Thursday, February 05, 2009

Anti-Blagojevich actions continue

While Gov. Pat Quinn today reversed one of the last decisions made by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, state lawmakers advanced two measures that aim directly at some of the accusations that led to Blagojevich's impeachment.


By Jamey Dunn

Quinn today replaced recent state Rep. Kurt Granberg as the head of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources with one of his senior policy advisers, Marc Miller. Miller was Quinn’s liaison to the Illinois River Coordinating Council. Granberg, a Carlyle Democrat, was appointed to the position by Blagojevich last month and reportedly was slated to receive a $40,000 bump in his pension.

During his first news conference as governor, Quinn said he wanted a “natural resources professional” in that position rather than the former lawmaker. Quinn described Miller as “a fisherman, he’s a hunter, he’s a bicycle rider, he canoes, he likes to go in kayaks he is a birdwatcher, a stargazer. You name it, when it comes to wildlife, he knows all about it.”

Miller, a Mattoon native, currently lives in Springfield. He left a job at the Prairie Rivers Network to work with Quinn in 2004.

Neither Miller nor Quinn would comment specifically about reopening state parks or rehiring employees who were laid off after Blagojevich cut the department’s budget last year. Miller said that in the “short-term,” the number of staff would probably not be up to the level it was five years ago. Quinn said he doesn’t know if Granberg will get a pension increase for the brief time he served as director, but Quinn said Granberg should “be happy with the pension that he earned in the legislature.”

And the legislature's anti-Blagojevich measures

By Bethany Jaeger
This Illinois House this morning reaffirmed the intent and power of a legislative committee that reviews rules coming out of the governor’s office. The power of the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules was so contentious during former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s administration that it earned its own spot in the article of impeachment against Blagojevich as an example of his “pattern of abuse of power.” After the committee repeatedly rejected his attempts to expand health care to middle-income families without legislative approval and without designated funding, Blagojevich deemed the committee as merely advisory.

The House approved HB 398, which Rep. Gary Hannig, the sponsor and a Litchfield Democrat, said is a way to ensure that JCAR continues to serve as a check on the executive branch. Democratic Rep. Lou Lang, a JCAR member from Skokie, added, “Gubernatorial excesses were an important part of the impeachment proceeding, and it’s perhaps that case that if this bill were made law previously, we wouldn’t have had these issues.”

Both chambers also have officially formed a special committee, with members of both chambers and both political parties, to review ways to reform state government and ethics. The official measure that creates the committee cites an “integrity crisis” created by two consecutive governors, Blagojevich and imprisoned former Gov. George Ryan.

House Speaker Michael Madigan said his previous efforts to advance reforms kept getting stuck in the Senate under then-President Emil Jones Jr., who has since retired.

“The first thing we’re going to do is to go to the bills that were passed in 2005 and 2007,” Madigan said on the House floor. “My record is real clear. I’ve been about the business of reforming the business of state government for several years now.”

The efforts Madigan mentioned included reforms to the way the state makes investment decisions on behalf of the five public employee pension systems, the process of entering into state contracts with businesses and the rules legislators and state officials must follow to avoid a conflict of interest. He also sent his chief legal counsel, David Ellis, to speak with Gov. Pat Quinn’s reform commission about changing state rules so that reports of ethical violations and punishments could be made public. According to a memo issued by Madigan’s office, Ellis also talked about tightening the process of granting waivers to the so-called revolving door law, which requires executive branch employees to wait one year before taking a job with a private firm that he or she either regulated or awarded a state contract.

Madigan said he expects the committee to meet “many times,” maybe twice a week, at the state Capitol. The scope is broad. “To me, all of Illinois government is open to change, every agency and everything that we do.”

Republicans didn’t like that the committees will have more Democrats than Republicans, reflecting the majority party’s rule of both chambers. “We certainly will cooperate with you in any way possible,” said GOP Rep. Bill Black of Danville. “But at some point, on something this important, I wish we could be treated as equals and not constantly as a minority to be accommodated.”

“This is too important to make it a committee controlled simply by one party,” he later added. “Both parties have had their problems. Both parties need to be a complete and equal partner to find a solution.”

From the Statehouse to the courtroom
Rep. George Scully, a Flossmoor Democrat, announced on the House floor that he has been appointed a circuit judge of Cook County, effective February 27. He’ll resign from the House that day. He’s served in the House since 1997 and was active in the electricity rate debate of 2007.

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