Editorial Roundup: Illinois

Chicago Tribune. August 20, 2021.

Editorial: Hey Blago, please, please heed our advice. Give up the political limelight.

Rod Blagojevich is looking for some heavy-duty polish to spiff up his sullied reputation. He thinks he may have found it. The disgraced ex-governor has filed a lawsuit seeking to nullify the ban on him running for office — either statewide or locally.

“If I were to fall dead right here, my obituary in tomorrow’s papers wouldn’t be that good,” he told a gaggle of reporters earlier this month outside the Dirksen Federal Building, adding that he wanted to pursue “things with my life where that obituary can be corrected.”

Forgive us for chuckling. We know all about Rod’s love affair with the limelight. There he was, 18 months removed from the commutation he received from Donald Trump, soaking up the cameras outside the Dirksen building, the very edifice in which he was convicted of multiple counts of corruption and sentenced to 14 years in prison. His message: He’d been wronged because he’s barred from hitting the Illinois campaign trail again.

We have a message for Rod. You can spiff up that reputation faster than you can say Roland Burris. Simply make the ultimate sacrifice, and step away from that limelight you crave so dearly. Your 15 minutes are up. Just walk away. Embrace a private life.

Blagojevich’s lawsuit has little chance of surviving. In 2009, Illinois lawmakers impeached and then convicted Blagojevich, and afterward voted to ban him from ever holding state or local office. The ex-governor’s filing argues that the ban results from an unconstitutional impeachment proceeding that robbed him of his due process rights. He contends he was denied due process because he was denied the right to call witnesses.

The problem with that logic is twofold. First, he was offered the ability to call witnesses and present evidence, and chose not to. Second, an impeachment proceeding is a political undertaking, not a criminal one. Due process doesn’t come into play.

Blagojevich also argues that the ban is unconstitutional because it denies voters “their right to vote for or against him in a free election.” What he forgets is that voters did indeed vote for him. In doing so, they trusted that he would uphold the sanctity of the office, place Illinoisans first and above all, abide by the law.

He did none of that. Instead, as the prosecutors in the Blagojevich trial reminded us in February 2020, the jury convicted him of the following:

— Extorting the CEO of a children’s hospital by withholding important state funding to help sick children until the CEO provided campaign contributions;

— Extorting the owners of a racetrack by intentionally holding up the signing of important legislation until the owners provided campaign contributions in response to an explicit demand for them;

— Extortionately demanding funding for a high-paying private sector job, as well as campaign contributions, in exchange for naming a replacement to an open U.S. Senate seat;

— And lying to the FBI to cover up his criminal activity.

And of course, we can’t leave out how he set his sights on us. The prosecutors’ sentencing memorandum mentioned that Blagojevich’s transgressions included “demanding the firing of the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board members in exchange for assistance to the Tribune Company for financing in relation to the sale of Wrigley Field.”

Back when Trump commuted Blagojevich’s sentence, we gave the former governor some well-intentioned advice:

“We’d much prefer Blagojevich never try to restart his political career.

But there are ways for him to make contributions to the greater good. He could work on criminal justice issues on behalf of advocacy groups or find ways to help social service agencies.

He could lecture, or minister, or serve others at a community center. Blagojevich has talents. Every former governor or member of Congress does. He has energy. He has time.

Here’s hoping Blagojevich finds a way forward as a contributing member of society.

But let him do so as quietly as possible.”

Clearly, he hasn’t heeded our advice. He should.

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Chicago Sun-Times. August 23, 2021.

Editorial: Get solar energy shining again in Illinois

Number of solar rooftop installations has dropped by almost 90%. That has to change.

Just a few years ago, Illinois was poised to host a rapidly growing industry of solar rooftop projects. But the state took its eye off the ball, and the effort fizzled.

The industry can start growing again, but the Legislature must act — and soon. A kitty of more than $300 million that could be used for solar projects will be returned to utilities if it is not appropriated by Aug. 31.

As Dan Gearino of Inside Climate News and Sun-Times reporter Brett Chase wrote in the Sun-Times on Monday, just 313 small rooftop solar projects were completed statewide in the three-month period ending June 30, compared with 2,908 a year earlier, according to Illinois Power Agency records. Those numbers account for most of the rooftop solar projects done in Illinois.

Such a collapse of a green energy initiative should astound anyone who looks at the increasingly dangerous effects of climate change around the country, including fires torching the West and stunning flash floods Saturday that washed away cars and homes in Tennessee.

On Monday afternoon, the state Senate resumed negotiations to try to revive Illinois’ momentum in clean energy. Negotiators doubt there are enough votes in either the House or the Senate to free up money for solar installations unless it is done as part of a comprehensive clean energy bill. The talks have an added urgency because Exelon’s money-losing Byron nuclear power plant will close on Sept. 13 if a bill doesn’t pass that grants subsidies to help nuclear power. The Dresden power nuclear plant will close shortly afterward.

Supporters of fossil fuel powered plants are pushing for a system of offsets in which the facilities could close their carbon-emissions gap by, for example, planting trees. But no other state with a 100% zero carbon requirement allows offsets in the power sector. The offsets have a spotty record of long-term enforcement and may not last over time. Some of the trees destroyed in California fires, for example, were planted as offsets.

On Monday afternoon, the state Senate resumed negotiations to try to revive Illinois’ momentum in clean energy. Negotiators doubt there are enough votes in either the House or the Senate to free up money for solar installations unless it is done as part of a comprehensive clean energy bill. The talks have an added urgency because Exelon’s money-losing Byron nuclear power plant will close on Sept. 13 if a bill doesn’t pass that grants subsidies to help nuclear power. The Dresden power nuclear plant will close shortly afterward.

Supporters of fossil fuel powered plants are pushing for a system of offsets in which the facilities could close their carbon-emissions gap by, for example, planting trees. But no other state with a 100% zero carbon requirement allows offsets in the power sector. The offsets have a spotty record of long-term enforcement and may not last over time. Some of the trees destroyed in California fires, for example, were planted as offsets.

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Champaign News-Gazette. August 22, 2021.

Editorial: It’s that time again for UI football

New season, new coach, new team — questions abound with the football season opener just days away.

Sports fans try to be optimistic as a new season approaches. After all, their teams are undefeated, and there’s no benefit to embracing gloom before it’s inescapable.

So it is with the kickoff of the 2021 football season on Saturday — Illinois vs. Nebraska at Memorial Stadium.

There’s excitement building around the season opener. But, as with second marriages, wary fans are embracing hope over experience. They’re eager to see this year’s version of the team under new head coach Bret Bielema but, with good reason, are decidedly skeptical.

They want to see a team worth watching before they fill up Memorial Stadium. UI basketball fans felt the same way, and they responded by turning out in droves when Brad Underwood’s team showed solid improvement.

Bielema is now where Underwood was, a new coach trying to turn around a losing program.

The UI went 17-39 over five years under former head coach Lovie Smith, playing in and losing its only bowl game. Because teams are what their record says they are, there’s a lot of work to be done.

Bielema knows that, and he has been careful about raising expectations, so circumspect in his comments about training camp and the season ahead that real news has been hard to come by.

But Bielema has indicated that laying the foundation for success is the challenge.

“Really, it’s not about where we are but where we are going,” he said.

If that’s a subtle request for fan patience, it’s a perfectly reasonable one.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the same pronouncement applies to first-rate athletic teams.

Veteran coaches like Bielema know competitive football programs are built on coaching, solid recruiting year after year, program stability and fan support.

Over the past 50 years, Illinois has had some, but not enough, of any of those important ingredients. As a consequence, UI teams have enjoyed only intermittent success — succeeding greatly one year and falling back to mediocrity or less the next.

If that’s been frustrating for fans — and it has — it’s been even more difficult for the players, coaches and administrators who have worked so hard to get to and stay at or near the top of the Big Ten.

Facts show, however, that becoming a consistently competitive team in the Big Ten can be done.

Iowa has become a perennial upper-division team, as has Wisconsin. Northwestern and Michigan State have had great success. Indiana fans are hoping last year’s success is a harbinger of things to come.

Then, of course, there are the conference’s big dogs — Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State. Those universities have enjoyed, at least from the point of view of laggards, almost unimaginable success on the gridiron for years.

But what of the 2021 season?

No one, obviously, can say. Let’s hope Bielema can duplicate the success he had at Wisconsin and that entertaining, competitive games await UI fans.

That doesn’t seem too much to ask, especially on the brink of a new season when hope springs eternal.

END