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Tom's Mailbag Nov. 21, 2014
We’re amid one of the coldest years in local weather history, that Whole Foods is expanding so rapidly that Champaign-Urbana has to be on their radar, that it’s been a long time since there was a go-kart track in C-U and that the person nominated to be the next county board chairman had a run-in with the law seven years ago.
Kyles to seek at-large council seat
Despite not being up for re-election until 2017, a Champaign city councilman said he plans to run for an at-large seat in next spring's election in an attempt to have a greater impact on the city.District one councilman Will Kyles said Friday that he will file his petitions to run for the seat somet
Eric B: Welcome to the new and improved Halfway!
Enjoy the new and improved Halfway Interesting.  Halfway Interesting will be aggregating the most interesting political news content for state and local policy and elections.   Of course, I will be providing the occasional supplement from time and time when the situation requires.   Be sure to check out our BlogTalk page for in-depth interviews with C-U's political movers and shakers.  If you have any suggestions on news stories, please DM me on Twitter or FB.  Enjoy!
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Election Roundup - 11/6/2014
I wrote a splog entry HERE on Smile Politely where I talk about the 5 things I was watching before the polls opened.  Here are the major takeaways from the election:

1. The Gordy Hulten race wasn't really on my radar. I didn't expect Scott Hayes to pull off any upset, but I didn't expect Gordy to trounce Scott Hayes by 22%! Al Klein is probably the biggest loser of this race. After reading Big Debbie's obsessive anti-Gordy coverage and listening to Hayes and his campaign supporters dish out so much rhetoric, it was really nice to see these results coming in. I'd like to send a personal message to Scott Hayes, Big Debbie, Craig Walker and Josh Hartke and remind them that Gordy can definitely count and everyone was able to count all 22% of that victory. Any chance we'll stop seeing that anti-boogeyman propaganda? Probably not, but I appreciate your devotion.

2. Politicos are insane. It's often said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Parties try to convince underdog candidates that this could be the year things are different and rarely (if ever) works out. I don't really drink that Kool-Aid, but running a strong and respectable candidates is what parties are supposed to do, even in unwinnable districts. It's good PR, right? In the 103rd, the Republicans had a strong candidate and team in Kristin Williamson who was hoping to appeal to moderates while the hardly-moderate Carrol Ammons impressed everyone with a primary upset over the Madigan-backed candidate. If there was any chance to win this district, this was the year to try. I remember (even before the last map re-draw) when moderate Deb Feinen lost by 27% to Naomi in 2004. If Kristin Williamson can't make a dent against Carrol Ammons, the district is definitely unwinnable. It makes me want to pull my hair out when the N-G criticizes local parties for not running (or not supporting candidates) in unwinnable districts and then suggests the morning of the election that victory simply comes down to weather and get out the vote efforts. Nobody saw this coming? It's one thing when biased politicos sound illogical, but it is another thing entirely when local political reporters are completely full of shit. Both Carrol and Kristin have bright political futures and I am certain to lose more hair as we continue to have the same conversation over and over again. I'm very proud of the campaign that Kristin and team ran and I'm sure dems feel the same way about their candidate. I'll save you the entry on the County Board races since it's basically the same story.

3. Gerrymandering is a good thing. If you like politics as usual, you have to be very happy with the outcome of this election. Even though it was a huge election for Republicans, this election cycle was a huge loss for anyone hoping for change. I know that Rauner won, but what can he do with a veto-proof majority where lines are gerrymandered to preserve it? It was a shame that political insiders worked to sabotage efforts against term limits and that the petitions for the fair map were challenged. These people are afraid of giving the voters a chance to choose and that goes against every common sense principle that exists, except that of self interest. It's still good to be a Democat in Illinois.

4. You are stuck with the proposed Unit 4 school location. Deal with it. I listened to the Laurie Bonnet interview HERE and she's open to conversation so long as it is a logical conversation. They already bought the land and she's not going to seriously entertain other suggestions. Other board members might disagree and all board members are up for re-election except for Bonnet so it will be interesting to see how this develops. I suspect since the referendum was close, they'd just keep making minor tweaks until it passes as most referendum requests take multiple tries.

5. It was a Republican year and President Obama's image dragged the ticket down. It was a bad year for the #guardiansofthe13th (Team Callis), but they never really had a chance. Even in Dem swing years, it will be more and more difficult to knock of Rodney Davis as he builds more and more name recognition throughout the district. One bright spot for the dems was Mike Frerichs who came very close to winning. I think Frerichs has proven himself as a strong state-wide candidate and would be a logical person to run as Lt. Governor with Lisa Madigan at the top of the ticket.

6. Once again on election night, my favorite s*** talker Craig Walker was talking smack on election night in support of Carrol Ammons and Scott Hayes and even implied that I and other republicans didn't show up to Brookens because of the Ammons results and that they "run the streets". I guess I'm intimidated by him. :-)  (For the record, I was out celebrating a very good night for Republicans.)  This was after he tweeted out wrongful accusations that voters were turned away because of broken voter machines. This was after he allegedly saw numbers and wrongfully claimed that 2014 election results were approaching presidential year numbers. This was after he called Kristin a pimp and called people from Philo rednecks. This was after he threatened to hold Williamson supporters accountable. This after he projected a Gordy loss and even showed his flawed math. Yesterday I responded to him calling me out and he immediately deleted several of the tweets in question and even congratulated Gordy publicly. I don't know who is holding his hand, but it would be nice if that person also encouraged him to apologize for his inflammatory behavior. I think a real man should stand behind his words instead of hiding, but that's me. Ideally, we can get through the next election cycle without this wannbe bully trying to shamelessly intimidate people.

Chamber Issues Statement on Unit 4 Referendum

Our mission states that we are "a member focused business association" and with mission statements, an organization either gives lip service to the words -- or it lives its mission.

While we know that many of our members have strong opinions regarding the proposed $149 million Unit 4 school referendum, the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce can neither support nor oppose this referendum. As a member focused business association, we asked our members to help shape the position of the Chamber by providing feedback through a recent poll; through 100+ random phone calls to members and in-person conversations between staff and members.

It is the role of the Chamber to identify the consensus of our membership and to then act accordingly. But just like the one-cent sales tax increase for school capital projects passed in 2009, the proposed Unit 4 referendum has no consensus among our membership. After reviewing the sampling, our members appear to be split on the issue and many remain undecided.

Therefore, the Chamber will offer information to the membership for consideration before the November 4 election. We hope that the members who are able to vote on this issue will give serious consideration to both sides of this referendum.

Why a Yes Vote Should Be Considered:

  • As a community, we have allowed our educational facilities to be neglected for far too long. We have aging facilities that need to be addressed. We cannot continue to "kick the can" done the road on our schools.
  • Whether it be talent recruitment for the University; the tech sector; health care or manufacturing, the quality of education and the facilities in which that education is provided is weighed by the people being recruited. Our facilities get compared to other communities and we need to be competitive with other communities for top talent on all levels.
  • In a single school district, inequity for students should not exist nor is it acceptable. A child's address should not dictate whether that child is given greater access to on-site extracurricular facilities; air conditioning; less crowded classrooms and more modern facilities.
  • Delaying action on improving school facilities will not get any cheaper. The longer we wait to address the aging facilities, the more expensive it will become and at some point, we will be faced with a crisis situation for failure to act.
  • Improving the facilities and following sustainable practices will improve energy efficiencies and ultimately reduce the cost to operate individual buildings. And in spite of the ages, with Centennial High School being the newer facility, Centennial is the most expensive school in the district to operate.

Why a No Vote Should Be Considered:

  • While the district argues that the district's tax rate is one of the lowest in the area, it cannot be ignored that Illinois has the 10th highest property tax collection per person in the country. Additionally, Reboot Illinois ranks Champaign County as tied for 15th out of 50 Illinois Counties as having the highest property tax rate per 100,000 assessed residential property tax.
  • The most significant economic development driver for business expansion or relocation is the cost of doing business. Nice school facilities may help a company recruit talent, but if we continue to drive the tax rate up -- we lose our competitive advantage. If passed, this will add an estimated annual $1 million+ to the property taxes already paid by the business community. Each tax increase leaves less money for businesses to reinvest in their own companies.
  • Public officials are obligated to use tax payer dollars in the most efficient, effective manner. Conceptual drawings to renovate Central High School exist but the district chose to not price these concepts as options. Upon analyzing the options, the outcome may absolutely be the same. But there is an obligation to analyze all options to be sure that the district is being good stewards of tax payer dollars. Opponents also question the validity of the figures for the Spalding Park concept. At this late date, the district should be able to refute the opponents' claims with certainty. The Chamber has not seen any evidence that the district has done so.
  • This referendum is being promoted as necessary to give Unit 4 kids a 21st Century learning experience. 21st century learning requires innovation and creativity. Yet, the district has defaulted to the traditional school model of today. DeJong-Richter, the districts own consultant stated that "students have always learned outside of school buildings, and new technological possibilities will challenge traditional school facilities even further."* Just one example of innovative construction is a seven-story high school in the heart of the Chicago loop. It is expected to house 1,700 students by 2016. It is a 278,000 sq. ft. building that costs $114.6 ($90.9 million in construction). This is a building that will accommodate its student population on a very small footprint. Did the district really seek a creative solution to an important issue? *School Construction News: Top 10 Trends in School Facility Planning - March/April 2009
  • With just days before the election, the district still does not have a viable plan for repurposing Central High School once it is vacated. Without a clear plan on how the building will be repurposed, there is no clear information on how much it will cost. This unknown is part of the total price tag that is not being captured in the referendum - thus making the total cost of a new high school truly unknown.

Both sides of the argument have merit. A yes or a no vote is not a reflection on whether people support a quality education. It is a reflection that people disagree on what it takes to provide a quality education.

Regardless of how you choose to vote, please remember to vote on November 4.

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