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Wednesday, April 16, 2008 11:58 pm

“Civil war”

Feud among Democratic leaders keeping taking its toll on state

Untitled Document House Speaker Michael Madigan told a firefighters’ group last week that he, Gov. Rod Blagojevich, and Senate President Emil Jones are engaged in a “civil war” and that “no prisoners” are being taken. This isn’t a unique insight. The fight between Madigan and the Blagojevich-Jones alliance started long ago and has been vicious, mean, and hurtful to many innocent bystanders. It resulted in an 11-month session last year, along with numerous lawsuits, special sessions, and hordes of unresolved issues. It’s unusual for a politician to state things publicly in such a stark manner, so when he does you can easily get the idea that the situation is even worse than you thought. If that’s the case, we’re in for some true nastiness. Madigan went through a long list of complaints for the firefighters. The speaker is still hugely upset over the broken state budget deal last year. Not since the legislative leaders began negotiating the state budget behind closed doors has the deal been broken as it was last year, when Jones refused to override the governor’s surprise veto of projects for Madigan’s members after promising Madigan to his face that he would override all vetoes. You may recall that the governor’s administration also fired the wife of Madigan’s chief of staff; dumped a Madigan ally as a lobbyist for the Illinois Finance Authority because he was “too close” to the speaker; brutally slashed the budget for the Illinois Arts Council, which is chaired by Madigan’s wife; and bused in protesters who booed Madigan during his annual speech at the state fair last summer, among plenty of other things. Despite all this, the governor’s staff seemed taken aback by Madigan’s remarks last week. Madigan’s bold words gave the governor a preview of what may be in store: lots more trouble. Last week Madigan expanded the playing field to include House Republicans, who had been going along with much of his agenda. Madigan, who is also the state Democratic Party chairman, has become convinced that House Republican Leader Tom Cross is somehow in cahoots with Blagojevich, and he took some extreme action last week to punish Cross for his perceived disloyalty. On Monday, Madigan unveiled a Democratic candidate against state Rep. Angelo “Skip” Saviano, an influential Republican legislator from Elmwood Park. Saviano has been a friend and ally of Madigan’s for years, but the speaker apparently thought he had strayed too far toward the governor’s position. The move against Saviano stunned the Statehouse, which was probably the point. Then Madigan pushed two very anti-Republican bills to the fore. One would reestablish straight party voting in Illinois, which the Republicans eliminated after they lost the House in 1996. Considering the very real probability that Barack Obama will be at the top of the ticket this November, straight party voting could imperil a whole bunch of suburban Republican incumbents. The other proposal would reinstate the Structural Work Act, which allowed injured construction workers to sue someone besides their own employers. Business groups hated the law, Republicans got it repealed in 1995, and now Madigan wants to bring it back. A pal of mine said he planned to talk to Madigan about Saviano and the rest of the speaker’s new agenda but had some real fears that Madigan would then turn on him. He’s right. And the same thing goes for the other two main characters in this drama, Blagojevich and Jones: If you’re not with them all the way, you’re against them, and God help you if that’s the case. It’s why nothing gets resolved. Nobody can mediate this war.
Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.
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