September 01, 2010

Institute to focus on key issues facing Illinois

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Major policy issues that face Illinois highlight the fall schedule for Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Paul Simon Public Policy Institute.

The debt, questions over legalized gambling, and gun ownership are among the most discussed and debated public policy issues facing the state. In addition to separate symposiums on these issues, the fall series features several speakers, including fair pay activist Lilly Ledbetter, a former tire company supervisor whose lawsuit against Goodyear resulted in national legislation enabling employees to challenge pay discrimination.

And with 10 weeks to go before the Nov. 2 state and federal elections, the Institute plans several post-election wrap-ups with perspective on what the results mean for the nation, the state, and SIUC. The Institute will also continue its involvement in reform issues considered by the legislature in Illinois -- such as redistricting in 2009 -- by providing expertise and doing public opinion and polling, Institute Director David Yepsen said.

Speakers this fall include veteran state Sen. Iris Y. Martinez, D-Chicago, the first Latina to serve in the Illinois General Assembly; Janice L. Jacobs, a former ambassador and current assistant secretary of state for consular affairs; Jeffrey Sedgwick, a former assistant attorney general in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs; and Rick Pearson, a political reporter with the Chicago Tribune.

The events are free and Institute officials encourage SIUC students and the general public to take advantage of these opportunities.

The current schedule is:

  • Thursday, Sept. 16 -- 4 p.m., Student Center Auditorium. Lilly Ledbetter, fair pay activist whose efforts resulted in the 2009 Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
  • Thursday, Sept. 30 -- 4:30 p.m., Institute lobby. Charles W. Leonard, a visiting professor and director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute’s polling initiatives.
  • Wednesday, Oct. 6 -- 7 p.m., Student Center Auditorium. State Sen. Iris Y. Martinez, D-Chicago,
  • Monday, Oct. 18 -- 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Student Center Ballroom B. “Rising Debt: Sinking the Future?” Sara Imhoff, the Midwest regional director of the Concord Coalition, and Scott D. Gilbert, associate professor, SIUC Department of Economics.
  • Monday, Oct. 25 -- 11:30 a.m. Student Center Ballroom B. SIUC alumnus Janice L. Jacobs, assistant secretary of state for consular affairs.
  • Tuesday, Oct. 26 -- 7 p.m., Student Center, Ballroom B. “Is Legalized Gambling a Good Bet?” Featuring Tom Swoick, executive director of the Illinois Casino Gaming Association and Thomas Grey, executive director, National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling.
  • Thursday, Nov. 4 -- 11 a.m., Institute lobby. Election wrap-up featuring Yepsen, Leonard, John S. Jackson, visiting Institute professor.
  • Thursday, Nov. 4 -- 7 p.m., Student Center, Ballroom B. Election perspectives from state Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, R-Okawville, and state Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion.
  • Monday, Nov. 8 -- 7 p.m., Student Center, Ballroom B. University of Massachusetts-Amherst Professor Emeritus Jeffrey L. Sedgwick, a former assistant attorney general with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs.
  • Monday, Nov. 15 -- Time and location in Student Center to be announced. “Second Amendment Symposium,” featuring Kayne Robinson, former National Rifle Association president and current executive director for general operations.
  • Wednesday, Nov. 17 -- Rick Pearson, political reporter, Chicago Tribune.

Here is a closer look at the Institute’s events this semester.

Ledbetter’s appearance on Sept. 16 is part of the Jeanne Hurley Simon Lecture Series. On Jan. 29, 2009, President Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law.

In 1998 Ledbetter, a 19-year-employee and supervisor for Goodyear, learned the company was paying her 20-percent less than the lowest paid male supervisor. A jury initially found the company intentionally discriminated against Ledbetter and she received a $3.8 million award in back pay and damages, according to the House Committee on Education and Labor. Later reduced to $300,000, the U.S. Supreme Court in 2007 dismissed the award and the jury’s finding entirely.

The new law extends the amount of time employees may file pay discrimination charges against their workplace from up to 180 days after a company decides an employee will receive less pay to 180 days after an employee receives a discriminatory paycheck.

On Sept. 30, Leonard, a visiting professor and director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute’s polling initiative, will offer an insider’s guide to polling -- how they are designed, conducted, reported, and how to tell if a poll is accurate. The event is free and open to the public but advance registration is required. To register, contact institute project coordinator Christina Rich at 618/453-4078 or by email at by Tuesday, Sept. 28.

Martinez’s appearance on Oct. 6 is part of Latino Heritage Month on campus. A state senator since 2003, Martinez is president of the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators. Martinez earned a bachelor’s degree in Public Policy and Administration from Northeastern Illinois University.

“We think it is important for our students to have a chance to see and hear people who are good role models,” Yepsen said. “Sen. Martinez is a veteran state lawmaker and Latino political leader. Lilly Ledbetter is a courageous woman whose actions and work are helping to end gender-based pay discrimination in America.”

On Oct. 18, Imhoff and Gilbert will discuss issues surrounding debt. Imhoff will give a “chalk talk” briefing about debt, and Gilbert will provide his perspectives, Yepsen said. There will then be a lunchtime deficit reduction exercise where the audience will get to work with the trade-offs involved in reducing deficits and debt, Yepsen said.

“A major focus of the coming year for the Institute will be questions surrounding debt,” Yepsen said. “Few other public policy questions are more important than the sea of red ink that surrounds us.”

Yepsen points to the growing national debt, Illinois’ own debt issues, the depressed global economy, and the debt college students often face to finance their education.

“All of this debt sits at the center of every other public policy issue facing society,” Yepsen said. “It will mean higher taxes and fewer services for decades to come. In many ways managing this debt will reduce the standard of living for many Americans. Yet some debt is necessary and sometimes it’s needed to spark recovery.”

The luncheon prior to Jacobs’ Oct. 25 lecture is free and open to the public, but advance registration is required for meal considerations and seating is limited. To register, contact Rich by Oct. 22. Open seating will be available for those who wish to only listen to the speech and not be included in the meal.

Jacobs graduated from SIUC in 1968 with a bachelor’s degree in French and English, and is a 30-year career diplomat. Prior to her nomination and confirmation to her current post in the U.S. Department of State in 2008, Jacobs was the U.S. ambassador to Senegal and Guinea-Bissau.

Her career includes a mix of assignments both overseas and in Washington, D.C., including working in the State Department's Visa Office, Operations Center and Office of Cuban Affairs. She joined the Foreign Service in 1980 after many years of overseas experience as a Foreign Service dependant.

Jacobs earned a master's degree in National Security Strategy from the National War College in 1995.

On Oct. 26, the Institute will look at the issue of whether Illinois should expand gambling opportunities. Questions the state faces include whether gambling is now a regressive tax and whether it is right for government to be involved in it, Yepsen said.

The Institute will hold a pair of post-election discussions on Nov. 4. An election analysis featuring Yepsen, Leonard, and John S. Jackson, visiting Institute professor, is set for 11 a.m. in the Institute lobby. At 7 p.m., state Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, R-Okawville and state Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, offer their perspectives on the outcome of Illinois’ races and what the results might mean for the state during an event in the Student Center.

On Nov. 8, Sedgwick will present the Morton-Kenney Public Affairs Lecture, established by SIUC alumnus Jerome M. Mileur. Sedgwick, a former assistant attorney general in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs, is now managing partner and co-founder of Keswick Advisors, LLC, a consulting firm that focuses on statistical and economic policy analysis.

Prior to his appointment with the Office of Justice Programs in October 2008, Sedgwick was director of the agency’s Bureau of Justice Statistics. He is a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, where he taught for 30 years, alongside Mileur, who is also a professor emeritus in political science.

On Nov. 15, gun ownership rights in Illinois will be debated. Gun ownership is one of the most divisive questions the state faces, and sentiments often differ based on geography, Yepsen said. Robinson and other speakers will discuss the issues surrounding gun ownership.

“We hope to have a civil, informative discussion about these issues and where, if anywhere, there is a middle ground,” Yepsen said.

On Nov. 17, Pearson, the political reporter with the Chicago Tribune, will offer his views on the November 2010 election results, and the impact on both Illinois and the nation. Advance registration is required. To register, contact Rich by Monday, Nov. 15.

For more information on any of these programs, contact the institute at 618/453-4009 or visit