June 10, 2009


Greek philosopher Aristotle opined that the holders of "supreme" offices of the state must possess three qualifications: loyalty, capacity and a sense of virtue and justice. None of those qualities are anywhere apparent in Springfield.

Machiavelli, a literate and verbose Tuscan nobleman in Italy during the 16th Century, the author of "The Prince," derided the citizenry as "inert" and insisted that the state is a "dynamic, amoral entity" and "not an instrument for achieving the good life." That's an accurate description of Illinois and state government.

And British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli once said, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics."

In Springfield, as state legislators and Governor Pat Quinn grapple with Illinois' fiscal crisis, Disraeli's truism sheds light on the situation:

Lies: Democratic Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, who boasts a 70-48 majority, rules his domain with an iron fist. He could have compelled his members to pass an income tax hike, but the House voted 74-42 against increasing the personal income tax from 3.0 percent to 4.5 percent and refused to vote on the Senate's hike to 5.0 percent.

Madigan's campaign committee, as well as the Illinois Democratic Party, of which he is chairman, raised $3.5 million during the 2007-08 campaign cycle. Special interests contribute to him, and that money is used to fund Democratic House candidates. The winners are beholden to Madigan, and they vote as they're told by the speaker.

On the income tax hike, Madigan said that he decided to let his members "take it back to their districts." What a crock. The Democratic representatives have had more than enough time to gauge public opinion, as has Madigan. If the speaker needed 60 votes to pass the tax increase, he would have gotten them. It is clear that Madigan is -- and has been for more than a decade -- a "dynamic, amoral entity," to use Machiavelli's words, whose sole concern is the protection of his power. He uses his power to retain his power.

Damn lies: As Machiavelli said, a prince is esteemed when he is a true friend or a true enemy, when he declares himself without reserve. And, he added, whoever wins will not desire friends whom he suspects and who did not help him in time of trouble.

Message to Quinn: The speaker is your true enemy. He will not assist you. He seeks your failure. His goal is threefold: (1) To foment a fiscal crisis, and possibly a government shutdown, which will reflect adversely on the governor's competence. (2) To facilitate the election of his daughter, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, as governor. (3) To retain his House majority so he can use it to bolster his daughter when she is governor.

Statistics: Of the 70 Democratic state representatives, 44, or 63 percent, were unopposed by a Republican in the 2008 election, and 47, or 67 percent, were unopposed in the February 2008 Democratic primary. There is absolutely no danger of the Democrats losing 12 House seats and their majority in 2010.

The speaker ostensibly doesn't want to put Democratic incumbents on record as favoring a tax hike because they may suffer a voter backlash. Again: What a crock. In addition to the 44 unopposed Democrats, nine Democratic representatives won with 75 percent of the vote or more, 11 with 60 to 75 percent, three with 55 to 60 percent, and three with 50 to 55 percent.

Even if an income tax hike cost the Democrats an across-the-board 10 percent of the vote in legislative races, Madigan would lose, at most, six seats, and still have a 62-56 majority. But that's unacceptable to the speaker. He wants 71 votes, a gain of one seat in 2010, which would give him a super majority and the ability to pass bills without Republican votes in overtime sessions. And, most critically, it would give him the votes to pass a legislative remap in 2011 which would enable Democrats to control both chambers for the next decade.

But the key is this: If it takes a budgetary catastrophe to nominate Lisa Madigan over Quinn in the 2010 Democratic primary, then so be it. The current crisis is all about Madigan seeking to destroy Quinn. As Lord Acton once wrote: Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Here's an overview of four possible scenarios for 2010:

(1) Chicken Little Quinn. Masterful -- and usually smarmy - politicians, such as Bill Clinton and Rod Blagojevich, know how to triangulate. They seize a popular issue, isolate its enemies, and generate headlines. Were Blagojevich still governor, he would be lambasting Mike Madigan as heartless, a Republican in disguise, and Illinois' very own Newt Gingrich. Blagojevich was the kind of politician who didn't want to solve problems; instead, he wanted to exploit problems for his own benefit.

Quinn, who has a modicum of integrity, wants to solve problems. With a $12 billion-plus state deficit for fiscal year 2010, Quinn proposed an income tax hike (which would generate $3 billion), $1 billion in budget cuts and a $3 billion skim from pension funds. If that were not approved, Quinn said, the sky would fall: The budget would be slashed 37 percent, every department would be cut by 50 percent, 6,000 prisoners would be released, museums and parks would be closed, social services would be trimmed by $1.2 billion, 14,300 teachers would be laid off, college aid would be cut to 400,000 students. It would be doomsday.

And then Quinn forgot about it. Instead of blaming and blistering the Democratic legislative majorities -- and Madigan and Illinois Senate President John Cullerton in particular -- for their obdurate and obstructive behavior, Quinn shifted strategy and decided to try to negotiate with them. And they kicked him in the teeth.

Nine months hence, in March 2010, the state will be bankrupt. There will be no money to pay employees or fund programs. The primary will be held on Feb. 2, 2010. Given Quinn's ineffectual, inept, intemperate and indecisive performance to date, the governor will justifiably bear the blame for the state's problems. He's become just another waffling, opportunistic politician. He'll lose big to Lisa Madigan.

(2) Mighty Madigan. The second prong in Quinn's 2010 election bid is to position himself as a reformer. That means some restraint on "pay to play" antics. Quinn got his precious recall bill through the House, but it was limited only to the governor. He got contribution caps of $5,000 from individuals and $10,000 from political action committees, corporations and labor unions, and legislative leaders' committees were limited to $90,000 per candidate, but there was no cap on in-kind services such as paying workers or buying ads. That means business as usual in Springfield. Madigan can still collect millions from lobbyists and spend it to keep his majority.

A key "reform" was term limits for legislative leadership. Mike Madigan has been the speaker for 25 of the past 27 years since 1983. It is clearly his intent to remain as speaker for the foreseeable future, particularly if his daughter becomes governor.

Is that not an abuse of power? The "House of Madigan" will run Illinois, and every special interest that wants to "pay to play" will give money to the speaker, who will use it to keep control of the House and who will be the new governor's right arm.

For 30 years, Quinn has been an in-your-face, rabble-rousing populist. Now, he's morphed into "Mr. Milquetoast," the paragon of timidity. He's being played for a patsy by Madigan. He's being set up to take the rap for a government meltdown. Where is Quinn's anger? The outrage?

After Quinn leaves office in 2011, after 24 tumultuous months, he should write a book and title it "I Know Nothing." Like the hapless character on the old "Hogan's Heroes" television show, Quinn has proven himself to be a political amateur.

(3) "Don't blame me. I was following orders." That will be the refrain of legislative Democrats. That's what they'll tell irate labor unions and social service organizations, which have clout in Democratic primaries. And the orders came from Speaker Madigan.

"Mount Madigan" will soon spread the word: Elect my daughter. The fiscal crisis will be solved in 2011. Taxes will be raised -- but only if the "House of Madigan" is in control. The bureaucrats will then be fat, happy and paid. The current "crisis" is a Madigan-induced charade to oust Quinn.

(4) What taxpayer revolt? The Republicans desperately need a tax increase or a government shutdown . . . and not Quinn as a scapegoat. If Lisa Madigan beats Quinn and postures as a reform and fiscally responsible candidate, she'll be elected.

In 2010 all 118 House members but only 20 senators (13 Democrats and seven Republicans) will be up for election. Two Senate seats, the 31st and 40th districts, could flip to the Republicans. Republicans could win four Democratic House seats -- the 43rd, 56th, 63rd (if Jack Franks goes statewide) and 66th; they could lose the 17th if Beth Coulson runs for Congress.

Despite all the Springfield tumult, the new legislature won't be much different from the old legislature.