Update from S4: News and Politics from Illinois and around the USA



President Obama nominated Merrick Garland, a federal appeals court judge, to the late Antonin Scalia’s Supreme Court seat. The Washington Post called Garland “the safe, conventional, even boring choice for the Supreme Court.” Although Garland has had support from both Democrats and Republicans, Republican leadership is still refusing to consider his appointment. Some individual Republicans, however, said they will speak with Garland when he is at the capitol. Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk is one of only two Republican senators who have said they would vote on a nominee. Most analysts are calling his nomination “dead on arrival” unless Majority Leader Mitch McConnell changes his tune. Read more in the New York Times and Washington Post.


The House Budget Committee approved an amendment along party lines to urge House leadership to cut the $30 billion that former House Speaker John Boehner had negotiated into the 2017 budget plan from future spending bills. House Speaker Paul Ryan has refused to throw out Boehner’s plan, much to the ire of Freedom Caucus Republicans. The language approved this week calls for restructuring Medicaid into a state block-grant program, turning Medicare into a voucher system, and raising the eligibility age to 67. All Democrats on the committee opposed the amendment. Read more.


If you have been itching to send a letter to Cuba, you are in luck: the US Postal Service resumed mail service between the US and Cuba. President Obama is schedule to visit the country this weekend. Read more in the Washington Post.


Tuesday’s primary saw unprecedented Republican voter turnout in Illinois, and Democrats came out almost as strongly as in 2008. If we were to sum up the results in one sentence, it would be this one from Rich Miller of Capitol Fax: “Madigan had a much better day than Rauner.”


Speaker Mike Madigan easily won his district, and Rep. Ken Dunkin lost his. The speaker framed the primary results as a clear message that voters do not want more of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s influence in the capitol, while Gov. Rauner cited the many Republican incumbents who kept their seats as proof that “special interests backed by Speaker Madigan failed to defeat” the governor’s supporters. He then called on the Speaker to “end his month long vacation” and reconvene the House. Read more in Capitol Fax here and here.


Republican Sen. Sam McCann is “[Gov.] Rauner’s version of Ken Dunkin,” as Natasha Korecki of Politico Illinois put it. The governor heavily funded and campaigned for Sen. McCann’s primary opponent Bryce Benton in retaliation for Sen. McCann’s votes in favor of unions. In spite of the millions of dollars spent against him, Sen. McCann won his district with 53% of the vote. Read more in the State Journal-Register.


Voter outrage at Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez led to her ouster by Kim Foxx, who won with 62% of the vote. Alvarez has been under fire since the release of the videos from the Laquan McDonald police shooting case last year.Read more in the Sun-Times.


US Reps. Mark Kirk and Tammy Duckworth each won their respective primary and will face off for a US Senate seat in November.


On Wednesday Senate Democrats on the Appropriations Committee approved a bill that would authorize close to $4 billion in funding to higher education, social services, and other areas not currently funded by court orders. Gov. Rauner’s office criticized the measure for its lack of funding sources, and the governor will veto it if it ends up on his desk. The governor again called for the General Assembly to stay in town instead of recessing for spring break, but both chambers are in recess until the first week of April. Read more in the State Journal-Register and Capitol Fax.


According to Comptroller Leslie Geiger-Munger, Illinois could be $10 billion behind on bills by June of this year. The amount of overdue bills is higher than previously anticipated, and it will be even higher if the General Assembly passes appropriations bills. Many human services providers are concerned that if no appropriations measures are passed, even without funding, they may never be paid for their fiscal year 2016 services.  Read more in the State Journal-Registerand Capitol Fax.


Chicago’s City Council approved an ordinance to raise the legal age for buying tobacco from 18 to 21. The ordinance also increases several tobacco taxes, including on cigars and pipe tobacco. Mayor Emanuel’s office estimates the tax hikes will increase revenue by $6 million per year, and the money will go toward a freshman orientation program at Chicago high schools. Read more.


An arbitrator ruled against the state worker union AFSCME and found that Gov. Rauner’s layoff plan from 2015 did not violate the state’s contract with the union. This particular case mainly concerns employees at the Illinois State Museum. The burden was on AFSCME to prove that the state’s actions were “arbitrary, capricious, or arose from an illegal motivation,” and they failed to do so, according to the arbitrator. Interestingly, the ruling also states, “The purpose of this arbitration is not for it to constitute an endorsement or a condemnation of the State’s actions, what has transpired with the Illinois State Museum, or the withholding of support for the social service and education programs historically funded by the State.” The arbitrator was apparently keen to emphasize that the ruling was not an ideological statement, but only a legal interpretation of the contract language. AFSCME plans to appeal the ruling. Read more on Capitol Fax.


Sen. Dan Duffy will retire early to take a job with Prevent Child Abuse America. Sen. Duffy would have served until January.