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Excerpts from recent editorials in newspapers in Illinois

August 27, 2019

August 27, 2019

(Arlington Heights) Daily Herald

The quixotic campaign of Joe Walsh

It’s hard to know what to make of the seemingly quixotic campaign of suburban firebrand Joe Walsh for the Republican presidential nomination.

Our first impulse -- not necessarily an incorrect one -- is to suspect this is a way for Walsh to try to build his local media brand into a national one.

There are enormous odds, after all, against Walsh being successful in wresting the nomination away from President Donald Trump.

As polarizing a figure as Trump is in the country, poll after poll shows him to be tremendously popular among Republican voters. And in primary states and caucuses that allow for crossovers, Democratic anti-Trumpers would not be likely to help Walsh out, given the greater interest they’d have in their own party’s competition.

Beyond that, it’s fair to ask whether critics looking for an alternative to Trump would see much of one in Walsh, despite the regrets he has expressed for his previous Trumpian behavior. Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, another Trump primary opponent, seems at the outset to be a more palatable alternative for any Republicans turned off by Trump’s personality.

Meanwhile, Walsh’s government service amounts to all of two highly partisan years as a congressman from the Northwest suburbs -- a resume that, in another era at least, would have been considered too little preparation for the most powerful job in the world. Walsh himself, as a matter of fact, complained in the past that in electing Barack Obama, the country had put someone in the White House with such little experience that he had to learn on the job.

He starts the race with relatively little in campaign funds -- up against a president who has accumulated the wealthiest campaign war chest in the history of the republic.

So it’s hard to know what to make of the seemingly quixotic campaign of Joe Walsh for the Republican presidential nomination.

Frankly, it’s hard at first glance to take it seriously.

But ... in this day and age, who knows? Strange things happen.

Four years ago, no one believed Trump could win the nomination. And after that, almost no one imagined he could win the general election.

Weld might be more thoughtful, but Walsh is more magnetic.

Like Trump, he is a creature of the media and intuitively knows how to use it. He’s already garnering more free national media than Weld could ever hope for.

It’s reasonable to be skeptical about Walsh’s motives, but fair also to point out that he’s consistently criticized Trump for many months.

“Be brave,” Walsh says. Given that he’s risking his significant standing among conservatives, the question is whether Walsh is being brave or foolhardy.

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August 25, 2019

The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan

Proposed Shawnee Forest fee is fair

Not too many years ago, the notion of a user fee at the Shawnee National Forest seemed unthinkable.

Now, it is an idea whose time has come.

Laura Lecher, the Shawnee’s recreation, engineering and lands staff officer, said a $5 per-vehicle fee has been proposed for six sites on the forest — the Garden of the Gods recreation area observation trail; the Pounds Hollow beach; the Johnson Creek boat launch at Kinkaid Lake; the Pomona boat launch on Cedar Lake; the Little Grand Canyon trailhead; and the Bell Smith Springs interpretive site.

Visitors would have the option of purchasing a $30 annual pass. If adopted, the new fee structure would go into effect July 1, 2020.

The U.S. Forest Service will accept public feedback on the proposal through early December. Then, a citizen’s advisory committee will consider the fee structure. The U.S. Forest Service’s regional forester will make the final decision, most likely next spring.

There are several reasons to favor the proposal.

First and foremost, parks and forests remain underfunded nationally.

Lenise Lago, the associate chief of the U.S. Forest Service, reported in June there is a deferred maintenance backlog of $5.2 billion. By comparison, the forest service’s budget for infrastructure improvement and maintenance in fiscal year 2018 was just $449 million.

The bulk of fees collected by the Shawnee National Forest would remain in Southern Illinois. According to the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, 95% of the fees must remain in the forest to be used for operation and maintenance, facility and program improvements at recreation sites.

Anyone who visits the Shawnee National Forest on a regular basis is aware of areas in need of maintenance. Lecher said the Shawnee began a review of 100 day-use sites in 2017 and examined the costs of trash pickup, signage, road maintenance, trail maintenance and fencing.

She said costs have continued to rise with increased visitation. Federal funding, on the other hand, has remained flat for a decade. The need is apparent. This is the 80th anniversary of the establishment of the Shawnee National Forest. This would mark the first time entrance fees have been assessed.

Second, entrance fees to federal lands aren’t unusual.

Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge charges an annual fee. Visitors to national parks are subject to entrance fees. Day-use fees at other national forests are not uncommon.

The fee structure is reasonable.

The math is simple — if there are two people in the car, it would cost just $2.50 apiece to view the splendor of Garden of the Gods. Throw in a couple friends, and the price drops to $1.25 each, less than the cost of a soft drink.

The $30 annual fee is quite reasonable for locals who visit the forest regularly. Plus, the vast majority of the forest is still accessible at no cost.

Plus, a user fee seems the fairest way to defray the costs of maintaining trails, recreation areas and the forest itself.

In fact, we’d urge the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to consider a similar program. If anything, the State of Illinois has been worse than the federal government in funding parks. The fee structure proposed by the Shawnee National Forest seems appropriate for the state, as well.

The state already has a system in place to collect the funds. It should be easy to add a $30 annual fee to hunting and fishing licenses for anyone choosing to use the state’s park system. And, non-consumptive users could pay their fee through the same system.

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August 27, 2019

The (Champaign) News-Gazette

Revisiting a tall tale

A criminal investigation isn’t over until it’s over, especially when there’s a do-over.

In a decision that had a lot more to do with politics than effective prosecution, Cook County Democratic slate-makers recently announced their backing of Kim Foxx for re-nomination and re-election in 2020.

No surprise there. Foxx is not only politically connected to Cook County Democratic Chairwoman Toni Preckwinkle, she checks the race and sex identity politics categories that dominate their party coalition.

But all is not well with the Foxx re-election effort, as demonstrated by a Cook County judge’s decision last week to appoint a special prosecutor to re-examine a prominent case that Foxx, for still un-determined reasons, thoroughly botched.

Circuit Judge Michael Toomin announced the appointment of former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb, a prominent Chicago lawyer, to take a hard look at Foxx’s decision in March to dismiss all charges in the hate-crime hoax involving actor Jussie Smollett.

The Smollett controversy has raged in Cook County since January, when the former “Empire” actor reported that he was the victim of an unprovoked attack by President Trump-supporting thugs because he is both black and gay.

Smollett, presenting himself to police with a noose still wrapped around his neck, said he escaped serious injury by fighting off his attackers. Among the improbable details in his account of the fight was that he managed to dispatch the assailants while holding a cell phone in one hand and a sandwich in the other.

While the national news media swooned over the story — more outrageous hatred in the age of Trump — it was clear to investigators and local reporters that Smollett’s story didn’t add up.

Further investigation indicated that Smollett hired two black friends for $3,500 to stage the assault and that he did so to generate publicity to boost his acting career. Included in the evidence investigators found was store video of Smollett’s associates buying the supplies, including the rope, they used in the phony assault.

Chicagoaons, for a variety of reasons, were outraged by Smollett’s fraud. He subsequently was charged in February with felony offenses for staging the attack and lying to police.

There the case stood for several weeks until Foxx’s office suddenly, without explanation, dropped the case. Smollett agreed to do some public service work and forfeit a bond he posted, but continued to insist that the attack really happened.

Should Smollett have received that kind of kid-gloves treatment without having to acknowledge his guilt? Why did Foxx permit it to happen?

Those are the two lines of inquiry Webb will pursue.

Smollett may be — and should be — recharged in the case. He’s done nothing to deserve the break he got, unless being the friend of the right people in Chicago counts.

More important, why did Foxx oversee an oversight charade in which she first asserted that she was recusing herself from the case for unexplained reasons and then acknowledging that she didn’t really recuse herself.

Everything that Foxx’s office did in the case was intentional. But was it illegal or improper? Webb said he’ll try to find out, and “the facts will take me where they take me.”

At a minimum, it appears that Foxx’s office was somehow compromised during the aborted prosecution process. So Smollett needs to be held accountable in a meaningful way.

So does prosecutor Foxx — her handling of the Smollett case was an abomination that reminded everyone in Cook County and the state that special treatment is available to those with connections.

Webb’s finding, undoubtedly, will have an effect on Foxx’s re-election campaign. She’s already drawn primary opposition. Maybe Democratic voters, having seen Foxx in action, will want to go in a different direction.

There’s no guarantee on that. Cook County voters are remarkably tolerant of corrupt and incompetent public officials as long as they are Democrats. But even their patience, as former notorious county assessor Joe Berrios learned in 2018, has its limits.

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