Lisa Madigan


One of the blogs I keep tabs on is Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn’s “Change of Subject.” Sometimes I agree with Zorn’s opinions and sometimes I don’t, but I always respect them, and that’s really all any decent columnist asks of his or her readers.

Anyway, “Change of Subject” is a Web-first column of opinions, observations and news bits, with its weekly contents distilled into a print column published in the Sunday edition of the Chicago Tribune. This past week, Zorn briefly touched on the topic of capital punishment in Illinois, noting that Attorney General Lisa Madigan recently wrote a letter to Gov. Pat Quinn urging him not to sign a bill that would abolish the death penalty here.

While Zorn and I basically are on the same side of the subject — he believes the death penalty should be abolished and I agree because there have been so many wrongful convictions resulting in death penalties being doled out in Illinois — I disagree with Zorn’s comment that many of Madigan’s Democratic and liberal supporters were surprised by the attorney general’s letter. After all, anyone who has a basic understanding of the cogs of our court system should not be surprised that an attorney general would be in favor of keeping in place something that is intended to be a deterrent to crime.

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Not surprisingly, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has resurfaced in the news in time to try to influence the upcoming Chicago mayoral race.

Attorneys for the impeached governor filed a motion Tuesday seeking supposedly missing evidence in his corruption trial, including records of a phone call between an aide and Rahm Emanuel, then the White House chief of staff (and now the clear frontrunner in the Chicago mayoral race). I use the phrase “supposedly missing” because I’m suspicious that the lawyers didn’t notice the evidence missing during Blagojevich’s first trial and the timing of the egomaniac ex-governor’s request coincidentally (or not so coincidentally) is just two weeks before the Feb. 22 mayoral election.

No matter. It is unlikely Blagojevich can do anything to derail the Rahm train. All the polls show Emanuel leading by a wide margin; an ABC7 poll released today suggests Emanuel has a commanding lead, drawing the support of 54 percent of those surveyed. (His closest competitor, Gery Chico, has the support of a mere 14 percent of those surveyed.)

Still, Emanuel addressed the subject of the “missing” tape Tuesday. Here is what he said about it, courtesy of the Chicago Sun-Times‘ Blago Blog:

He hearkened back to a two-year-old report by then-President-elect Obama’s transition team that concluded there were “about four” conversations between Emanuel and Blagojevich Chief of Staff John Harris, but “nothing inappropriate or any deal-making.”

“It also noted that I was asked at the time by the President’s transition (team) to provide a list of four names for the U.S. Senate: Tammy Duckworth, Jan Schakowsky, Dan Hynes and Congressman Jesse Jackson [Jr.],” Emanuel recalled, noting there was a separate conversation about Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

Trial testimony indicated that Blagojevich and his team considered this list a “BS list.”

“I provided that list. Then, there was a question: The governor’s representative said, `What’s in it for us?’ And I responded, `You’ll get thanks and appreciation‚ [but nothing more]. You also know how the [former] governor responded to the word, `appreciation.’ That’s been detailed over two years ago in the report.”

Testimony at Rod Blagojevich’s trial indicated that it was in fact lobbyist John Wyma who passed on that message to the Blagojevich team in early November, 2008 at Emanuel’s request. Wyma at that point had been cooperating with the feds in their probe against the former governor and provided the government with the necessary information to put up wiretaps against Blagojevich.

Meanwhile in other Blagojevich news, the judge presiding over the former governor’s retrial (U.S. District Judge James Zagel) ruled Tuesday that jurors’ names will remain anonymous throughout the trial and will not be made public until eight hours after the verdict is delivered. You can read the ruling here, again courtesy of the Sun-Times‘ Blago Blog.

There is a lot of news in Illinois politics today — most notably, Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s decision to run for re-election to her current post rather than for governor or U.S. senator.

Madigan has done a good job as the state’s attorney general, and she deserves a shot at the governor’s mansion or a U.S. Senate seat someday. But for now, I’m glad she’s staying put. I think Pat Quinn, who became governor Jan. 29 after Rod Blagojevich was removed from office, deserves a chance to run for re-election without having to worry about Madigan, a fellow Democrat, stabbing him in the back.

Also consider that Madigan’s father, House Speaker Michael Madigan, is leading the battle against Quinn’s income tax hike and state budget proposals. Michael Madigan annually fought tooth-and-nail with Blagojevich when it was time to set a state budget. Part of the problem then was Blagojevich, but part of it also was perceived to be Madigan setting the governor up for a fall so his daughter could swoop in and save the state as the next governor. Now that Blagojevich is out of the way, Michael Madigan appears to be doing the same thing to Quinn. Lisa Madigan deserves better circumstances under which to run for governor — not at a moment in time when it looks like she might get the job just because Daddy Dearest pulled the right strings for her.

As for the U.S. Senate, I think Lisa Madigan is showing her political savvy by not entering what is expected to be a crowded field to replace Roland Burris. With so many candidates (including U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk, who jumped into the fray today), that race will be an expensive one to run start to finish. For that matter, so will the gubernatorial race. (Five Republicans already have announced their intentions to run against Quinn — state Sen. Bill Brady, state Sen. Kirk Dillard, state Sen. Matt Murphy, DuPage County Board Chairman Bob Schillerstrom and political commentator Dan Proft.)

Lisa Madigan turns 43 later this month, so she has youth on her side. God willing, she has plenty of time left to run for higher office. In the meantime, she can continue to serve Illinois in the capacity she has since her 2002 election as attorney general. She is one of the few elected officials we can hold our heads up high about in Illinois. If she keeps giving us good reason to hold her in high esteem, her star will keep rising. Her time for higher office will come.

Second City announced Friday it extended the run of its hit musical spoof “Rod Blagojevich Superstar” through Sunday, June 14, at Navy Pier’s Chicago Shakespeare Theater “due to tremendous demand and irresistible new source material provided daily by the former governor.”

I saw “Rod Blagojevich Superstar” last weekend and loved it. Writer Ed Furman and music lyricist T.J. Shanoff worked in numerous references from throughout the Blagogate saga, including the allegations that Blagojevich tried to sell a U.S. Senate seat and get members of the Chicago Tribune editorial board fired, Blagojevich’s media blitz (including his infamous comparison of himself to Nelson Mandela, Dr. Martin Luther King and Gandhi), Chicago Mayor Richard Daley’s description of Blagojevich as “cuckoo,” and Blagojevich’s desire to be dropped into the heart of the Costa Rican jungle for a reality TV show. There also is a wonderful reference to his hairbrush, dubbed “the football” by the ex-governor, who breaks down during the show and proclaims, “Must brush hair for power!”

The breakdown leads into a gloriously profane song sung by Lori McClain as Patti Blagojevich, who in real life is heard swearing in the background of wiretapped phone conversations between her husband and his co-conspirators. Pottymouth Patti gets a laugh every time she swears, and sometimes she curses in shockingly funny ways. She also is portrayed as the brains behind Rod’s charmingly naive “scrapper,” who gets seduced into the Chicago political machine by his wife and her father, Chicago Alderman Richard Mell.

Of course, no Blagojevich spoof would be complete without somebody playing Roland Burris, who Blagojevich appointed to fill President Barack Obama’s vacated U.S. Senate seat after being accused of trying to sell it to the highest bidder. U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan also are characters in the play, which, as you might expect, pretty much wrote itself as it unfolded in real life.

And it continues to. While “Rod Blagojevich Superstar” lasts only 55 minutes (one of my few complaints about the play), it is followed by a brief intermission and an improv session that fills out the rest of your 90-minute date with the Second City troupe. Beginning May 7, the improv segment will include a game called “Rod Island,” which Second City describes as “portraying a never-before-seen bootleg copy of the pilot for Rod Blagojevich’s new reality television show.” Too bad I missed that.

Here’s the Bread Line bottom line: If you find humor in the ongoing Blagojevich scandal — even if it’s a sad kind of gallows humor — you’ll enjoy “Rod Blagojevich Superstar.” Click here for more details.

For the second time since former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested last December, current Gov. Pat Quinn backed off from his position calling for a special election to fill President Obama’s former U.S. Senate seat. By doing so, he may have dashed any real chance he had to retain the governship after next year’s election.

After then-Gov. Blagojevich was arrested Dec. 9 for, among other things, allegedly trying to sell Obama’s vacated seat to the highest bidder, Quinn was among the chorus of voices calling for a special election to select the state’s junior U.S. senator instead of letting the tainted governor pick someone. Soon he and other high-ranking Democratic officials backed away from their calls for a special election, deciding it was better to make sure a Democratic governor picks the next senator rather than allow any chance of a Republican winning the election.

That, of course, resulted in Blagojevich appointing Roland Burris to the seat, and now the controversy surrounding Burris has many people calling for Burris’s resignation. Since Burris won’t resign, Quinn once again joined the renewed collective call for a special election, which Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan says would be a legal way to remove temporary Sen. Roland Burris from office before the 2010 election.

But that was last week. Today, Quinn changed his mind again after meeting with a group of black elected leaders.

“I think there should be a special election. You cannot have a special election unless the incumbent resigns. The incumbent has said he will not resign,” Quinn said.

Quinn said he needs to focus on state budgetary issues rather than continue wasting time on Burris. He also said his decision to back away from his call for a special election has nothing to do with black elected leaders saying Quinn and other politicians risk losing the support of the black community if they keep hammering on Burris.

Yeah, right.

Quinn and other white politicians (U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin comes to mind) are so afraid of losing support among black voters that they cave in to black leaders’ demands. It is sad to see the race card continue to be played with such persuasive force in a time when President Obama’s election was supposed to help our country move past such things.

If Republicans keep calling for Burris’s resignation, they may have found their ticket to regaining the keys to the governor’s mansion. But they likely will still have to contend with Madigan, who hasn’t stepped in anything unsavory during the Blagojevich and Burris controversies. Her lack of backtracking on anything she said seems to put her in prime shape for a gubernatorial run next year. Quinn surely will try to hold onto the position, but I think by twice backing off his calls for a special election, he gave his political opponents something they can successfully use against him.

Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is at it again.

Five days after the Illinois Senate voted unanimously to remove him from office, Blagojevich today started his second national TV media blitz, beginning this morning on NBC’s “Today” show.

“It was an unlawful and improper impeachment,” Blagojevich told interviewer Meredith Vieira. “So I don’t view myself at all as being shamed or disgraced. … But they did a disservice to the people of Illinois and the people across America.”

The way I see it, the disservice done to the people of Illinois is that legislators didn’t impeach this corrupt clown earlier. It also was a disservice for so many Democrats to publicly support and defend Blagojevich until he became too much of a political liability after his Dec. 9 arrest on political corruption charges. Blagojevich made a good point last week when he questioned why he wasn’t impeached earlier for political crimes he committed during his first term as governor but weren’t brought against him until last month, two years into his second term.

Making a good point about the timing of his impeachment does not excuse Blagojevich’s corruption. But I want to share a quote from his successor, Gov. Pat Quinn, made during the 2006 campaign: “In all my interactions with him, I’ve found him to be an honest person.” Blagojevich was already under investigation at that point and had already committed some of the political crimes cited against him in his impeachment trial, yet Quinn found him to be “honest.” I am skeptical that Quinn knew nothing of his two-time running mate’s questionable behavior, and therefore I question the new governor’s squeaky-clean image. He may not have known the worst of Blagojevich’s alleged transgressions until they were revealed by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, but that doesn’t excuse him for ignoring Blagojevich’s abuse of power in order to get re-elected as lieutenant governor.

Quinn wasn’t the only top Democrat to conveniently ignore Blagojevich’s transgressions, some of which were well known before the 2006 gubernatorial election. House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton endorsed Blagojevich for re-election. In fact, Madigan was engaged in a well-documented, long-running feud with Blagojevich, yet co-chaired the governor’s re-election committee. Maybe Blagojevich can return the favor later by co-chairing the presumed gubernatorial campaign of Madigan’s daughter, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. Wouldn’t that be a hoot?

The point I’m trying to make is this: If you watch Blagojevich continue repeating his same talking points to Larry King, Greta Van Susteren and David Letterman tonight, keep in mind that the Blagojevich conversation would be much more complete if we heard politicians like Quinn, Cullerton and Michael Madigan tell us why they ignored the warning signs of corruption even after they became apparent.

And when they are done giving their excuses – if they ever have the guts to do so – they should apologize to Illinois residents for intentionally misleading them about Blagojevich until it suited their purposes to do otherwise.

And so it is done. Rod Blagojevich is no longer governor of Illinois.

The Illinois Senate voted 59-0 to remove Blagojevich from office and then voted 59-0 to bar him from ever holding public office in Illinois again. Of course, Blagojevich later proclaimed his innocence again, this time during a press conference outside his Chicago home.

Incidentally, Blagojevich traveled home on a taxpayer-funded, state-owned airplane before he was removed from office. His successor, Pat Quinn, said yesterday Blagojevich would need to find an alternate way home if he was no longer governor.

Blagojevich left the Capitol immediately after finishing his closing statement, which shows how little he really cared about defending himself in the first place. Either that or he just couldn’t face his accusers for longer than what amounted to a 47-minute stump speech for himself.

Regardless, the bottom line is Blagojevich is out of office, so Quinn and the Illinois legislature can get to work tackling other problems. Quinn will probably do an adequate job as governor, but because he isn’t part of the Chicago political machine, serious challenges will be mounted by people within his own party if he seeks election to a full term as governor next year. Attorney General Lisa Madigan surely will head the list of Democratic challengers to the throne. She stands a good chance of beating Quinn, too, thanks to the strong political influence of her father, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, a longtime cog in the Chicago political machine.

But when voters begin contemplating that race and others next year and in the years to come, I hope they will keep in mind what freshman Sen. Dan Duffy said today about Blagojevich’s political sins.

“Testimony shows that his abuse of power has been going on for years and that many people in this government and in this chamber had to have known about it,” Duffy said.

Perhaps someday we will learn the names of those who, until recently, looked the other way as Blagojevich abused his gubernatorial powers. I’m sure we will never learn all of their identities, but I hope many of them are revealed in the hundreds of hours of FBI wiretap recordings made for U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald’s criminal case against Blagojevich.

As for who the next governor of Illinois should be, perhaps, in wake of the impeachment of Democrat Rod Blagojevich and the conviction of his Republican predecessor, George Ryan, on federal corruption charges, it is time for a strong third-party candidate to make a serious bid. Someone with the average taxpayer’s interests at heart – like Quinn was before he sold out to be second-in-command to a crooked Chicago political machine governor.

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