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Local lawmakers hit state leadership

Three state lawmakers had nothing good to say at a meeting in Evanston this morning about the top leadership in Springfield.

State Rep. Julie Hamos of Evanston, the Democrat who led a legislative coalition that earlier this month won passage of a much-delayed mass transit funding plan, said the state suffers from "a dysfunctional family" of three Democratic leaders in the house, senate and governor’s office and that the Republican minority leaders in the legislature "don’t add much to it."

She said rank-and-file lawmakers need to be more engaged and rebel against the leadership at times. "It’s time for the inmates to take over the asylum," she said.

And at the legislative breakfast sponsored by the Evanston Chamber of Commerce, State Rep. Elizabeth Coulson of Glenview, the only Republican on the panel, said "We’ve got to take the reins away from the leadership on both sides of the aisle."

She said lawmakers managed in just a day to get 82 votes in a failed effort to add means testing to the senior citizen free ride plan the governor had tacked on to the mass transit bill.

"It’s not that we’re not trying" to get better results, Coulson said, "It’s just that sometimes we’re not let into the room."

State Sen. Jeff Schoenberg of Evanston said 42 percent of the state’s population is in the suburbs and that suburban lawmakers can work together across party lines to improve the state’s business climate, provide better access to health care and more resources for education — all issues he said need to be addressed, even though the economy is getting softer.

The four Democrats on the panel all indicated they’re backing Barack Obama for president.

U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Evanston said she would urge that John Edwards pull out of the Democratic presidential race after South Carolina’s primary Saturday and endorse Obama.

She said she thinks money for Edwards will dry up after what she predicted would be a disappointing showing for him there.

But Schakowsky, a national chair for the Obama campaign, said she doubts the race for the nomination will end with the Super Tuesday voting in Illinois and many other states Feb. 5.

"Both front runners are funded to continue," she said, "and I think this race will go on for a while."

She said the Obama campaign does not expect to win either California or New York, but expects to still pick up a significant number of delegates in those states because of the proportional award of delegates there.

This fall Illinois voters will be asked whether they want to call a convention to rewrite the state’s constitution.

Cook Couny Commissioner Larry Suffredin said he believes people are ready for a convention to consider establishing a progressive income tax, merit selection of judges and new funding for public education. But he got no support from his fellow panelists.

Hamos said she opposes a convention, fearing a runaway session that might get rid of many good provisions in the constitution now.

Schoenberg said much of the dissatisfaction with state government is the governor’s fault.

"One man’s self-imposed personality cult has helped contribute greatly to the problems in Illinois today,” he said.

Schoenberg added that he fears that a new constitution would permit an initiative process like California’s in which voters would face a huge number of ballot questions with the issues largely driven by interest groups that can raise large amounts of money in a short period of time.

"That dilutes what representative democracy is about," Schoenberg said, adding that Illinois already permits a limited number of statewide ballot questions.

Coulson said she also opposes the constitutional convention proposal and believes that needed reforms can be achieved through the legislative process.

Suffredin, who is also running for Cook County States Attorney, urged adoption of his proposal for independent governance of Cook County’s ailing public health system.

He said a third of the county’s $3 billion budget is now spent on health care and that federal officials have made it clear to him there’s no chance of getting additional federal help for the county as long as the current system, in which the health programs report to County Board President Todd Stroger remains in place.

"Independent governance is the way most public hospitals have gone around the country," Suffredin said.

He’s proposing temporary emergency trusteeship for the hospital system in which the trustees would pick as chief executive officer someone who’s run a hospital system before.

"Now it’s run by an emergency room doctor who doesn’t understand financing," Suffredin argued.

But he said efforts to revamp hospital governance appear to be at a stalemate, because of competing proposal from another commissioner that would let Stroger pick the people who would run the health care system.

He said the continuing decline of the county health system is impacting other hospitals in the region that are being flooded with patients who used to be in the county system.

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