Tom Kacich: Brown learning realities of House
Rep. Adam Brown, R-Champaign, is getting another nasty lesson in the difficulty of being a member of the minority in the Democratic-dominated Illinois House.
Brown, in his second term in the House, is sponsor of HB 2496, a bill to provide state incentives to help lure a $1.2 billion fertilizer plant to Tuscola, a project that would be an economic boon to East Central Illinois. Iowa also is competing for the plant.
Brown had lined up two dozen co-sponsors for the measure, met with House leaders, the governor and others, got the bill out of committee unanimously and thought it was in good shape for passage.
"It was getting extremely close to being called. We had a meeting with Speaker (Michael) Madigan, (Democratic Leader) Barbara Flynn Currie and (Republican Leader Tom) Cross where we sat down and discussed all the issues at hand. They indicated they were supportive," Brown recalled.
"And then a couple days later, John Bradley filed Amendment 3."
Amendment 3 forgives a $15 million state loan to the Chicago Port Authority that was made 25 years ago.
The odd thing is that Rep. John Bradley is from Marion, about 310 miles from the offices of the Chicago Port Authority. But Bradley is also among Madigan's assistant leaders.
The amendment was approved in a voice vote on the House floor, so now it's part of Brown's bill for the Tuscola fertilizer plant, a bill that was seemingly headed for approval. Now his bill is on hold.
"I tried to remove it," Brown said. "But it turned out that wouldn't work out."
There is an alternative, though. Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, passed a similar bill out of the Senate, so Brown will carry that bill in the House.
"Chapin's bill (SB 1147) is a clean bill. It's going to be my priority at this point," Brown said. "Hopefully they don't pass any hostile amendments onto this one."
Brown said he was encouraged that Madigan called officials of Cronus Chemical LLC, the developers of the proposed Tuscola plant, "and let them know that he is still in support and will push the bill through as soon as we go back into the session.
"Of course, there's still a level of skepticism, as far as what might get tied into the bill. Optimally, I'd like to have it pass clean, like Chapin's did in the Senate. But I understand there are other forces at work here that are beyond my control."
Brown says his priority is "to create jobs in central Illinois, and this bill will be a tremendous boost to do that and to help the economy."
Obviously, Brown is in a tough predicament and can't be too critical of Madigan, Bradley or other Democrats, lest he see the bill loaded down with more unwelcome amendments.
"It's not something I'm extremely excited about, but I understand. I have to pass my bill," he said. "I've talked with members of every caucus, the Hispanic caucus, the black caucus, male, female, upstate, downstate. I have a lot of sponsors on that bill and I think it would be best if it was run as a stand-alone bill.
"Realistically, the speaker's in charge of the House and if he decides that he doesn't want Senate Bill 1147 to be heard in committee, he can leave it in Rules (Committee), and in that situation I'd be forced to run House Bill 2496" with the waiver of the port authority loan attached.
Brown has had his share of frustration in his two-plus years in the House, "but this is definitely the most frustrating thing that has happened to me because this is such an important opportunity for our district and really the entire state. It would be the largest fertilizer plant in the state. You would think that with Illinois losing 60,000 jobs after that (January 2011 income-) tax increase, we'd be more focused on creating good-paying jobs."
He said he's confident the fertilizer plant incentives bill will eventually pass, but "my fear is what could possibly be attached in the future. We should have the leadership support to get it through, but between the start and the finish line I don't know what will happen."
Davis not on DL
U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, was working out last week with the Republican team that is scheduled to play in the annual congressional baseball game in Washington when he suffered a stinging injury.
Davis, a runner who also helps coach his sons' baseball and football teams, learned why the toughest position in baseball is catcher when he took a pitch off the inside of his foot.
"Ron DeSantis of Florida threw a pitch a little low, and I haven't played catcher in 30 years, and I used my foot to stop it instead of the equipment," Davis said. "I bruised up my foot a little. It also bruised my ego that I got hurt.
"But I was at practice again today. I caught during our scrimmage again. This is fun."
The GOP team practices at 6:30 a.m.
Davis, 43, said he doesn't know if he'll be playing catcher in the game. He could end up as the battery mate of his political mentor, U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, who in the past has pitched for the Republican team.
"That's where they've had me the last couple days, but it's up to them," he said. "I'm a freshman. I go where they tell me to go."
Davis said he'll be there on June 13 for the Republican-Democrat game at Nationals Park. The game is sponsored by Congressional Quarterly and is a benefit for two local charities, the Washington Literacy Center and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington.
Last year's game, the 51st in the series, raised more than $160,000.
Fighting over the Illini
During Illinois Senate debate last week on a bill that would ban smoking on all public university grounds, Rose bemoaned that under the proposal, tailgating football fans would be unable to "have a stogie with your beer and brat while standing outside and waiting to go into the Illini game."
The sponsor of the smoking ban bill is Sen. Terry Link, D-Waukegan, who attended Stout State University, now the University of Wisconsin-Stout.
Link responded to Rose's complaint with what could only be characterized as a slap at last year's 2-10 Illinois football team.
"As Illini fans, like you and I are," said Link, "I've got to tell you that unless that football team improves, we won't have to worry about tailgating."
The remark generated some boos, catcalls and laughs, but no senators disputed it.
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.