Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


My Take on Five

By Shawn Healy
Rahm Emanuel's decision to serve as Chief of Staff for President Obama led to an opening for congressman in the 5th Congressional District in Illinois. Covering the North and Northwest sides of Chicago, the vacancy has set in motion a competitive and swollen field of candidates, with party primaries scheduled for next Tuesday, March 3rd. The winners will go on to a general election runoff on Tuesday, April 7.

Given that the district devotes about two-thirds of its votes in presidential elections to Democratic candidates, the bulk of the attention has been centered on candidates in a single party. It was the 5th District that repeatedly sent the powerful chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, Dan Rostenkowski, to Congress until he was sent to prison in a federal corruption scandal. A Republican, Michael Flanagan, won the aftermath 15 years ago, but Rod Blagojevich soon replaced him. Emanuel took Blagojevich's place when the since impeached and removed governor first ran for the office.

The Democratic field is twelve strong, but four of them stand most prominently in an election where turnout is expected to be light. State Rep. Sara Feigengholtz is the best funded candidate, and this matters in an abbreviated contest of this nature, but her ties to Blagojevich may sink her ship.

State Rep. John Fritchey has been a persistent Blagojevich critic in the oast couple of years and boasts the support of powerful local unions and politicians, including the disgraced former governor's father-in-law, Ald. Dick Mell. His role in the recent impeachment proceedings, where he railroaded Republican questioning of Roland Burris, has come under increasing scrutiny in light of last week's revelations.

Ald. Patrick O'Connor is Mayor Daley's unofficial floor leader in a "rubber stamp" city council, and is unabashedly pro-establishment at a time where change lingers in the air. He is searching for an opening in a race where Hizzoner has refused to pick a horse.

Commissioner Mike Quigley is a member of the Cook County Board and a self-titled reformer. He gained the support of the editorial board of Chicago's two major newspapers (Tribune and Sun-Times), and may have his finger on the pulse of the times.

On the Republican side, the field is composed of six lesser-known candidates, including businessman Tom Hanson who ran against Emanuel last fall and styles himself as a "liberal" member of the party, and lawyer Greg Bedell who gained the endorsement of the Tribune (the Sun-Times failed to endorse a Republican candidate).

Five members of the Green Party also seek the office in a primary of their own.


His Excellency

By Shawn Healy
On the heels of Barack Obama’s ascension to the White House last month, and President’s Day a week ago, we celebrate his presidency and those of his 42 predecessors. First and foremost is the man who molded the position, “His Excellency,” George Washington, born 277 years ago yesterday. This namesake was used throughout the Revolutionary War as he willed the Colonial Army to an unlikely victory against the British in an elongated eight-year campaign. It is also the title of a 2004 book written by Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian Joseph Ellis.

Ellis’ 275-page tome is a manageable retrospective on the most essential member of the Founding Generation. It removes the veneer of the fairy tale story of George Washington, but also the tarnish that revisionists have since attempted to unleash on the “Father of Our Country.” The story winds through his life, emphasizing his humble roots, the military exploits as a British subject that would pave the way for future use against the crown, and his decision to “marry up,” choosing Martha Custis, the wealthiest woman in Virginia over his true love.

At heart, Washington was a pragmatist, for unlike his revolutionary peers (Adams, Jefferson, and Madison to name a few); he was not formally educated or beholden to established theories. Washington was a man of action who learned by doing. He had a keen ability to see greatness in others, delegating to offset his own weaknesses, while maintaining the respect and undying loyalty of his subordinates.

Of the charter members of our Founders, Washington is perhaps the most difficult to get to know on a personal level in spite of the immense scholarship that lies in his wake. He was comfortable with silence and a reluctant participant in the political arena. Indeed, he preferred the peaceful serenity of Mt. Vernon over the charades occupying the first two national capitals of New York and Philadelphia.

During the War, his requests were most often left unfulfilled by the Continental Congress, and he was forced to make due with a defensive strategy that eventually broke the will of the British occupiers. He made several blunders, especially early on, that placed the safety and frankly the fate of his army in severe peril. Fortunately, the British failed to go for the jugular time and again, and Washington repeatedly dodged bullets, often literally, as if there was something inevitable about the cause he led and the country he built.

The importance of Washington’s presence at the constitutional convention in Philadelphia in 1787 cannot be overstated. Though he preferred to sit back and oversee the proceedings in silence, His Excellency’s support for the final product legitimized the document and culminated his revolutionary work as first in war, and in peace.

His ascension to the presidency was a natural outgrowth of his legendary service to the country. It is now difficult to fathom, but Washington was uncontested in the race for chief executive, and was elevated unanimously by the Electoral College. At the time, public campaigning was viewed as unbecoming to the importance of the office, and Washington loyally answered the call of his countrymen one final time to serve as our nation’s first president.

Before there was a President Lincoln or Obama, Washington built his own team of rivals. John Adams served as his Vice President and generally shared his affinity for a strong central government. Alexander Hamilton, his aide de camp during the Revolutionary War, was his adopted son and source of ideological justification for the policies he pursued. Through his post as the Secretary of Treasury, Hamilton remade the credit of the fledgling country and established its first national bank.

Thomas Jefferson was his Secretary of State, and often worked privately against the professed policies of his boss. Throughout Washington’s two terms in office, Jefferson teamed with James Madison to lay the foundations for the first political party known then as the Republicans. There were others, too, but these internal power struggles should inform Obama and others who subscribe to this concept that with a coalition of brilliant and powerful minds comes individual agendas sometimes at odds with that of the president.

At the conclusion of his second term in office, Washington turned it his proverbial sword once more, establishing a precedent that would go unbroken until the trying times of the Great Depression and World War II, and later be institutionalized in the 22nd Amendment. Vice President Adams was elected as his successor, and the transition marked the fact that the United States would forever be a nation of laws, not men.

Of the men who led this nation, Washington will always stand among the greats, and no man was more integral to the military and legal foundations of this great nation. More than two hundred years after he died on an estate mere miles from the new national capital soon to bear his name, Washington’s claim on the title “His Excellency” remains unchallenged.


Washington Wannabe

By Shawn Healy
Visitors to our nation's capital are often struck by the license plates donned by many District residents that read "No Taxation Without Representation." This slogan appeals to our revolutionary past, and raises the issue of whether the residents of Washington, D.C., are denied the very rights American colonists fought valiantly for more than two centuries ago.

Washington does have a member of Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton, who is an at large member, votes in committee, but is denied the same privilege on the House floor. She has pushed for the passage of the D.C. House Voting Rights Act, which would create a permanent seat for the district with all of the rights and privileges enjoyed by the body's other members. Given that the District is staunchly Democratic, the bill offers an olive branch of sorts to Republicans, creating an additional seat for bright red Utah, too. This would increase the size of Congress from 435 members to 437.

The bill has advanced out of committee in the Senate and appears to have the votes to stem a potential Republican filibuster. Given the solid Democratic majority in the House, and President Obama's past pledges of support, it may only be a matter of time until District residents change license plates.


To quote ESPN analyst Lee Corso, "Not so fast!"

Back in 1978, a similar move surfaced in the form of a constitutional amendment, but was ratified by only 16 of the requisite 38 states. As conservative columnist George Will skillfully articulates, the D.C. House Voting Rights Act, given that it is a mere statute of Congress, may be on a collision course with the Constitution, thus the earlier attempt to modify the document.

Article I, Section 2, Clause 1, reads: "The House of Representatives shall be composed of members chosen every second year by the people of the several states" (italics added). Moreover, Section 8, Clause 17, of the same Article references the creation of the "District" as the "seat of government of the United States." This distinction calls into question an attempt to bestow a member of Congress upon a piece of land that was not originally entitled to one.

To add further ammunition to this argument, the District was awarded representation in the Electoral College with the ratification of the 23rd Amendment in 1961. An excerpt from Section 1 of the amendment reads as follows: "A number of electors of President and Vice President equal to the whole number of senators and representatives in Congress to which the District would be entitled if it were a state, but no event more than the least populous state..." (italics added).

In sum, the D.C. Voting Rights Act confers quasi-state status upon the District without addressing clear constitutional language specifying the opposite. What is to stop Congress from adding two senators to the District, as it's population is larger than Wyoming and a handful of other states at the bottom of the Electoral College pecking order? This smacks of clear political opportunism, as the Democrats would gain at least a House seat, if not two additional senate seats in the not-too-distant future.

What about the existing compromise where ruby red Utah would also profit from this game of extraconstitutional horse trading? The census will be conducted next year, and reapportionment will follow. Utah is at the front of the line to benefit from a reallocation of the existing 435 seats.

Senator John McCain stood as the lone "no" vote in committee as the D.C. Voting Rights Act made its way to the floor for consideration next week. His explanation was simple: he considers the legislation unconstitutional. If its passage is already written on the wall, a court challenge should occupy a prominent, adjacent location.


Boiling Burris

By Shawn Healy
The braggadocio over former Governor Rod Blagojevich's appointment of Senator Roland Burris to fill President Obama's since vacated seat took another tantalizing turn over the weekend when the Chicago Sun Times reported on the existence of an affidavit Burris filed on February 4.

The junior Illinois senator sought to expound upon his testimony before the House Impeachment Committee in January, specifically his communications with members of Blagojevich's inner circle prior to his elevation. In a response to a question forwarded by State Representative Jim Durkin, Burris admitted to speaking with only fundraiser Lon Monk about the potential vacancy. The affidavit reveals four additional contacts with Blagojevich staffers and supporters, including three separate phone conversations with the former governor's brother Rob.

The Sun Times' revelation was news to even most Springfield insiders as the Chairperson of the House Impeachment Committee, Representative Barbara Flynn Currie, reportedly overlooked it, treating it as a routine addition to the already existing paper trail associated with the case.

In the intervening three days, Burris has seemingly come unglued as pressure from the media, House Republicans, and even members of his own party have reached a boiling point. At a dinner in Peoria last evening, Burris admitted to promising to raise money for Blagojevich in the same conversations that he lobbied for the Senate appointment. This seemingly contradicts his previous public statements on the matter, including his testimony under oath before the Illinois House Impeachment Committee.

To say that the road ahead for Burris is rocky would be an enormous understatement. The obstacles, listed below, appear in no particular order.

1. Illinois House Speaker has forwarded relevant documents related to the impeachment trial to Sangamon County State's Attorney for an investigation that could lead to criminal charges of perjury.

2. The U.S. Senate, and Majority Leader Harry Reid specifically, required that Burris come clean before the Illinois House Impeachment Committee as a condition of his eventual seating. Given the inconsistencies that have emerged in this process, his credibility with his colleagues is significantly undermined. They may be pushed to call for an investigation of their own, and Article I, Section 5, Clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution allows the Senate to "...punish its own members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two-thirds, expel a member."

3. Burris' reelection prospects were in question from the day he assumed his Senate seat, but it is difficult to imagine him even winning his party's nomination next year. Interesting enough, potential challenger and current Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias is currently on a Mediterranean trip with the senior senator from Illinois, Majority Whip Dick Durbin. On the Republican side of the aisle, Congressman Mark Kirk has expressed interest in the seat and would offer formidable opposition to whoever emerges as the Democratic candidate.

4. Given the precarious predicament that Burris has placed himself in, Republican calls to resign may soon be echoed by those in his own party to stave off further embarrassment.

5. Should Burris vacate his seat in one fashion or another, state law as it's currently written would allow Governor Pat Quinn to name an interim replacement, but...

6. House Minority Leader Tom Cross has submitted legislation once more to remove this power from the governor's hands and require a special election to fill senate vacancies moving forward.

7. Finally, there is action on the federal level to amend the Constitution and require special elections in the case of any senate vacancies. The Seventeenth Amendment, which mandated the direct election of senators rather than their appointment by state legislatures, allows states to empower governors to make temporary appointments until a special election is called. The amendment process is a lengthy one, as it requires two-thirds approval of both houses of Congress, followed by the approval of three-fourths of all states either by their legislatures or special conventions called for this purpose.


Lincoln Logs

By Shawn Healy
This year represents the 200th anniversary of the man most historians consider the best president in American history, Illinois' own Abraham Lincoln. On the day of his birth, February 12, 1809, to be exact, I would like to first recap a recent program we held at the Freedom Museum in his honor, and then place the meaning of this bicentennial celebration in greater context.

On January 15, former U.S. Senator and the 1972 Democratic nominee for president George McGovern visited the Freedom Museum and spoke about his recently-released biography of Abraham Lincoln. He recanted many of the facts we have come to know about an American with more than 16,000 books written about him. Lincoln had only one year of formal education and rose from humble means to attain the nation's highest office. A "man of ambition," Lincoln "never enjoyed the drudgery of the farm." Reading and writing were constant passions in Lincoln's life, and he was plagued throughout by what McGovern labeled "clinical depression." Lincoln preferred the diagnosis "melancholy" instead.

The former South Dakota senator was surprised to learn of Lincoln's rather large ego. For instance, Lincoln neglected most newspapers because he felt that he already knew what was transcribed within, and was a man of great self-confidence (except with women). McGovern qualified this by claiming that those who run from president are inherently egomaniacs, although my time spent with McGovern that evening calls this contention into question.

As president, Lincoln, according to McGovern, became a student of the Constitution, and for the most part, governed by its dictates. The author admitted that Lincoln erred in suspending habeas corpus and by closing down opposition newspapers, but qualified this by suggesting that the capital was surrounded by those sympathetic to the southern cause throughout the Civil War. First Amendment scholar Ronald Collins largely echoes McGovern in an extensive piece on the same subject.

Asked what Lincoln would think of President Obama, McGovern said he would commend his eventual successor for a job well done. McGovern credits Obama for running a "brilliant campaign," and also for the construction of a "powerful" Cabinet along the lines of Lincoln's "team of rivals." Obama's calm demeanor in the face of great challenges, his confidence, and oratory eloquence inspires parallels with Lincoln, McGovern suggests.

In reflecting upon the current economic crisis gripping our nation, McGovern said that Lincoln believed that reason, logic, and common sense could combine to resolve any problem. Along with a willingness to seek help from trusted advisers, Obama would be wise to draw upon Lincoln's formula during a lesser, but still perplexing challenge.

Turning to the Lincoln Bicentennial celebration, it is important to point out that it has only just begun. A commission created for this purpose has plans extending beyond the next calendar year. Illinois, the Land of Lincoln, will play a pivotal role in these festivities.

The Freedom Museum will host yet another program this evening at the Newberry Library in honor of Lincoln, where historian Ronald White will discuss his new book biography titled A. Lincoln (If you are keeping track, there is one new Lincoln book released every week during this Bicentennial celebration). Coming this summer, the Freedom Museum will open a new show examining Lincoln's record on a number of controversial issues and juxtaposing it with a number of contemporary dilemmas.

In sum, there is no shortage of narrative or celebratory examination and praise of the Great Emancipator at the end of his second century. We look to Lincoln because we see the best in America and believe that through adherence to the basic principles by which he lived and governed that we can persevere while our "house" is in disrepair, and retain our claim as the "last best hope on earth."


Is Play Time Over?

By Shawn Healy
It has been nearly two weeks since the Illinois Senate took the unprecedented step of removing the sitting Governor, Rod Blagojevich, from office. Whether the criminal charges levied against him are an aberration, or systematic of pervasive corruption throughout state politics is a matter of intense debate. Coupled with this tension is a desire by state residents to nip the pay-to-play schemes like that allegedly orchestrated by Blagojevich in the proverbial bud. What exists is a "policy window" where consensus among several groups, namely elected officials, selected interest groups, and most notably the general public, presents a unique opportunity for changes to statewide ethics and campaign finance laws.

The Joyce Foundation commissioned a survey last month that highlights widespread disgust amongst state citizens with their political leaders in Springfield. A vast majority (78%) say that the state is on the wrong track, and for 81% of Illinoisans, trust in state government occurs only some of the time or not at all.

A majority (61%) believes that corruption is an "extreme" concern and express similar alarm about the role of money in the political process (54%). Similar numbers see Blagojevich's misdeeds as "common" among state lawmakers, with only 39% viewing these reported shenanigans as "unusual" or "extreme."

Two-thirds of those surveyed would like to see the creation of a new state agency to enforce campaign finance laws, and also to spend more tax dollars to keep money out of politics.

More than three-quarters of state residents would like to see bans on donations from corporations (78%) and labor unions (76%), while 74% support limits on individual donations, too. Seventy-one percent would go so far as to support publicly financed campaigns as a means of rooting out corruption.

There is a willingness to hold legislators accountable for these desired actions, as 89% suggest that their representatives' actions toward reducing the role of money in politics will determine their re-election prospects. In a related sense, state residents express low approval for the state legislature and are cynical about the prospects of passing the aforementioned reforms.

Without doubt, the stars seemed to have aligned for comprehensive reform in the Land of Lincoln. A true political maverick in Pat Quinn now occupies the Governor's Mansion. Previous Blagojevich enabler Emil Jones has retired from his post as Senate President. John Cullerton has taken his place, and the venerable Michael Madigan remains the Speaker of the House. Neither of them are reformers and both are beholden to the local Democratic machine in Chicago, but they will have a difficult time turning back the tidal wave of sentiments held by an electorate promising to hold them and their fellow legislators accountable come 2010.

Cindi Canary of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform has long been a lonely voice in the face of a pay-to-play culture that has elevated the state to the laughingstock of the nation. This "wild west" environment may soon be tamed by the new sheriff in town. Through the determined voices of a relentless electorate, the citizens can collectively take their state back.


Educating for Democracy

By Shawn Healy
As Illinois prepares to celebrate the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln, a president who gave his life for the furtherance of democracy in the United States, the McCormick Foundation‘s Freedom Museum, in partnership with the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition, hosts a conference to return civics to a central place in schools statewide. Coupled with President Obama’s historic inauguration and the unprecedented involvement of young people in the recent election, we believe this is the perfect time to capitalize on this excitement and channel this interest into a lifelong commitment to civic engagement.

“The McCormick Foundation’s mission is to ignite the spirit of service and prepare, enable and inspire individuals and organizations to become more actively engaged in their communities,” said Dave Anderson, executive director, Freedom Museum. “Reincorporating civics into the curricula of our elementary and secondary schools is vital to advancing our mission and sustaining democracy in Illinois and beyond.”

Public schools were created in America with the primary purpose of preparing children to participate constructively as adult citizens in our democracy. Recent school reform efforts have focused primarily on improving student achievement in reading, math and science. The result of this emphasis is that the historical function of the American public school—to educate students for democratic participation and citizenship—has been pushed aside. Like millions of their peers across the country, most Illinois high school students lack sufficient formal instruction and opportunities for the development of civic literary that enables democratic engagement.

This conference, held February 8-10 at Cantigny Park in Wheaton, Illinois, is bringing together the public and private sectors--Illinois policymakers, state legislators, civic education leaders, researchers, teachers and students to create a civic blueprint for Illinois high schools so that no child is left behind in civic education. Confirmed attendees include Dr. Diana Hess, professor of education, University of Wisconsin; Dr. Joseph Kahne, professor of education, Mills College; Ted McConnell, executive director, National Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools; Jesse Ruiz, chairman, Illinois State Board of Education; and Judge Diane Wood, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

“Illinois has some outstanding examples of high schools committed to the civic mission of schools. Five high schools have already been recognized as Democracy Schools by the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition," said Carolyn Pereira, chair, Illinois Civic Mission Coalition and executive director, Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago. "These schools are determined to expand and improve their civic learning opportunities to all of their students. Our goal, along with the Freedom Museum, is to increase the number of Democracy Schools in Illinois, by working with the stakeholders to create policies so that all Illinois high schools will be 'Democracy Schools,'” Pereira said.


The Mighty Quinn

By Shawn Healy
Last Thursday, the Illinois Senate voted unanimously to remove criminally-charged Governor Rod Blagojevich from office. Elevated in his place was then Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn, a fellow Democrat and two-time running mate, but unquestionably of a different mold than his predecessor.

In retrospect, Blagojevich typified the "pay to play" political culture that continues to rapture this state. This corruption transcends political party, equating to what the Chicago Tribune's John Kass calls "The Combine."

Pat Quinn, by comparison, has made a career out of playing the proverbial political gadfly. A Chicagoan who has never claimed allegiance to the local Democratic machine, Quinn has mostly molded himself as a maverick reformer. His pet causes are many, and his knack for calling Sunday afternoon news conferences legendary.

Quinn enters a governor's mansion the previous occupant rarely visited with a daunting task from Day One. The state's budget deficit has ballooned to in excess of $2 billion, where a balanced budget is mandated. Some combination of tax increases and spending cuts are likely in order, and this is doubly difficult during these trying economic times. The statewide fiscal crisis has reached the point where hospitals and child care providers are not being paid for their services, and the state's capacity to borrow more is further crippled by a lowered bond rating spurred by the Blagojevich debacle.

Beyond the short-term fixes, Quinn is right to pursue reforms to state ethics laws and the means by which candidates seek office. The specifics remain vague, but probably entail limitations on donations to elected officials from those who do business with the state, more detailed disclosure and perhaps caps on individual contributions along with those made by corporations and labor unions, and possibly, but more controversially, some form of publicly-financed campaigns. The policy window of opportunity is wide open as state residents are eager to rein in a government seemingly more interested in serving its own interests.

Quinn even championed moving next year's primary election from February to September to enable our representatives in Springfield to begin digging us out of this aforementioned mess before asking for our vote once more. His proposal deserves consideration as job seekers will otherwise begin making the rounds this coming summer, including what is expected to be a full slate of individuals on both side of the aisle that seek the job he just inherited. Quinn's actions between now and then will go a long way toward determining whether his new lease is extended beyond 2010.


Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at