Tag: Champaign County IL

My thoughts about flag burning

A little over 30 miles from my home, a flag-burning case is all over the local news.

In Urbana, Illinois, Bryton Mellott, 22 years of age, was booked by local law enforcement for burning the U.S. flag as a form of political protest. Specifically, Mellott was booked for disorderly conduct and violating the Illinois flag desecration statute, which officially classifies flag desecration as a felony in Illinois.

I want to share my own thoughts about flag burning.

Unless there are aggravating circumstances in a particular case (such as flag burning on government property of any kind, flag burning on private property not owned by the individual burning the flag without permission from the property owner, or causing a broader public danger by burning the flag (such as igniting a wildfire or setting fire to something other than the flag)), flag burning should be considered a form of protected free speech. As someone who comes from a family that has had many family members serve in our nation’s Armed Forces, I regard the U.S. flag as a very important national symbol, and burning the U.S. flag is something that I would never do. If I wish to air some kind of grievance that I have about politics or government policy, I will write a blog post, either on this website or another website, about it. However, as long as no damage is being done to property other than the flag itself, the flag in question is the property of the individual burning it, and the flag burning is taking place on one’s own private property or, if on someone else’s property, with permission from the property owner, I don’t believe that flag burning should be a criminal offense of any kind. Keep in mind that I don’t personally approve of burning the flag as a form of protest, and it is something that I would never even consider doing. If you wish to dispose of a U.S. flag in a proper and dignified manner, I recommend contacting an organization like the American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) for information before disposing of the flag.

Also, I strongly disapprove of making violent threats towards people, even people who are convicted or accused of criminal activity. We have a judicial system in this country that is built on the principle of due process, not vigilantism.

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Democratic Party officials pick Scott Bennett to replace Mike Frerichs in Illinois Senate

Scott Bennett, a Champaign County Assistant State’s Attorney from Champaign, has been selected to replace Illinois State Treasurer Mike Frerichs in the 52nd Legislative District seat in the Illinois Senate, and Bennett will serve the final two years of Frerichs’s current term and intends to run for a full four-year term in the state senate in the 2016 elections.

However, Bennett’s remarks before and after accepting the appointment from Champaign County Democratic Party Chairman Al Kurtz (officially, there were two people who were on the 52nd Legislative District Democratic replacement committee, but Kurtz had a majority of the weighted vote, so, in effect, he single-handedly picked the replacement senator) have me very concerned about what his voting record would look like as a state senator.

In a public forum held in Champaign last week where Bennett and the 11 others who sought the appointment were publicly vetted, Bennett publicly bashed Champaign, Urbana, and Danville, the three largest cities in the district that have the vast majority of the district’s population, and claimed that he was seeking the appointment to serve the smaller communities and rural areas of the district, something which Republicans normally do as a coded way of stirring up racial resentment among voters:

“I bring that up because the 52nd District is more than just Champaign, Urbana and Danville. It also includes a lot of farms, and includes over a dozen small communities that have concerns and needs very different from its urban neighbors,” said Bennett. “And I believe I’m one of the only candidates on this slate that understands the concerns and the needs of those communities.”

Apparently, Scott Bennett thinks that he’s responsible for representing a small minority of the district’s population and not the entire district. It’s worth noting that the entire district has 217,468 residents according to the 2010 U.S. Census, and Champaign, Urbana, and Danville combined have a total of 155,332 people, or 71.43% of the district’s total population. To put that another way, Bennett thinks he’s responsible for representing 29.57% of the district’s total population, when, in reality, he’s responsible for representing 100% of the people who live in the district.

Bizarrely, Bennett claimed to be conservative and progressive at once:

His background, Bennett said “is conservative, but I have a long history of working with progressive candidates and their causes.”

Bennett’s background is certainly conservative: he comes from a conservative family that also includes a far-right Republican state representative-elect, Tom Bennett, although it’s commonplace here in Illinois for family members, even close family members, to have completely different party affiliations and political views, in fact, I have relatives who I disagree with politically on many issues, so just because someone has conservative relatives means absolutely nothing about that person’s political views. Regarding Bennett’s claim of having a “long history of working with progressive candidates and their causes”, I want to make two points about that: Bennett never cited any examples of his history of working with progressive candidates and causes that I am aware of, and just because someone supports a progressive candidate for public office doesn’t make one a progressive.

Regarding issues that Bennett views as important, education, which is indeed a very important issue in this part of the state, appears to be the issue that Bennett regards as most important to him:

“We are failing our citizens in so many ways,” he said. “You invest in education. You make sure that we all have a fair and equitable chance at technology and training so that it shouldn’t matter, your opportunities shouldn’t be dependent on what Zip Code you were lucky enough to be born into. It’s also to make sure we reinvest in vocational training in our high schools so those students who are interested in a four-year degree can still get job training so they can support their families after they get out of school.”

That kind of statement on education policy could be used by virtually any politician of any political party and ideological persuasion. Bennett’s remarks on education could describe a very progressive pro-public education policy, such as increasing funding for public schools, establishing a fairer formula for allocating state funds to local school districts, and holding schools, administrators, and teachers accountable based on curriculum and academic standards, not standardized tests. However, Bennett’s remarks on education could describe a very conservative anti-public education policy, such as privatizing public schools, establishing charter schools and school vouchers, implementing academic standards that emphasize standardized testing and overemphasize career preparation, giving big business interests more control over education, and shaming and cutting funding from poorly-performing schools.

While Scott Bennett will be my state senator for at least the next two years, what his voting record will look like two years from now is a huge mystery, given that his previous job involved prosecuting criminal cases, a job that generally doesn’t involve making public policy decisions, and he’s given no real indication of what his ideological leanings are. I would strongly encourage Senator Bennett to hold public listening sessions in every part of the district over the next two years in order to better know the voters, taxpayers, citizens, and people of the 52nd Legislative District. I think that he’ll find that the people of this district have very progressive values.

Anti-abortion Democrat Michael Puhr seeking appointment to Illinois State Senate seat currently held by Mike Frerichs

In just a few weeks, Mike Frerichs, who represents me in the Illinois State Senate, will be sworn in as the new Illinois Treasurer. This will result in a vacancy in the 52nd Legislative District of Illinois, which is a microcosm of the state and includes parts of Champaign and Vermilion Counties, including the cities of Champaign, Urbana, and Danville.

Three Democrats have publicly acknowledged that they are seeking the state senate appointment:

  • Danville Alderman Michael Puhr
  • Former Champaign County Board Chairman C. Pius Weibel
  • Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing

Additionally, several other Democrats, none of which have been publicly named by anyone, are seeking the appointment as well.

The fact that Michael Puhr is considering a state senate appointment isn’t surprising, as he ran in the 104th Representative District (areas of the 52nd Legislative District outside of the heavily-Democratic areas of Champaign and Urbana) in 2010, losing to far-right Republican candidate Chad Hays in an open-seat race. However, during his state house campaign, Puhr campaigned as an socially conservative Democrat, opposing abortion and gun control. I remember seeing newspaper ads paid for by Puhr’s state house campaign which touted Puhr as a “pro-life” and “pro-2nd Amendment” candidate, indicating that Puhr is opposed to the idea of women having the right to make their own reproductive health care decisions and is opposed to most, if not all, forms of gun control designed to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and abusers. While Puhr’s socially conservative views would probably be necessary for a Republican-leaning state house district to be won by a Democrat, Puhr is seeking an appointment to a seat in a state senate district that is a microcosm of a Democratic-leaning state where it is very difficult for politicians who publicly oppose women’s rights to get elected, in fact, if Puhr were to be appointed to the state senate, he’d probably lose a competitive primary once the seat comes up for election in 2016.

The only other Democrat who is publicly seeking the state senate appointment that I know quite a bit about is Laurel Prussing. Prussing, who is currently the Mayor of Urbana, the second-largest city in the district, has been a political figure in East Central Illinois for over four decades. Prussing has publicly stated that she wants to eliminate property tax exemptions on at least some non-profit hospitals in Illinois, such as Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana. I like this idea, since, given how much money hospitals make (even many non-profit hospitals have large cash reserves), hospitals like Carle are effectively moochers since they receive corporate welfare (in the form of a property tax break) from the state.

I know virtually nothing about C. Pius Wiebel, as I’m not all that familiar with Champaign County politics.

The Champaign County and Vermilion County Democratic Party chairmen should appoint someone who will represent the people of East Central Illinois well to serve the last two years of Mike Frerichs’s term in the Illinois Senate. Hopefully, that isn’t a supporter of the Bruce Rauner-Mike Madigan War on Women like Michael Puhr.