn) <a href="https://twitter.com/GovernorQuinn/status/542664979452022785">December 10, 2014</a></blockquote><script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Never without her signature sense of humor, Judy was a force of nature. Today the entire state mourns the loss of one of the greats.</p>&mdash; Governor Pat Quinn (@GovernorQuinn) <a href="https://twitter.com/GovernorQuinn/status/542665109550948352">December 10, 2014</a></blockquote><script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Statement from Mayor Emanuel on the passing of Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka <a href="http://t.co/t8jTeqDXAp">http://t.co/t8jTeqDXAp</a></p>&mdash; ChicagosMayor (@ChicagosMayor) <a href="https://twitter.com/ChicagosMayor/status/542687348832866304">December 10, 2014</a></blockquote><script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>IL politics lost its Polka Queen last night &amp; I lost a friend. Judy Baar Topinka was one of a kind. My prayers go out to her family.</p>&mdash; Senator Dick Durbin (@SenatorDurbin) <a href="https://twitter.com/SenatorDurbin/status/542685698244243457">December 10, 2014</a></blockquote><script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Saddened on passing of my friend Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, a trailblazer for women. Prayers are with her family</p>&mdash; Dan Rutherford (@RutherfordDan) <a href="https://twitter.com/RutherfordDan/status/542647672667373568">December 10, 2014</a></blockquote><script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>One of the great ones, Judy Baar Topinka sure knew how to have fun. <a href="http://t.co/hWEAmSbLSf">pic.twitter.com/hWEAmSbLSf</a></p>&mdash; Chicago City Clerk (@chicityclerk) <a href="https://twitter.com/chicityclerk/status/542687756812828672">December 10, 2014</a></blockquote><script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Illinois s lost a great public servant, and Illinoisans lost a champion and a good friend with passing of Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka.</p>&mdash; Bill Brady (@Bill_Brady) <a href="https://twitter.com/Bill_Brady/status/542679222347911168">December 10, 2014</a></blockquote><script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Judy Baar Topinka wasn&#39;t just a trailblazing woman; she was fun. Here, in second-hand duds. And slippers. :) <a href="http://t.co/RbIQx2FtYQ">pic.twitter.com/RbIQx2FtYQ</a></p>&mdash; Amanda Vinicky (@AmandaVinicky) <a href="https://twitter.com/AmandaVinicky/status/542682008481042432">December 10, 2014</a></blockquote><script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script></p> Wed, 10 Dec 2014 06:16:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-comptroller-judy-baar-topinka-dies-111213 The Study Guide: Candidates on the big issues http://www.wbez.org/news/study-guide-candidates-big-issues-111034 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/sparknotes Quinn Rauner.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>With the election just days away, we gave Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and Republican challenger Bruce Rauner a questionnaire on five big topics: Education, the minimum wage, income taxes, pensions and jobs.</p><p>You can see the full questionnaires (and the candidates&#39; full answers) <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/study-guide-top-issues-candidates-own-words-111034#fullquestionnaire" target="_blank">below</a>, but we&rsquo;ve also worked them into a kind of SparkNotes guide for Illinois voters. We kept the negative barbs out of this guide, but as you&rsquo;ll see in the full questionnaire, both candidates couldn&rsquo;t help but take swipes at each other.</p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/174639538&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><span style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); font-family: Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 24px; line-height: 22px;">Income Tax</span></p><p>If you&rsquo;ve watched any of the <a href="https://soundcloud.com/wbez/sets/il-election-2014-raw-debate-1" target="_blank">three debates</a>, or even turned a television on in Illinois lately, you&rsquo;ve probably heard the candidates talking about income tax on the campaign trail.</p><blockquote><p><strong><a href="https://soundcloud.com/wbez/sets/il-election-2014-raw-debate-1" target="_blank">Listen to raw audio from the three Illinois gubernatorial debates</a></strong></p></blockquote><p>It&rsquo;s partly because the State of Illinois&rsquo; budget is in a bit of trouble. Take the backlog of bills, for example: State estimates can vary, but right now Illinois is dealing with more than $4.1 billion in unpaid bills.</p><p>Back in 2011, Gov. Quinn signed a bill that boosted the income tax rate up to five percent for four years, though it was scheduled to drop down to 3.75 percent at the end of this year.</p><p>Quinn&rsquo;s since said the state needs to &ldquo;maintain the state&rsquo;s income tax where it is today&rdquo; as part of his balanced budget plan. Quinn says his plan will help pay down Illinois&rsquo; bills, avoid cuts to education, public safety and human services, prevent property tax increases and provide additional property tax relief.</p><p>Meanwhile, Rauner says he wants to bring that income tax rate down.</p><p>&ldquo;We need to roll back the income tax hike if we want to attract high-quality jobs back to Illinois,&rdquo; he wrote. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s the ultimate way to fix the budget&mdash;by having more tax-paying citizens.&rdquo;</p><p>Though both candidates were asked what the &ldquo;right income tax rate&rdquo; would be for Illinois, Rauner didn&rsquo;t specify a number. In his campaign literature, Rauner says he would roll back the income tax rate to three percent over the next four years.</p><p><span style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); font-family: Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 24px; line-height: 22px;">Minimum Wage</span></p><p>The minimum wage debate has been important not just between Rauner and Quinn but across the state and the country. We asked both candidates if they&rsquo;d raise the minimum wage, and if so, by how much, and when?</p><p>Rauner&rsquo;s gotten flack about moving back and forth on this issue. <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2014-01-09/news/chi-rauner-on-minimum-wage-flap-i-made-a-mistake-20140108_1_minimum-wage-federal-rate-bruce-rauner" target="_blank">Videos</a>&nbsp;and audio have surfaced that show Rauner calling for cuts to Illinois&rsquo; $8.25 minimum wage. But in our questionnaire, he says he is for raising the state minimum wage, with some caveats:</p><p>&ldquo;The state of Illinois should implement a phased-in minimum wage increase, coupled with workers&rsquo; compensation and lawsuit reforms to bring down employer costs,&rdquo; he wrote. He added that he&rsquo;d support an increase to the federal minimum wage so that Illinois remains &ldquo;competitive with our neighboring states.&rdquo;</p><p>Rauner didn&rsquo;t say how much he wants to raise the minimum wage, or when he would do it, if elected.</p><blockquote><p><a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/2014-election-coverage-citizens-heres-your-homework-110973" target="_blank"><strong>Citizens! Here&rsquo;s your homework: WBEZ&#39;s 2014 election coverage</strong></a></p></blockquote><p>Quinn&rsquo;s also been criticized on this issue: He&rsquo;s been for raising the minimum wage, but some have called him out for not boosting it during his time in office, despite having a Democratic majority in the General Assembly. Quinn wrote in our questionnaire that he&rsquo;s working on it.</p><p>&ldquo;Yes, I am currently fighting to raise the state&rsquo;s minimum wage to at least $10 an hour to help Illinois workers and working families,&rdquo; he said.</p><p><span style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); font-family: Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 24px; line-height: 22px;">Tax Education</span></p><p>We asked the candidates to dig into two issues when it comes to education: Charter schools and funding. Right now, there&rsquo;s a limit on how many charter schools can be opened in Illinois.</p><p>Rauner, a long-time supporter of charter schools and a financial supporter of charters (including one that <a href="http://raunercollegeprep.noblenetwork.org/" target="_blank">carries</a>&nbsp;his name on the Near West Side of Chicago), says he&rsquo;d throw out that limit.</p><p>&ldquo;Public charter schools are not the only solution for parents looking for better educational options,&rdquo; he wrote. &ldquo;But they are an important resource for communities with no other option.&rdquo;</p><p>Meanwhile, Quinn says he&rsquo;d keep the 120 cap on charters.</p><p>&ldquo;I believe before moving forward with authorizing more charters, it&rsquo;s important to complete an impact study of how charter school policy has impacted the district as a whole,&rdquo; Quinn wrote.</p><p>An important note: No matter who gets elected, the state is far from reaching that 120 cap. So regardless of whether the limit gets thrown out, there&rsquo;s still room to grow in the charter sector.&nbsp;</p><p>Both candidates have talked a lot about the importance of funding education&mdash;and they&rsquo;ve criticized each other even more over that issue. But ask how much the State of Illinois should pay per child for public education and neither gives a number.</p><p>In Rauner&rsquo;s answer, he listed his experience on education boards, and the schools and programs he and his wife Diana have financially supported.</p><p>Quinn&rsquo;s answer is the closest we got to an actual number. He says his five-year blueprint will &ldquo;allow us to fund the foundations level up to at least 100 percent over the next five years.&rdquo;</p><p>Another quick note: the power to fund public education in Illinois doesn&rsquo;t just rest in the governor&rsquo;s pen. Right now, the foundation level of what&rsquo;s known as &ldquo;general state aid&rdquo; is currently set at $6,119. But no district gets that exact number from the state, as there&rsquo;s a formula for funding that includes local property taxes, grants and other funds. As the sausage gets made, that original per-pupil amount can be molded and changed into something different.</p><p>So no matter who is governor, the general assembly holds the key to what districts get per student. &nbsp;</p><p><span style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); font-family: Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 24px; line-height: 22px;">Pensions</span></p><p>Ah, pensions. We couldn&rsquo;t have an Illinois voter guide without addressing this topic. The State of Illinois currently faces a <a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-pension-problem-how-big-it-really-109659" target="_blank">$100 billion dollar</a>&nbsp;pension shortfall.</p><p>Quinn says the best way out of the pension mess is the pension reform bill he signed last December.</p><p>&ldquo;The comprehensive pension reform I fought for a [sic] signed into law will eliminate our unfunded pension liability and stabilize our pension system,&rdquo; Quinn wrote.</p><p>The reform package includes reductions to some workers&rsquo; benefits and boosts the retirement age. It&rsquo;s currently facing a constitutional challenge, but Quinn hasn&rsquo;t released any sort of plan B in case it&rsquo;s overturned. When asked, he commonly uses a familiar phrase that Quinn credits his father with: &ldquo;don&rsquo;t take an aspirin until you get a headache.&rdquo;</p><p>Rauner says he would also wait to see what the judge rules before constructing his own pension plan, but wrote, &ldquo;I have always maintained moving to a new, defined contribution system for future work is a critical component of true pension reform that would be constitutional.&rdquo; &nbsp;</p><p><span style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); font-family: Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 24px; line-height: 22px;">Jobs</span></p><p>The State of Illinois&rsquo; job market was the number one issue during the first gubernatorial debate. While the state continues to add jobs, it still <a href="http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-states-job-creators-1029-biz-20141028-story.html" target="_blank">struggles</a>&nbsp;in national rankings. We asked the candidates to pick one job sector that they think the state should focus on first to get the economy growing again. Neither candidate chose just one.</p><p>Rauner said the state&rsquo;s economy is in such dire straits that &ldquo;we can&rsquo;t afford to focus on only one sector.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;From tech to manufacturing to energy development, we need policies that unlock the natural advantages of our state,&rdquo; he wrote.</p><p>Quinn&rsquo;s answer was similar.</p><p>&ldquo;One of the great advantages to Illinois is the state&rsquo;s diverse economy, and continuing to growing [sic] the economy requires a focus on multiple sectors,&rdquo; he wrote.</p><p>Quinn said the state could drive innovation by building research and technology hubs in sectors like manufacturing, agriculture, energy and IT.</p><p>Quinn and Rauner have both turned to their backgrounds as proof of their ability to create jobs. Quinn has held a lot of job announcement press conferences ahead of the election, like this week&rsquo;s news that <a href="http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20141028/NEWS07/141029791/amazon-plans-illinois-operations-1000-jobs" target="_blank">Amazon</a>&nbsp;will open a distribution center here. But even as <a href="http://www.bls.gov/eag/eag.il.htm" target="_blank">job</a>&nbsp;numbers continue to improve for Illinois, Quinn has faced criticism for the state&rsquo;s low overall employment <a href="http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20141021/NEWS02/141029953/how-the-latest-jobs-report-helps-and-hurts-quinn-and-rauner" target="_blank">levels</a>.</p><p>Meanwhile, Rauner has spent a lot of time talking up his work with GTCR, a private equity firm he built (the R stands for Rauner), as well as explaining how his career in business could help him fix Illinois&rsquo; financial woes. But he hasn&rsquo;t escaped criticism either: Rauner&rsquo;s faced <a href="http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20141022/BLOGS02/141029923/what-one-rauner-business-deal-says-about-the-candidate" target="_blank">hit</a>&nbsp;after <a href="http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2014-01-25/news/ct-illinois-republican-governor-race-met-0126-20140126_1_gtcr-bruce-rauner-court-awards" target="_blank">hit</a>&nbsp;of &nbsp;accusations of mismanagement in some of the companies GTCR invested in.&nbsp;</p><p><font color="#333333" face="Arial, sans-serif" size="5"><span style="line-height: 22px;">Quinn&#39;s full questionnaire answers<a name="fullquestionnaire"></a></span></font></p><p><iframe class="scribd_iframe_embed" data-aspect-ratio="undefined" data-auto-height="false" frameborder="0" height="600" id="doc_76517" scrolling="no" src="https://www.scribd.com/embeds/245046312/content?start_page=1&amp;view_mode=scroll&amp;show_recommendations=true" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><font color="#333333" face="Arial, sans-serif" size="5"><span style="line-height: 22px;">Rauners&#39;s full questionnaire answers</span></font></p><p><iframe class="scribd_iframe_embed" data-aspect-ratio="undefined" data-auto-height="false" frameborder="0" height="600" id="doc_62842" scrolling="no" src="https://www.scribd.com/embeds/245051905/content?start_page=1&amp;view_mode=scroll&amp;show_recommendations=true" width="100%"></iframe></p><p dir="ltr" id="docs-internal-guid-d822f4cd-673d-da73-c09f-937f1d4b2ed0"><em>Lauren Chooljian is a WBEZ Reporter. Follow her on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/laurenchooljian">@laurenchooljian.</a>&nbsp;Education reporter Becky Vevea also contributed to this reporting. Follow her <a href="http://twitter.com/WBEZEducation" target="_blank">@WBEZEducation</a>.</em></p></p> Fri, 31 Oct 2014 11:47:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/study-guide-candidates-big-issues-111034 The difficulties of getting voters invested and informed about elections http://www.wbez.org/news/difficulties-getting-voters-invested-and-informed-about-elections-110997 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Voter01_0.png" title="From left: Rudy Garrett of Chicago Votes registers a new Cook county voter outside the CTA red line Roosevelt road. (WBEZ/Yolanda Perdomo)" /></div></div></div><p>Inside the quiet lobby at Norwegian Hospital in Chicago, Martin Torres quietly approaches people with a pen and clipboard. He&rsquo;s with the Latino Policy Forum and this day happens to be the last day people can register to vote for the upcoming midterm elections.</p><p>He&rsquo;s turned down several times. Some people are already registered, some cannot vote because they&rsquo;re not U.S. citizens. He enters a full waiting room and goes straight to Charnese Stevens, 19, and her friend Kabronte Hicks, 18. Stevens tells Torres she registered and tells Hicks to get registered. She even tells him to check the box where he can work as an election judge.</p><p>As Hicks fills out the voter registration application, Stevens looks up at me and asks what the election is about. I explain she can vote for the next Illinois governor, candidates for U.S. Senate, state races and several ballot initiatives. When asked if he&rsquo;s going to vote, Hicks says that until he was asked to register on this day, he never thought about voting. Torres says that&rsquo;s common.</p><p>&ldquo;A lot of people register when they&rsquo;re asked to register. That&rsquo;s when they get involved,&rdquo; Torres said. &ldquo;Otherwise, it&rsquo;s not the first thing they look forward to doing when they first get up.&rdquo; That&rsquo;s what dozens of organizations are counting on for election day. The umbrella organization Every Vote Counts registered more than 100,000 people as the deadline approached. Torres explains by registering today, they can vote in next year&rsquo;s mayoral election.</p><p>But Stevens doesn&rsquo;t know who&rsquo;s going to be on that ballot. When I asked her if she knew who Rahm Emanuel was, she said no.</p><p>Rudy Garrett is laid back with her approach to getting people to register. At the CTA Red Line stop off Roosevelt Road, Garrett fist bumps people she meets and even when she&rsquo;s turned down, she offers a smile along with a high five.</p><p>Along with getting people to register and getting her offer turned down, sometimes she&rsquo;ll have to teach a mini civics course to explain the process. She&rsquo;s had to explain that Nov. 4 is election day, that this is not a presidential election year, who the candidates are for governor and some of the ballot questions. This doesn&rsquo;t surprise Tari Renner, professor of political science at Illinois Wesleyan University.</p><p>&ldquo;That&rsquo;s unfortunately part of the American political culture. We know the least about our politics compared to any other society. Bar none,&rdquo; says Renner. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s one of the reasons campaigns cost so much. It&rsquo;s the least engaged who tend to be the swing voters that decide elections. And that&rsquo;s why we&rsquo;re inundated with negative ads.&rdquo;</p><p>Renner knows a little about this process. He&rsquo;s also the mayor of Bloomington and has seen all kinds of political campaigning in his time. In 2009, Renner lost a municipal election, in a population of 80,000, by 15 votes. He says disengagement happens despite civics education and the constant barrage of political ads. Renner cites an election tactic from a decade ago that&rsquo;s still being used today.</p><p>&ldquo;The Bush administration back in 2004 had these anti-gay marriage, protection of marriage referenda on the ballot in many states. They never thought that any of these things would come to fruition, that we&rsquo;d actually ban gay marriage,&rdquo; Renner said. &ldquo;They knew that would motivate their base to get to the polls and that would help Bush in some really tight races.&rdquo;</p><p>On the November ballot, there&rsquo;s an advisory question about whether the state&rsquo;s minimum wage should be raised to $10 an hour, up from $8.15. Many community groups have pushed that non-binding referendum to get their base out on election day. Katelyn Johnson, executive director of ACTION NOW, says that issue, and not the governor&rsquo;s race, will motivate people to vote.</p><p>&ldquo;I think any time people have a chance to vote in their self interest and to vote in a way that can actually speak powerfully to the demand, I think people get excited about that,&rdquo; Johnson said. &ldquo;I think this is an opportunity that people can see themselves as being a part of a process and have an additional meaning to that vote.&rdquo;</p><p>That&rsquo;s the message Garrett relays as she approaches people. She knows some may be lying just to get away from her. Garrett just moves on to the next one.</p><p>&ldquo;Sometimes you just get people who are like &lsquo;I just don&rsquo;t know. I&rsquo;m not sure. Maybe I should get registered&rsquo;,&rdquo; Garrett said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s just making sure you ask every single person. Because the more people you ask, the more people you&rsquo;re likely to get more registered.</p><p>That&rsquo;s whether they know about the issues or not.</p><p><em>Follow WBEZ Reporter/anchor Yolanda Perdomo on Twitter </em><em><a href="https://twitter.com/yolandanews">@yolandanews</a>&nbsp;</em><em>&amp; </em><a href="https://plus.google.com/u/0/106564114685277342468/posts/p/pub"><em>Google+</em></a></p></p> Mon, 27 Oct 2014 14:16:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/difficulties-getting-voters-invested-and-informed-about-elections-110997 Ex-felon informs formerly incarcerated of right to vote http://www.wbez.org/news/ex-felon-informs-formerly-incarcerated-right-vote-110994 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Ex-Felon2.png" style="height: 210px; width: 280px; float: left; margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px;" title="FORCE members and ex-offenders Marlon Chamberlain and Teleza Rodgers meet at a McDonald’s on the city’s west side. They work to notify ex-felons of the right to vote. (WBEZ/Yolanda Perdomo)" />In a back corner at a Chicago McDonald&rsquo;s, Marlon Chamberlain sits and goes through papers under a movie poster. It&rsquo;s from the film &ldquo;The Hurricane&rdquo; the true story of Rubin &ldquo;Hurricane&rdquo; Carter, the famed boxer turned prisoner right&rsquo;s activist.</p><p>There, Chamberlain meets those recently incarcerated who want a new start. Chamberlain is with FORCE, or Fighting to Overcome Records and Create Equality. Chamberlin&rsquo;s job is to talk to ex-prisoners about everything from how to get a job to how to become a community leader. Part of his work includes talking about his past. Specifically the events leading up to September 2002.</p><p>&ldquo;I have a federal offense. I was arrested with conspiracy with intent to distribute and sentenced to 240 months,&rdquo; says Chamberlain. &ldquo;With the Fair Sentencing Act, I ended up serving 10 and a half years.&rdquo;</p><p>He was in federal prison when Barack Obama was elected president in 2008. Chamberlain remembered watching the event and cheering along while the other inmates. But even then, the political process that moved Obama to the presidency was something Chamberlain didn&rsquo;t care much about.</p><p>&ldquo;I didn&rsquo;t believe voting mattered. I didn&rsquo;t see how things could be different or how the mayor or certain state representative could change things in my community. That connection wasn&rsquo;t there.&rdquo;</p><p>After his release, a FORCE member talked to Chamberlain at a halfway house. That&rsquo;s when he started to understand that local lawmakers and not the president decide whether money gets allocated to ex-offender programs and how sentencing guidelines are outlined.</p><p>Chamberlain also learned that ex-felons could vote. In several states, if you&rsquo;re convicted of a felony, you lose the right to vote. Permanently. But in Illinois, an ex-offender can vote upon release. Chamberlain didn&rsquo;t know that. He says lots of people with records don&rsquo;t know that either. Which is why now he&rsquo;s working overtime to get the word out before election day.</p><p>Tucked away between a dead end road and railroad tracks on the city&rsquo;s southwest side, Chamberlain meets with a group of men from the Chicagoland Prison Outreach. They&rsquo;re in a work study program and Chamberlain visits with them on Thursdays. It&rsquo;s part classroom, part bible study and part welding work study. Chamberlain starts the discussion by asking &lsquo;When was the last time anyone voted?&rsquo;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Ex-Felon1.png" title="Marlon Chamberlain talks to a group from the Chicagoland Prison Outreach about the importance of voting (WBEZ/Yolanda Perdomo)" /></p><p>One person pipes up and says he voted while in jail. He too was told he couldn&rsquo;t vote, but while in the Cook County Jail, inmates awaiting trial can vote. They&rsquo;re given applications for absentee ballots. This year, the Board of Elections processed tens of thousands of new applications. Many inmate applications are rejected, mainly because addresses can&rsquo;t be verified. Out of the more than 9,500 inmates requesting ballots, around 1,300 were deemed eligible.</p><p>A person who goes by the name of Kris says even though he can vote, he&rsquo;s not interested.</p><p>&ldquo;I never cared who was in office,&rdquo; says Kris, &ldquo;I wouldn&rsquo;t even know who to vote for.&rdquo;</p><p>The class tells him he needs to do some homework to know the candidates&rsquo; platforms. Chamberlain echoes the notion of doing a little homework and cautions the class about political stereotypes. Like that all African Americans vote the Democratic ticket.</p><p>&ldquo;Because you got Democrats who won&rsquo;t do nothing. I don&rsquo;t believe in befriending politicians. You know, no permanent friends, no permanent enemies,&rdquo; says Chamberlain. He points to the very room they sit in as a result of some kind<br />of political action.</p><p>&ldquo;So what would happen if people don&rsquo;t vote for the elected official who signed off on this? Then this program goes away,&rdquo; Chamberlain notes. Kris does not care.</p><p>&ldquo;All I see is a lot of squad cars coming around. Our neighborhood, how it was in the past, it was better than how it is now,&rdquo; says Kris. &ldquo; At least we had stuff we could do. We didn&rsquo;t have to stand on the block to have fun. We actually had places.&rdquo; Chamberlain asks Kris if he&rsquo;s ever spoken to his alderman about the problems he sees. Kris shrugs, admitting he&rsquo;s never bothered to make contact. &ldquo;The city is so fou-fou right now. The city ain&rsquo;t right.&rdquo;</p><p>While most people heard a person complaining about problems, Chamberlain heard someone much like himself. A person aware of problems, who knows things could be better. Back at the McDonalds, Chamberlain meets up with FORCE worker Teleza Rodgers. She too, is an ex-felon and covers the city&rsquo;s North Lawndale neighborhood. They talk about how hard it is to get ex-felons motivated to vote. Especially since many of them live the misconception that their voting rights were taken away from them when they went to prison.</p><p>&ldquo;People who don&rsquo;t know us are making decisions about our lives or livelihoods and our neighborhoods. They don&rsquo;t live where we live at,&rdquo; says Rodgers. &ldquo;They (ex-felons)<br />tend to have an ear to that. I say we can&rsquo;t expect to have anyone do anything for us if we&rsquo;re not doing it.&rdquo;</p><p>Rodgers says there&rsquo;s no way around the impact of voter representation. And that several questions on November&rsquo;s ballot can directly impact ex-felons and others in Chicago. Like whether the state should increase funding for mental-health services, whether a school-funding formula for disadvantaged children should be reset, and whether to increase the minimum wage.<br />&nbsp;</p></p> Mon, 27 Oct 2014 10:03:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/ex-felon-informs-formerly-incarcerated-right-vote-110994 The health problems facing rural and urban poor in Illinois http://www.wbez.org/news/health-problems-facing-rural-and-urban-poor-illinois-110959 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/chinese.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>Each year, researchers at the University of Wisconsin&rsquo;s Population Health Institute put out the County Health Rankings. The rankings show how counties across the country match up on things like life expectancy and residents&rsquo; health.</p><p>Julie Willems Van Dijk is one of the directors.</p><p>&ldquo;The reason we do it is to raise awareness about how healthy our communities are, and how healthy they&rsquo;re not. To do so in a way that piques people&rsquo;s interest by comparing them to other counties in their community. And ultimately in a way that helps everybody see &hellip; that health in your community is not just about what the doctors and nurses do. But it really is about decisions that are made by businesses, by government,&rdquo; Willems Van Dijk says.</p><p>Most of the counties around Chicago do really well,&nbsp; but Cook County is way down near the bottom - 75 out of 102 Illinois counties in health outcomes.</p><p>Twenty spots down the list from Cook is Edwards County. Edwards County ranks 96th of all Illinois counties for health outcomes. It&rsquo;s worth looking at because unlike most of the sickest counties, it isn&rsquo;t particularly poor. Edwards County&rsquo;s poverty level is better than the state average.</p><p>&ldquo;Income, and especially poverty are definitely drivers of health,&rdquo; Willems Van Dijk says.</p><p>But that&rsquo;s not what&rsquo;s happening in Edwards County.</p><p>Edwards is due south from Chicago, down near where Illinois, Kentucky and Indiana meet. It&rsquo;s incredibly sparse with just 30 people per square mile. The Illinois average is almost eight times as much.</p><p>Misty Pearson is the administrator of the Edwards County Health Office.</p><p>Edwards is one of only two counties in Illinois without an official health department. That&rsquo;s why it&rsquo;s called a health office, instead of a department of health like in almost every other county.</p><p>&ldquo;We are not certified by the state of Illinois, by choice, I guess. Not my choice, I would change that if I could,&rdquo; Pearson says.</p><p>The health office isn&rsquo;t certified because Edwards County leaders are so against the state being involved in their county they refuse to take health funding from Illinois because it comes with strings attached - like state oversight.</p><p>&ldquo;Food sanitation, we don&rsquo;t have that. None of our restaurants are inspected. It does [make me nervous]. There are certain restaurants I won&rsquo;t eat at,&rdquo; Pearson says. &ldquo;The only thing we can do that a health department does is vaccines for children.&rdquo;</p><p>So Edwards County - despite its low health ranking and relative economic strength - isn&rsquo;t the best indicator of the state&rsquo;s health needs overall.</p><p>The state government can&rsquo;t force people to vaccinate their kids or make counties take its money.</p><p>Still, experts say Illinois needs to come up with policies that work for Edwards County with 30-people per square mile, and Cook County with 5,500-people per square mile.</p><p>They say it can be done. Because despite their differences in population and demographics the two counties face similar health challenges.</p><p>At the top of the list is access to doctors.</p><p>The Illinois Department of Public Health has a map of areas with a dearth of primary care providers.</p><p>There are a lot of downstate counties shaded in - but there&rsquo;s also a bunch of Chicago neighborhoods -- from Rogers Park up north to Austin on the West Side and Chicago Heights down south.</p><p>Harold Pollack with the University of Chicago says the state could help poor people in urban and rural areas by raising Medicaid rates, or just paying its bills on time.</p><p>&ldquo;I can tell you that as someone who takes care of an adult on Medicaid that there are services that we can&rsquo;t use because the providers that we&rsquo;d like to use don&rsquo;t accept Medicaid,&rdquo; Pollack says.</p><p>So physician shortages might not be the happiest point of unity, but Misty Pearson in Edwards County and Harold Pollack in Chicago say they - and others - will be thinking of it when they go into the voting booth.</p><p>In a little more than a week there will be millions of people at the polls. They&rsquo;ll each have different experiences and different expectations, but they&rsquo;ll all be voting on the future of one state.</p><p>&ldquo;How are we going to make these budget numbers work &hellip; and also pay for the services that people in the state actually want and will continue to demand,&rdquo; says Pollack..</p><p><em>Patrick Smith is a WBEZ Reporter/Producer. Follow him on twitter <a href="http://twitter.com/pksmid" target="_blank">@pksmid</a>.</em></p></p> Fri, 17 Oct 2014 12:32:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/health-problems-facing-rural-and-urban-poor-illinois-110959 State government could take over a school district near you http://www.wbez.org/news/state-government-could-take-over-school-district-near-you-110943 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/artworks-000080958261-4swa0x-original.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><em>UPDATED Nov. 7, 2014</em></p><p>Ask Illinois residents what&rsquo;s most important to them and their families, and education is likely to be right up there&mdash;often at the top of the list.</p><p>So it&rsquo;s no surprise that citizens expect high educational standards from government (and solid financing). But most prefer their state involvement at arms length.</p><p>But the fact is Illinois, has the power to take over local schools. They can fire elected school board members and put a new superintendent in place.</p><p>Two years ago, it did just that. The state took over two school districts, one in East Saint Louis and the other in North Chicago, a low income and racially mixed suburb wedged between more the tony North Shore and Waukegan.</p><p>Chris Koch is the superintendent of all Illinois schools, and he explains it this way:&nbsp; &ldquo;You have to take actions when kids aren&rsquo;t getting the basics. And that&rsquo;s certainly what&rsquo;s happening here.&rdquo;</p><p>The school district in North Chicago had problems that read like a Dickens novel: 80 percent of kids not meeting state learning standards, burdensome debt, and school board meetings that sometimes collapsed into chaotic screaming matches.</p><p>State intervention has helped North Chicago reduce its debt. But the district is still operating on a deficit. The district superintendent there says he expects to run out of cash in four years.</p><p>But overall, education policy watchers say the takeover has been a win so far, with some private money is coming in and state superintendent Koch taking a personal interest in the people there.</p><p>But even with those positives, there is no endgame in sight.</p><p>That&rsquo;s something that worries Kenneth Wong, a professor at Brown University who&rsquo;s been watching school takeovers across the country. He says North Chicago is typical of school takeovers by state government.</p><p>&ldquo;What I&rsquo;m seeing also is the absence of an exit strategy,&rdquo; Wong says. &ldquo;That is, they rush into direct intervention, but then oftentimes there is a lack of details.&rdquo;</p><p>For his part, Koch doesn&rsquo;t seem worried about an exit strategy in North Chicago just yet. The finances and academics are still too bad.</p><p>&ldquo;We really have to be there, I think, for the longer duration,&rdquo; Koch says. &ldquo;Because you don&rsquo;t want it to go back into its prior state and that could easily happen particularly with the precarious financial situation they&rsquo;re currently in.&rdquo;</p><p>Koch is also turning his attention to other failing districts around the state.</p><p>He&rsquo;s pushing legislation that would lay out the steps needed for Illinois to intervene in failing districts.</p><p>House Bill 5537 singles out districts on state academic watch, which means they have to show better test scores, and higher attendance and graduation rates.</p><p>Ben Schwarm lobbies in Springfield on behalf of school boards and he&rsquo;s going up against Koch when it comes to state takeovers.</p><p>&ldquo;The idea of anyone, especially an appointed body, having the authority to remove from office elected officials based on the decisions they made certainly isn&rsquo;t generally the way democracy works in Illinois or in our country,&rdquo; Schwarm says.</p><p>Koch&rsquo;s bill is moving in an election year in which the candidates for governor have been campaigning mostly about how best to finance education instead of education policy.<br /><br />Koch&rsquo;s actions in North Chicago provide a window into incumbent Democratic Gov. Quinn&rsquo;s strategy for failing schools.<br /><br />Republican candidate Bruce Rauner hasn&rsquo;t talked specifically about state takeovers. But he advocates for more charter schools statewide, especially for failing districts.<br /><br />&ldquo;It&rsquo;s not fair for parents to be stuck in a school that is failing and not fitting their kids&rsquo; needs,&quot; Rauner says. &quot;We need to create options and choice, especially for lower income families that can&rsquo;t afford to move.&rdquo;</p><p><em>This story has been updated: The districts that legislation the Illinois State Board of Education supports are located all over Illinois &ndash; not just in Chicago&rsquo;s south suburbs. A spokeswoman for ISBE emphasizes that the state does not intend to take over all school boards in districts that are failing in the state, and says the legislation is not intended to make it easier for the state to take over failing schools. Instead, it&rsquo;s meant to spell out steps that the state would have to take in order to remove the school board of a failing district.&nbsp;</em></p></p> Wed, 15 Oct 2014 16:29:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/state-government-could-take-over-school-district-near-you-110943