On Wednesday President Barack Obama returned to Springfield exactly nine years after announcing his presidential bid, but this time to tell those who taught him the basics of politics that they needed a few lessons of their own.
The themes were similar to those in Obama’s State of the Union Address, but the irony as he bemoaned his inability to change the tenor of Washington’s political discourse was that he was in the chambers that by so many measures has devolved and defines political dysfunction.
We’ve gone 229 days without a state budget. There are no signs that anyone in Springfield cares.
Higher education leaders, students and two state lawmakers on Tuesday gathered at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville to ask for state funding at least of community colleges and grants that help needy students attend college. SIU President Randy Dunn said the budget impasse is dismantling a higher education system that 20 years ago was among the nation’s best.
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State Sen. James Clayborne, the second-most powerful man in the Senate, was there with fellow Democrat, state Rep. Jay Hoffman, asking “Springfield” to do something. Did it occur to either of them that they were essentially talking to themselves, and should both be in Springfield doing something?
Instead of locking themselves in a room and figuring out how to stop uncontrolled deficit spending expected to hit $12 billion by July, state lawmakers tackle the burning social issue of outlawing fights staged by 12-year-olds so they can post video to YouTube.
Obama spoke about the failure of moderate politicians who were drowned out or cowed by the extremists on the right and left. He said the rise of the loud few, powered by the money of just 150 families, is killing compromise.
His solutions include a nationwide call to create congressional districts that are logical and not drawn to protect incumbents. He said just 10 percent of districts at present are considered competitive.
In Illinois, there is a move to amend the state constitution so state legislative districts are drawn by a non-partisan commission. The Independent Map Amendment needs 290,000 signatures for a ballot initiative, but has collected nearly 500,000 towards its goal of 600,000 signatures to withstand the inevitable signature challenges from politicians.
Soon-to-be Citizen Obama also called for voter registration and campaign finance reforms, but his main message was to school Springfield on how politics could be civil, based on fact and again get things done. He showed lawmakers the way, but the question remains whether there is a will.
Obama’s old poker buddy, Okawville Republican state Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, summed it up: “While today was a historic moment, tomorrow we return to the reality of Illinois’ serious problems.”