Last week's vote in Congress for an amendment restricting the National Security Agency's ability to undertake the broad collection of phone records was a unique amalgam of liberal Democrats and conservative to libertarian Republicans.
The amendment, which failed by only eight votes, was co-sponsored by liberal veteran Detroit Democrat John Conyers and two-term libertarian Republican Justin Amash, who represents a mostly rural district in western Michigan.
Among its four supporters in Illinois' 18-member delegation was Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, whose 13th Congressional District includes Champaign-Urbana. The three other Illinoisans voting for the amendment were Chicago Democrats Bobby Rush and Danny Davis (no relation to Rodney Davis), and DuPage County Republican Randy Hultgren.
Twelve Illinois representatives, including Collinsville Republican Rep. John Shimkus, who represents another part of Champaign County, voted against the amendment.
Rodney Davis said he was undecided about the amendment until he talked to Rep. James Sensenbrenner, the Wisconsin Republican who was one of the lead authors of the Patriot Act which was passed in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Sensenbrenner also voted for the amendment last week, saying that he never intended to allow the government to sweep the phone records of all Americans.
"The time has come to stop it," Sensenbrenner said.
"He believes that we need to make these changes and he's wiling to write some of those changes. This was an opportunity to send that message, that some safeguards may need to be implemented, post-Snowden," Davis said of Edward Snowden, who exposed the NSA's activities in leaked documents. "We don't want to hamstring any of our law enforcement from being able to protect Americans from those who want to do us harm. We just also have to ensure there are safeguards with American citizens, and this was an opportunity to send a message that more needs to be done."
Davis said his congressional offices took a lot of calls from constituents about the issue and that most people favored limitations on the NSA.
"My point is to send a message to leaders of both parties and to this administration that there are many members of Congress talking to their constituents who are very concerned about different bureaucracies, not just our intelligence agencies, not just law enforcement, but the IRS and their entire bureaucracy possibly going a little overboard when it comes to using some of the tactics that we've seen with the IRS," Davis said of charges that the IRS was targeting political nonprofit groups.
Davis said his vote was proof "that I'm independent from everyone except the constituents who have sent me."
He said the roll call in favor of the NSA amendment — 94 Republicans and 111 Democrats — "goes to the fact that you have a lot of people from both parties who really dive into the issues and try not to vote on a partisan roll call. Unfortunately the only roll call votes that usually get noticed are the ones that are partisan roll calls."
A study by OpenCongress.org, however, finds that both Davis and Shimkus — who represent most of East Central Illinois — have voted with their Republican colleagues in the House 91 percent of the time.
Quinn writing off downstate? Twice last week Gov. Pat Quinn missed scoring free media in downstate Illinois, opting instead for events in the Chicago suburbs.
But that's where the votes are, especially in the Democratic primary which is Quinn's next election.
On Thursday he went all-in in the south suburbs with the signing of an omnibus economic development bill that included the proposed Peotone airport, a sports arena for DePaul University in Chicago, a port authority project in East St. Louis and a $1 billion-plus fertilizer plant project for Tuscola.
The Tuscola project may be the most realistic and the most immediate — an announcement about its construction could come in a month — but Quinn selected Governors State University as the bill-signing site, to the disappointment of local legislators.
"I suggested they sign it in Tuscola, but they never called back," said Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet.
Rep. Adam Brown, R-Champaign, who sponsored the original House bill setting up the fertilizer plant tax and infrastructure incentives, conceded that Quinn's staff worked diligently on the Tuscola project.
"His liaisons I know worked hard for the bill and privately they were very supportive of the Tuscola fertilizer plant," Brown said. "I'm a little bit surprised that he didn't mention it in the signing of Senate Bill 20."
Brown said he wasn't invited to the bill signing.
"In fact I spoke with his liaisons two or three times and mentioned that when he signed it I'd be interested in appearing with him and letting him know how much we appreciated his support, but I wasn't notified about it," Brown said. "When an issue like this comes up I think it's not only for the good of my district but for the good of the entire state. I think it's imperative we break down party lines and work on behalf of our constituents."
And on Friday Quinn skipped an event celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Kraft Foods plant in Champaign, instead attending the announcement of construction of a recycling center in Naperville.
Briefs. Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, was named "Legislator of the Year" by the Association of Illinois Soil and Water Conservation Districts. ... Rep. Chad Hays, R-Catlin, will hold traveling office hours this week in Rantoul (2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday at the Rantoul Public Library) and Savoy (10 a.m. to noon at the municipal center).
Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column runs on Sundays and Wednesdays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.