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Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2007 04:50 am

August amusements at the Statehouse

With help from Will Rogers

Untitled Document It is August, and all the gardeners in Springfield are harvesting their juicy red tomatoes to take to the state fair. They do this not to compete in the produce judging but rather in hopes they will sight Gov. Rod Blagojevich and take aim at the one they credit the most for the current chaos at the Statehouse. This is unfair, because the governor is by now largely irrelevant. It took only a few meetings with the governor for the legislative leaders to realize that they could make more progress without him. The legislative leaders think they could make more progress without the other members of the legislature, too, but they keep hanging around. Will Rogers had a similar idea back in the 1950s, then thought better of it: “There could be only a quarter or a third as many legislators, and we would pick better ones then. But it’s the system we have always used, so there is no use getting all overcome with perspiration over it. Things kinder run themselves, anyhow.”
I would be perspiring more if I had a state job, but because I don’t I’m willing to sit back and watch lawmakers, like Rogers did, as a “never-ending source of amusement, amazement, and discouragement.” I think it will all work out. But the results of a statewide survey conducted by the University of Illinois at Springfield’s Center for State Policy and Leadership give me pause. When the poll asked respondents, “How much of the time can you trust Illinois state government to do what is right?” a whopping 23 percent said “most of the time” or “just about always.” Only 76 percent said “hardly ever” or “only some.” Similarly, when they were asked whether things in Illinois are generally going in the right direction or the wrong direction, 34 percent said “right direction” and only 64 percent said “wrong direction.” We should take into account that the survey was conducted way back in May, before the true direction of state government became clear to nearly everybody. Another troubling poll result said that 70 percent of the 465 interviewed said that they would encourage a son or daughter in their twenties to pursue a career in state government. After all those years of telling the kid to get out of the cookie jar, the parents of Illinois now want Junior to grab them a piece of the pie.
People in other states have a hard time understanding the political confusion here, especially when they learn that that the governor’s office, the House, and the Senate are all controlled by Democrats. Will Rogers helps some: “Democrats never agree on anything; that’s why they’re Democrats. If they agreed with each other, they’d be Republicans.” That doesn’t make Democrats any more likable: “There is something about a Republican that you can stand him just so long; on the other hand, there is something about a Democrat that you can’t stand him quite that long.” The time House Speaker Mike Madigan got mad at the governor for calling him a Republican was a reminder that there is a difference, though it’s not always apparent to the untrained eye. “A Republican moves slowly,” Rogers explained. “They are what we call conservatives. A conservative is a man who has plenty of money and doesn’t see any reason why he shouldn’t always have plenty of money. A Democrat is a fellow who never had any but doesn’t see any reason why he shouldn’t have some.”
Many people think Barack Obama stumbled last week when he caused a flap by saying that he would agree to direct talks with Cuba and Iran. We have learned, however, that that was a move calculated to divert the attention of reporters who were about to disclose that he had spent eight years as a member of the Illinois legislature. Although it is true that in his book The Audacity of Hope Obama confesses this embarrassing detail from his past, no reporter had actually read the book until now. The book explains that it was during the long drives home to face an angry Michelle after his work in Springfield “ran two hours longer than scheduled” that he began to question his priorities. “Even the legislative work, the policy making that had gotten me to run in the first place, began to feel too incremental, too removed from the larger battles . . . that were being waged on a national stage. I began to harbor doubts about the path I had chosen.” Obama had the good sense to grab the first political ticket out of Springfield. But if every Illinois lawmaker who feels useless and ashamed were to run for the U. S. Senate, the field would be, let’s say, crowded.

Contact Fletcher Farrar at ffarrar@illinoistimes.com.
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