A funny thing happened on the way to Obama’s Library | WBEZ
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Nine Illinois lawmakers vote to fund Obama library - but only five members in attendance

Illinois State House members are advancing a bill that would devote $100 million toward a Barack Obama presidential library. The House Executive Committee meeting in Chicago today voted, by an official tally of 9-0, to authorize using state money for the library.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel testified in favor of the legislation. So did representatives from several Chicago universities, including Anthony Young, who is chairman of the board at Chicago State University.

“The legacy of President Obama has been and will continue to be one of restoring hope in America,” Young testified. “We feel that it’s only fitting that the physical symbol of that legacy, his presidential library, be built in the community where his message of hope first took shape.”

Hawaii, where Obama was born, and New York, where he went to college, also want to house the presidential library.

Nine representatives were recorded as voting for the bill, even though there were five lawmakers in attendance at the hearing. That is because Rep. Bob Rita (D-Blue Island), who chairs the Executive Committee, employed a procedural move.

Rita used the attendance record from a previous hearing that occurred Wednesday as the vote for the presidential library cash. House Speaker Michael Madigan, who sat in on today’s hearing, clarified Rita’s maneuver, saying the attendance would serve as nine votes in favor of the library, even though the previous committee hearing was on a possible Chicago casino and not related to a presidential library.

No Republicans attended Thursday’s hearing on the presidential library.

Rep. Ed Sullivan (R-Mundelein) was marked as voting yes on the measure, even though he did not attend Thursday’s hearing and was working at his non-legislative job. He had attended Wednesday’s hearing on gambling expansion.

Sullivan said he was under the impression Thursday’s hearing was only to hear testimony about the presidential library, and no votes would be taken.

“They’ve broken the trust and I think they’ve done something illegal,” Sullivan said of the procedural move. “The legacy of a potential Obama library shouldn’t start out as a result of an illegal act.”

Sullivan said he would be filing a protest against using the attendance of Wednesday’s hearing as the vote record in favor of state money for the library. In a phone interview, Sullivan said he wants Madigan, as the sponsor of the library bill, to table the proposal for now.

Steve Brown, a spokesman for Madigan, said it is not uncommon for committees to recess until the call of the chair. And it is within the rights of the committee chairman to use the attendance from the previous meeting as a vote.

“The chairman asked for leave to use the attendance roll call. There was no objection and so that was the vote that will be recorded,” Brown said.

But Sullivan said the move sets a bad precedent for what remains of the legislative session, which is scheduled to end next month.

“It galls me. It literally galls me,” Sullivan said. “I guess it shouldn’t gall me. They seem to try and do anything that they want to do in a very sneakily way.”

Sullivan said he would support a presidential library using private money, but not public funds. He said that money is needed for education.

None of the five Democrats who attended Thursday’s hearing spoke out against the bill that calls for $100 million of state money to go toward the potential presidential library.

Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow him @tonyjarnold.

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