Alton, IL

Obama Addresses Illinois Lawmakers

Story by WBGZ Radio

To much applause from some members of the Illinois Legislature, President Barack Obama came out in support of redistricting reform.


The Chicago Democrat gave an hour-long address to a joint session of the Illinois General Assembly about what he thinks it will take to make politics less divisive.


Among several points the president says would help make for better dialog among elected officials was rethinking the way political maps are drawn.


“In America, politicians should not pick their voters,” Obama said.”  “Voters should pick their politicians, and this needs to be done across the nation, not just in a select few states. It should be done everywhere.”


The president said redistricting reform is especially popular among minority-party politicians in systems that have the majority drawing the maps, but  “nobody has clean hands.”


Gov. Bruce Rauner has been pushing for redistricting reform, without much movement, while an independent group continues work to get the constitutional amendment question on the ballot for this November.


Other points the president said will help make a better politics were addressing the influence of money and increasing voter participation by passing automatic voter registration.


Obama also said  politicians too often are rewarded by their own party for not compromising. The president said that gets in the way of doing the people’s work.


“All that does is prevent what most Americans would consider actual accomplishments like fixing roads, educating kids, passing budgets,” Obama said before being interrupted by applause and finishing with, “cleaning our environment (and) making our streets safe.”


Although the president didn’t specifically address Illinois’ budget impasse, lawmakers applauded the statement.


Illinois is now more than seven months without a fiscal 2016 budget for higher education, community colleges, tuition assistance grants and some social services. It also has a growing backlog of bills, unfunded pension liabilities and deficit spending projected to hit $5 billion or more.  


But while talking about willingness to compromise, the president also took took a jab at a House Democrat who has sided with Republican Governor Bruce Rauner on some high-profile votes.


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“I’ve got an opportunity to find some common ground,” The president said. “That doesn’t make me a sell out to my own party.”   


At that time Obama directed his attention to Democratic Rep. Ken Dunkin who parted ways with his colleagues on votes including child care assistance and an effort to change the way the state addresses an impasse in the case of stalled labor talks.


“Well, we’ll talk later Dunkin, you just sit down,” Obama said.


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