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Trump calls for unity on immigration, infrastructure in State of the Union

WASHINGTON — Addressing a deeply divided nation, President Donald Trump summoned the country to a "new American moment" of unity in his first State of the Union address, challenging Congress to make good on long-standing promises to fix a fractured immigration system and warning darkly of evil forces seeking to undermine America's way of life.

Trump's address Tuesday night blended self-congratulation and calls for optimism amid a growing economy with ominous warnings about deadly gangs, the scourge of drugs and violent immigrants living in the United States illegally. He cast the debate over immigration — an issue that has long animated his most ardent supporters — as a battle between heroes and villains, leaning heavily on the personal stories of White House guests in the crowd. He praised a law enforcement agent who arrested more than 100 gang members, and he recognized the families of two alleged gang victims.

He also spoke forebodingly of catastrophic dangers from abroad, warning that North Korea would "very soon" threaten the United States with nuclear-tipped missiles.

"The United States is a compassionate nation. We are proud that we do more than any other country to help the needy, the struggling and the underprivileged all over the world," Trump said. "But as president of the United States, my highest loyalty, my greatest compassion, and my constant concern is for America's children, America's struggling workers and America's forgotten communities."

Trump addressed the nation with tensions running high on Capitol Hill. An impasse over immigration prompted a three-day government shutdown earlier this year, and lawmakers appear no closer to resolving the status of the "Dreamers" — young people living in the U.S. illegally ahead of a new Feb. 8 deadline for funding operations. The parties have also clashed this week over the plans of Republicans on the House intelligence committee to release a classified memo on the Russia investigation involving Trump's presidential campaign — a decision the White House backs but the Justice Department is fighting.

The controversies that have dogged Trump — and the ones he has created— have overshadowed strong economic gains during his first year in office. His approval ratings have hovered in the 30s for much of his presidency, and just 3 in 10 Americans said the United States was heading in the right direction, according to a poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. In the same survey, 67 percent of Americans said the country was more divided because of Trump.

At times, Trump's address appeared to be aimed more at validating his first year in office than setting the course for his second. He devoted significant time to touting the tax overhaul he signed at the end of last year, promising the plan will "provide tremendous relief for the middle class and small businesses." He also highlighted the decision made early in his first year to withdraw the U.S. from a sweeping Asia-Pacific trade pact, declaring: "The era of economic surrender is totally over."

He spoke about potential agenda items for 2018 in broad terms, including a call for $1.5 trillion in new infrastructure spending and partnerships with states and the private sector. He touched only briefly on issues like health care that have been at the center of the Republican Party's policy agenda for years.

Tackling the sensitive immigration debate that has roiled Washington, Trump redoubled his recent pledge to offer a path to citizenship for 1.8 million young immigrants — but only as part of a package that would also require increased funding for border security, including a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, ending the nation's visa lottery method and revamping the current legal immigration system.

"Americans are dreamers too," Trump said, in an apparent effort to reclaim the term used to describe the young immigrants in the U.S. illegally.

A former New York Democrat, the president also played to the culture wars that have long illuminated American politics, alluding to his public spat with professional athletes who led protests against racial injustice by kneeling during the national anthem, declaring that paying tribute to the flag is a "civic duty."

In a post-speech rebuttal, Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy, the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, was seeking to undercut Trump's optimistic tone and remind voters of the personal insults and attacks often leveled by the president.

"Bullies may land a punch," Kennedy said. "They might leave a mark. But they have never, not once, in the history of our United States, managed to match the strength and spirit of a people united in defense of their future."

The arc of Trump's 80-minute speech featured the personal stories of men and women who joined first lady Melania Trump in the audience. The guests included a New Mexico policeman and his wife who adopted a baby from parents who suffered from opioid addiction, and Ji Seong-ho, a defector from North Korea and outspoken critic of the Kim Jong-un government.

On international affairs, Trump warned of the dangers from "rogue regimes," like Iran and North Korea, terrorist groups, like the Islamic State, and "rivals" like China and Russia "that challenge our interests, our economy and our values." Calling on Congress to lift budgetary caps and boost spending on the military, Trump said that "unmatched power is the surest means of our defense."

Final day in office: After nearly 55 years, Marion Mayor Bob Butler set to 'ride off into the sunset'

MARION — Mayor Bob Butler has a plan for Wednesday afternoon: “I’ll ride off into the sunset,” he said.

Butler, who has been mayor of Marion for nearly 55 years, will exchange the title of mayor for retiree Thursday morning. Butler took office in May 1963, and has been the choice of three generations of voters. He is the longest serving mayor in Illinois and second-longest serving in the United States.

Butler said he has always had his own way of doing things, but does not believe he was so different than anybody else would be given the time he has served.

“Always, I have maintained a stable and consistence approach to things that is flexible, and I occasionally found it necessary to change,” Butler said. “I have certain truths and values which never change.”

Some of those truths and values include being honest, candid, forthright, dedicated and completely committed to doing a good job.

“I have tried to keep the best interest in mind of the people to the point I don’t have any enemies,” Butler said. “I think that has always been my North Star.”

Butler said his decisions have not always been the most popular — but he was usually justified in the long run.

He added that one of the unique aspects of being a mayor is that you have to make decisions. A mayor must hear other views, but ultimately has to make a decision. He quoted Harry S. Truman, saying the buck stops here. He never made a decision he cannot live with or one that caused him to lose any sleep.

Butler did not vote for Truman because Truman was a Democrat and Butler is a Republican, but he has recognized over time what a great man Truman was.

“All in all," Butler said, "I’d rank him as one of the better presidents."

Butler has been influenced in one way or another by a great number of people because of what they did or how they did it.

One of those is Gov. Richard Ogilvie, who served one term from 1968 to 1972.

“One of the first things he did was to push through an income tax. He recognized it was essential for Illinois and recognized the political risk,” Butler said. “Dan Walker hung the income tax around his neck, and, on that one issue alone, he lost the election.”

Butler said perhaps that is why he did not worry too much about political fallout.

90 things to know about Marion Mayor Bob Butler, one of the longest-serving mayors in the US

“They are statesmen, not politicians. I’ve tried to maintain that,” Butler added. “If I am able to maintain my commitment to find the truth, then I have no hesitation to proceed.”

Butler became enamored with reading at age 13 or 14 when a good friend was returning a book to the library. He suggested Butler check it out. The book was “Scaramouche” by Raphael Sabatini.

“I checked it out, and I was so enamored I began to read more in that same style,” Butler said. “My horizon expanded from there.”

He added that books have had some influence on his life and tenure as mayor. They have helped him maintain a positive and upbeat attitude.

“I have to admit, I’m not always right, but I’m never wrong. For better or worse, I think a person has to think he’s right or not do what he’s doing,” Butler said.

He expects the transition to Mayor Anthony Rinella to be easy. Between now and the next election, Butler believes Rinella will prove he’s up to the job.

“I have been given more credit than I deserved and more criticism than was warranted. I’ve learned you cannot let criticism deter you from what is right,” Butler said. “If I am convinced I’m doing what is right, I am not concerned about criticism.”

Butler has only one thing left to do at City Hall — turn in his key to the front door.

“I think things are in pretty good shape. I don’t know of any loose ends,” Butler said. “It is amazing the number of ordinances I have had to sign [in nearly 55 years]. I am truly indebted to Alice Rix, our city clerk.”

He added that he marvels at her efficiency and the way she handles her job.

Rix was working in the records area of Marion Police Department when she was asked to come upstairs to talk with Mayor Butler. He asked if she was interested in the job as assistant city clerk.

Butler has the same opinion about the other supervisory personnel who work for the city.

“I believe today, right now, we have the most professional group of supervisors that we have had — that’s saying a lot,” Butler said.

As Butler has driven in to work at City Hall, he always looked for things that need to be done or improved along the route. He will drive around beginning Thursday and revel at what he sees without being concerned about what the city needs to do.

“On Thursday, I will get up in the morning and turn on the television to catch the news. Then, I don’t know what I’ll do,” Butler said. “I want to do some writing. It will give me the opportunity to reflect and call up things I pushed to the back of my mind.”

Illinois Democratic governor candidates participate in forum at SIUC

CARBONDALE — All six Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls squared off before a Southern Illinois audience Tuesday night in a forum hosted by Southern Illinois Local Media Group.

The free event drew a lively crowd, filling the Southern Illinois University Student Center auditorium to capacity.

Billionaire investor J.B. Pritzker, widely thought to be the Democratic frontrunner in what is expected to be the costliest governor’s race in U.S. history, focused most of his attacks on President Donald Trump and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, but also frequently took aim at fellow candidates State Sen. Daniel Biss and businessman Chris Kennedy.

Biss, in turn, slammed Kennedy — who is the son of U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy — and Pritzker for not releasing their full tax returns.

The forum was moderated by Jim Slusher, opinion editor of the Daily Herald, and Brandon Richard, chief political reporter for WSIL-TV.

Bob Daiber, regional superintendent of schools in Madison County, said he is the first Southern Illinois candidate to run as a Democrat for governor in 20 years and argued that his values appeal to downstate voters.

“When you go to your mailbox in the morning, and you see your neighbor at the mailbox and you’re both taking out this political literature, who’s easiest to sell? Some guy from Southern Illinois that has a FOID card, that the people in Chicago said, ‘You better watch him, ’cause he owns a gun’? Or is it some rich guy that’s got millions of dollars that’s not at all like them?” Daiber said.

Tio Hardiman, executive director and founder of the anti-violence group CeaseFire Illinois, called himself a “bridge builder bringing people to the table of peace.”

“I believe it’s important to run this state from the bottom up rather than the top down,” Hardiman said.

Physician Robert Marshall, who wants to divide Illinois into three states, seemed the odd man out throughout the evening, sometimes triggering incredulous laughter from the audience as he discussed his platform. When candidates were asked whether they would support whomever wins the Democratic primary, Kennedy said he’d support any of his peers — except Marshall.

Biss asked whether Pritzker, who has contributed millions to his own campaign, would do the same for whomever wins the primary.

“Senator Biss, I appreciate the question, but you’ve taken hundreds of thousands of dollars from Springfield insiders and lobbyists and bankers, and frankly you’ve changed your position on quite a number of things over the years,” Pritzker said.

Biss denied the accusation.

“I’m incredibly proud of the fundraising that we have. It’s from ordinary people. And those vague accusations that don’t mention a single contribution are because of the remarkable way that we funded our campaign … I will happily accept a contribution from you the day after the primary, J.B.,” Biss said.

The Illinois gubernatorial primary will be held March 20.

Cairo principal will be Duckworth's guest at tonight's State of the Union address; senators to introduce CAIRO Act

CAIRO — Southern Illinois was represented Tuesday night during President Donald Trump’s first State of the Union address as U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth was flanked by Cairo Junior/Senior High School principal Lisa Childs Thomas during the event.

As her only guest, Duckworth said in a news release Tuesday that Thomas is a symbol of the struggle many in rural communities face.

"Lisa is a tireless advocate for Cairo, and she represents countless other Americans working to improve their communities with limited resources and support,” she said.

Trump’s address was held Tuesday before a joint session of Congress.

In the release, Duckworth said Trump promised on the campaign trail to help just these types of communities. However, she said there hasn’t been much movement.

“Donald Trump promised hardworking Americans exactly like Lisa that he would invest in and help rebuild communities exactly like hers. More than one year into office, we’ve seen little investment from his Administration,” Duckworth said.

During a media call Tuesday, Duckworth said she hoped to hear about infrastructure from the president. She said healing bad roads will be a key way to get Illinois, particularly rural Illinois, back on track.

Duckworth and Sen. Dick Durbin took a step toward this goal Tuesday when they announced in a news release a grant that would provide a $203,400 federal grant to support local community health centers in Southern Illinois. The funding came from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Health Resources & Services Administration.

She added that the decision last year by Trump-appointee, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, to shutter and ultimately tear down the Elmwood and McBride housing developments in Cairo show the opposite of this type of promised support.

“I hope Trump finally remembers one of his many broken promises tonight and actually does something to help families like Lisa’s.” Duckworth said in a news release.

Thomas, who grew up in the McBride public housing complex, has been principal at Cairo Junior/Senior High School since 2016, the year HUD took the Alexander County Housing Authority into receivership after conditions in the county’s public housing were found to be unsafe and uninhabitable.

According to the release, Thomas became principal of her old high school in an effort to help give back to her community. In the release, she echoed Duckworth’s sentiments that she hopes Trump will fulfill his promise to help rural America.

“Mr. Trump made a promise to improve the lives of ordinary Americans like me, my family and my students in rural communities like mine, but when he won he went back on his word. Maybe he’ll have a change of heart tonight,” Thomas says.

Duckworth said she was thrilled to have Thomas join her Tuesday. Duckworth said she first met Thomas during a meeting with local officials about the HUD decision to close two of its complexes in Cairo. She said Thomas is making the kind of effort needed to help her city.

“I think she’s making the kinds of investments in a very personal way to the community that we need to be making as a government, as leaders in the state to take care of all our communities,” Duckworth said.

Duckworth and Durbin have pressured Washington to address the dire situation in Cairo. She appeared with Carson in August during the secretary’s visit to tour the housing developments, as well to deliver an address to residents. Last year, Duckworth and Durbin also urged the White House to create a cabinet-level task force to look into the housing, health and economic crises in Cairo.

During the media call, Duckworth said she has finally gotten word back from the White House on the task force — it’s a not happening. But, this isn’t stopping either Illinois senator from pushing the issue. Duckworth announced Tuesday that she and Durbin would be bringing to the Senate the Creating American Investment, Redevelopment, and Opportunity — CAIRO — Act.

The act will aim to rebuild and promote investment in new affordable housing, rebuilding and expanding infrastructure in Cairo and Alexander County, as well as spurring public and private investment targeting economic growth in the area.

“The hardworking people of Cairo deserve better than broken promises, which is why we’re moving forward with a plan to create a comprehensive interagency task force that is focused on finding solutions to the problems the Federal government helped create in Southern Illinois.” Duckworth said in a news release Tuesday.

According to the bill, the task force would provide a report to Congress covering its action and progress toward any goals including number of housing vacancies in Cairo. It will also report how much public housing is provided in Cairo.

“The only way we can move Cairo and Alexander County forward is through a coordinated effort between federal, state and local officials focused on finding every possible way to help,” Duckworth said.

Jerry Brown, HUD spokesman, said 111 of 185 families have relocated from the Elmwood and McBride housing complexes in Cairo — with 18 more families having signed leases but have yet to move.


Then-Minnesota football coach Jerry Kill watches from the sidelines during the first half of the team's Quick Lane Bowl NCAA college football game against Central Michigan, in Detroit in 2015.

State files motion to deny change of venue motion in Pravin Varughese murder case

Gaege Bethune


MURPHYSBORO — The State’s Attorney Appellate’s Office has filed a motion to deny Gaege Bethune’s defense attorney’s motion to move his client’s trial out of Jackson County.

Bethune, 23, of Marion, is charged with two counts of first-degree murder in the death of Pravin Varughese, a 19-year-old student who was found deceased in the woods behind the Carbondale Buffalo Wild Wings on Feb. 18, 2014.

He has pleaded not guilty to all charges. 

Earlier this month, Michael Wepseic, Bethune’s attorney, said the extensive media coverage of his client’s case has had an indelible influence on the opinions of many people.

In the state’s motion to deny, it says "many people" is not the standard by which a venue can be changed. It says local prejudice must be alleged and demonstrated in order for a venue to be moved. The state says the only way that can happen is through “vior dire,” or a preliminary examination of a witness or a juror by a judge or counsel.

The state says that media coverage of an alleged crime does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that all people living in an area must automatically have prejudice in the case.

“It is also fundamental that jurors need not be totally unaware of the defendant’s case for him to receive a fair trial so long as the jurors can lay aside their impression ... formed on the basis of pretrial publicity and render their verdict based on the evidence presented in court,” the state’s motion reads.

The motion says there are 60,000 people living in Jackson County, and it is likely the court can find 12 unbiased jurors, plus alternatives who have either not been exposed to the defendant’s case or who can lay pretrial publicity aside.

“After all, actual vior dire examination of potential jurors is the best method for determining whether pretrial publicity has resulted in prejudice against a defendant so as to warrant granting his motion for a change of venue,” the motion says.

Chris Bonjean, director of communications at the Office of Illinois Supreme Court, said when a request comes in for an out-of-circuit venue, meaning a different county, usually, that decision is handled by the Administration Office of Illinois Courts in Springfield. He said that would be the office to determine where the proceedings would be moved.

The next hearing in this case is set for 9 a.m. Friday, Feb. 16.

Contributed by Jackson County Jail 

Gaege Bethune