Change the House

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"The General Assembly… gave us a $5 bill to pay $20 worth of groceries." —Gov. Pat Quinn

The governor's right on that. The Illinois House and Senate completely failed in its duty to deal with this state's financial crisis. Lawmakers told the governor: You make the hard decisions. Quinn promptly cut a deal with the state's largest labor union to protect its workers from layoffs until mid-2012.

Shocker alert: The union endorsed Quinn two days before the deal was cut.

Brace yourself. This is bad. Go to to see just how much trouble this state is in. There you'll see that each Illinois household owes $25,000 just for the state's public pension and retiree health care debt.

Meanwhile, the social service providers — the people who take care of our children, our elderly, our disabled — are crying to get paid by the state for work they have already done.

Illinois is busted. The members of the House and Senate have failed you.

That's the environment we're in as the Tribune begins endorsements in contested races for the Illinois House. We're going to support some incumbents, those who have made a good-faith effort to change the status quo here. We're going to oppose quite a few incumbents. Some of them are decent people. But they can't sit by and let this state go broke. If they won't holler, better they get out of the way.

7th District (west suburbs) — We give a lot of credit to Democratic Rep. Karen Yarbrough of Maywood for her strong support of a bill that would have let 30,000 children in Chicago's worst schools get state money to switch to a school of their choice. She has pledged to push that bill again this fall. Yarbrough is endorsed over Princess Cynthia Dempsey, an entrepreneur from Broadview who is running as an independent.

11th District (North Side) — Rep. John Fritchey is leaving the House to run for the Cook County Board —talk about swapping troubles. Democrat Ann Williams, an attorney, says she will be independent-minded. It's good to see that she believes party leaders shouldn't be exempt from the new campaign contribution caps imposed on everyone else. Let's give her a chance. She is endorsed over Republican Scott Tucker, an entrepreneur and Navy vet who has some interesting libertarian ideas.

12th District (North Side) — This is difficult because we like Democratic Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, who has been in the House since 1995. She has a top position — chairman of the human services appropriations committee — but she has not been assertive enough in demanding that her party leaders change the way they do business. Our endorsement goes to Republican Dave Lenkowski, who worked in business before he became a high school teacher working with at-risk kids. He acknowledges Republican governors and lawmakers share in the blame for the state's mess. He would be more aggressive on education reform. Feigenholtz will likely win — the GOP didn't even field a candidate here in 2008. If she does, we hope she turns good intentions into a more assertive challenge of the status quo.

17th District (North suburbs) — There are two strong candidates to succeed Rep. Beth Coulson, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress. Democrat Daniel Biss of Evanston, who nearly beat Coulson in 2008, is a former policy adviser to Gov. Pat Quinn. Republican Hamilton Chang of Wilmette is a financial consultant for not-for-profit agencies. Biss is a solid candidate who says an income tax increase should only be a "last resort." But Chang has a better focus on how to create a fiscally stable state. Chang is endorsed.

19th District (Northwest Side) — One of the more conservative Democrats in the House, Rep. Joseph Lyons took some tough votes for pension and health care reform and education choice. He says more can be done on employee health care and pensions. So we give him credit, and an endorsement over Republican businessman David Anderson of Chicago.

22nd District (Southwest Side/west suburbs) — As usual, House Speaker Michael Madigan has stuffed the Republican spot on the ballot against him with a loyalist who can't be found. We guess it says something that Patrick John Ryan managed to elude John Kass' best efforts to find him. (John found his parents. They seemed nice.) Hey Republicans, instead of grousing about this tactic election after election, why don't you find an actual Republican to run against Madigan? No endorsement.

26th District (South Side) — We have — had? — high hopes for Democratic Rep. Will Burns. It's deeply disturbing that he voted against giving kids in Chicago's worst schools a chance to go to better schools. Come on, Rep. Burns. Step up. He is endorsed over Republican Sylvester "Junebug" Hendricks, who was trounced by Burns in 2008.

29th District (South Side, south suburbs) — Calumet City Ald. Thaddeus Jones is endorsed over Green Party candidate Kenny Williams of South Holland in the race to replace Rep. David Miller, who is running for comptroller.

35th District (Southwest Side/southwest suburbs) — Democrat Bill Cunningham built a solid reputation during two decades with the Cook County sheriff's office, finally as chief of staff for Sheriff Tom Dart. He seeks to succeed Kevin Joyce, who resigned from the House over the summer. It was a shame to lose Joyce, who was the primary House sponsor of Sen. James Meeks' well-crafted tuition voucher bill — the one Will Burns and Sara Feigenholtz couldn't stomach. Let's hope Cunningham takes up that cause and helps to get it passed. He's endorsed over Republican Barbara Bellar of Burr Ridge, a physician and former nun.

36th District (Southwest Side, southwest suburbs) — Well, how about this! Attorney Kelly Burke ran in the Democratic primary against House Speaker Michael Madigan's preferred candidate and won. Burke, the president of the Evergreen Park Public Library Board, is endorsed over Republican businessman Richard Grabowski of Hometown to fill Jim Brosnahan's seat. She's smart and principled and we dearly hope she keeps her independent streak if she gets to the House.

37th District (south suburbs) — Democratic Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Orland Park sponsored pension reform legislation that curbed costs for future employees. It's a modest start, but he took a political risk in doing it. He offers substantial ideas on how to reduce state spending and he's firmly against Gov. Pat Quinn's proposed income tax hike. He is endorsed over Republican Jeffrey Junkas, an impressive businessman from Tinley Park. This is not an easy call, but we give McCarthy credit for efforts to get the state on sound footing.

39th District (Near Northwest Side) — Two years ago, we endorsed Democratic Rep. Maria Antonia "Toni" Berrios over Green Party candidate Jeremy Karpen, a professional counselor who works with at-risk kids in Chicago. Berrios has firmly established she is a loyal soldier protecting entrenched power in Springfield. We disagree with Karpen on plenty of issues. But he says, "My campaign is about more than winning office, it is about shaking the foundation of the political machine. …" Fair enough. Karpen is endorsed.