Michael Madigan


The long version of my column from this week’s Ottawa Delivered:

In what probably was the most surprising result from last week’s general election, Gov. Pat Quinn (D-Chicago) narrowly defeated state Sen. Bill Brady (R-Bloomington) for a full four-year gubernatorial term.

If you weren’t surprised by Quinn’s win, consider that he is a governor with a low approval rating, a Democrat who swam against a Republican wave of victories, and, most importantly, he was upfront with voters about his intention to raise the state income tax to help pay for education funding – in an election cycle dominated by tea party talk of less spending and lower taxes.

But is Quinn’s surprise victory a mandate for a tax increase, as he claimed after Brady conceded the race?

I say it doesn’t because Quinn barely won the most votes – only about 20,000 more than Brady – and didn’t get a majority of them. But I also think – hold the stones, please – we shouldn’t expect him not to try passing the 1-percent state income tax hike. After all, Quinn won the election, so we should expect him to at least attempt enacting the proposals he made before Election Day.

Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, master of the Springfield political arena and essential controller of state spending, suggested Tuesday he is in favor of Quinn’s proposed tax increase. Contrary to Quinn, though, Madigan refused to say anything about the issue until after he was safely re-elected.

Again, kudos to Quinn for being honest about his intention to raise taxes and still being able to pull off the gubernatorial victory. I wonder, however, whether Quinn would be feeling so mighty right now had state Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale) defeated Brady in the Republican primary. I suspect Dillard, who served as former Gov. Jim Edgar’s chief of staff, would’ve defeated Quinn because he probably would’ve come up with a proposed solution for the state’s budgetary mess. I don’t know whether Dillard’s solution would’ve been a good one, but any solution beats no solution, which basically is what Brady gave voters. And that probably would’ve been enough to nudge Dillard past Quinn.

This is all speculation, of course, and the bottom line is Quinn is our governor for four more years, and whether or not you voted for him personally, we all should hope he moves Illinois in the right direction. Otherwise, by the time he is up for re-election again, our state will be really screwed.

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I have to admit that a month ago I didn’t know much about Adam Andrzejewski other than he unsuccessfully ran for the Republican gubernatorial nomination here in Illinois earlier this year.

After hearing him speak in Ottawa last week, however, I find myself intrigued by an idea he is championing: a forensic audit of all state spending. An in-depth examination of how our tax dollars are being spent, he argues, would result in greater transparency in government spending, clamp down on political corruption and, perhaps most importantly, save millions of dollars by cutting wasteful spending. 

Would a forensic audit really do those things? I’m not sure, but I’m still intrigued by the idea.

There are some skeptics who doubt a forensic audit would be worth the investment, since it likely would be costly to track down every dollar that was spent by Illinois politicians in a single budget year, let alone multiple years. And for the sake of argument, let’s say a forensic audit finds several million dollars of wasteful spending that can be cut – but the forensic audit costs several million dollars to carry out. Is the audit still worthwhile?

I’d say yes, since the audit presumably would be necessary only once, but the savings would be repeated on an annual basis. That would make the savings more than the expenditure.

Numerous House Republicans – and two Democrats – agree. They are championing House Resolution 1057, which calls for a forensic audit of all state spending.

Not surprisingly, House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), whose top priority often seems to be keeping himself in power, has said a forensic audit is unnecessary and cost prohibitive. So far he has refused to let the bill be put to a vote on the House floor – which actually may be the strongest indicator that a forensic audit may be in order.

In any case, Andrzejewski – now the president of For The Good of Illinois, an Elmhurst-based, nonprofit organization that wants limited and accountable government – may have found his true political calling after losing the GOP gubernatorial primary in February.

“I want to be an example that you can lose an election, but your ideas can win,” Andrzejewski said in Ottawa last week.

A forensic audit certainly wouldn’t be the only solution to all that financially ails Illinois, but it might be part of a bigger one.

At the very least, it wouldn’t hurt for our elected officials to look a little further into the idea, rather than dismiss it out of hand – especially when it has the endorsement of a group such as the Better Government Association.

Perhaps a forensic audit wouldn’t be cost-effective, and if that’s the case, then it may not be something that needs to be done. After all, the last thing the forensic audit needs to become is more wasteful spending.

But we may never get the chance to find out if certain powerful lawmakers continue to block mere discussion of the issue on the House floor.

This column was originally published in the May 6 issue of  Ottawa Delivered.

I’m officially sick and tired of Rod Blagojevich.

Like a good, dedicated blogger, I’ll continue to write about the former Illinois governor because that’s my job. (It’s an unpaid job, but I consider keeping my readers up-to-date about Blagojevich’s latest shenanigans an implicit agreement I promised you.) But let’s be clear: Rod Blagojevich is a corrupt, hypocritical, lying, narcissistic, self-important, self-serving, state-screwing, failed politician who doesn’t know when to shut up.

Blagojevich was back on WLS 890 AM for two hours Sunday afternoon (and will be again next Sunday from noon to 2 p.m.) as a fill-in host, and this time I think he went too far in criticizing his former political colleagues. It’s not that Illinois politicians don’t deserve criticism — plenty of them do. But Blagojevich calling them out on the carpet is like the pot calling the kettle black — especially when he is criticizing them about how they’re handling the financial mess he helped make as bad as it is.

Here is the gist of Sunday’s Blago show, as reported by ABC7 News (WLS-TV):

Blagojevich spent a couple of hours moderating a call-in show on WLS Radio. He said self-righteous and hypocritical politicians unlawfully removed him from office. He also called the governor and the leaders of the House and the Senate an “unholy Trinity,” and he was especially critical of Governor Quinn.

“I was hijacked from office. My successor, who broke his promise to the people and proposed a 50 percent income tax increase, just brought us 45,000 video poker machines,” said Blagojevich. “In less than six months, Pat Quinn has really stuck it to the average working person.”

“I watch what some of these phony politicians are doing to you, politicians who never were elected by you,” Blagojevich also said. “Our governor Pat Quinn never got a single vote to be governor. Mike Madigan, the speaker of the House, never got a single vote statewide from the people to make the decisions he’s making, and our new Senate President, John Cullerton, never received the votes of the people across Illinois.”

Blagojevich challenged Quinn to a debate and he said a change in his defense team would be announced in the coming week.

Here’s how Blagojevich threw down the debate gauntlet: “C’mon, Pat Quinn, you’re now the governor of Illinois, come on over here and spend at least an hour with me and you and I can discuss what you just did to the people of Illinois.”

After all that he did to this state’s reputation and financial standing, how dare Blagojevich take shots at Quinn?

As for the state’s budget woes, Blagojevich said if he was still in charge, he would reduce administrative costs, privatize the Illinois Lottery and close corporate tax loopholes, but not raise taxes. Of course, he made it sound like those things are easy to do. If that was the case, why didn’t he ever fix the state’s finances? Again, Blagojevich is a hypocrite.

Sadly, there are more than a few people who think the hypocrite is now an empowered voice of the people. Unfortunately, WLS Radio management appears to be among them.

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.

After a whole week of silence from Rod Blagojevich, the former Illinois governor resurfaced in the media Wednesday on WLS-AM’s “Don Wade and Roma Show.”

Every time Blagojevich embarks on another media blitz, he brings a new set of talking points that he repeats at each stop. This time he is accusing Springfield lawmakers of being a bunch of drunken adulterers.

“It’s a whole different world down there,” Blagojevich said. “A bunch of them are cheating on their spouses. A lot of them drink in excess. Very few of them know what’s going on. They just take their marching orders from legislative leaders, and then the legislative leaders have to do things for them to keep them happy.”

He went on to say, “People are human and they make mistakes. But cheating on your wife and sleeping with your secretary, that’s the wrong thing to do.”

Blagojevich is right. That is the wrong thing to do. Some other wrong things to do include lying, excessively wasting taxpayer dollars, attempting to sell a U.S. Senate seat to the highest bidder, trying to withhold funding for sick children until a hospital executive makes a campaign contribution, and playing the race card at inappropriate times.

Blagojevich also disparaged his state senator, Senate President John Cullerton, for driving “around the neighborhood in a Jaguar.” He said Cullerton and House Speaker Michael Madigan “have been part of an effort to to prevent property tax relief for homeowners.”

The self-proclaimed “voice for the people” summarized his point thusly: “And, again, it’s the average guy in the neighborhood who’s getting screwed as they drive around, you know, working neighborhoods in Jaguars pretending to be on the side of the people.”

Much like when Blagojevich pretended to be on the side of the people as he regularly flew from Chicago to Springfield on a taxpayer-funded, state-owned airplane anytime he needed to do business in the state capital, because he refused to live in the Executive Mansion in Springfield so he could stay near the Chicago political machine that built him. It was the average guy in the state who got screwed as Blagojevich flew overhead, primping his hair and thumbing his nose at the rest of us.

The sad thing is, we’re still getting screwed by Blagojevich, even after he got kicked out of office – and he reminds us every time he returns to the airwaves.

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.