General Interest Interviews
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General Interest Interviews
In March, 2013 David Blanchette, who had worked at the IL Historic Preservation Agency for nearly fourteen years, joined the Governor Pat Quinn administration as an assistant press secretary. He was brought on board to maximize the positive publicity the governor received in the lead-up to Quinn's run for reelection in 2014. David proved to be very successful in promoting the governor's 'Illinois Jobs Now' program, where he targeted the initiative's successes in local communities, but it was not enough to defeat Quinn's opponent, wealthy businessman Bruce Rauner, in what proved to be a strong Republican year.
Edward M. Burke worked as a police officer during the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. He was on the convention floor at Chicago's Stockyards International Amphitheater on the south side of town. The Convention was marked by dramatic confrontations inside the Convention hall, and violence and chaos in downtown Chicago, where thousands of protesters had gathered to demonstrate against the war and the Democratic Party. Burke discusses his experiences in depth, including the time he informed Mayor Richard J. Daley about an altercation involving CBS reporter Dan Rather and a Chicago police officer.
For over 40 years Gene Callahan worked in the political arena, first as a journalist with the Illinois State Register (Springfield) from 1957 to 1967, then as assistant press secretary for Gov. Sam Shapiro, and Lt. Gov. Paul Simon's press secretary until 1972. In 1974 he began his long association with Alan Dixon, when Dixon served as Illinois state Treasurer, then Illinois Secretary of State. When Dixon moved to the U.S. Senate in 1981, Callahan became his chief of staff and most trusted political advisor. After Dixon lost a reelection bid to Carol Mosley Braun in 1992, Callahan worked for several years as the chief lobbyist for Major League Baseball, fighting to preserve its exemption from the Sherman Antitrust Act. His long friendship with Senator Dick Durbin dates back to the days when both worked for Lt. Gov. Simon.
Bill Feurer began working in Governor Otto Kerner's administration in 1963 as an assistant press secretary, and soon became an assistant to the governor, spending much of his time as a speech writer and aide. He discussed Governor Kerner's many accomplishments while in office, and Lyndon Johnson's offer to head up the National Commission on Civil Disorders, which became known as the Kerner Commission. Feurer also discusses Kerner's time as a federal judge, and his corruption trial and conviction in 1973. Feurer shares the views of many that Kerner was wrongly convicted, and was a fundamentally honest man.
Paul Findley (Republican) was U.S. Congressman from west central Illinois, serving the 20th IL District from 1961 through 1982, when he was defeated. Findley started his political career as a strong fiscal conservative and champion of farmers. By the end of the 1960s his focus had turned more toward foreign affairs. He was an early opponent to the Vietnam War, and one of the early sponsors of the War Powers Act. By the late 1970s, he sought ways to reach out to the PLO and its leader Yasser Arafat. That move angered what Findley referred to the Jewish lobby, a factor in his defeat by newcomer Dick Durbin.
Beverly Helm-Renfro grew up in Springfield, Illinois, the daughter of a prominent African-American who served for decades as the Secretary of State's photographer, where he took photos of the leading politicians of Illinois and a steady stream of notable Americans visiting the state capital. Beverly worked as an administrative assistant to two Illinois state senators, for Fred Smith from 1973 to 1978, and many years later for Barack Obama from 2001 to 2004, when he served in the Illinois State Senate.
In 2007 Mark Janus began working at the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, but was surprised when he discovered he was paying "fair share" union dues to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) even though he was not a union member. In early 2015 Janus decided to file a law suit against AFSCME, claiming that his 1st Amendment freedom of speech rights were being violated. The Liberty Justice Center represented him on a pro bono basis and over the next three years they argued the Janus case through the court system. His case was heard before the U.S. Supreme Court in early 2018, and decided in his favor on June 27, 2018 by a 5-4 decision.
Phil Krone grew up in a liberal Democrat family, but by the early 1960s, as a young adult, he was often voting for Republicans. After a few years teaching, he began a career as a political consultant, and also began to travel extensively. In 1974 he once again identified himself as a liberal Democrat, and over the next several years worked for several prominent Illinois politicians. Throughout the next three decades he continued to travel overseas, logging over 150 visits to Europe. Krone was diagnosed with cancer in 2005, and passed away in August of 2010.
In December 2008 Governor Rod Blagojevich was arrested on corruption and extortion charges. Shortly afterward, in January of 2009, the Illinois House of Representatives impeached the Governor. Representative Lou Lang, a legislator since 1987 and an Assistant Majority Leader for the Democrats at that time, recounts the impeachment process, detailing the thoughts of the major players involved. The proceedings focused on conducting a fair and unbiased hearing to serve as a base for future accounts.
Springfield attorney Mary Lee Leahy has spent her life in the public eye, helping to successfully litigate the
Dick Lockhart began a long career in lobbying and journalism in the mid 1950s, starting his own lobbying firm, Social Engineering Associates, in 1958. Lockhart focused his energies on smaller clients, in particular, the Mental Health Association of IL, and later the IL Press Association, public sector unions, and many others. With over fifty years of lobbying in Springfield, Lockhart has helped to shape scores of pieces of legislation, and worked with all of the state's top legislators.
Ann Lousin earned a law degree from the University of Chicago in 1968, and the following year worked as a research assistant for Illinois's Constitutional Convention, a subject that has fascinated her ever since. She has written extensively on the subject, and is regarded as the premier authority on ConCon. In 1970 Lousin was selected to serve first as a staff assistant and later as the parliamentarian in the Illinois House of Representations at a time when W. Robert Blair (Republican) was the Speaker of the House. In 1975, she began a long and distinguished career as professor at the John Marshall Law School. Governor Jim Thompson selected Lousin to chair the Civil Service Commission, a position she held until 1983.
Ron Michaelson spent 29 years with the Illinois State Board of Elections, 27 of those as its executive director. During those years he observed much of the state's turbulent political history first-hand, including a contested gubernatorial election in 1982, and the bizarre 1986 gubernatorial election. Michaelson resigned his position at the beginning of the Rod Blagojevich administration.
Newton Minow rose to fame as John F. Kennedy's Federal Communications Commission chairman when he used the phrase "vast wasteland" to describe the relatively new medium of television. He returned to Chicago in 1965, joined the law firm of Sidley Austin, and stayed active in Democratic politics for the rest of a long and productive career. Other alum of Sidley Austin included Michelle (Robinson) Obama and Barack Obama, who worked there as an intern. Minow formed a friendship and a mentoring relationship with the young lawyer, and Barack often sought him out for advice at important points in his life.
Taylor Pensoneau covered the Illinois Statehouse beat for the
Mitchell Roth, the General Council for the Illinois Education Association, discusses the Janus v. AFSCME of Illinois Supreme Court case, defending the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employee's position on the controversial case. Mark Janus, an employee at the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, filed the case in 2015, arguing that it was unconstitutional to collect 'fair share' dues from non-members. Janus's attorneys asserted that forcing him to pay 'fair share' dues violated his 1st Amendment rights. AFSCME's attorneys argued that since Janus was, by state law, never-the-less represented by AFSCME during contract negotiations and received other benefits as well, his first amendment rights were not violated, a position which previous Supreme Court cases had upheld. In June 2018 the Supreme Court decided in Janus' favor by a 5-4 decision.
For 44 years Roy Schilling served as an educator, including stints as an Elementary School Teacher, Principal, Central School District Office Administrator and a College Professor in Decatur, Illinois. His interview covers his educational career, connections to Governor Richard J. Oglesby’s family, and the history of Elkhart and Decatur.
Thwarted for a seat as a delegate to the 1970 Illinois Constitutional Convention, Michael Shakman filed suit against the Cook County (Chicago) Democratic Party, seeking redress from the political machine's system of patronage, cronyism and political corruption. His persistent efforts led to two Shakman Decrees that have transformed politics in Chicago.
Bernie Sieracki spent a lifetime as a lobbyist, working in the Illinois state legislature for a variety of clients, including the Illinois Petroleum Council and later on, Waste Management before starting his own lobbying firm, Business Government Relations. Sieracki talks extensively about lobbying, and about the political culture in Springfield during his roughly forty years as a lobbyist. Following the impeachment of Gov. Rod Blagojevich in 2009, he was perfectly suited to write the definitive book on the impeachment process, entitled "A Just Cause: The Impeachment and Removal of Governor Rod Blagojevich."
Hal Smith began working for Senator Charles Percy in 1977 as his downstate representative doing constituent services and assisting with the Senator's travel and event planning in Illinois. Smith admired Percy deeply, and shared many stories about the senator and his experiences with Percy. Smith stayed in that position until Percy was defeated for reelection in 1984 by Paul Simon. After Smith spent many years in the private sector, much of it doing consulting work on state lottery systems, he returned to the political arena in 2016 to work for Congressman Darin LaHood.