Statehouse Insider column: You have to wonder if Gov. PAT QUINN's efforts to deal with the state's financial problems could lead to his undoing - at least when it comes to prisons.
You have to wonder if Gov. PAT QUINN's efforts to deal with the state's financial problems could lead to his undoing - at least when it comes to prisons.
It was in the interest of saving money that the Quinn administration last fall publicly talked about an early release program for non-violent state prisoners already nearing the ends of their terms. It would save about $5 million, Quinn said.
Any early release program is bad publicity waiting to happen because eventually the news media will do stories on the bad guys getting out or, worse, one of the inmates will commit another crime.
That's not to say the program is wrong, only that the politicians who support it are probably going to take hits for it.
Alas, the public early release program wasn't the only one going on. There was a secret one, too. In this one, some people virtually walked into a prison one day and out the next, even some people convicted of violence-related offenses.
Compounding the problem was the utterly inept way Quinn and his administration responded once news stories broke of the program's existence. Their response kept changing about whether he knew of the program, didn't know of it, approved it, didn't approve it and even wrongly claimed a newspaper knew of it in advance. It was a poor performance for any administration, let alone one running for election.
Quinn also figured selling the mostly unused state prison in Thomson in northwestern Illinois to the feds was a good financial move. Problem is, the feds will use it to house some terrorists now in Guantanamo Bay. It was an issue ready-made for political exploitation by people inclined to exploit it. It's also one of those issues where no amount of reasoning or evidence of security will change opponents' minds.
About the only question left now is when one or both of these prison issues ends up in a WILLIE HORTON-style ad aired by one of Quinn's opponents.
*WILLIAM KELLY is running for state comptroller, as a Republican for what it's worth.
Thus it made perfect sense for him to call a news conference in the state Capitol last week to protest free speech.
Kelly was all fulminating about the American Civil Liberties Union having a sign in the rotunda. The sign talks about the precious right of free speech and religious freedom enjoyed in the country. It's the ACLU's contribution to the diverse collection of religious and non-religious symbols in the rotunda.
Kelly planned to celebrate his own free-speech rights by tearing down the ACLU sign. Or so said the press release his campaign sent out to the news media in an effort to drum up interest in his stunt.
We'll digress for a moment to point out that among the comptroller's many duties, being an arbiter of speech is not one of them. Nor is deciding who gets to put a sign in the Capitol rotunda. That job belongs to the secretary of state. Kelly is not running for secretary of state.
The job is held by JESSE WHITE, a Democrat so popular he could probably get re-elected even if he suddenly went off the deep end and decreed that everyone should drive on the left side of the road.
White long ago decided to let a variety of views be represented in the rotunda during Christmas as a matter of free speech. Kelly went to the rotunda. He ignored the ACLU sign and went up to the anti-religion sign installed by the atheists.
Under the gaze of Capitol police, Kelly (gasp) turned around the sign, but did not damage it. He was escorted out of the building.
Media people showed up, including a couple with TV cameras. Presumably they will know better the next time Mr. Kelly announces a stunt.
*Speaking of holiday displays, the Festivus Pole went up at the Capitol again last week.
Last year's Festivus pole was a sort of make-shift affair crafted from a pool skimmer. This year it's a very professional-looking pole the state will be proud to have displayed in the Capitol.
The only bad thing is that we are in an election cycle, so the Airing of Grievances ritual started long before the Festivus season.
Contact Doug Finke at email@example.com.