Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in Illinois
Sept. 27, 2018
(Arlington Heights) Daily Herald
Practical, immediate steps for countering Springfield’s harassment culture
A three-woman state committee issued recommendations on ways to combat harassment and gender equity in Springfield and, guess what they’re calling for, among other things -- more women in state political offices.
Surely, having more women in leadership roles throughout the political party structures and into the halls of the Capitol can be an influential factor in shifting a culture that has been widely criticized as abusive and demeaning to women.
But, in truth, many of those “other things” take precedence in the Illinois Anti-Harassment, Equality and Access Panel’s 36-page report. They are the steps that have the potential to immediately address the Springfield culture at its roots, and they are what standard-bearers of the political culture -- leaders of the major parties and the General Assembly -- can do something about.
Indeed, in some cases, they have. A new state law requires harassment training for lobbyists and government agencies, for example, and establishes a hotline for reporting harassment. And both parties have implemented some forms of some of the recommended measures in their standards and practices involving candidates.
But, in its recommendations on those points, the panel goes further, urging campaigns and political organizations to train candidates and political workers in anti-harassment measures and provide independent systems for reporting possible misconduct. Further, it calls for support services for harassment victims, party funding and resources for campaigns tied to their adoption of training programs, more women in campaign and political organization leadership, required diversity in applicants for every political vacancy, better control of alcohol use and even a one-ask rule that forbids individuals turned down once for a date from asking again.
It is somewhat unfortunate that the three members of the anti-harassment panel -- state Sen. Melinda Bush of Grayslake, Rep. Carol Ammons of Urbana and Comptroller Susana Mendoza -- are all members of the same party, Democrats. The panel calls itself “independent,” but formed earlier this year by Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan following allegations of misconduct on his staff, there is a distinct air of partisanship in its makeup that would be dispelled if the group were more politically diverse.
Even so, the panel’s report provides a well-considered, substantive set of measures that political leaders at all levels in Illinois should take to heart.
The election of more women to political positions no doubt will help toward building a more respectful culture in Springfield as well as throughout more-local offices around the country. It’s a reasonable goal. But we don’t have to wait for all those elections. The political powers that be need to begin now implementing the harassment panel’s recommendations.
Sept. 30, 2018
The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan
Don’t skip fall election
As we do every election cycle, we encourage you to vote. Some of what we say here may sound familiar to regular readers of our Opinion page. But, we believe this perennial call to action bears repeating yet again.
Illinois residents will go to the polls again Nov. 6.
No, we aren’t electing a president. Although we are choosing state and national representatives, it can be easy to get caught up in the importance of the office of the presidency and forget that the names on our ballots are people who have great power locally, in our state and in our country. While many of us know how important these decisions are, too many Americans stay home during the midterms.
In fact, it can be tempting to forget the midterm elections, to be caught off-guard as signs marking polling places start to crop up during early voting, which started Sept. 27.
The 2016 election continues to prove two things — every vote counts and elections have consequences.
While it seems the fate of the free world will not be riding on the outcome of these elections, they are important.
This year Illinoisans are weighing candidates who will decide the future of our state: We are electing the person who will hold the office of the governor for the next four years. The people we elect to hold statewide office, and those who represent us in Springfield, make decisions on a grand scale that have very real effects for us locally.
The Southern Illinoisan will continue to publish stories about the upcoming elections, looking at the candidates seeking your vote and the issues voters and candidates care about. It is gratifying to see fields of candidates, providing voters a choice. Again, the 2016 general election seems to have spurred an interest in the American political system.
We have seen that renewed interest in mass demonstrations in major cities, in modest protests at town hall forums and even in an uptick in Letters to the Editor.
American citizens are speaking out for their beliefs, becoming engaged and not taking for granted that some candidate will reflect their point of view, and by extension, act in their best interest.
Not everyone has a taste for public office. Not everyone has the time or ability to fulfill the demands of a state representative, a governor or a U.S. congressman. But, every American has the duty to vote. That duty is accompanied by a mandate to vote responsibly.
Take the time to study the candidates and their positions. We will be sending our neighbors to Springfield to represent our beliefs and our values. We will be sending representatives to Washington to advocate for the things that are important to us here at home. We will be choosing who will guide our state’s policy on many important issues, from education to economic stability.
After the two-year budget impasse strained all of us here in Southern Illinois, this may be one of the most important elections our state has seen in some time. The people we send to Springfield have power because we give it to them — and this is your chance to weigh in on what we would like our future to look like.
Some of the people we elect this year will be deciding foreign policy. They have the power to change how our health care system works. And, they will be making decisions that affect you — that affect all of us.
We know our readers care about these issues. It is time to translate care into action.
In Illinois, even if you’re not registered to vote just yet, you can still register until Oct. 10. After Oct. 10, you can register to vote in a grace period that goes through Election Day. There is no excuse.
Sept. 27, 2018
One way to stop sending innocent people to prison
Illinois has a long, troublesome record of sending innocent people to prison based on the testimony of prisoners who invent incriminating testimony in exchange for leniency or other favors. It’s a flaw in our justice system that cries out for reform.
This past spring, the Legislature passed a sensible bill that would require “reliability hearings” before so-called jailhouse snitch testimony could be used at trials involving some murder, sexual assault and arson cases. The hearings would be designed to weed out testimony from jailhouse informants whose stories don’t have any corroborating details. Prosecutors also would have to notify the defense about jailhouse informant testimony 30 days in advance and disclose whether informants have offered their testimony against other defendants in previous trials.
Unfortunately, Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed the bill in July. The Legislature should overturn that action when it returns to Springfield for the veto session in November.
Often, jailhouse informant testimony emerges when a defendant is being held in jail awaiting trial. Suddenly, another prisoner claims to have heard the defendant make incriminating statements while both the defendant and informant were behind bars together. That helps prosecutors, who now have another witness to bolster their case. Afterward, the informant might quietly get a shorter sentence or preferential treatment in exchange for the testimony.
The motivation for falsely testifying is obvious.
Sometimes, an informant might concoct a story simply because authorities persuade him or her they have a chance to do something right for a change. Juries are not always told about any deal when they are trying to reach verdicts.
If a defense lawyer were to give a witness something of value in exchange for testimony, it would be an illegal bribe.
But prosecutors can often offer lighter sentences or better prison treatment. Who would be surprised if in return they get the testimony they need to bolster their case? In 2015, the National Registry of Exonerations found that the prosecutors were most likely to use jailhouse informants in the most severe crimes.
In case after case, jailhouse informant testimony ultimately has been proven to be false, but often too late to prevent an innocent person from spending years behind bars.
According to the Illinois Innocence Project, just 17 cases in which jailhouse informants played a role cost Illinois more than $88 million in compensation. In 2005, The Northwestern Law School’s Center on Wrongful Convictions reported false testimony from jailhouse informants was the leading contributor to exonerations in capital cases. Illinois abolished the death penalty in 2011.
Sometimes, jailhouse informants might have reliable testimony, but often they don’t. That’s why hearings are needed to examine what the informants are saying and to look for evidence that indicates their stories are not simply yarns they are trading for better treatment.
Trials are supposed to be a search for the truth. Doubtful testimony from jailhouse informants that can’t be corroborated in any way undermines that mission.