Durbin calls for postal service funding; unsure if Madigan can lead

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U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, said Wednesday that he’s not sure that Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, can do his job leading the House and the Democratic Party of Illinois, given an ongoing federal investigation.

Durbin spoke to reporters outside Springfield’s main Post Office, pushing the need for federal support of the Postal Service to meet the higher demand for package shipping and the crush of mail-in ballots to be used for the Nov. 3 election.

Madigan has not been charged with any wrongdoing, but is mentioned as "Public Official A" in a July 17 deferred prosecution agreement involving Commonwealth Edison, accused of one count of bribery that could be dropped after three years. Prosecutors say the utility gave jobs and contracts to Madigan associates to curry favor with the speaker.

Madigan has maintained that he did nothing wrong and is cooperating with authorities.

Asked if the investigation hurts the party, Durbin said, "Of course, the cloud of suspicion is going to be raised, as you just did."

"You start with the presumption of innocence," Durbin added. "Then comes other questions. Can you do your job? What impact does your legal problem have on other people, innocent people in the process? That’s why I think, as this progresses, if it progresses before the election, other questions will be raised."

Asked if Madigan can now do the jobs of speaker and party leader, Durbin said, "I don’t know the answer about that at this moment."

He noted he is not in the Illinois House, so would not have a vote should Madigan seek another term as speaker after the election.

"He has said that he has the … necessary majority to retain his speakership," Durbin said. "We’ll see."

As of Wednesday, seven House Democrats had called on Madigan to step down from leadership positions.

"As I’ve said," Madigan responded in a statement, "I have never made a legislative decision with improper motives and any claim otherwise is unfounded. I will continue to lead the effort to defeat Donald Trump, defend our Senate seat, expand the Illinois congressional delegation and the majorities in the Illinois House and Senate. I am cooperating fully with authorities, and I have no plans to resign."

Concerning the Postal Service, Durbin said Wednesday that during the coronavirus pandemic, more people are ordering packages, including their medications. He also said many people seeking to be safe during the election season are choosing to use mail-in ballots, and Illinois is expecting 2.5 million such ballots.

Durbin noted that $25 billion for the Postal Service was in a COVID-19 relief bill, called the HEROES Act, which passed by the U.S. House but not the Senate, and he said the service needs backing.

"It’s prudent for us to invest in the Postal Service now, to make sure they can handle the volume of mail and packages that are likely to occur in the next six or eight weeks," Durbin said.

At a separate event Wednesay, U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, top Republican on the House Administration Committee, hosted a virtual roundtable to discuss the coming election.

Davis said he wants to do "everything we can to fully fund" the Postal Service, but is not for the bill pushed by Democrats that topped $3 trillion in cost. He instead said lawmakers should pass a bill he and several other House Republicans pushed called Emergency Assistance for Safe Elections, or EASE Act, which would provide $400 million to states to help conduct a secure election.

Davis praised Illinois for not being among states that mail out "live ballots," which he said would be "ripe for fraud."

"Rest assured that is not Illinois’ process," he said.

Illinois election officials, under a state law designed to make mail-in voting more accessible so people worried about the virus don’t have to go to the polls, have been sending out applications for ballots to people who had voted or applied to vote since November 2018.

During Wednesday’s roundtable, officials talked of the need to recruit election judges, given disruption that can be caused by COVID-19. Christian County Clerk Mike Gianasi said in the primary, no judges showed up at one precinct, and people who usually vote there had to go to the county courthouse.

Matt Dietrich, spokesman for the State Board of Elections, said the state’s vote-by-mail system is "safe and secure," and he urged people who may want to vote by mail to send in applications immediately, and send in ballots early.

Sangamon County Clerk Don Gray said his office usually has a team of three people at his office to process mail-in ballots as they come in. This year, he said, he plans on having five such teams working daily.

"The challenge for us is to find individuals that have the flexibility within t heir schedule to be properly trained … and available to work for us," Gray said.

And Deborah Banghart, Greene County clerk and recorder, said election preparations in her county have been disrupted because the courthouse has had to be closed for a time due to an employee testing positive for the virus.

Dietrich said the state elections board is running an information campaign called #PlanYourVoteIL, to get people wanting to early vote or use mail-in ballots to do so early. He said coaches at seven universities in the state would be involved in the campaign.

Contact Bernard Schoenburg: Bernard.schoenburg@sj-r.com, 788-1540, twitter.com/bschoenburg

26-Delivered

via The State Journal-Register

August 12, 2020 at 08:55PM

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