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Dear John Cullerton


Updates appended.


Sent via e-mail on February 17 after reading about this in the Beachwood.

Dear Senator Cullerton,

I read with interest in today's Chicago Tribune news of the Illinois Senate's closed-to-the-media (and by extension the public) caucus meeting to discuss state and national budgeting issues. In particular I noted this quote, attributed to you:

"You're missing the whole point," Cullerton said.

"This is meant to be one where just the senators are there to get information, but where they can also feel they can ask questions and . . . have a free exchange of ideas without having to be worried about what the press might report."

With all due respect, sir, it's you who is missing the point; you and any of your senate colleagues who support a closed-door meeting to discuss issues clearly of interest to the public. I'm not sure which made me more angry: the meeting itself or your lazy, stupid and contemptuous justification for it. Ideas are free to be exchanged in any setting, regardless of who's nearby and whether or not they're carrying notepads and recorders. The only thing that prevents the free exchange of ideas in any setting is a lack of courage. The idea that elected officials need to be sheltered from the press to speak freely is laughable. Or maybe just cowardly.

You're not there to sound good; you're there to run the government . . . in the open, not in secret. When government operates in secret, the seeds of distrust are sown. It should be evident by now that the long tradition of secrecy in Illinois government hasn't worked, at least not fiscally, and certainly not for the majority of us who aren't politically connected. It's time to try openness for a change. Rest assured I will work with whomever I need to - in the 6th District, the 18th District or anywhere else - to ensure you and any other senator who believes in the justification for this closed-door meeting today are voted out of office. You don't represent me, and for that I am thankful. (I will be contacting Sen. Maloney and asking whether he favored this meeting today and supported your feeble justification.) But as the Senate President, you are responsible to constituents outside your district. In this act today you were irresponsible.

Chris Clair, Evergreen Park


UPDATE February 18: So far as I can tell, my e-mail to Cullerton, and the separate one I sent to Maloney went into the Black Maw of the legislative email system. Although both have e-mail addresses available to "contact" them, neither has even figured out how to send an automated "Thanks for writing" reply. I guess I shouldn't be surprised; these jagoffs don't really want to hear from their constituents. I'm sure snail mail envelopes that are deemed likely to have checks in them are opened, but probably little else, and no email - what's the point, there's no money in it.

UPDATE February 19: In the "dog bites man" category this morning, no response from Cullerton or Maloney to my e-mails. One would think, based on the amount of attention this jackass move got, that Cullerton's handlers would have at least come up with some lame mass mea culpa e-mail in response to those who wrote him. But I think the lack of any response - from Cullerton or from Maloney, who is my state senator - tells me everything I need to know about their level of respect for their everyday (read: non-contributor, non-clouted) constituents. As if I didn't know that already.

UPDATE February 22: Still no word back directly from Cullerton or any of his staff. So far as I know they have no excuse, other than they're all busy, you know, solving the budget crisis and otherwise fighting for the people.

On the Maloney front, I did finally get "return to sender" email at 4:22 p.m. Saturday. I wasn't near my computer this weekend, so I just found it this morning. I had e-mailed my note to Maloney at this email address:, which I found on the Campaign for Better Health Care's web site and on Project Vote Smart. Maloney's own General Assembly page doesn't include an e-mail address. Someone has to help keep the postal service in business, I guess.

When I visit Maloney's web site on the Illinois Senate Dems page, and click the "Contact Me" link, the page begins to load but a message pops up in Internet Explorer that says "Internet Explorer cannot open the Internet site Operation aborted." It works in Firefox (thanks, Microsoft!), so I've sent along my note to him and my note to Cullerton using the contact form on that page, with explanations that I tried the other e-mail address last week to no avail. Further updates as events warrant.

UPDATE February 22: Got a note back from Maloney's assistant:

I have forwarded this to the senator. His email here at the State is

Thank you, Nancy

Nancy Hill
Assistant to Senator Maloney
119A, State Capitol
Springfield, IL 62706


So they do have e-mail addresses. I wonder why they don't include those on their Illinois GA profiles?

UPDATE March 8: Sent to Cullerton, link added here.

Dear Senator Cullerton,

It's been more than two weeks since I wrote you about the closed-to-the-public caucus meeting to discuss state and national budgeting issues. I had also written to my state senator, Ed Maloney, asking whether he supported your reasoning behind closing the caucus meeting. I never heard back from either of you.

Admittedly, I didn't really expect to. You're both busy with state business ... or maybe in your case with your lobbying business. If I were a cynic, I'd say your failure to respond is tied to the fact that neither you nor Sen. Maloney is up for election this year. In the political calculation it seems constituents are only worth paying attention to when they can offer something to a politician. For those of us constituents without money or connections, that "something" is a vote, and in an off-election year a vote ain't worth much. Certainly not the time to craft a response to a question, much less a complaint.

What am I saying ... "if" I were a cynic. I AM a cynic! I used to be just a practiced skeptic. Lately, though, I've fallen off the wall and landed with a thud among the cynics. They are My People. Perhaps that came through in my earlier note to you, and probably this one, too. So maybe we've gotten off on the wrong foot, here.

After all, as someone who doesn't live in your district and doesn't contribute to your political campaign, what right have I to address you and expect a response? None. Sen. Maloney is another matter. I do expect a response from him, and I'm sending him a separate note telling him so. But you, Sen. Cullerton, you've got no reason to reply to one of what I assume had to be hundreds, maybe thousands of emails and letters and phone calls criticizing your decision to call the Illinois State Senate together in a closed session under the guise of calling it a "caucus meeting." No doubt there was a good amount of criticism leveled at your defense of the meeting, as well.

Although frankly I don't understand why you didn't have your staff draft a generic letter reiterating your defense of the meeting and at the same time acknowledging the public outrage and vowing never to do it again. Then I figured you probably plan to do it again, so why bother lying? In political terms, that's pretty stark honesty and in a way I oddly respect it; in the same way that some people come to understand that happiness is merely the remission of pain.

Perhaps that's some ground upon which we can forge a new relationship.

Wow, OK, that feels better. I feel less like a demanding ogre and hopefully you don't feel like I'm unfairly attacking you this time. So with the figurative goodwill hug and mutual back patting out of the way, let me ask you: What did you and your senate colleagues learn from that meeting? In corporate parlance, what was the take-away? And how will whatever you learned affect how you approach the upcoming budget negotiations?

Please don't feel like you have to respond to me directly; lord knows you don't have the time for that. But an op-ed in local newspapers would do, or a position paper distributed via your web site. After I'm just a person, like many others, trying to understand the process, and concerned, as I'm sure you are, about a $13 billion deficit in a $53 billion budget.


Chris Clair


Stay tuned as we continue to track this constituent's wholly reasonable complaint.


Comments welcome.


Posted on February 22, 2010

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