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Excerpts from recent Illinois editorials

The Associated Press

Aug. 26, 2012

(Peoria) Journal Star

Rule of law, or one man?

Interim McLean County State's Attorney Ron Dozier has certainly stimulated a discussion in deciding not to prosecute certain violations of Illinois' gun laws, specifically regarding concealed carry.

"We will no longer use the power and authority of our office to criminalize and punish decent, otherwise law-abiding citizens who chose to exercise their rights granted under them by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to keep and bear arms in defense of themselves and their families," he said in a statement. In short, if you carry a gun in public in the Bloomington-Normal area but are otherwise behaving legally, the current state's attorney isn't going to do anything about it.

Oh, Dozier will be gone in a few months, as the November election will produce a new state's attorney, with his likely successor already calling the policy "reckless." Local police agencies have indicated they will continue to arrest citizens who push that envelope. At least Dozier is being up-front, unlike a few other state's attorneys across the state who have quietly implemented such policies.

In a quarter century in this business, one can testify that nothing makes people crazier than sex and guns. Not surprisingly, this has stirred up praise and criticism alike, and no shortage of hypocrisy.

From this perch, even if you agree with Dozier's analysis, his method of going about this ought to give pause. True, Illinois is the last state in the nation not to allow some form of concealed carry. One can debate all day long whether Illinois law is consistent with the Second Amendment. But is that for a local state's attorney to decide, or for the U.S. Supreme Court? If we're to have prosecutors unilaterally determining what's constitutional and what's not, aren't we inviting chaos, a different set of laws every time we drive across a county line? Today it's guns, tomorrow drugs. There's a limit to discretion. Some of the same folks cheering Dozier on now are big state's rights guys, too. Well, isn't Illinois exercising its rights as a state on concealed carry? Some of those slapping Dozier on the back also were critical of Gov. Pat Quinn for issuing an amendatory veto trying to ban assault weapons in Illinois. Yes, it probably was politically motivated, but how is it different than what Dozier has done, if in the opposite direction?

America distinguished itself by becoming a place where the rule of law prevailed, not the rule of men. If you want to change the law, there are procedures for doing that. Those were not followed here.

Those who are not fans of a president of the United States effectively making law by executive order, or of the governor trying to do so through amendatory veto, should not be doing somersaults when a prosecutor acts likewise.


Aug. 28, 2012

The (Crystal Lake) Northwest Herald

Mischief abounds

The Illinois Department of Employment Security has lent an air of legitimacy to Illinois' legislative redistricting process that it simply does not deserve.

IDES announced earlier this month that unemployment information would be compiled by Illinois Senate districts and by U.S. House districts and released quarterly.

The new reports will be above and beyond the monthly unemployment statistics that are compiled based on counties and regional metropolitan areas.

We don't see any advantage to providing jobless information by state Senate districts and congressional districts.

In Illinois, legislative and congressional districts are creatures of politics, plain and simple. The party in power - in this case, the Democrats - controlled the 2011 redistricting process. Candidates in the November election are running in those districts.

Controlled by Democrats in the Illinois House and Senate, the remap process flung a number of Republicans into the same districts, while few Democratic incumbents suffered the same fate. While the Democrats won't come out and say it, the maps they drew - using techniques known in political science circles as packing, cracking and tracking - are more favorable toward their party at the expense of their Republican foes.

We have called repeatedly for the removal of politics from the redistricting process. Iowa, for example, has a nonpartisan redistricting process in which politicians have little or no say.

Iowa's legislative and congressional districts have a claim to legitimacy, having been drawn with the interests of the people in mind.

Illinois' districts, drawn with the interests of politicians in mind, have no such claim.

As IDES staffers assemble unemployment statistics based on the state's new legislative and congressional districts, they will see district lines that divide Crystal Lake, for example, in two.

We hope those IDES staffers have the honesty to shake their heads at the crooked lines that they now must deal with.

The episode certainly has us shaking our heads. And it could leave some voters shaking with rage. Why?

It is not unreasonable to conclude that the unemployment figures, compiled by legislative districts, could be used to redirect state funding from well-heeled districts to poorer districts.

Illinois, known for political corruption, has often seen the will of politicians run roughshod over the good of the people. The new IDES statistics appear to be designed only for the good of those politicians.

The possibilities for mischief abound.


Aug. 26, 2012

The (Moline) Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus

On behalf of kids, thanks

As teachers across Illinois settle in for a new school year, they do so under a new, and we hope, improved system that allows schools not only to get rid of bad teachers, but to reward the legion of good ones.

Teachers, parents, lawmakers and taxpayers can happily move beyond the contentious tenure debate that led to sweeping changes in the way Illinois evaluates administrators and teachers.

Though it takes effect in just a little over a week, educators already have been busily laying the groundwork to implement the Performance Evaluation Reform Act. It represents a fundamental and overdue shift in how schools reward good teachers and weed out the bad ones by shifting the focus from seniority to teacher performance.

Of course, the way that the law is put into practice is every bit as important, perhaps even more so, as the legislation which created it. So we were pleased to learn in an excellent report prepared for us by Christina Slater, a two-time Dispatch/Argus intern, that Quad-Cities area educators have not only bought into the system but are committed to making it work.

Ms. Salter of Bettendorf, now in her second year in the Teach for America Program, surveyed a broad cross section of Q-C stakeholders. And while many recognized the challenge in creating a newer, tougher system, most gave the effort high marks thus far.

For example, early reports among his teacher members are "overwhelmingly" positive for a system they hope will create "more consistency in evaluation" and a "more accurate picture of what's going on in the classrooms," Rock Island Education Association President Bob Smith said.

Though much of the attention has centered on using student test scores to evaluate teacher performance, no longer basing tenure solely on seniority and easing the path to firing bad teachers, administrators like Moline superintendent David Moyer believe its real potential is in staff development.

While it's important to be able to get rid of truly bad teachers, the system that dies on Sept. 1 did not allow school districts to help teachers with potential, but substandard performances to become better. The new evaluation system, if properly implemented, does.

That doesn't mean that there won't be bumps in the road. Indeed, Ken Schneck, retired president of the Moline Education Association, says there will be a "steep learning curve." He's hopeful training programs held over the summer for an army of teacher evaluators will help.

Stephanee Jordan participated in evaluator training as a member of the Performance Advisory Council. "As somebody who was a teacher for 20 years, I want a fair and equitable evaluation tool that reflects what I'm doing in the classroom and also ... helps me improve and become a better teacher," said the ELL director for Moline and East Moline schools. "I think that's what all teachers want."

That is also what the schoolchildren of Illinois need.

If properly driven, the Performance Evaluation Reform Act will provide the keys to make it happen. Indeed, Rock Island superintendent Michael Oberhaus described the new system as a "good roadmap for what good instruction looks like, feels like, and how high-quality teachers prepare themselves."

That is much more than we dared to hope seven years ago when we and other member newspapers published the startling Small Newspaper Group investigative report, "The Hidden Cost of Tenure." As the series made clear, students suffer when the teacher is incompetent and a legion of good teachers suffer as they watch helplessly as the standards of their profession are pulled down by a system that fails to honor and reward the best teachers.

This new system, admittedly a work in progress, nevertheless represents a Titanic shift in attitude and we salute all who not only recognized the fundamental importance of improving teacher performance, but worked to create a system that both measures and promotes it.

On behalf of Illinois schoolchildren, thanks.


Aug. 27, 2012

The (Champaign) News-Gazette

Another rating drop in offing?

Legislators who think there's no price to pay for ignoring the state's public pension woes didn't have to wait long to find out they are wrong.

Just a few days after Gov. Pat Quinn's special legislative session fell flat on its face, the nation's bond credit rating agencies announced that the state's failure to act could result in another drop in the state's credit ratings.

Illinois already enjoys the lowest bond credit ratings in the nation _ even lower than California. Another decline in the state's credit rating means that taxpayers will have to pay even higher interest rates when it borrows money by selling bonds.

Of course, if the state's credit goes low enough no one will buy Illinois' bonds because the risk of default would be too great.

That's not a danger now, of course, and it probably won't get that far.

Illinois' declining bond rating so far has been the one thing that has gotten the attention of our elected officials. Indeed, some have speculated that fear about the state's credit status is one factor that will move legislators to action.

Apparently, our legislators weren't thinking about that last week when they flatly refused to deal seriously with the $83 billion-plus unfunded status of Illinois' five public retirement systems.

They were thinking about November and about how they didn't want to cast a tough vote that might anger some constituencies, particularly public employees, before Election Day.

Standard & Poor's Rating Services analyst Robin Prunty said the state's inaction is forcing her organization to review "the total credit picture, including the budget, pensions, etc.," and, in an understated way, she was critical of legislative inaction.

"Certainly, the lack of action on pensions is not a credit positive," she said.

Standard & Poor's won't find much good news when it looks at the state's complete financial picture.

Illinois remains many billions of dollars in debt, despite the 67 percent state income tax increase approved in January 2011. The state's budget picture is equally shaky, with severe reductions in Medicaid spending being necessary to pass a $33.7 billion budget for the current fiscal year.

Circumstances, obviously, are dire. How much worse will they get before legislators get serious about addressing the problem?