Editorial Roundup: Illinois

Chicago Tribune. July 25, 2022.

Editorial: Gov. Pritzker, no more meddling for expedient purposes

Having a billionaire governor has, on balance, been good for Illinois.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has been willing and able to use his personal resources to attract a high level of talent to public service at the state level, to all of our benefit. And his level of personal wealth has made it easier for him to stay out of the swamp that has tripped up so many other Illinois pols. When you can finance your own campaigns, and have plenty left over, you’re less motivated to make ethical compromises to please potential big donors.

With Pritzker, it’s inconceivable we’ll ever see a replay of the Rod Blagojevich pay-to-play affair in which the disgraced and corrupt former governor sought to obtain personal gain from his authority to appoint a replacement for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama when he became president.

Nor will we see anything like the allegations against Ald. Ed Burke, who the feds allege sometimes forced those wanting his aldermanic seal of approval to hire his private law firm in a gross distortion of what public service should mean.

In Pritzker-land, that stuff is not only unethical but small potatoes and we can all be grateful for that.

Pritzker is a very smart man. He’s not about to endanger his own career for the kind of tawdry escapades that might appeal to a Blago or, allegedly, a Burke.

That said, we’ve been noticing a clear and present danger too.

Pritzker has shown himself willing and able to meddle in other people’s primaries, and he has a level of resources that mean that his interference has an outsize impact. He needs to rein in this tendency and direct those around him to stick to governing Illinois as well as they can.

The most egregious example is Pritzker’s shadowy boosting of the gubernatorial campaign of Republican Darren Bailey. The motivation there, of course, was that the Pritzker campaign preferred the idea of running against the far-right Bailey to his chief, well-funded rival, Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, whom they saw as likely tougher to beat on Election Day. We didn’t endorse either of those two candidates in the primary, but Pritzker’s bankrolling of the Bailey campaign on TV was at least one factor in his victory.

This action was wrong for more reasons than one.

For starters, it’s unseemly (if legal) for the top elected official in the state to use his resources to try to influence the Republican primary for purely tactical reasons. It encourages voter cynicism and there is enough of that around already. Taking the civic high ground — as Americans have the right to expect from a possible presidential candidate — means saying to Republicans, go ahead and make your best choice for the most qualified person to lead the state. Not my business.

Secondly, the tactic inherently empowers extremist candidates, squashing the kind of moderate, centrist thinking and governance that this riven nation badly needs. It’s an easily duplicable maneuver, too, meaning that pragmatic Democrats like Pritzker may well find those fiscal barrels aimed in their own direction down the road. If so, he won’t be able to justify a complaint.

Yet worse is the risky nature of the act. Extremist candidates supported in this self-serving way can end up winning, to the detriment of the country. History has plenty of examples across the globe, including the obvious one of Donald Trump, who surprised everyone, only for chaos and tumult to ensue.

Now comes word that the Pritzker camp also is involved in the matter of party chairman for Illinois Democrats, making calls to boost the campaign of state Rep. Lisa Hernandez. Hernandez has emerged as a challenger for the chairmanship to U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly.

Why? Politico has reported it’s because Kelly’s day job, a federal position, limits her ability to raise money statewide, meaning that the Democrats have had to form a separate committee to get around those ethics rules. If Hernandez gets the job, that makes it easier for the Democrats to raise cash. And if it is easier to raise cash and defeat Republicans, the Pritzker agenda is better supported.

Granted, making calls is not the same as bankrolling ads, but it’s still gross.

The governor should govern. He shouldn’t be getting involved in this kind of politically expedient manipulation, especially since it’s unlikely that he thinks Kelly, who has the backing of Sen. Dick Durbin, to be an otherwise weak candidate.

Think about it for a moment. Should an officeholder of party chairman be cast aside because of ethical constraints that are no fault of her own and that the governor himself surely believes are valid? Absolutely not. Those issues should be kept out of the process, especially when we’re talking the holder of the highest office in the state exacting his influence.

Pritzker’s own fortunes, which clearly are on the rise nationally, will be buoyed yet more if he takes public stands against this kind of thing, if he shifts away from jumping on the phone for a better political outcome for Illinois Democrats, and for himself, and speaks to all Americans about their civic duty.

So far, he has given Illinois ethical and pragmatic governance, at least as far as we can see. He should now make clear that he is not dinging Kelly for following the rules. And since, as a leading citizen of Illinois, he surely would prefer a moderate Republican over an extremist, he should not be afraid of saying so, loud and clear and damn any political consequences.

That’s his way forward.

___

Chicago Sun-Times. July 27, 2022.

Editorial: Rescue our beloved and endangered monarch butterflies

Pesticides, the loss of food sources and the loss of habitat are a triple threat for monarchs, the state insect of Illinois.

Not long ago, the dazzling migrations of exquisite monarch butterflies were a welcome and dependable sign of the changing seasons in Chicago.

These days, though, it’s harder to get a glimpse of the popular insect as their numbers plunge. As a state and as a nation, we can help the butterflies by expanding connected habitat pathways, reducing the use of pesticides where monarchs migrate and planting more milkweed, the only food for monarch caterpillars. Adults feed on the nectar of flowers.

On July 21, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, a global conservation organization, placed the striking orange-and-black monarch on its “red list” of threatened species and listed it as “endangered,” which is just two steps above extinct.

That should set off alarm bells. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has yet to put the monarch on the federal endangered list, which it should do promptly. The Illinois Legislature, where monarch-friendly legislation has tended to splat like a butterfly hitting a windshield on the highway, should act as well.

“The loss of food sources, the loss of habitat and pesticides are a triple threat for monarchs,” Jennifer Walling, executive director of the Illinois Environmental Council, told us.

Because Illinois is an important state for migrating monarchs, “Illinois should do more than the federal government,” Walling said.

The number of Eastern monarchs, the ones you see in the Chicago area and that account for most of the population in North America, dropped by 84% from 1996 to 2014. Western monarchs have declined by 99.9%.

In the longest known insect migration, Eastern monarchs, the state insect of Illinois, travel huge distances from Mexico to as far north as Canada. Western monarchs travel between western California and other states west of the Rocky Mountains.

Illinois farm owners — which often now are foreign companies that have bought up agricultural acreage — have taken to spraying glyphosate, which kills milkweed, widely on their fields. They also often use seeds that are bred to contain neonicotinoids, also called neonics, which make entire plants toxic to insects.

It’s not just monarch butterflies that are struggling. A healthier environment for monarchs also would help other insect species, including pollinators, and birds. A healthier population of pollinators would help Illinois’ economy.

To help, many Illinois residents are now planting milkweed. And, since 2020, the Illinois Department of Transportation has tried to protect as much milkweed as it can as it mows along highways.

But the numbers show those efforts aren’t enough. The state and federal governments need to crawl out of their chrysalises and do more to help.

___

Champaign News-Gazette. July 31, 2022.

Editorial: DCFS failure unacceptable, but seemingly unalterable

Don’t hold your breath waiting for major improvement at the state’s child-welfare agency.

Back in May, a state audit of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services revealed poor performance that puts the health and safety of children at risk.

“But what else is new?” a News-Gazette editorial asked at the time.

The answer then was just as obvious as it is now.

Nothing. It’s business as usual. What’s the problem?

That “what, me worry?” attitude became clear last week when legislators called DCFS Director Marc Smith in for one of his regular rhetorical floggings about his agency’s consistently shoddy performance.

Responding to suggestions that DCFS is less than what it could and should be, Smith blithely responded that his agency is “one of the best child-welfare systems in the country.”

At first blush, that is a shocking response. Then again, by what measure is Smith judging his agency against child-protection units in the other 49 states?

Are they so bad that Illinois looks good by comparison?

Whatever the circumstances, DCFS clearly needs to step up its game.

There’s no question that child-protection workers face daunting challenges in their efforts to deal with often dysfunctional, dangerous, impoverished and desperate families and children.

The volume of difficult cases they deal with make it a mathematical certainty that child-protection workers will make mistakes. In their business, mistakes generate fatalities.

But consider this. It seems like every other day, Smith is held in contempt of court as a consequence of DCFS failing to deliver required services to children. For example, how many kids have been — and continue to be — left in mental-health facilities instead of being placed in foster care?

DCFS workers are failing on a massive scale to provide home safety checks and screenings for child health, vision and dental needs.

Republican legislators last week were making the most noise about DCFS. Local GOP state Sen. Chapin Rose told Smith his characterization of DCFS as one of the nation’s best child-protection organizations was “delusional.”

This is an election year, and the audit didn’t reflect well on the Pritzker’s administration’s oversight of DCFS. That’s probably why the Ds held their tongues, even though there’s no good reason for them to remain silent.

The fact is that DCFS has been a bipartisan disaster for years. Illinois is failing too many of the children who most need help and protection, and the people in charge have shown over the years that they don’t know what, if anything, to do about it.

END