Tuesday, October 02, 2007

A few surprises

The first day of the Illinois General Assembly’s annual fall session played out as expected Tuesday. The only surprise came with the news that Senate Majority Leader Debbie Halvorson, a Crete Democrat, announced she’s running for Congress to replace Rep. Jerry Weller, a Morris Republican. He announced his retirement in September shortly after the Chicago Tribune and other news reports said he failed to fully disclose land holdings in Nicaragua, potentially violating federal ethics rules. Weller said that didn’t play into his decision. It was simply to spend more time with his family.

Halvorson’s announcement is key because she was previously mentioned as a potential contender for the Senate president’s position whenever the current president, Emil Jones Jr., retires. Jones seems to be supportive of Halvorson’s Congressional bid. “It’d be a tremendous loss, but she’d be a great congresswoman,” he said Tuesday.

During a break from the veto session, Halvorson said she opted not to pursue the Senate leadership position because, “It’s not about me. And it’s not about titles. And I found over the weekend it’s about people and about where you can make the biggest impact. And that’s why I’ve chosen to move on to where I believe the issues are much bigger and my help is needed.”

She attended a women’s leadership conference in Washington D.C. over the weekend and said that helped her realize that she could make the biggest difference in such issues as health care and troop levels in Iraq. While in D.C., she also met with current speaker of the U.S. House, Nancy Pelosi, and members of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Halvorson said the committee assured her that the 11th District race was an important one and that they would be working with her to snag the seat from Republicans. The district covers 11 counties of the southern suburbs of Chicago and parts of north central Illinois and has leaned Republican, but it could be vulnerable to political change as the demographics shift.

“It’s a very large district, but anybody who knows me knows what a fighter I am and what a campaigner,” Halvorson said. “I love a good fight, a good challenge, and I can’t wait to get out there.”

(Former intern Deanese Williams-Harris featured Halvorson in a March article about the senator’s push for young women to receive a vaccine for HPV, a common sexually transmitted disease that can lead to ovarian cancer.)

One potential contender for Weller’s seat mentioned was state Sen. Christine Radogno, a GOP budget negotiator who failed to win the state treasurer’s race last year. But the Lemont Republican said Tuesday that she decided not to run. “One, I like what I’m doing here. Two, I don’t live in that district, and while that’s not a legal requirement, I think that voters deserve to be represented by someone who does live in the district. It’s a different type of district than I have right now. It’s a rural district, 11 counties, as opposed to a more suburban district than I have right now.”

Here’s the not-so-surprising news:
• An overwhelming majority of House members voted to override most of the governor’s budget cuts. But the overrides are unlikely to have a favorable future in the Senate.
• Latino legislators representing the southwest side of Chicago still want the Senate to override the budget cuts, too, to help relieve severely overcrowded schools. Sen. Martin Sandoval, a Chicago Democrat and Latino Caucus member, says there would be enough votes in his chamber if the Senate president would allow a vote to override the governor’s budget cuts.
• However, Jones said this afternoon his stance has not changed and that he does not intend to call the overrides for a vote in his chamber.
• Mass transit advocates still want a long-term funding source to aid the Chicago area’s public transportation systems, but that’s still intertwined in the ongoing debate about whether to add new casinos. A House Gaming Committee hearing isn't scheduled until October 17 in Chicago.
• And the Senate advanced another version of a measure to limit increases to Cook County property tax assessments to 7 percent, the so-called 7 percent rule. This one is supposed to be identical to the governor’s announcement that he wanted to increase the homestead exemption from $20,000 to $40,000 and make the so-called 7 percent rule permanent. That version is unlikely to win over House Speaker Michael Madigan, who has supported phasing out the 7 percent cap over three years.
• Also, the Senate voted to override a governor’s veto and support the original measure that would establish a uniform speed limit of 65 miles per hour for all vehicles traveling on four-lane highways separated by a median. Essentially, it would allow trucks to drive the same speed as cars. The House would also have to override the veto in order for the uniform speed limit to become law.

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