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Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2007 11:39 pm

The wizard of odd

Why nobody takes the governor seriously anymore

Untitled Document Last week was way over the top, even for an over-the-top guy like Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Blagojevich sent out a blustery press release, threatening to shut down the government if he doesn’t get exactly what he wants in the state budget. He also told reporters that he had no problem keeping the overtime legislative session going for another year if that’s what it takes to get the budget done to his liking. It’s assumed that these actions were designed to frighten legislators into taking some action and warn their leaders that their plans for a relatively slimmed-down budget were unacceptable. But the governor’s antics were mostly met with howls of derision at the Statehouse. Nobody takes the man seriously anymore. Legislators have finally realized that they could do whatever they wanted without him as long as they stuck together, and he has flip-flopped so many times this summer on so many issues that he simply has no credibility left. • He promised to call special sessions seven days a week until the budget was completed, then dropped the subject after just one weekend in Springfield, and then showed up for a Cubs game the following Sunday. • He threatened to call legislators into special sessions until the cows came home if they passed an income- or sales-tax hike and then overrode his veto but is now expected to abandon that pledge if a modest sales-tax increase is approved for mass transit. • He flatly rejected one-month budgets as a right-wing Republican conspiracy, then embraced them as a useful tool for getting what he wants. • He completely ruled out any tax hikes on “people,” then fully supported a massive increase in the cigarette tax, which is obviously paid by “people.”
• He chastised the General Assembly’s leaders for using state employees as political “pawns” in the budget-negotiations game and then threatened to shut down the government and lay off most of those very same state workers if he didn’t get everything that he wanted in the state budget.
Is it any wonder that the Illinois AFL-CIO now feels comfortable challenging the Democratic governor’s pledge to veto any income-tax increases? The State Federation of Labor has been a staunch Blagojevich supporter for years, but its leaders demanded last week that the General Assembly ignore the flailing, wild-eyed, veto-threatening man behind the curtain and approve a bill to increase the income tax by a quarter-point a year for four years to fund public schools.
More important, though, the AFL-CIO got behind a proposal to cut Blagojevich out of the distribution of those new education dollars by putting all the cash into a “lockbox” completely controlled by a three-fifths majority of both legislative chambers. This was done because nobody trusts the governor to distribute the funds equitably.
For the AFL-CIO to essentially admit that the man it has supported since before the 2002 primary is now completely untrustworthy and should be ignored, bowled over, and cut out of the loop shows just how far Blagojevich has sunk. Almost every ally he’s had is bolting for the exit doors.
The unions are also bankrolling a new advertising campaign on black radio stations in Chicago that starts out, “I voted for him, but the man is wrong.” The ad is about the governor’s adamant refusal to support an income-tax increase for schools. The spot is running in heavy rotation beginning this morning. The fact that organized labor has chosen to slam Blagojevich in his most loyal voting base shows just how far labor has drifted from this man. Even the Daley clan is getting into the act. Bill Daley, the brother of Chicago’s mayor, wrote an op-ed for the Chicago Tribune last week in which he compared the governor to the unbendable, unpopular President George W. Bush. Daley urged Blagojevich to drop his expensive idea for universal health insurance (which he’s demanding in return for keeping the government open), stop the sniping, “demonstrate thoughtful leadership,” and start compromising on other issues so that he can “earn a second chance.”
I don’t know how Blagojevich thinks he can govern effectively for the rest of his second term if he stays on this crazy course. It’s like he’s taken every goofy trait of his from his first term and magnified it tenfold. Maybe when he finally winds up truly alone he’ll begin to take notice.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.
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