Hidden poll results and shell-shocked gun control advocates show that it's not just the right that likes to seal itself off with reassuring, but wrong, facts.
Voters in two Colorado State Senate districts last night ousted Senate President John Morse and Sen. Angela Giron, both Democrats, for their votes in enacting tough new gun control laws. The recall was spearheaded by three Pueblo plumbers who prevailed, despite being outspent nearly seven-to-one by gun control donors including billionaire Michael Bloomberg – I haven't seen plumbers kick this much tail since the Mario Brothers.
I followed both recalls closely – frequent readers of this blog know that the Second Amendment is as near and dear to me as the First Amendment. But for the record, this post isn't about guns or gun control, but the dangers of wrapping yourself in an information bubble.
The mystery of why I couldn't find polls on the recall was solved this morning when it was revealed that at least one agency, Public Policy Polling, refused to release its poll that concluded that Giron would lose her seat.
The Democratic-friendly polling firm found that Giron, who represents a heavily Democratic district, would lose by a 54 to 42 percent margin. Giron ended up losing by a 56 to 44 percent margin – 12 points, just as PPP predicted.
But pollster Tom Jensen admitted that PPP didn't believe its own poll:
"In a district that Barack Obama won by almost 20 points I figured there was no way that could be right and made a rare decision not to release the poll. It turns out we should have had more faith in our numbers becaue she was indeed recalled by 12 points."
This is one case. While I generally abhor conspiracy theory, I'll allow myself to ask: How many news agencies, how many other gun-control groups, commissioned polls only to hide them in the deepest hole they could find when the polls didn't tell them what they wanted to hear?
I raised the hackles of some conservatives after the November election when I chided them in this blog post for wrapping themselves in the bubble of the Conservative Entertainment Complex and being so shocked when they got the shellacking that they should have seen coming.
Now it's time for a little equal time, with a dash of schadenfreude.
Last night, I watched the same shock on the faces of gun-control proponents and recall opponents that I saw on Republican faces on election night when reality came crashing in. For them, Tuesday night wasn't supposed to happen. The New York Times and MSNBC told them that the American people, aside from a teeny-weeny lunatic fringe, were ready to repeal the Second Amendment and throw their guns in the smelter to be turned into gardening tools for disadvantaged neighborhoods.
Like the GOP lapping up Fox News and its affiliated purveyors of poppycock, Tuesday's losing side fell for The Narrative hook, line and sinker. And like the GOP last year, gun-control supporters got a very rude awakening when the real world popped their bubble.
I can't take credit for this observation, but one of the greatest ironies of the Information Age is that while there's more information out there than ever before, it's easier than ever before to filter what you see and hear. Naturally, human beings regardless of political stripe want to surround themselves with people who agree with them.
We have now witnessed two electoral thrashings – one each for the left and the right – that shows just how dangerous this is.
And just like the GOP after Obama's re-election, I see recall opponents taking the predictable and unfortunate next step of making excuses – it was voter suppression, the big, bad National Rifle Association, etc., etc. Just like how Republicans blamed Superstorm Sandy, ACORN, the evil liberal media, the New Black Panthers, ad nauseam.
In both cases, the losing side is blaming everything but the 900-pound gorilla in the room that their ideas turned out to be politically unpopular with a plurality of voters who went to the polls. While a Quinnipiac poll in August found most Coloradans opposed the general practice of recalling lawmakers prior to an election, it also found that they also opposed the new gun control law by a 54 percent to 40 percent margin.
So between this blog post and the one I wrote after November, the primary moral of the story is to see the situation in front of you as it really is, not as you want it to be.
The fact that that Mayor Bloomberg may in fact be a billion-dollar punch line who can't even stop people from buying large sodas is a close second.
Senior Writer Kevin Craver can be reached at email@example.com.
Having covered two ethics hearings for the Northwest Herald, it's easy to see where concerns regarding the appearance of unfairness come from.
Both of them – the recent one with the McHenry County Ethics Commission and another one seven years ago with the City of Woodstock's – carried significant baggage that called their integrity into question.
As I wrote in Aug. 30's paper, the McHenry County Ethics Commission is reviewing its rules and policies in the wake of criticism over how it handled its first-ever hearing of a complaint against a public official.
It all started with a picture which shows what appears to be Undersheriff and 2014 sheriff's candidate Andrew Zinke giving the middle finger to blogger Cal Skinner at a parade. Skinner filed a complaint alleging that an email sent by Zinke to dispute the allegation – during work hours and with his county email address – violated the ban on prohibited political activities.
The commission found in Zinke's favor at a July hearing in which I wrote that the commission looked like a group of people very much struggling with how to proceed. Zinke filed a counter-complaint alleging that Skinner's grievance was frivolous – which carries a fine of up to $5,000 – but Zinke never followed through with it. The commission's Aug. 30 meeting was originally scheduled to hear that complaint.
Both of these developments – the dropping of the allegation against Skinner and the commission taking a good hard look at its rules and the ethics ordinance – are good things. The fact that Skinner's complaint revealed some important concerns and perceptions about the integrity of the process gave it merit, which by its nature counters the Webster's definition of "frivolous."
Because this isn't the first time I've covered an ethics hearing in which some serious questions arose about the fairness of the whole thing. The first one put this one to shame.
Back in 2006, Woodstock-area resident Jerry Sufranski filed a complaint with the Woodstock Ethics Commission, alleging that the city council engaged in prohibited political activity when it passed a resolution supporting District 200's successful $105 million building referendum and encouraging people to vote.
I didn't think Sufranski's complaint had a leg to stand on – the law was clearly drafted to stop corrupt politicians from using public employees as campaign lackeys, not to stifle lawmakers' First Amendment rights. But for the record, Sufranski hit the bull's eye in opposing the idea that one government has any business helping another one raise our taxes.
(And as far as I'm concerned, Sufranski and everyone else who tried a decade ago to stop the rash of school referendums that jacked up our taxes to get ready for the housing boom that went bust deserve a medal.)
Under Woodstock's ordinance, the ethics commission consists of the mayor, the police chief and a third person selected by the mayor. Of the more than 14,000 adults that lived in Woodstock at the time, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, the mayor ended up picking a local businesswoman with deep ties to D-200 as a former employee, who had co-chaired a previous D-200 referendum committee, and who founded the city's weekly newspaper with another former D-200 employee in part to get more D-200 news into the community.
Nice lady and wonderful community member, but a lousy choice by the mayor. Whether by accident or by design, Woodstock city government sent a crystal clear message to its residents:
Heads we win, tails you lose. You can't fight city hall. And don't any of you uppity sorts ever, ever, EVER forget it.
Sufranski didn't bother to show up at the hearing, for which he was chided after the commission reached its predictable conclusion. But who could blame him? I certainly didn't. If I wanted to open up a bar and the city council put Carry Nation on the liquor commission for my hearing, I wouldn't waste my time, either.
Fast forward to 2013. The ethics commission for county government seems to be very sincere in wanting to make sure the ethics commission looks, well, ethical. This is encouraging.
Of course, not all complaints are created equal. There has to be a strong mechanism in any government ethics ordinance to discourage using it as a political tool, or preventing county conspiracy theorists with way too much free time on their hands from filing reams of complaints accusing sheriff's deputies of not driving with their hands at the 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock positions. I point to the $780,000 we've shelled out for special prosecutors as my Exhibit A.
However, the question has to be asked where to draw the line so as not to stifle legitimate whistleblowing or discouraging people truly interested in honest government.
It will be interesting to see what changes come from the healthy discussion the county ethics commission is having.
Because I can't think of anything unhealthier in a state rife with corruption than civic-minded people who witness something wrong keeping silent after asking themselves the dreaded question, "What good would it do?"
Senior Writer Kevin Craver can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
McHenry County College brings me so close, but not close enough, to making a government's Enemies List.
Apparently my co-workers and I are considered "threats" to McHenry County College by its Board of Trustees. But that honor is somewhat diminished by the fact that it looks like voters and taxpayers in general are considered threats to MCC, too.
Imagine my surprise when I visited Cal Skinner's McHenry County Blog this morning and found excerpts from the five-year strategic plan that the MCC Board is expected to approve at tonight's meeting.
This retreat was held in June 2012, about 10 months before the election that put three new reform-minded faces on the board and forced out two longtime trustees. It's interesting what the board included in its list of "threats" to the institution in its military-sounding "Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats Analysis":
• Media, bloggers (That's us at the paper. And Skinner and Company.)
• Taxpayer backlash (That's you, the taxpayer, And us.)
• Discontinuity of Board membership (That's caused by you, the voter. In the board's defense, the April election proved that they hit that nail squarely on the head.)
• Baggage - history (That's the long and not-so-distinguished list of decisions that have created the three aforementioned threats.)
So why are the media, bloggers and assorted riff-raff considered threats? I'll take a few guesses:
• Back in 2007, the MCC Board developed a plan to build a health and wellness center by issuing $32 million or so in alternate revenue bonds that would be paid off by a minor-league baseball team and stadium.
The board maintained that the proposal was economically sound, but denied numerous Freedom of Information Act requests from the newspaper, bloggers, and local good-government activists.
Eight months later, MCC relented and released a heavily-redacted version of the study. It turns out the study concluded the baseball stadium would have bled red ink for the first five years.
• In 2009, former President Walt Packard stepped down. The MCC Board, which floated him out on a golden parachute, told the newspaper and the public that he was stepping down to care for his ailing wife.
But it turns out that the board forced him out.
As for the Packard's separation contract, he was given the title of President Emeritus through June 2010, and allowed to collect his same $188,564 salary plus benefits for a job with no real duties or regular work hours.
• And getting our hands on that contract, paid for by the taxpayers, was a lot of fun in and of itself.
We asked for it under FOIA. The MCC Board wouldn't give it to us, citing the personal privacy exemption. We appealed, which under the old FOIA meant we had to go back to MCC and ask again, pretty please with sugar on top. They denied the appeal.
Fortunately, the Illinois Supreme Court in an unrelated case ruled that public employee contracts are public record. A Wheaton taxpayer – get this – had to spend three years in court to obtain a copy of the contract of the local high school superintendent.
The MCC Board was forced to reverse course and give it to us. What personal information did it contain? Zero.
• Speaking of FOIA, we also requested Packard's performance evaluations, given the baloney the MCC Board attempted to serve us about his departure.
The MCC Board, to borrow a sports term, ran out the clock. They delayed, knowing that the General Assembly was going to exempt evaluations from its new and much-improved FOIA law.
Lawmakers added the exemption and ended our quest to see just what happened behind closed doors.
I could go on and on and on, but suffice it to say that this open government watchdog blog doesn't call MCC the "poster child for secrecy" on a whim.
I won't get into the fact that MCC leadership has never truly addressed the issues raised a year ago in a story by reporter Brett Rowland that questions how they calculated the future enrollment projections being used to justify their most recent expansion efforts.
And I won't bring up that little thing after the April election when the lame-duck MCC Board scheduled the vote to extend the current college president's contract before the new members were seated.
If wanting accountability makes me and the Northwest Herald, or Cal Skinner, or the voters in April who forced change, a threat to the institution, so be it. Guilty as charged, I guess.
But speaking of threats, I think the MCC Board's list is incomplete.
There's state Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, who got a bill passed that will make it harder for governments like MCC to issue alternate revenue bonds. MCC's most recent proposal – possibly using them to fund a massive expansion and paying it off with dues from a campus fitness center – is one of the things that inspired him to propose the legislation.
And what about Woodstock attorney Jane Collins? She's not media, and she's not a blogger, but if I had a dollar for every FOIA she's sent to MCC to keep an eye on it, I'd be a very wealthy man.
Maybe the board tonight can vote to amend the strategic plan to add "community busybodies" to the threats list.
Or maybe the board can ditch the threats list entirely and focus on the list that follows it in the strategic plan – the list of values the board learned from the retreat.
There are 17 of them. Six are, in the order listed: trust, honesty, openness, listening, fiscal responsibility, and integrity.
After 13 years of writing for the Northwest Herald, I think I can say with some authority that public officials who truly embrace these principles don't keep lists of threats because they don't need to.
But in the event that the MCC Board crafts a more specific threats list, remember that it's Craver with a C.
And if Collins doesn't at least get the title of honorary pest, I will not accept the title.
Senior Writer Kevin Craver can be reached at email@example.com.
The McHenry County Board tomorrow night is scheduled to wrestle with the latest controversial idea to come from its Management Services Committee.
As I wrote last week, the committee has advanced a proposal to ask for a voter referendum to make the seat of County Board chairman popularly elected to two-year terms. The proposal that came before the committee called for four-year terms, like every other countywide elected office, but a majority of the committee amended it.
Interestingly, this debate comes two weeks before the County Board is set to vote on sweeping changes to its rules (also masterminded by Management Services), a number of which take direct aim at limiting the powers and incumbency of the chairmanship. The issue of how much power and influence the chair wields has come to a head after eight years of former Chairman Ken Koehler, R-Crystal Lake, and issues with how new Chairwoman Tina Hill, R-Woodstock, handled another committee's efforts to shake up the embattled Mental Health Board.
The debate over whether the committee and referendum supporters are putting the cart before the horse is one of several that will undoubtedly arise when the referendum is put to a vote. Allow me to put some of this debate into perspective:
• THE CHOICES: The County Board has four options Tuesday night, provided it doesn't table the vote: Approve the two-year option, amend the bill back to its original form and approve the four-year option, amend the bill to create a different four-year option allowed under state law, or reject a referendum altogether.
There are some legal and political issues in play that will influence the ultimate decision.
• THE TWO-YEAR CONUNDRUM: No County Board gaggle would be complete without confusion created by the laws thought up by the same Springfield rocket scientists who brought you the $100 Billion Unfunded Pension Liability and Recovery-Strangling Tax Hike.
A county board chairman elected to a two-year term must also be a member of the board. This could mean in some elections that the candidate would appear twice on the ballot – once countywide for chairman, and once in his or her respective district. So what happens if a candidate wins the chairmanship but loses the required county board seat? Good question – the law doesn't say.
As with the state Close the McHenry County Taxpayer-Funded Special Prosecutor Feed Trough Act, we could become the test case.
• THE FOUR-YEAR OPTION: The original resolution that the committee amended asked voters if they want to popularly elect the chairman to a four-year term and not have the chairman be a member of the board for voting purposes. This essentially would mean a 25th member, who would only vote to break a tie.
State law also allows counties the option of a four-year chairman who is a member of the County Board, which means the chairman, like now, would be able to vote. However, the county would face the same election conundrum that the two-year seat offers in that the chairman-elect may end up losing his or her board seat.
We're not done in the conundrum department in this scenario. If the chairman's four-year term does not match up with his or her four-year board term (terms are staggered so half of the board's 24 seats are up in any given election), the ability for the chairman to vote could change with each election.
• THE NUCLEAR OPTION: There is, of course, the chance that the County Board could reverse course – and in many cases renege on what they promised during the 2012 election – and reject the referendum outright.
Even board members who support popular election, but oppose either the referendum as presented or the timing with the rule changes looming, could find themselves between a political rock and a hard place if they vote their conscience. For one thing, there's the perception of opposing the County Board's latest buzzwords of openness and transparency.
And there's the other little thing about reliving the political nightmare of a county executive referendum that got this whole thing started.
Voters last year mustered up the 500 signatures needed to put a referendum on the November ballot that would change to a county executive form of government like Will County has. On the downside, that form of government puts a lot of power into the hands of one person who would act like the County Board's executive branch. On the upside, the executive is up for election every four years.
As I've blogged here before, County Board members have raised fears that rejecting a referendum would mean, given the ease with which one can scrape up 500 voter signatures, that it would face a county executive referendum in each November election.
• UNLESS ... : It could be tempting for County Board members who oppose popular election of the chairman to place an onerous or confusing question ( like what happens if a candidate wins one race but loses the other) on the ballot. Voters may be more likely to reject it, and County Board members in question can pat themselves on the back for giving them the choice.
• PRO AND ANTI: The two main arguments that came out of committee on both sides of the issue amounted to accountability and money.
Donna Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake, said two-year terms for the chairmanship would "increase accountability and responsibility." But while Chairwoman Paula Yensen, D-Lake in the Hills, voted to advance the amended referendum for the sake of full County Board debate, she argued that two-year terms could in fact limit the pool of candidates to those with the financial means to run.
And Yensen's point doesn't include the wrinkle of the rule changes should many of them be adopted. The argument could be made that no one would be willing to raise and spend the money every two years for a paper tiger position.
• TWO-YEAR ARITHMETIC: When it comes to two-year terms meaning turnover, accountability and new blood, I'm sure a County Board member tomorrow night will bring up former U.S. Reps. Phil Crane and Don Manzullo, and present state Reps. Mike Tryon and Jack Franks. Add up their two-year terms, and you'll get 79 years of elected office and counting.
• ONE BORN EVERY MINUTE: Whenever popular election of the chairmanship comes up, there is always a handful of County Board members who try to sell the idea that popular election of the chairman will inject money and influence to foul the pristine, clean waters of county government that presently have no such temptations.
I've stated it before on this blog, and I'll state it again for any County Board member who has the urge to tell this Big Fish Story tomorrow evening.
You're. Not. Fooling. Anyone.
Senior Reporter Kevin Craver can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Only in Illinois can an ex-politician who bawled like a baby all day long in front of a federal judge get in front of microphones and say he "manned up".
That in itself made Wednesday's sentencing of disgraced ex-Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife, disgraced ex-Chicago Alderman Sandi Jackson, worth following.
I almost didn't follow the hearing for the reason I enumerated in a February analysis piece and related blog post after the couple pleaded guilty to using $750,000 in campaign contributions as their own personal piggy bank. As corrupt Illinois politicians go, the Jacksons were pretty gosh-darned dull and extremely unoriginal.
And as for the fact that two "social justice" crusaders lived a double standard? Bo-ring. That's the rule these days, not the exception – ask any mucky-muck calling for gun control behind a protective screen of taxpayer-funded bodyguards.
But I relented and glued myself to reporter Natasha Korecki's Twitter feed because I wanted to witness first-hand the end of the short era of truly punishing crooked Illinois politicians. Forget the long sentences imposed on former Govs. George Ryan [Federal Inmate 16627-424] and Rod Blagojevich [Federal Inmate 40892-424]. I knew that those days are over.
As a journalist who has written more than a few stories about Illinois politicians and associated sycophants and insiders going to prison, I can recite the pattern in my sleep: A sob-choked apology, a berating by the judge about shattering what pathetically little is left of the public trust, and then a slap on the wrist. And I wasn't disappointed. Jesse Jr. got 2 1/2 years, and Sandi one year.
How many politicians do you think would gladly go to a minimum-security Club Fed dorm for 2 years if it meant getting to spend $750,000 on vacations, celebrity knickknacks and stuffed elk heads? That's a very acceptable risk for such a plush rate of return.
Better yet, the Jacksons get to stagger their prison terms for their young children. If I stole $750, I'd go to prison for much longer than the 2 1/2 years Jesse Jr. got for stealing $750,000. And if I involved my wife in the crime, I'm sure the judge would laugh us out of the courtroom when we asked to schedule our terms so we could raise our 9-month-old daughter.
(As an aside, I'd like to apologize to baby Grace and all babies everywhere for comparing them to Jesse Jackson Jr. in the lead of this blog post.)
The Jacksons got off light, and they know it. And the signal sent Wednesday to every crooked Illinois politician – and there are plenty – is that happy days are here again for the political class leading the Illinois Orwell Animal Farm, where some animals are more equal than others.
So now that I've brought you down, let's have some fun as I introduce you my proposed Truth in Stupidity Law.
Truth in Sentencing laws exist at the federal and most state levels to make sure that criminals – gasp! – actually serve a good deal of their sentences. Under my proposed Truth in Stupidity Law, a judge can impose an extra year for any offense he or she deems mind-bogglingly bereft of sound judgment.
Under Truth in Stupidity guidelines, Jesse Jr. would have been sentenced to 10 years and his wife 6 1/2 years by adding the following offenses:
• A year each for buying mink coats, spa treatments and vacations while representing an impoverished Congressional district and South Side aldermanic ward. If you're curious and want to see it for yourselves, I suggest calling Delta Company at the Woodstock Armory and asking if they can spare you an armored personnel carrier for a few hours.
(The CO was my best pal in the Army when we were both NCOs, so tell him Sgt. Craver says it's OK. Just bring the APC back with a full tank of gas.)
• A year each for the twosome living in Washington D.C. and not their districts.
• A year each for having a defense team of eight attorneys when 99 percent of their former constituents would have to get the overworked, underpaid court-appointed one.
• A year for Jesse Jr. co-authoring a book with his dad, "It's About the Money!" about financial freedom, in large part through living within your means and not being stupid. This is real – I am not nearly clever enough to make up something like this.
• A year each for that Oscar-worthy performance they both gave Wednesday by crying because they got caught and the Day of Reckoning had finally come.
• A year each for two very anti-Second Amendment politicians buying elk heads. How do they think you kill an elk? By causing it to doubt its self-esteem?
• A year for Jesse Jr. for trying to ruin Van Halen for me by buying an Eddie Van Halen guitar. My baby girl smiles and dances when I play anything from the Diamond Dave era, and the thought of Jesse Jr. laying his corrupt hands on a red Frankenstrat is tough to get out of my head. (No slight intended to Sammy Hagar – I'm working my way with my daughter to 5150 and OU812.)
• A year each for not buying a Velvet Elvis or a large mural of dogs playing poker. No illegal spending spree is complete without a Velvet Elvis. Okay, six months each - I'll give them credit for buying the elk heads.
Don't hesitate to call your state and federal lawmakers to push for my Truth in Stupidity law. Their legislative aides stopped taking my calls some time ago because they're not ready for my good ideas.
And speaking of the federal government, I hope that President Obama resists any pressure he may get in the last weeks of his presidency to pardon the Jacksons. President Bill Clinton in the last weeks of his presidency commuted the sentence of Jesse Jr.'s predecessor, former U.S. Rep. Mel Reynolds, and pardoned former Rep. Dan Rostenkowski.
If long sentences are out of the question, can we, the frustrated people of Illinois, at least have the scarlet letter that comes with time served?
Senior Writer Kevin Craver can be reached at email@example.com.
Crystal Lake, IL
Kevin has worked at the Northwest Herald since 2000. The Illinois Associated Press awarded his blog this year as the best news blog in the state for medium-sized newspapers. He has won more than 70 state and national journalism awards.