Brian Mackey

Brian Mackey covers state government and politics for WUIS and a dozen other public radio stations across Illinois. He was previously A&E editor at The State Journal-Register and Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin. He can be reached at (217) 206-6412.

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As the Illinois government budget stalemate continues, Democrats are thinking about who might challenge Governor Bruce Rauner in 2018.   Among the Democrats who might be interested are former governor Pat Quinn.  He lost all but one of Illinois' 102 counties to Rauner two years ago, but has lately made a public push to get back into politics. 

Gov. Bruce Rauner marked the end of the legislative session with a blistering attack on Democratic legislators. He then embarked on an eight-city tour — mostly downstate — where he continued his critique.

One of Rauner’s main messages is that Democrats are holding the state budget “hostage” in order to get their way. I thought that accusation of political ill-will had a familiar ring, so I decided to take a closer look at the governor’s communication strategy.

Former Gov. Jim Edgar expressed a dim view of stopgap funding measures during an appearance Tuesday on the public radio program The 21st. He also shared his views on whether current Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democratic supermajorities in the legislature will ever come to terms on the anti-union aspects of the governor’s "Turnaround Agenda."

Gov. Bruce Rauner has lately been critical of efforts to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, saying it’s not “what matters” in Illinois government. Our reporter has been closely following the governor’s overall efforts to improve Illinois’ criminal justice system, and was struck by Rauner’s comments on pot. So he decided to talk to someone who can explain how decriminalization fits into that broader effort.

  A federal judge has approved the settlement in a lawsuit over the treatment of Illinois’ mentally ill prisoners.

Without admitting wrongdoing, Department of Corrections Director John Baldwin says his agency is building four new mental health units, hiring more staff, and changing its policies on solitary confinement.

The use of solitary confinement has drawn increasing scrutiny nationwide. And last week, the John Howard Association issued a statement (PDF) on the practice in Illinois prisons.

Now that it seems Donald Trump will be his party’s nominee for president, Republicans have a decision to make.

On Monday, an organization called Illinois Voices sued the Illinois State Police and attorney general’s office. It’s targeting what it says are unconstitutionally vague and burdensome restrictions on people who have to register under the state’s sex offender laws.

The case is Does 1-4 v. Madigan, No. 16 CV 4847 (N.D. Ill.). Download the complaint here (PDF).

Fallout continues from the lead contamination of the water supply in Flint, Michigan.

Illinois U.S. Senator Dick Durbin is among the Democratic lawmakers pushing for a series of new laws in response to the crisis.


A Sangamon County judge has declined to give a group of Illinois prisoners a new parole hearing — at least for now.

The case has to do with a formal process for assessing how much of a risk certain prisoners pose. The Department of Corrections was supposed to have this risk-assessment tool in place by 2013. But three years later, it’s just now beginning to roll it out.


A pair of the state’s longest serving inmates have sued over the delays.


The speaker of the Illinois House made a rare policy speech during a debate Tuesday afternoon. It was intended to put in context legislative Democrats’ long-running dispute with the Republican governor over state spending.

We’re going to hear an excerpt of the remarks. But first, Illinois Public Radio Statehouse reporter Brian Mackey sets the scene.

This week, Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno declared, "We need change!"  However, there is still no agreement among state lawmakers and Governor Bruce Rauner on what form that change should take as Illinois continues to go without a spending plan.  Illinois Issues' Jamey Dunn and The State Journal-Register's Bernie Schoenburg join the panel.

Last December, the state of Illinois tentatively agreed to settle a class action lawsuit over the treatment of prisoners with mental illness. But changes to mental health at the Department of Corrections have been slow in coming, in part because Illinois has gone more than 9 months without a budget.

This week, authorities in Illinois are finalizing the results of this month’s primary elections.

Turnout was record-setting, and that left an unknown number of voters disenfranchised by ballot shortages and long waits at the polls. But officials say they don't believe there was any nefarious intent.

Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has been pursuing an appeal of his corruption conviction and 14-year prison sentence. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court said it would not take up the case.

The Illinois Supreme Court on Thursday struck down another attempt to control the cost of government pension benefits.

This time it was Chicago city employees and retirees whose pensions were being targeted. The retirement system for one set of workers is projected to be insolvent in about a decade.

In 2014, the Illinois General Assembly changed the rules, but in Thursday's 5-0 ruling, the Supreme Court found that unconstitutional.

Illinois Public Radio’s Brian Mackey spoke with his colleague Amanda Vinicky about the decision.

With victories Tuesday in Illinois and elsewhere, Donald Trump is continuing his march toward the Republican presidential nomination. Those contemplating what a Trump presidency would look like might consider Illinois' ongoing case study in the promise and perils of the businessman-turned-politician.

In January, the Illinois prison population was down by more than 2,500 inmates over a year earlier. But that’s still a long way off from Gov. Bruce Rauner’s goal of cutting the population by 12,000 prisoners over the next decade.

The commission he appointed to make that happen is still figuring out how to meet his goal, and met Monday in Chicago to continue deliberations.

It’s been 10 months since the Illinois Supreme Court struck down the state’s last attempt at a pension overhaul. Legislators have yet to decide what to do about Illinois’ worst-in-the-nation pension debt, but they are beginning to weigh their options.

It’s been 10 months since the Illinois Supreme Court struck down the state’s last attempt at a pension overhaul. Legislators have yet to decide what to do about Illinois’ worst-in-the-nation pension debt … but they are beginning to weigh their options.
One set of proposals would let employees collect their pension as a single payment when they retire.

Illinois government has been collecting a lot less money since an income tax rollback took effect at the beginning of last year. On Tuesday, officials warned that problems in the broader economy could make things even worse.

A top Illinois economist is warning of danger signs for the state’s economy.  Illinois has been slow to recover from the Great Recession in part because consumer spending has been what one official calls "lethargic."  

Todd Pilon, WTVP

Governor Bruce Rauner's budget speech today largely avoided specifics about state spending. Instead, he's still arguing Illinois should be more favorable to business. Brian Mackey has more.

Rauner took pains to portray himself as open to working with majority Democrats -- he used the word "compromise" five times. But the governor is standing by his overall strategy: pro-business laws first, then we can balance the budget.

"I won’t support new revenue unless we have major structural reforms to grow more jobs and get more value for taxpayers."

Governor Bruce Rauner has spent more than a year promoting his business-friendly, anti-union Turnaround Agenda.  Now a group of community organizations and labor unions are offering a counterproposal. They call it the People's Agenda.

Republicans in the U.S. Senate have vowed to block any nominee the president might submit to succeed the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. But Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois says there’s more than enough time to consider who should fill the vacancy.

With Governor Bruce Rauner set to make his budget address Wednesday … interest groups are already lining up to make the case for state funding.
Today, backers of higher education pointed out that Illinois has not funded colleges and universities since last summer. It’s also failed to pay for grants to thousands of low-income students.
Lynn Fisher is president of the faculty union at the University of Illinois Springfield. She says students at some schools will be on the hook for the unfunded grants.

Supporters of changing the way Illinois draws its legislative districts did not waste any time yesterday. They immediately began claiming President Barack Obama endorsed their idea in his speech. But the president has taken pains to be more nuanced.

President Barack Obama is set to address the Illinois General Assembly in Springfield Wednesday. Statehouse reporter Brian Mackey filed this preview of what the president is expected to say — and what he probably won’t say.

Governor Bruce Rauner is scheduled to meet with members of his criminal justice reform commission this morning. He's set a goal of reducing Illinois' prison population by 25 percent over the next decade. 

Illinois could finally reckon with its dramatically overcrowded prisons in 2016.

The entire system is at 146 percent of the capacity it was designed to hold, but that number doesn’t tell the whole story. Some individual prisons — such as East Moline, Illinois River and Lincoln — are above 200 percent of the rated capacity.