Reporting Bob Roberts
CHICAGO (WBBM) - State Sen. Kwame Raoul is stopping short of saying that President Obama tipped his hand, or lobbied Gov. Pat Quinn, on Illinois’ bill that would abolish the death penalty.
Quinn has until March 18 decide whether to sign the bill. Without his signature, it automatically becomes law.
Raoul (D-Chicago), who represents Mr. Obama’s old state senate district, said that published reports on the senator’s meeting Friday with Gov. Pat Quinn made the comment attributed to the President “seem like much more than it was.”
Raoul said that Quinn told him that, during an encounter at the White House late last month, the president noted the action by the legislature on Illinois’ legalization of civil unions and the death penalty abolition bill.
Did it constitute lobbying?
“I haven’t heard anything indicating the President urged him to sign it, or anything like that,” Raoul said.
Quinn was in Washington, D.C., attending a meeting of the National Governors Association at the time.
Quinn met Friday with Raoul and State Rep. Karen Yarbrough (D-Maywood), two of the chief legislative sponsors of the abolition bill. He had widely been expected to act on the bill Friday, but abruptly put off a decision until sometime next week.
Raoul indicated that Quinn remains extremely sensitive about the bill and the passionate advocates on both sides of the issue.
“The governor said he’s going to make a careful, thoughtful decision and he doesn’t want to make one that would seem offensive to anyone on either side of the debate,” he said.
In the past, Mr. Obama has voiced support for the death penalty in certain cases, but as a legislator voted against expanding it to cover crimes arising from gang activity. Mr. Obama also was one of the leading proponents of the 2003 changes to the state’s capital punishment law that were designed to minimize the chances that someone could be executed for a crime someone else committed.
Over the past 30 years, 20 inmates sentenced to die in Illinois have later been found to be innocent of the crimes for which they were condemned.
Raoul said he remains “fairly confident” that Quinn will sign the bill. He said Quinn did not indicate how he intends to address the sentences of the 15 inmates currently on Illinois’ Death Row.