April 23, 2008


The current joke in Springfield is that ubiquitous Governor Rod Blagojevich, a publicity hound who closely monitors political trends yet is mired in a multitude of seemingly intractable legal, political and fiscal problems, has embraced a new 2010 re-election strategy: "Dumb-R-Us."

His ploy -- and hope for political salvation -- is to join the "Dumb-R-Us Club," consisting of embattled politicians who confess their sins and/or stupidity, fervently hoping that a forgiving and/or forgetting public may still re-elect them.

To be sure, Blagojevich hasn't engaged in acts rising to the level of moral depravity, such as using high-priced hookers (like New York's former governor), soliciting sex in a men's room (like Idaho's senator allegedly did), or having an affair with a male state employee (like New Jersey's former governor, who announced he was gay).

But, as is increasingly apparent, the candidate who promised to "rock Springfield" and blaze a "new way," has, as governor, proven himself just another superficial, self-serving hypocrite, concerned only with his self-preservation and advancement. Unfortunately for Blagojevich, but luckily for America, his presidential hopes have collapsed. Instead of the White House, Blago may end up in the big house, joining such despicable predecessors as Otto Kerner, Dan Walker and George Ryan.

If he is not indicted before 2010 for crimes of moral turpitude, Blagojevich may try to emulate David Paterson, New York's new black Democratic governor, who succeeded the disgraced Eliot Spitzer. Paterson immediately confessed to using drugs and committing marital infidelities in the past. With the 2010 election over 2 years away, Paterson hopes to inoculate himself, making the story stale and giving newspapers no cause for lurid headlines.

Blagojevich has just 23 months before the March 2010 Democratic primary, when he is certain to face credible competition. While denying possible ethical and legal transgressions, Blagojevich can readily confess to a plethora of stupidities -- that he's indolent, ineffectual, intransigent, insincere, inconsistent and utterly inept. Voters emphatically agree. A recent Ipsos Public Affairs poll had Blagojevich's job approval rating at 13 percent -- the worst in the country.

But that could be salvageable. The governor could argue that he's on a delayed learning curve, that he will eschew future posturing and confrontation, that he has rejected pay-to-play tactics to raise campaign funds, and that he will work with his fellow Democrats to solve state fiscal problems. If he does his mea culpa now and demonstrates some maturity in the next 18 months, he could reclaim some credibility and popularity. If he doesn't, he will be humiliated in the 2010 primary.

At present, in state government, there are two substantial crises and one superficial issue. The former are the looming state budget situation, with a $3 billion shortfall, and the probe by the U.S. Attorney's Office into state hiring practices, as highlighted by Tony Rezko's trial, with a possible future indictment of the governor. The latter is the attempt to change the Illinois Constitution to allow voters to recall state officials and legislators.

"How many Illinois governors have to go to jail?" asked state Representative Jack Franks (D-63) of McHenry, who harbors ambitions to run for governor in 2010. Franks is the sponsor of the recall bill, which passed the House 75-33 on April 8. It must pass the Senate with a three-fifths majority by May 4 in order to be placed on the Nov. 4 ballot as a constitutional amendment. If it is approved by a majority of voters, then petitions signed by 416,000 voters could mandate a recall election in 2009 -- which Blagojevich surely would lose.

That won't happen. The Senate Executive Committee, chaired by Ira Silverstein (D-8), held a hearing on the recall measure on April 16, with Franks and Democratic Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn testifying in support. Blagojevich, ever the hypocrite, publicly supports recall, but pressure from his ally, Senate President Emil Jones, resulted in a nonvote by the committee. Hence, the bill will not be voted upon by May 4 and is dead.

Franks' bill is patterned after California's statute, which permits initiative, referendum and recall. Initiative is the ability of citizens to enact laws, such as California's Proposition 13, which was approved in 1978 and which limited property taxes to 1 percent of the assessed valuation at the time of purchase and annual increases to 2 percent. Referendum is a public policy question, a vote on a particular issue. Recall is the removal of a public official, with a concurrent election to remove the office holder and to choose a replacement.

In 2002 actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, then an aspiring politician, got a referendum on the California ballot to expand after-school programs. It passed with 56 percent of the vote. In the same election, Democratic Governor Gray Davis, after raising and spending $62 million, was re-elected over an inept Republican with just 47 percent of the vote in a multi-candidate race. By early 2003 it was obvious that the state had a revenue shortfall of $10 billion, a fact concealed by Davis in 2002. Outrage fueled a recall movement that gathered 1,356,408 signatures. In the ensuing November election, Davis lost with 45 percent of the vote, and with 135 candidates on the replacement ballot, Schwarzenegger, a Republican, won with 49 percent of the vote. Had Davis gotten a majority in the recall, the replacement election would have been irrelevant. In the election, a plurality, not a majority, prevails.

"My bill is just like California's," said Franks, adding, "There's no doubt that (Blagojevich) would lose (a recall)."

In a hypothetical Illinois recall replacement, Franks, Quinn and state Attorney General Lisa Madigan certainly would run. Illinois' Republicans have nobody with Schwarzenegger's star quality. Blagojevich's nemesis, Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, the state Democratic chairman, would do his utmost to ensure Blagojevich's loss and his daughter's victory.

That's all academic. The real "recall" will be the 2010 Democratic primary. "I may run," Franks said, insisting that he will not switch parties and become a Republican. "I do not subscribe to Republican values," he said. But, he adds, "Lisa would be formidable and would be favored to win the (Democratic) primary." Quinn also might be a candidate. In a Blagojevich-Madigan-Quinn-Franks primary, Franks would be lost in the shuffle and would finish with less than 5 percent of the vote, while giving up his House seat.

*As for the governor, Franks thinks he is a certain loser. "He can't raise money," he said. "Every dollar goes to his legal defense fund. Why would anybody make a contribution?" As of Jan. 1, the governor's campaign fund had $2.1 million. Four years ago, the governor had $8 million.

But much depends on the 2008 presidential race. "If Barack (Obama) is not elected president, he'll run for governor (in 2010)," Franks said. "He'd win the nomination." Obama's term expires in 2010. Franks added that he would "love to be a U.S. senator" and that he might run for Obama's open seat, but he would face formidable opposition from a large field, including U.S. Representatives Jan Schakowsky (D-9) and Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-2), state Comptroller Dan Hynes, Quinn and possibly Lisa Madigan and Blagojevich.

In the 2006 Democratic primary, Blagojevich beat the obscure and underfunded Ed Eisendrath by 669,006-275,375, getting 70.8 percent of the vote in a turnout of 944,381. At that time his approval ratings hovered around 50 percent. After spending more than $25 million to trash Republican foe Judy Baar Topinka, Blagojevich was re-elected by 1,736,731-1,369,315, with 49.8 percent of the vote and with Green Party candidate Rich Whitney getting 361,336 votes (10.4 percent) and with a host of minor candidates combining to get some 20,000 votes. The pro-Blagojevich vote among the top three candidates exceeded the anti-Blagojevich vote by 6,080. Given his current baggage, Blagojevich would lose to any Republican in 2010.

As for the state budget, Franks ridicules the governor's health care plan. "There's over $2 billion in unpaid Medicaid obligations," he said. "Pharmacists and physicians are providing services but are not getting paid. If he wants health care, he should pay those who have already provided it."

The fiscal year 2008 budget is $55 billion, and projected expenditures exceed anticipated revenues by $3 billion. That doesn't bother the governor, who grandly proposes a myriad of new state spending, including expanding health insurance programs, replacing bridges, buying Wrigley Field and funding a new Northern Illinois University building -- while vowing to veto any state income tax increase.

The governor's modus operandi has grown stale and predictable: He panders to his core constituencies -- the teachers' unions, organized labor, state employees, liberals, minorities. He makes fatuous promises. He then vows to veto tax hikes, and he blames the legislature for failing to deliver.

The Rezko trial disclosures paint a picture of Blagojevich as a crass and venal opportunist, and the state political impasse paints a picture of Blagojevich as a failure. The big house awaits.