February 6, 2008


It's not just the Republicans who are on the verge of irrelevance in Springfield. So, too, is Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich.

If Blagojevich's arch-foe, Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, wins a veto-proof super majority in the House -- with a net pickup of just four Republican-held House seats -- and if a few anti-Blagojevich Democrats (or Republicans) win Illinois Senate seats, Madigan will be the "Super Speaker" and the undisputed boss of Illinois politics, and Blagojevich will be the neutered, irrelevant governor.

It would be inaccurate to tab Blagojevich as a political lame duck. Despite job approval that barely exceeds 20 percent, he is eligible to run for re-election, as Illinois has no term limits. It would be unfair to class Blagojevich as a political dead duck. Despite at least a dozen federal and state investigations into job favoritism and "pay to play" contributions, the governor has not been indicted, but few doubt that it eventually will happen. A Madigan super majority, however, coupled with the loss by Blagojevich ally Emil Jones of his 37-22 super majority in the Senate, would make the governor a neutered duck.

It takes a 60 percent vote in both chambers to override a gubernatorial veto or to pass any bill or state budget in an overtime session, which begins on July 1. Last year, due to the squabbling between Madigan and Blagojevich, the overtime session lasted a record 6 months, until Dec. 31. Madigan has a 67-51 Democratic majority, and he would need a 71-47 margin or better after the 2008 election to totally dominate the House during the 2009-10 session. In the Senate, Jones' 37-22 margin gives him a super majority with just one vote to spare.

The result is that Jones can now pass Blagojevich's bills, such as his health care initiative, in the Senate, and a veto cannot be overridden in the House because of Blagojevich's alliance with Republican House minority leader Tom Cross, who detests Madigan's dictatorial propensities. A 71-47-plus Madigan House majority in 2009, coupled with either a 36-23 or less Senate majority for Jones or the election or emergence of two or three pro-Madigan state senators, would reverse the situation. Then the Senate couldn't pass the governor's bills in overtime, and the House could override his vetoes.

If that occurs, the legislatures' 2009-10 session will be super gridlock.

To date, 11 individuals have been indicted in various kickback schemes to raise campaign dollars for the governor, including fund-raising pals Tony Rezko and Chris Kelly. According to the latest disclosure filings, Blagojevich raised only $2.4 million during 2007, paid his attorneys at Winston and Strawn $1.1 million, and owes them $960,000 more, so it will be tough to raise more dough, especially if donors know the money is being used to keep the governor out of jail. Blagojevich won't have a $25 million war chest going into 2010. To be frank, the governor will be lucky to raise another $250,000.

In fact, the joke around Springfield is that George Ryan should make an informal dedication of his cell at the Oxford, Wis., federal prison, christening it the "Illinois Room." "Keep the bed warm," they josh, based on the view that by the time Ryan is out in 2012, Blagojevich will be in.

Unlike the Republicans, who have primary elections between candidates who compete to be the most politically orthodox, meaning socially and fiscally conservative, Madigan recruits and funds Democrats who are the most demographically electable, regardless of ideology.

The Republican-dominated 1991 remap resulted in a 67-51 Democratic House and a 32-27 Republican Senate in 1992. The Republicans gained 14 seats in 1994 and took a 65-53 House majority, ousting Madigan as speaker, and a 33-26 Senate majority. Ever wily, Madigan targeted Republican seats in the south Cook County suburbs, ran conservative Democrats, and won back seven seats, making himself speaker again. Madigan picked up two more seats in 1998, one in historically Republican McHenry County, for a 62-56 majority. There was no change in 2000.

The 2002 remap, created by Madigan, ballooned the House majority to 66-52, taking several Republican seats in east Lake County with female candidates. Madigan won two seats in Will County in 2004 but lost some Downstate seats for a 65-53 majority. He picked up a seat in 2006, and a Republican defection in 2007 upped his majority to 67-51. Since Madigan recruits and funds his candidates, the new state representative invariably does (and votes) like he or she is told, but given the governor's antics, state representatives don't even have to be told to vote with the speaker.

Madigan is targeting seven seats for 2008, and he must win five. Here's an early analysis:

65th District (Park Ridge, Des Plaines): Republican Rosemary Mulligan is a perfect fit for this upscale, socially moderate district. She has won consistently since 1992, and she had no opponent in 2006. She is pro-choice on abortion, pro-gun control, pro-gay rights, and fiscally conservative, but she has major baggage: She's a Republican, and the local Republican organization has evaporated.

Shouldn't voters be incensed about Democratic corruption in Chicago, Cook County and Illinois? "No," said Mulligan, of Des Plaines. "Voters are angry about Bush, and they might vote against any and every Republican."

Mulligan's foe is Park Ridge attorney Aurora Austriaco, who will be lavishly funded by Madigan and the trial lawyers. Through Dec. 31 Austriaco raised $51,039, to Mulligan's $28,810. Austriaco can't be any more liberal than Mulligan, nor can she criticize Mulligan's anti-Blagojevich votes on spending and budget matters, but the poisonous epithet is "Republican." Austriaco will cloak herself in that wonderful word: change. She will outspend, out-campaign and be more visible than Mulligan. John Kerry won the district in 2004 with 50.1 percent of the vote, and it probably will go Democratic for president by 55 percent or more in 2008. The incumbent is very much at risk. Outlook: Toss-up.

66th District (Mount Prospect, Elk Grove): Republican Carolyn Krause has, like Mulligan, served since 1992. She is retiring. George Bush got 51.1 percent of the vote in the district in 2004. The Democrats have fielded a strong contender in Mark Walker, a ferocious campaigner who will emulate his mentor, state Senator Dan Kotowski (D-33), who did door-to-door campaigning nonstop for 2 years and won an upset in 2006. Kotowski is running for re-election in 2008. The outlook: Edge to Walker.

92nd District (Peoria suburbs): Republican Aaron Schock, age 26, is running for Congress; Kerry won the district with 59.8 percent of the vote in 2004. Both Democratic primary candidates, Jehan Gordon and Allen Mayer, are flawed. Mayer, a county board member, was once suspended from his job in the state comptroller's office for misconduct, while Gordon, age 26, has been arrested for shoplifting and driving without a license, and she falsely claimed to have graduated from the University of Illinois. The Republican candidate is Cindy Ardis Jenkins, the sister of Peoria's mayor. The outlook: Toss-up.

104th District (Champaign-Urbana suburbs, Rantoul, Danville, Vermillion County): Republican Bill Black is retiring after 22 years in a 58.6 percent Bush district. Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhauer is the Republican nominee. No Democrat filed, but Democrats can name a candidate later, and they apparently have settled on Lori DeYoung, a Vermillion County Board member. Outlook: Eisenhauer favored.

43rd District (Elgin, Carpentersville): Republican Ruth Munson won by 1,137 votes, with 53.5 percent of the total cast, in 2006, in an area with an exploding Hispanic population. Her 2008 Democratic foe is Keith Farnham, a former Republican. Outlook: Toss-up.

17th District (Glenview, parts of Skokie, Morton Grove, Wilmette): Republican Beth Coulson also suffers from the "Dirty Word Syndrome." Her district went 58.8 percent for Kerry in 2008. Like Mulligan, she is a social liberal, and the worst that can be said of her is that she is a Republican. Democrat Dan Biss will spend big to beat her. She won by 666 votes in 2002 and by 7,101 votes in 2006. The outlook: Coulson favored.

69th District (Rockford suburbs, Belvedere): Republican Ron Wait, first elected in 1982, is at the end of his shelf life. He won by 1,383 votes, getting 51.8 percent of the total cast, in 2006. His 2008 foe is Greg Tuite. The outlook: This is a 59.1 percent Bush district, but Wait is a loser just waiting for an election.

Conversely, Republicans are sure to pick up the 107th District (Salem, Mount Vernon) seat vacated by Democrat Kurt Granburg, where John Cavaletto, who lost by 126 votes in 2006, will win, and they are targeting west suburban Republican-to-Democrat switchers Fred Crespo in the 44th District (Hoffman Estates, Schaumburg) and Paul Froehlich in the 56th District (Roselle, Schaumburg). Their candidate against Crespo, who won by 915 votes in 2006, is Peggy Brothman; against Froehlich, a conservative, anti-abortion, anti-gay rights Republican who switched in 2007, it's Anita Forte-Scott, a library trustee. Froehlich is beatable.

The outlook: Madigan will keep iron control of the Illinois House. Republicans will lose several seats, and a Madigan "super-majority" is probable.