Archive for March, 2009

Walking around Springfield, Illinois,  alone is not what you typically do on Sunday nights. Neither do I, but it just happened that that was the day I arrived in the State capital.

Amid the darkness and solitude of the deserted city, I found the lit Capitol to be beautiful and reassuring.

On Monday I was already out by 9 a.m. and heading back to the Capitol. On my way there, I stopped by the Illinois Republican Party headquarters and got to speak with Political Director Curt Conrad.

The small office just a couple of blocks from the Capitol was empty and Conrad took some time to talk about where the Party was headed. The main focus, he said, was to seize the political advantage the Blagojevich scandal had created and get a big win in the 2010 gubernatorial race.

After that I went to the Capitol and was lucky enough to sit in at the first ever press conference of the Coalition for Honest and New Government Ethics (CHANGE) Illinois, “a coalition aligned to bring government integrity in Illinois.”

I got to speak with many advocates such as Cyndi Canary and Peter Bensinger (co-chair of CHANGE Illinois), and AARP Illinois Senior State Director Robert Gallo. They would all testify that day at 3 p.m. in front of the Joint Committee on Government Reform, and I didn’t want to miss taking notes there.

But before the committee hearing I had an appointment with Sun-Times’s Bureau Chief David McKinney. He welcomed me into his office and we chatted a little about State politics and he told me how things have changed for journalists around there. The Tribune, he said, used to have three reporters, and now only one was left.

The Joint Committee hearing started on time but went on forever. Lots of testimonies, many of whom I had already heard at the morning press conference. Both House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) and Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) were presiding the committee meeting. The general feeling I got from the questions senators and representatives asked to the various advocacy groups that showed up to present their research and data on campaign funding? A cap on campaign contributions will not be placed, maintaining Illinois’s position as one of five states which don’t impose contribution limits. (New Mexico is currently working on legislation to place a cap)

After a salad-ravioli-beer dinner at Saputo’s (favorite inside joke: “You having dinner with Madigan?”) I headed to the motel to charge up for the next day.

On Tuesday morning I attended some more of the Joint Committee on Government Reform and finally at noon both Senate and House sessions started.

What I saw in front of me from the visitor’s balcony sort of shocked me. No one bothering to even listen to what the speaker was saying, people chatting about who knows what or – even worse – browsing the internet on their laptops.

So I headed down to 3rd floor, where a bunch of people were standing outside the doors. Little cards with specific requests were written and given to the ushers, who would go on the floor in search of the senator or representative. A few came out, and I was fortunate enough to have followed a group of parents and students from Namaste Charter school that came all the way from Chicago on two buses to ask their legislators to increase funding for the school’s expansion projects.

Every senator that would come out looked like he or she was in a hurry, so I had to throw in quick questions and grab whatever quotes I could among the chaos. I even got to talk to a lobbyist about my age whose main interest was having speed-rail legislation passed.

After that, I walked to the nearest cafè with free wireless, got out my laptop and started typing the story due by 4 p.m.

On my way back to Chicago that evening, I felt exhausted but also very happy that I had gotten a lot accomplished. I looked out the window and watched the sun set behind the never-ending plains.

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I opened a Twitter account recently.  Before that, I opened this blog (which, I admit, I should take more care of).

Add to that a Myspace account I’ve had for a year and a half, a Facebook account, a YouTube and a Vimeo channel for my videos, and then other accounts on not-so-popular sites.

There are two reasons why I’ve put my soul in front of a potentially infinite expansion of itself throughout the internet:

1- The need to stay in touch.

2- The need to be constantly informed and to inform others, when I can.

I’ve heard many times people criticize the extensive use of social networks as a symbol of our society’s transition from a face-to-face society to a screen-to-screen society.

On the contrary, I feel that this urge of staying constantly in touch, updating statuses every five minutes, is a sign of our increased need of communication.

There is one fundamental problem, though.

One must be able to balance the time spent typing with tens, hundreds or even thousands of strangers, and a proper face-to-face interaction with friends, family or even the guy standing next to you on the bus.

Sometimes a smile can mean more than a million tweets, a beer with a friend more than a million status updates.

There are two things politicians fear most: the skeletons in their closets and powerful opponents with enough influence to determine one’s political future.

The worst types of skeleton closets are the ones politicians try to conceal. A politician’s future is often determined by what he or she did and who he or she met. (which often translates to who they have slept with)

Richard Nixon had to leave office while more incriminating evidence was piling up to prove his paranoia of failure; Former president Bill Clinton got impeached because of an extra-marital affair with Monica Lewinsky; Ex-New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer had to resign because of his affair with a high-class prostitute.

Then there are the opponents. These adversaries sometimes have common interests with others, and will do anything to destroy and conquer. An example of this has been shown in the recent ousting of former-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who found himself playing by himself the dirty little games everyone else was playing in Illinois politics. As soon as the Madigans, Giannoulias and others saw in Blago’s exposure an opportunity to advance to higher ranking positions, the game was over.

Blagojevich’s case is not the most common, though. Often times, attacks from opponents do not succeed, even though they still hurt. Barack Obama had to shield himself from the GOP, which accused during the 2008 presidential campaign of hanging out with anti-patriotic ex-terrorists such as Bill Ayers.

Franklin Roosevelt risked his political career a few times, too. Maybe the closest he got to failing, during his years as governor of New York, was during the trial of then mayor of New York City, Jimmy Walker. The corrupt mayor, who loved the city’s night life and had a very open extra-marital relationship, was a symbol of the untouchable power that Tammany Hall had so far represented.

By trying to oust Walker, Roosevelt was going to show he had the moral strength to stand up to corrupt politicians. Perhaps his impulsiveness, combined with an extra dose of self-confidence, helped Roosevelt through the trial. Or maybe it was just luck that helped him out by having the Catholic Church not support Walker in the upcoming special reelection for mayor.