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Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2007 07:03 am

Old habits

Democrat leaders can’t get on same page on primary

Untitled Document Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Senate President Emil Jones, and House Speaker Michael Madigan apparently can’t get along enough yet to help Illinois’ favorite son win the Democratic presidential nomination.
Last month, Madigan said he would push for legislation to move the 2008 primary to Feb. 5 from March 18. Madigan said the idea would help U.S. Sen. Barack Obama win the nomination, although others pointed out that winning Illinois wouldn’t be much of a boost for the hometown candidate. Shortly before Obama announced his presidential run in Springfield a couple of Saturdays ago, Blagojevich issued a statement calling on the General Assembly to send him a bill to move the ’08 primary to Feb. 5. The change, according to the governor’s statement, would “give Illinois voters an opportunity to send an early message in support of Sen. Obama and send him to victory.” Notice, however, that Blagojevich didn’t specifically endorse Madigan’s legislation. (Also notice that Blagojevich used government stationery to promote a political candidate, but that’s another story.) By Saturday afternoon a Jones spokesperson said that the Senate president still hadn’t signed off on Madigan’s bill. Jones agrees with the concept, the spokesperson said, but many details still need to be worked out. Numerous sources say that Jones and Blagojevich intend, at least at this point, to craft their own legislative agenda on schools, health care, and other big-ticket items this spring, zoom the bills through the Senate, and then make Madigan a “take it or leave it” proposition. In other words, they want to put Madigan on the spot and try to force him to accept their agenda. If history is any guide, Madigan, who has been at the top of the political heap for over 20 years, won’t take kindly to this. So you’d think Blagojevich and Jones would both want to set the tone early by accepting Madigan’s primary bill. That would allow them to seize the high ground, and then down the road they could point the finger of blame at Madigan for being the obstructionist. Old habits die hard, however, and the long-anticipated legislative war is getting in the way of making a show of unity. And because this particular piece of legislation affects a national issue, it could be thrust into the glare of the national media spotlight. Needless to say, that national glare won’t make anyone look all that great.
Meanwhile, Madigan said after Obama’s Saturday announcement that he and the presidential hopeful had put their differences behind them. Madigan claimed that the two men had spoken twice in the past several months and that they were now working together. Madigan had snubbed Obama last year, along with Obama’s handpicked candidate for state treasurer, Alexi Giannoulias, after Giannoulias defeated Madigan’s handpicked candidate for the treasurer’s office during the spring primary. Madigan refused to meet with Giannoulias or return his calls, and the state-party Web site that Madigan controls (he is also the party chairman) didn’t even list Giannoulias as a candidate. Then, around the time of the Illinois State Fair, Madigan derisively referred to Obama as “the Messiah” when speaking with Kristen McQueary of the Daily Southtown. Publicly, Obama brushed off the remark, but he reportedly wasn’t happy with Madigan. It took a long time to heal those wounds. Madigan has also lately made peace with Giannoulias. I asked Madigan after Obama’s speech whether he thought that using the “Messiah” term (which has spread like wildfire) was a mistake. “It’s complicated,” he said, repeating that the two men had worked out their differences. I asked again. Same response. Again. Same response. Madigan may not know how to apologize in public, and he completely misread Obama’s popularity and potential power in this state, but he sure knows how to stay on message.
Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com
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