Blagojevich vs. Madigan: Governor's veto raises stakes in bitter impasse | St. Louis Public Radio

Blagojevich vs. Madigan: Governor's veto raises stakes in bitter impasse

Jul 7, 2008

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: July 7, 2008 - Update: Gov. Rod Blagojevich's spending veto, which would cut many social services, dares his fellow Democrats in the House to do something. Read the Chicago Tribune article. 

Our eariler story: Richard Durbin, senior U.S. senator from Illinois, says that not only do his constituents complain vociferously about the clash of wills between Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and House Speaker Michael Madigan, they even express their frustration to him "in writing."

"These groups are at their wit's ends," says Durbin. "They ask, 'Will you come and arbitrate?' There are people in Washington angry about it. I chair the delegation meetings, and people say, 'Let's get into a plane and go to Springfield.'

"But I tell them I can't do it (arbitrate). Jokingly, I once said I'd rather go to Baghdad to negotiate. But I don't mean to be dismissive about it."

The seemingly intractable class of wills between the Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Speaker of the House Michael Madigan virtually immobilizes running the business of the state. Projects are stymied. Medicaid, doctors and pharmacists go unreimbursed. School districts get short shrift. Federal money is potentially squandered.

Hovering over the Illinois Capitol is the specter of an "impeachment investigation" floated to Democratic legislators by Madigan himself. Then there's U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation that has landed one significant fish - Blagojevich fundraiser Tony Rezko - and that, many believe, has a whale in its sights.

Political morale in Illinois is, not to put too fine a point on it, in the tank.

The governor has called a special session of the Illinois General Assembly for Wednesday and Thursday to try to get a $1.2 billion budget passed. Most observers, however, expect the gridlock to stay locked.

No one seems to know at what point the relationship - if any actually ever existed - between the governor and speaker began to crumble.

Styles Clash

"It's sort of the classic case that you get a guy (Madigan) who is steeped in discipline versus a guy who's very undisciplined, like Blagojevich," says Dave McKinney, Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Sun-Times. "You can see it in their work habits, in their mannerisms.

"Madigan (right) is very measured in what he says," says McKinney, who has reported on Illinois government and politics since 1995. "You never see him flying off on things. He is so precise.

"This guy has been speaker for almost 30 years. He runs that chamber almost like he runs his house. They come in on time. He knows the rules. He's written  the rules."

The difference is seen in how they operate. "Madigan likes news clippings given to him every day; he likes to keep up on things. And he likes them clipped and organized in a certain way," McKinney says.

"With Rod, you get the sense that he's more of a big ideas person, but then doesn't really have the wherewithal to carry through on things to make sure they get done, to deliver."

"He is," says Charles Wheeler, director of the Public Affairs Reporting program at the University of Illinois-Springfield, "far and away the worst governor in my time." That time dates to Wheeler's 24 years with the Sun-Times and 15 more at the university. "He has no respect for the normal protocol of how government has been run in Illinois for years."

Wheeler describes Madigan "as a very bright guy with a real interest in public policy. He is someone who takes this stuff seriously, who has a real ability to look beyond his roots and consider the state as a whole." (He also says he wishes Madigan would be more open and speak to the press more often.)

"Blagojevich (right) has never outgrown the mindset of a Chicago machine pol. He sees the executive branch as running roughshod over the legislature. Madigan is a traditionalist who values the rule of law, believes in tradition, policies. Blagojevich has a real cavalier attitude toward it."

Wheeler heard that Madigan "was flabbergasted" when the governor was late for the 2004 funeral of Vince Demuzio, the long-time state senator from Carlinville. "And then he didn't even go to the cemetery. He caused the priest to delay the Mass. This is a major offense to someone raised southside Chicago Irish-Catholic."

No Trust

Legislative leaders have learned, Wheeler says, that they cannot take Blagojevich at his word. "Madigan has always put a premium on people being bound by their word. If you can't trust what your negotiating partner is telling you, you can't compromise.

"Jesse White (Illinois secretary of state) told my class that the governor is a liar. On the record," says Wheeler. "Now, Jesse White is an old-school gentleman who rarely says a nasty word about anyone. I was floored."

Still, McKinney says, he's surprised at the magnitude of some of the "stink bombs" Madigan spokesman Steve Brown has volleyed toward the governor, calling them "positively incendiary." These include suggesting that reporters, in trying to understand Blagojevich, "look up the meaning of sociopath" and referring to Blagojevich's "imaginary friends."

"You'd think that Madigan would reel those in, but he doesn't. It underscores the total hatred and dysfunction."

A telling and notorious moment occurred on an Illinois State Fair day in 2002 when Madigan was asked about Blagojevich. "There was this tension," says McKinney. "And he (Madigan) makes the famous line that 'I could talk about his indiscretions. But I'm not going to do that because I believe in solidarity within the political party.'"

Money Lost

The damage is more than just another pimple on the pock-marked face of Illinois politics.

"There is money about to be lost in the federal highway bill," says Durbin. "We end up with more federal money than ever in the highway bill. It requires 10 to 20 percent matching funds from the state, and the state doesn't have it. And now we're in the third year of this. We have lost three straight construction seasons."

Transportation, particularly vital because of the price of gasoline, is not the only thing being affected. "On Memorial Day weekend, every seat on Amtrak across America was reserved," says Durbin. "We have a chance in Illinois to add two lines. But we need a capital bill. It can't move forward because we don't have a capital bill."

How Will It End?

"I almost think there will have to be a disaster, a bridge collapsing," says McKinney. "Somebody is fired because of it. ... something that puts the governor's stewardship on display."

"It can end," Durbin says, choosing his words diplomatically, "with an intervening event. ... Or a change within the General Assembly, something kind of indirect."

McKinney sees three possible scenarios: "Nothing happens and we reach 2009 and Blagojevich seeks a third term or decides he's had enough. If he is seeking a third term, does (Attorney General) Lisa Madigan run in the primary against him? The other is that the (federal) criminal investigation cripples him more than he's crippled. Or the legislature takes things into its own hand and considers impeachment."

The impeachment memo, the handiwork of the speaker's staff, McKinney says, "gives a really clear road map of all of the slights Madigan has experienced and what he has perceived."

The political future of Lisa Madigan (Speaker Madigan's daughter, right) clearly is in the mix, McKinney says.

"The Blagojevich people view the standoff as part of a natural rivalry in Lisa Madigan (widely believed to be considering a run for governor). In the Blagojevich camp, they think (Mike) Madigan does things to enhance Lisa's position."

Wheeler has gone so far as to predict, in the February edition of Illinois Issues magazine that Blagojevich will be indicted. He still believes it. No matter, he says, the clock is ticking on the governor.

"I think people are getting wise to him. Chicago TV appears to be being harder on him. Early on, they on took what he said as gospel when people in the Statehouse press corps would realize some things he was saying were not true."

Wheeler expects this week's special session to be "a dog and pony show in committees of the whole where people will come in and testify about the shortcomings of the governor's proposal."

And if outside forces do not exert some sort of will on the situation?

"I assume this kind of impasse will continue until we get a new governor," says Wheeler. "Or until Emil Jones (Senate president and fellow Democrat) decides to stop having the governor's back."

Says Durbin: "There is not a magic formula that can solve these problems."

Paul Povse, Springfield, is a former columnist who's teaching journalism at Southern Illinois University - Carbondale.