Editorial Roundup: Illinois

Champaign News-Gazette. May 3, 2024.

Editorial: Gamesmanship never gets old in Legislature

Same-old, same-old in Springfield.

The time-honored tactic of legislating by surprise was on display again last week in Springfield when the ruling party passed legislation in the House designed to maintain its majority status.

House Democrats passed a measure Wednesday aimed at reducing competition in the general election by barring political parties from appointing a general-election candidate if no member of that party filed nominating petitions for the primary.

House Democrats also decided to try to goose November election turnout by putting three advisory referendums on the ballot related to in vitro fertilization, election interference and raising taxes on the rich.

On Thursday, the Senate approved the ban on candidate slating and sent it to the governor for signing.

By claiming all the ballot referendum spots available, Democrats achieved two goals. They blocked Republican efforts to ask voters their opinions on redistricting reform, term limits and ethics, and instead put what they consider hot-button issues appealing to liberals on the ballot.

If one of the advisory referendum issues sound familiar, it’s because it is. The Chicago Tribune recalls that in 2014, Democrats proposed the plan to raise taxes on millionaires.

Voters approved the millionaire’s tax then, but nothing came of it. Given the Illinois Constitution’s flat-tax mandate, it’s hard to see how raising the income-tax rate on one segment of taxpayers would survive a legal challenge.

The ban on post-primary candidate slating is more substantive. But it raises a question.

With their supermajority in control of both the House and Senate, why do Democrats persist in proposing and then passing legislative measures out of the blue?

House Republican Leader Tony McCombie complained the “bill was dropped on us at the last minute.” Irritated by the action, Republicans walked out of the chamber to protest.

As protests go, it was pretty much pointless. Democrats pretty much ignore the GOP, so their departure just made it easier to do that.

As for the bill’s substance, this is clearly an effort to limit voter choice, which already suffers because of the lack of electoral competition in legislative races.

State Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Belleville, defended the bill, saying it is necessary to ensure that all candidates collect signatures and go through the primary process.

It’s clear how the ban on post-primary slating benefits incumbents. But how does the public benefit from having its choices restricted in general elections?

Clearly, it does not. But this is strictly about politics in Springfield, not policy aimed at achieving a greater good.

The good news is that previous candidates who were slated after primaries mostly filled a symbolic role of filling a ballot slot. So, in terms of electoral substance, it’s not a big setback.

But it demonstrates once again how politicians are constantly searching for ways to game the system at the public’s expense.


Chicago Sun-Times. May 5, 2024.

Editorial: Stop mandatory driving tests for Illinois’ seniors

Current driver’s license requirements for seniors are not making roads safer. Older drivers get in fewer accidents than other age groups, studies show.

Health and overall ability, not age, are what determine when older drivers are safe to be on the road.

Illinois, though, acts as though age itself is a hazard. The state has the strictest requirements for road exams of any state. Drivers 79 or 80 have to take a driving test if their license has expired. From age 81 to 86 they have to take a road test every two years. After age 87, it’s every year.

That wouldn’t be so bad if heading over to a secretary of state driver facility was a dreamy experience. But it’s not. And it’s stressful for seniors to keep worrying they might summarily lose their driver’s licenses — lifelines to so many activities — after the next road test.

The Legislature should find a way to end the mandatory tests, which many seniors regard as discriminatory.

“I don’t think having a birthday is a good enough reason for that to occur,” state Rep. Jeff Keicher, R-Sycamore, who introduced a House bill to eliminate the mandatory road tests, told us.

Many senior citizens in Illinois don’t have immediate family members available to do the driving to such places as doctor’s appointments, churches, grocery stores or drug stores, Keicher said.

Illinois’ rules are less onerous than they were before the requirements for senior drivers were eased in 2022. But they still are unnecessarily rigid.

That’s why Keicher’s bill got 45 co-sponsors and passed out of the Transportation: Vehicles & Safety Committee with just one dissenting vote. But then it was sidetracked last month into the Rules Committee, which generally means it is dead for the session.

State Sen. Don DeWitte, R-St. Charles, however, refiled the bill in the Senate, and hopes it can still pass both houses in this session.

“What got my interest in this issue was the number of callers in my district who asked: ‘Why do I have to keep taking these road tests when I have no tickets and no accidents?’” DeWitte said.

Seniors adjust driving habits

Research indicates that seniors as a rule tend to adjust their driving habits to remain safe on the roads. If they don’t see as well at night, they limit themselves to driving in the daytime. If they don’t process information as quickly, they slow down.

As for stories about older drivers who may have accidentally driven through a store window, Keicher points out those are people who passed the mandatory road tests that exist now. Eliminating such tests would not change that.

A report by Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias’ office last September said, “Statistics show that our senior drivers are among the safest drivers in the state,” as Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell reported at the time.

Also, the National Safety Council found in 2021 that drivers 75 and older were involved in 3,263 fatal crashes, fewer than any other age group. In contrast, drivers aged 25 to 34 were involved in 13,200.

Keicher said the biggest danger on the state’s roads is careless and speeding drivers, who sometimes hit emergency responders on roadsides.

Moreover, 34% of trucking companies in the Illinois Trucking Association use drivers at some point who are 75 or older, Keicher said. To drive those rigs, truckers need a commercial driver’s license. If they are required to take a behind-the-wheel test, they must show up at the testing station with a big rig to show they can drive a semi. That’s asking a lot of someone who may have a safe driving record that stretches back decades.

This is an issue that affects a growing number of people. Nationwide, the number of people 65 or older is expected to top 70 million, and about 85% to 90% of them will be licensed to drive, according to AAA.

Illinois should find ways to treat its senior drivers fairly while focusing more on reining in the dangerous drivers who pose the biggest risk of crashes.


Chicago Tribune. April 30, 2024.

Editorial: Northwestern deserves credit for ending an encampment without resorting to force

University administrators contending with a wave of student protests over the war in Gaza typically have been faced with unpalatable choices. Across the country, we’ve seen colleges and universities veering between the forced removal of student encampments, at the risk of harming students, or projecting powerlessness and dysfunction. In some of the latter cases, such as at Columbia University in New York, the chaos has become disgraceful, resulting in a campus lockdown and the unacceptable outcome of conducting classes remotely for a large chunk of the academic year.

So, in principle, we applaud Northwestern University for forging a written agreement with student protesters who had set up camp in Deering Meadow that will remove the tents, establish rules for demonstrating in the green space and give the activists’ representatives the chance to petition next school year for changes in how the university invests its money. As far as we can tell, the Evanston university is the first in the nation to have come to formal terms with its protesting students in this way.

There are important Jewish interests that don’t support this outcome, and that’s putting it mildly. They include the Midwestern consul general of Israel and the Anti-Defamation League, both of which slammed the agreement as appeasement of those who support terrorism. The consul general went so far as to label the arrangement equivalent to a declared “safe space for antisemitism” on campus.

Like many of the Jewish alumni of Northwestern, we share these worries. Our support for Israel’s right to defend itself and secure its future in the region following Hamas’ evil and barbarous attack of Oct. 7 has been unwavering and continues, even as we long for an end to the loss of life in Gaza.

The most disturbing aspect of these protests has been their effect on Jewish students, and it’s fair to say that the messaging of some (hardly all) protesters has been antisemitic. The failure of many universities and colleges across the country to make their Jewish students feel safe from harassment has been appalling.

We don’t agree, though, that this pact in and of itself is nothing more than appeasement. What this modest agreement says to us is that reasonable people, both within Northwestern’s administration and among the demonstrators, achieved parts — but only parts — of what they desired. Such is the characteristic of most successful negotiations. Northwestern’s leadership got protesters to stand down without resorting to force. The activists obtained some concessions that, in essence, require Northwestern’s administration to give their concerns a fair hearing but don’t obligate the university to capitulate to their position.

This deal also buys both sides some time. Circumstances on the ground in Gaza could well be far different come next autumn when most of the terms of this pact take effect. As we write, Israel’s government reportedly is softening in its hostage-release demands to Hamas in return for a cease-fire: U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, along with some key U.S. allies, characterized this truce offer as “extraordinarily generous.”

We’ve seen no similar reasonableness displayed by Hamas so far in this awful conflict — one that Hamas started, it bears repeating, given how many anti-Israeli demonstrators fail to acknowledge it — so we’re not holding our breath that a breakthrough is imminent.

Eventually this phase of the conflict will conclude. Likewise, this time of intense student activism, too, shall pass. The universities and colleges that emerge from this moment having more or less kept intact their reputations and the trust of their students, parents and alumni will have accomplished something important indeed.

That said, it’s incumbent on Northwestern to ensure no further harassment of Jewish students is tolerated. There’s nothing in this agreement explicitly benefiting Jewish students. This pact will lose all its meaning — other than an expedient means to solve a difficult problem — if future acts or words of antisemitism go unpunished. Vigilance is critical; the job in Evanston is not close to over.

But the items in the deal that call on Northwestern to seek funding for two Palestinian faculty members and full rides for five Palestinian students demonstrating need strike us as constructive concessions. Diversity on campus is a positive, and the university isn’t ceding any important principle in agreeing to offering opportunities to young Palestinians. In fact, education is the best weapon a university has when it comes to countering the influence of terrorist groups like Hamas. That said, Northwestern also has to hold its faculty accountable.

A good example is the outrageous conduct of Steven Thrasher, professor at the Medill School of Journalism. Thrasher has acted more as an ardent activist than a professor in the five years he’s worked at Northwestern. He appeared to treat the Deering Meadow encampment as a crowning moment, giving a speech over the weekend to students there in which he stated, among other things, “To the Medill students and journalists within earshot, I say to you: Our work is not about objectivity. … Our work is about you putting your brilliant minds to work, and opening your compassionate hearts, and linking your arms together understanding all of our fates are connected.”

Those are rousing words — for an activist. They are inappropriate for a professor at one of the nation’s foremost journalism schools. If the Medill School cares for its reputation — and it well knows how many alumni work as journalists here in Chicago — it will instruct Thrasher to find a job more suited to his interests. We have too many reporters in this city and elsewhere behaving essentially as activists rather than pursuing the facts wherever they lead, which represents this profession at its finest. Professors encouraging — indeed embodying — that former approach do a disservice to journalism.

Other campuses in the area now are facing Northwestern’s problem. The University of Chicago has the beginnings of an encampment on its hallowed quad. DePaul University students are establishing something similar as we write. These schools, and potentially others, will have to address these challenges. Everyone will have to talk and students will have to learn that no successful negotiation results in a victory for one side.

Northwestern’s deal has offered its peers a plausible road map other than brute force or institutional capitulation.