Offering a tiny apology
Hmm. It seems that I, for one, owe a wee apology to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. I blamed most of the paralyzing toxicity in Springfield in recent years on him. Many of my columns have hammered on Blagojevich's stubbornness, his confrontational style and his tendency to grandstand rather than lead.
He and his fellow Democrats had it all. Solid majorities in both chambers and, since 2006, every statewide office. Yet all we got was one long sandbox fight.
So now Blago's gone. Arrested. Impeached. Removed from office. Indicted. Exiled to his home in Ravenswood Manor.
We have a new governor -- the good-hearted Pat Quinn. For good measure we also have a new Illinois Senate president -- John Cullerton -- replacing Emil Jones, who was Blagojevich's main enabler in the legislature. And what are we seeing in Springfield?
Another round of paralyzing toxicity! Name-calling. Infighting. Finger-pointing. Dueling accusatory news conferences about who's to blame for a budget stalemate that put the General Assembly into an overtime session for the third summer in a row.
The constant in this equation has been House Speaker and Illinois Democratic Party Chairman Michael Madigan. Blagojevich seemed to be in a perpetual blood feud with Madigan, and even used Madigan's intransigence as an excuse for why he had to raise such eye-popping sums of campaign cash -- an effort that got him into legal trouble.
Now another governor is vexed and stymied by the speaker, reduced to making populist threats. Another Senate president is standing helplessly by and shrugging. And Blagojevich is having the good sense to lie low for once and let the news itself do the talking: "Toldja so!"
Therefore a wee apology. Not a full one. Blagojevich was a turkey, and the bill of particulars against him runs far longer than the federal indictment that alleges he crossed the line into criminality. Frustration is no excuse. But it does look to be an increasingly plausible explanation, one that I now regret not giving more credence to at the time.
The question looking forward is what excuse, what explanation, what apology the Democratic Party can offer voters for making such a mess of things yet again, even with the ostensibly rogue ex-governor out of the picture. Democrats asked the voters for power in Illinois. And the majority of voters -- including me, I should say -- said OK. The result reduced legislative Republicans to decorative-plant status
. But with this power came full and admittedly awesome responsibility -- to address the impact of the nationwide economic crisis and balance the state budget in a time of declining revenues. This responsibility didn't exactly creep up on the Democrats. We all saw it coming.
What did the Democratic leadership do to address this admittedly knotty problem? They bickered. They hemmed. They hawed. They quailed at making decisions and taking ownership of decisions that will inevitably prove unpopular among some segments of the population. Eventually, they ran out the clock at the end of last month and forced an overtime session. (See: Chickens playing a game of chicken: What's really going on in Springfield
Now, in overtime, when the rules call for supermajority votes to pass a spending plan, Republican votes will be on whatever potentially infuriating combination of program cuts, tax hikes and accounting hocus pocus gets us into next year.
"If voters can't trust the Democrats to get the job done, then they should look elsewhere for solutions in the next election. Letting the process go into overtime was a political decision and had nothing to do with the best interests of the people of the state."
That's not me talking. That's Democratic state Sen. James Meeks of Chicago. He knows that his party owes an apology to those who put them in power.
A big one.
A State in Crisis, Illinois’ Budget Train Wreck, 2003-Present
The effect of one party rule in state government. In January 2003, Democrats took control of the executive branch as well as both chambers of the General Assembly. Since Fiscal Year 2003, Democrats have increased spending by over $6 Billion, an increase of 26.9%.
State of Illinois FY 2010 Budget Challenge and Responsibility
The Crisis is Real, People are Hurting - Illinois’ unemployment rate jumped from 7.9 % in January to 8.6 % for the month of February – our highest unemployment rate since 1983. 206,000 jobs have been lost in Illinois over the last year. State’s housing sales dropped by 27.8 % and home prices dropped by 20.8% from a year ago February. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) for all foods increased 5.5% in 2008, the highest annual increase since 1990, and is forecast to increase 3.0% to 4.0% in 2009. During the past 10 years, more than 727,150 people have left our state, ranking Illinois third in the nation in net out-migration.