September 19, 2007


How low can Rod go? That's the question state legislators are gleefully pondering in Springfield, as they debate the depths to which Blagojevich's poll numbers, political support and moral credibility will plummet.

In a town where camaraderie and conviviality are the norm, the governor's belligerence, recalcitrance, petulance, egotism and arrogance are deemed abhorrent -- if not deviant. "The man has a character flaw," Democratic state Senator Mike Jacobs is quoted as saying.

Blagojevich does not govern, which means to direct, lead or manage. Instead, he reacts, which means he responds to polls. His style is confrontational, and he is in a perpetual campaign mode, undoubtedly convinced that voters are more impressed by a governor who is a fighter than by a governor who is a doer. He seeks sound bites, not accomplishments.

"What's wrong with him?" lamented state Representative Joe Lyons (D-19). "We, as Democrats, could have accomplished so much, but because of him, we have accomplished so little."

According to Lyons, the governor had a 6-year game plan to vault to the presidency: Govern competently during his first term, get re-elected in 2006, and then run for president in 2008. That will not happen. "He's alienated every important Democratic politician in Illinois," Lyons said. In short, Blagojevich is a failure.

According to the late-August Rasmussen Reports poll, Blagojevich's job approval rating is 10 points lower than President Bush's in Illinois -- 22 percent excellent or good, while a stunning 78 percent disapprove, with 25 percent rating him fair and 53 percent poor. A month earlier a Rasmussen poll put him at 25/64 approval/disapproval. Among blacks the governor's disapproval is at 57 percent, and among women, to whom he is aiming his "Illinois Covered" health care initiative, his disapproval was at 84 percent; he was at 70 percent among men. Clearly, in his battle with the Democratic-controlled General Assembly, the governor is not emerging as a hero.

Does this faze the governor? Not at all, according to one Springfield lobbyist. "He figures he has time on his side and that the health care issue will be his salvation." The next gubernatorial primary is in March of 2010, fully 30 months away, and by making Democratic Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan a target of his scorn, he hopes to tarnish his daughter, state Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who is preparing to challenge him.

Adds the lobbyist: "Blagojevich's principal advisors were Lon Monk and Brad Tusk, who had jobs in the Clinton Administration. They saw the fight, confront, attack approach work against Newt Gingrich and the congressional Republicans. The more confrontational Bill Clinton, the more his liberal base loved him, but in Illinois the Democrats are in control. He's demonizing Democrats, not Republicans, and the Democratic base is getting angry."

Robert Howard, in his 1988 book on Illinois' governors, "Mostly Good and Competent Men," aptly described Democrat Dan Walker (1973 to 1976) as an "adversarial governor" and said, "Scornful of compromising . . . downgraded the importance of the legislature and aggressively used 'me-versus-you' tactics . . . for 4 years, hostility prevailed." Sounds just like Blagojevich. In 1976 Walker lost renomination by a wide margin.

Here's a synopsis of Blagojevich's recent blunders:

RTA/CTA bailout: The governor is adamant that he will not raise either the state income tax or the sales tax during his reign. State Representative Julie Hamos (D-18) of Evanston labored mightily to craft a $534 million bailout bill which included a 0.25 percent sales tax hike in Cook County and a 0.50 percent hike in the Collar Counties. Blagojevich promised a veto.

With service cuts looming for Sept. 16 -- the mass transit "Doomsday Scenario" -- Blagojevich offered $24 million in state aid, pilfered from other state accounts. The agency needed $110 million. Finally, with much fanfare, Blagojevich used his powers to allocate $91 million, including the entire paratransit and discounted fares subsidies. When those funds are gone, another crisis will arise.

Health care insurance: Blagojevich's "Illinois Covered" plan, which supposedly insured 1.4 million uninsured adults, had a price tag of $2.1 billion, which would have increased to $4 billion annually within 4 years. This was to be financed by a cigarette tax hike of 75 to 90 cents per pack and assorted revenues from casinos and sale of a 75-year lottery lease.

The plan was not approved by the legislature, but Blagojevich decided that that he could veto $500 million from the state's 1-month, $59.5 billion budget and, in conjunction with his 2 percent funds transfer authority, allocate that money to his coveted $463 million health plan.

Among his vetoes were "member initiative" projects in the districts of every legislator. Each senator got $1.3 million of earmarked projects in their district, and each representative got $650,000. Since Madigan's Democrats opposed him in the House, the governor vetoed the projects of all 67 Democrats but not of the 51 Republicans. Since Senate President Emil Jones is a backer and Republican minority leader Frank Watson isn't, the governor vetoed the projects of the 22 Republican senators but not the 37 Democrats. According to Blago, he vetoed "pork" -- or at least the "pork" of his enemies.

Budget cuts: The state's month-to-month Fiscal Year 2008 budget contained an additional $597 million in school funding. This was far less than the $1.5 billion sought by Blagojevich and Jones, but more than the $400 million targeted by Madigan. When Blagojevich first ran for governor, he promised to raise education spending by $1,000 per student over 4 years; he's increased it by about $400 in 6 years, with more than 80 percent of state funding being allocated to teacher and administrator salaries and benefits and to independent contractors. Nationwide, Illinois ranks 29th in education spending.

Yet Blagojevich didn't veto the cost-of-living pay hikes for himself, state officials and legislators.

Infrastructure: A typical liberal, Blagojevich views every problem as an opportunity to spend taxpayers' money. When a bridge collapsed in Minnesota, Blagojevich immediately called for a $20 billion capital projects bill. An estimated 700 of 7,000 state bridges need repair, and 90 have reduced lanes. How to pay for it? Bonds, borrowing or an expansion of gaming positions at current casinos. The governor opposes any new casinos, or any sales tax hike.

The betting is that the governor won't sign any infrastructure repair funding bill unless the legislature passes his health care package.

New taxes: Earlier this year Blagojevich, claiming that he wanted to "ease the burden on the middle class" and that he is a "pro-business governor," unveiled a 2008 budget with $33 billion in new revenue, including $10 billion from the lottery lease, $16 billion from new pension bonds and $7 billion in new business taxes, including a gross receipts tax and a payroll tax. The business community was outraged. The plan was dead on arrival in Madigan's House. Prominent Illinois Democrats such as Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn, Comptroller Dan Hynes and Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias opposed it.

Yet Blagojevich lamely tried to maintain the fiction that he is a tax fighter, not a tax hiker.

Stupid lawsuits: Blagojevich promised to "rock the system" when he ran in 2002. At his current pace, he'll barely prompt a quiver. He's taken his battle with Madigan to the Sangamon County court. The governor ordered 16 special sessions, at a cost of $42,000 per day, over the summer. He's suing to compel the legislators to address the issue that he stipulates on the day he chooses. He's also sued the House clerk to compel entry of his vetoes in the House Journal.

Perhaps somebody should sue the governor for the $5,800 it costs each day he flies from Chicago to Springfield and back, and accomplishes nothing.

Where's the governor's campaign money? During his first term, Blagojevich raised $30 million, or roughly $625,000 per month. Thus far, as of June 30, 6 months into his second term, he's raised $283,782, or just $47,297 per month. Why? First, because the federal probe into Blagojevich donations from state contractors, appointees and employees has chilled the environment. Don't donate, and don't get investigated. And second, Blagojevich is looking like a loser in 2010. So why donate?

The governor's hope: That a flock of contenders -- Quinn, Madigan, Paul Vallas -- all run against him in the 2010 primary, splitting the vote. But Blagojevich is looking more and more like Walker. Because of his truculence, petulance and ignorance, he'll surely rank among Illinois' worst governors