Tom Kacich: Legislators use trivial issues to prove their autonomy
For some members of Congress, especially those in "swing" districts that are neither overwhelmingly Republican nor Democratic, it's important to show their independence from their party leadership.
Democrats in the recent past had to demonstrate independence from former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and today it's important for some Republicans not to be linked too closely to Speaker John Boehner or House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
Some publications and interest groups rate members based on independence from their leaders, and the best way to show nonconformity is by taking votes at odds with the leadership. But members don't want to vote the wrong way on key roll calls, so how are they to show that independence?
They do so by differing on the really small stuff, like votes on whether to approve the House Journal, the equivalent of endorsing the minutes of a meeting.
It's a procedure House Democrats came up with several years ago when Pelosi was in charge.
Now Republicans are doing it too.
On March 19, for example, 133 members voted against approving the House Journal. Among them were Republicans Reps. Rodney Davis of Taylorville — whose 13th Congressional District includes Champaign-Urbana — and Adam Kinzinger of Manteno, who represents Ford and Iroquois counties.
In fact, Davis has voted against approving the House Journal nine out of nine times this year, and Kinzinger has done it most of the time.
Davis insisted last week that his votes weren't a political trick, but that he legitimately opposed approving the journal.
"They throw the vote up there and they don't show me this journal I'm supposed to accept so ... I want to see it first," the freshman congressman said.
Asked if he would ever vote to approve the House Journal, Davis said, "It depends on the issue. The bottom line is that I haven't been able to read or see one of these journals that they want me to approve because they throw them up for vote after a regular series. The fact of the matter is, I want to be able to know exactly what we're voting on."
He said his journal votes aren't a way of separating himself from the House Republican leadership.
"I think my votes already show I'm pretty independent, regardless of whether it's a parliamentary procedure vote like journal votes," Davis said.
Yet on five key budget votes in March, Davis voted with Cantor. On a sixth budget vote, Davis, Cantor and 102 other House Republicans opposed a conservative budget proposal advanced by the Republican Study Committee. It would have upped the Social Security age to 70 and cut Medicare benefits, including for those now 59 years old.
Sen. Mike Frerichs, a possible Democratic candidate for state treasurer next year, sent out a fundraising appeal last week, saying that he hoped to increase his receipts before the end of the first quarter reporting period today.
"A strong number will show that I have the momentum it takes to run a successful campaign," the Champaign Democrat wrote. "Anything you can do today will make a huge difference as I decide my next steps."
Frerichs, who had about $375,000 on hand as of Dec. 31, has reported about $82,000 in contributions of $1,000 or more since that time, including $1,000 from former University of Illinois Trustee Gerald Shea. Smaller donations of $25 to $250 — the kind he sought in the online appeal — won't be reported until later in April.
Rex Bradfield, the Republican candidate for mayor of Urbana, last week reported reactivating his campaign and said that he had $3,000 on hand. The source of the money was not disclosed.
Laurel Prussing, the incumbent Democratic mayor, has already reported $3,000 on hand plus an $8,000 personal loan.
UI employment numbers
The recently released audit of University of Illinois operations reveals some interesting numbers about employment at the Urbana and Chicago campuses. Over the last 10 years (comparing fiscal years 2003 and 2012), the audit shows that overall employment at the Urbana campus has increased by 368, and by 334 at the Chicago campus.
The number of faculty members and academic professionals is up at both campuses, while the number of support staff and "other" employees at Urbana is down by more than 1,000 but is virtually unchanged at Chicago.
Enrollment, meanwhile, has increased at the Urbana campus by 3,949 (to 44,407) in that period and at Chicago by 2,327 (to 28,091).
The university's total enrollment has increased from 70,796 to 77,635.
Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column appears on Sundays and Wednesdays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.