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Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in Illinois

August 12, 2019

August 11, 2018

The (Champaign) News-Gazette

No commutation for Blagojevich

President Donald Trump recently suggested, as he has in the past, that he’s considering commuting former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s 14-year prison sentence on multiple corruption convictions.

Judging from Trump’s statements, it’s apparent that he’s much more influenced by the constant pleas for her husband’s release by Patti Blagojevich than he is by the facts of Blagojevich’s years-long crime spree.

Suffice it to say, Blagojevich is not only not deserving of a commutation of his sentence, he’s not even close. While Judge James Zagel’s sentence was lengthy, our unrepentant former governor should be grateful it wasn’t longer.

“I thought he was treated unbelievably unfairly; he was given close to 18 years in prison,” Trump told reporters.

Trump is off by four years in his understanding of the sentence. He also is mistaken when he asserts that Blagojevich’s sole crime was making questionable, unfulfilled promises during a telephone call.

It’s indisputable that Blagojevich and an assortment of equally corrupt associates turned state government into a criminal enterprise — trading a variety of favors (state contracts and appointments) for campaign contributions or cash.

There wasn’t much in the state that wasn’t for sale during his tenure.

There’s also another regrettable aspect to Trump’s thought process — his resentment of former FBI Director James Comey.

To Trump’s way of thinking, anything associated with Comey — directly or indirectly — is suspect.

So because Comey is, reportedly, a friend of former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, whose office prosecuted Blagojevich, the Blagojevich convictions are somehow tainted.

Trump, obviously, doesn’t understand Illinois politics and its pervasive rot.

Following his appointment as U.S. attorney in Chicago, Fitzgerald heroically pursued corruption, going after thieving insiders in both parties.

His office won convictions of former Gov. George Ryan and a slew of Ryan associates, and convictions of Blagojevich and a small army of his associates. It went after criminal misconduct in Chicago city government and targeted top organized crime bosses.

In other words, he went, on a nonpartisan basis, after criminal behavior that was both deeply rooted and mostly ignored by prior federal prosecutors.

Here’s another thing Trump might want to consider before commuting Blagojevich’s sentence.

Fitzgerald, a member of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees, is no longer the U.S. attorney. Current U.S. Attorney John R. Lausch Jr., a Trump appointee, is.

What is Lausch doing? He, too, is leading multiple public corruption investigations, just as Fitzgerald did. Why? Because this state remains thoroughly corrupt.

Trump should heed the words of four U.S. House Republicans from Illinois.

“It’s important that we take a strong stand against pay-to-play politics, especially in Illinois, where four of our last eight governors have gone to federal prison for public corruption,” Reps. Rodney Davis, John Shimkus, Adam Kinzinger, Mike Bost and Darin LaHood said in a joint statement.

Trump should heed the advice of current Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who said “Gov. Blagojevich should remain in prison.”

Forgiveness and mercy have their place — when deserved. But so does punishment.

Blagojevich earned his sentence through his flagrant violations of the law, something the president would understand if he familiarized himself with the tawdry facts of the imprisoned former governor’s vast criminal activities.

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August 11, 2018

(Arlington Heights) Daily Herald

Join the debates over retail pot sales

Should our communities allow sales of recreational marijuana? It’s a simple question with a not-so-simple answer.

Recreational pot becomes part of the suburban landscape Jan. 1 when a new statewide law goes begins allowing those 21 and older to possess up to 30 grams of the cannabis flower, 5 grams of cannabis concentrate and 500 milligrams of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.

Many of our communities are debating whether to allow the sale of legal pot within their borders. Those public hearings are an opportunity for residents to learn about the Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act and how it will affect local policies and resources. More important, they give you the chance to have your voice heard.

Make no mistake, the law will have an impact -- heightening the need to educate yourself and participate in the local decision.

“I don’t want our citizenry to think ... the use of recreational marijuana won’t exist in our community in January, because it will,” St. Charles Mayor Ray Rogina said at the city’s first of at least two planned community discussions this month. “We have to deal with the law whether we pass (a measure allowing sales) or not pass it.”

That’s because municipalities will have no control over limiting recreational use -- adults will be free to light up a doobie or eat a gummy if they choose. Towns do have options to regulate the zoning of dispensaries and lounges. Officials can decide when, where and how many are allowed to operate, or they can choose to ban sales altogether.

Several are tackling the issue. South Elgin and Elburn have said they’re OK with allowing one marijuana retail store. Naperville and Bloomingdale plan to ban sales. Others are in various stages of study.

It is true that even if some towns ban pot sales, every community will face a host of issues, many without clear answers. For example, police will have to deal with impaired drivers, and the fact there’s no effective roadside field sobriety and chemical testing available yet. No one is sure whether use by teenagers, who can’t legally buy pot, will go up, down or stay the same. There are questions about recreational marijuana leading to consumption of hard drugs and whether drug addiction rates will rise.

There’s also an economic impact that could cloud local decisions. The state expects legalized pot could generate $57 million in tax revenue and licensing fees this fiscal year. A portion -- 8% -- will be distributed among local governments on a per capita basis to help offset costs associated with legalizing marijuana. Municipalities that allow sales can impose local sales taxes up to 3%.

We recognize these points and the distinction Rogina makes, but we still urge communities to resist the temptation to secure some windfall pot money or to buckle under the pressure of neighbors who don’t. We encourage communities to at least set strict limits on how, when and where marijuana can be sold. It will be up to local officials to determine how marijuana retailers will affect the community, and it will be important for you to help them understand what you want to see.

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August 11, 2019

The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan

We’re all tired. It’s time for change.

We’re tired.

We’re tired of the endless stories of mass shootings in the United States.

We’re tired the helpless feeling that sweeps over us with the details of each new shooting.

We’re tired of politicians impotently offering thoughts and prayers to the families of victims, but lacking the courage to do something about the carnage.

We’re tired of the finger-pointing and the blame games being played.

We’re tired of making the horrid calculation of how many dead bodies there needs to be before this story warrants front-page treatment.

We’re tired of guessing where, and when, the next attack will be.

We’re tired of living in fear that the next deadly attack could be in our backyard, that the next victims could be our spouses, our parents, our children or our friends.

We’re especially tired of people dancing around the issue, looking for anything to blame but the obvious.

People in other countries play violent video games. People in other countries have mental health issues. But, only one country in the industrialized world deals with mass shootings on what feels like a weekly basis.

The one variable that sets us apart, the ready availability of high-powered weapons.

We’re also tired of the specious arguments that invariably follow such a straightforward statement. We’re not interested in a semantic arguments over what constitutes an assault weapon. We just know that a weapon capable of killing nine people in 30 seconds or less doesn’t need to be in the hands of a civilian. In the very least, it’s shouldn’t be in the hands of a civilian who should not own weapons.

We’re tired of the inevitable suggestion that automobiles should be illegal because of the number of highway deaths. Mass murderers use high powered weapons for the purpose of killing as many people as efficiently as they can. There is nothing accidental about these mass killings. The gun-to-automobile comparison is illogical on its face.

We’re tired of hearing how countries like Israel and Switzerland have high gun ownership rates, a fact that supposedly proves that guns aren’t the root cause of this epidemic. Both countries do have high rates of gun ownership, however, the guns are tightly regulated before and after purchase. It’s not a matter of going to a sporting goods store and passing a cursory background check.

We’re tired of being accused of wanting to confiscate guns. We’re not for that, and we’re not saying that.

We don’t care how large your gun case is. We don’t care about your hunting rifles, your shotguns or your handguns.

What we do care about large-caliber semi-automatic rifles outfitted with magazines holding up to 100 rounds. The killer in this week’s mass murder in Ohio legally purchased a pistol. It was modified with a longer barrel and equipped with a magazine capable of holding 100 rounds. The shooting spree lasted about 30 seconds before the shooter was killed by police.

Police counted at least 41 spent shell casings from the killer’s gun . 41 shots in 30 seconds.

“To have that level of weaponry in a civilian environment, unregulated, it is problematic,” Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl said in a news conference the next day.

Problematic? At the very least.

America can have common sense regulations that do not violate the Second Amendment. Fully automatic weapons were outlawed years ago, a restriction upheld by the Supreme Court.

A recent Gallup Poll suggests about 93 percent of Americans support universal background checks. So, why is nothing being done?

The National Rifle Association is still a powerful force. The NRA pours money into campaigns and runs ads against candidates who aren’t staunchly pro-gun.

Although as citizens, we may feel helpless in this matter, that’s not the case. Write your local legislators and tell them you are also tired of the carnage.

Remind them they can write, and/or support, legislation that will make us safer that does not violate the Second Amendment. And let us know, too. We don’t have all the answers, either. Write a Letter to the Editor. All great ideas have to start somewhere.

It is way past time all sides come together and start coming up with answers. This isn’t a party thing. This isn’t about the letter behind your name. This is about finding a way — any way — to stop the carnage of the mass shootings that are happening within our borders.

Because we’re tired of the alternative.

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