January 23, 2013


Download this column as an equation: T8.IL.8xT.pol. That means Top Eight List of Illinois' most tiresome, tainted, tattered, Teflon-coated, tedious, timid, torpid, treacherous and tyrannical politicians.

If I were to include everybody, it would require a 15,000-word column, so here's my 1,500-word take on the "Irksome Eightsome."

*Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan. Universally described as the "most powerful" speaker in Illinois history and generally perceived as one of the most dominant speakers in the country, Madigan has run the Illinois House for 29 of the past 31 years, redefining and bifurcating the concept of power. However, Madigan flunks the "Pelosi Test," named after the former speaker of the U.S. House. There is no risk from which Madigan does not shrink.

According to the dictionary, "power" is the ability to do, act or produce; to control others; to have influence. "Powerful" is having much power; to be strong, mighty.

Madigan's concept of power is all about Number One. His philosophy is elemental: Do whatever it takes to keep his job. That means keeping his majority, which means keeping his Democratic members under his thumb, which means using his influence to pass or not pass legislation, which results in raising the $3 million-plus annually in contributions from special interests whom he has served, which means using that cash to elect and re-elect Democratic state representatives, which means that they are beholden to him and will vote as instructed. He's got the system aced.

And as for public policy: How about using his 71-47 majority to solve Illinois' $96 billion structural pension debt? Or cutting state spending? Or raising taxes to take in $5 billion for unpaid Medicaid vendors? Not "No-Risk Mike." No roll-call vote will ever be permitted in his chamber which will ever jeopardize the re-election of any of his sycophants.

Contrast Madigan to Nancy Pelosi, the much-maligned Democratic U.S. House speaker from 2007 to 2010. President Barack Obama wanted to pass his health care "reform." Rahm Emanuel, then his chief of staff, counseled against it. Obama insisted. Pelosi stepped up to the plate. She did her job. She whipped her majority into line and put that majority in jeopardy. "Obamacare" was passed by the House by four votes, and the Democrats lost 73 seats in the 2010 election.

That's the "Pelosi Test" -- either use your power while you have the majority and take the risk to make serious changes or use your power to keep your power and take no risks. Madigan ain't no Pelosi.

 Until the tyrannical Madigan is exorcised, Illinois will continue to have a dysfunctional government.

Governor Pat Quinn. The bar has been lowered and a new standard has been established in the Statehouse: the governor should be less incompetent than his predecessor. Quinn has lowered the bar further -- he has proven himself to be more inept than Rod Blagojevich, who was more inept than George Ryan, who was more inept than Jim Edgar, who was the last competent governor. Under the current trajectory, Illinois' next governor will be one of the Three Stooges.

To be sure, Quinn deserves and gets no respect in Springfield. He utterly lacks creativity, he shows no initiative, and he has a propensity for vacillation that is breathtaking. Just a week before the General Assembly adjourned on Jan. 8, Quinn proposed what he called "fundamental pension reform" which, he said, "has confounded 12 governors, 13 speakers of the House and 13 Senate presidents over the past 70 years." No vote was even taken on Quinn's plan -- the ultimate insult.

Tiresome, torpid and tedious -- that's Quinn. He will run for re-election in 2014 simply because he's the governor, and he might win. Why quit? He confounded the experts by keeping his job in 2010, and he will employ the same strategy again: Don't cut any spending for social services, providers, Medicaid, pensions, state employees or welfare recipients. That's Quinn's base: Everybody who is dependent on government. Keep the government employee unions and the minorities happy. Solve the state's problems? Not a chance.

Bill Daley. Daley for Governor? That's tiresome. A Daley has been the mayor of Chicago for 43 of the past 58 years, John Daley runs the Cook County Board as its Finance Committee chairman, and now Bill Daley, age 64, is finally taking the plunge and likely running against Quinn in the 2014 Democratic primary. The spin is already fast and furious: Daley is "brainy." Daley can "fix" Illinois' problems.

However, the biggest problems are Madigan and Illinois Senate President John Cullerton. They rule Illinois. They want a governor who is a dolt, not a dragon. They don't want Daley. Surreptitiously, they'll do all in their power to make sure Daley is not elected. They'd rather have Quinn or a Republican eunuch in the Statehouse.

Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon. If Illinois government were a pageant, Simon would be crowned "Ms. Timidity." The daughter of the late, beloved liberal U.S. Senator Paul Simon, her tenure can be summarized by bastardizing Winston Churchill's phraseology: Never has so much been expected by so many and so little delivered.

Simon lost a 2007 race for mayor of Carbondale. When 2010 primary upset winner Scott Lee Cohen was forced off the Democrats' ticket because of domestic battery allegations, Simon was picked to run with Quinn. She was a woman, she had a brand name, and she was innocuous. She's still innocuous. Her most memorable headline was that she was "pretty proud" of having sewn her inauguration suit. In Springfield she is a lamb in a den of lions, and she is going nowhere.

Secretary of State Jesse White. White, who will be 80 years old in 2014, has evolved into an iconic figure, and he indisputably runs a competent ship. His job, which entails supervising driver's licenses and business services in a state with a population of 12.8 million, is a time bomb. Any sticky-fingered rogue employee can trigger a scandal. White has held his job for 15 years, and nary a whiff of scandal has attached to him. Given the sordid exploits of predecessors such as George Ryan and Paul Powell, White deserves plaudits from every Illinoisan. He's "Mr. Teflon."

However, White's base of support a mile wide and an inch deep, and it is predicated on the pillars of good work, goodwill and good luck. The only plausible scenario for his defeat in 2014 would be if a white, liberal self-funding woman runs.

The Republicans' "Tattered Trio." The Republicans in Illinois have a propensity for loving losers. Try again is their mantra. The much reviled (at least by the news media) Jim Oberweis finally won a state Senate seat after four losses for state and congressional office.

Since the Republicans lose all Cook County, and most statewide, elections, the party's 2014 bench is crowded with losers. The gubernatorial field consists of state Senator Bill Brady, who lost to Quinn in 2010 by 31,834 votes, state Senator Kirk Dillard, who lost the 2010 primary to Brady by 193 votes, and state Treasurer Dan Rutherford, who won his current office in 2010 by 161,049 votes, lost to White in 2006 by 1,045,399 votes, and ran the 2012 Romney campaign in Illinois, losing the state by 826,965 votes.

The only non-loser is mega-wealthy businessman Bruce Rauner, who can self-fund $3 million to $4 million to win the primary. Similar Republican richy-rich types won the governorships in Michigan and Florida in 2010.

Alderman Dick Mell. Mell, age 73, makes both Machiavelli and Chicken Little look like amateurs. The alderman has a stellar history of political treachery. He was a top precinct captain for John Brandt, the 33rd Ward's five-term alderman and Democratic committeeman, who was elected as a state representative in 1968. In 1972 Mell challenged Brandt for committeeman and lost. In 1975 he beat Brandt's choice for alderman. In 1976 he beat Brandt, but he backed Brandt for his House seat, narrowly defeating Dan Walker operative Al Ronan by 2,621 votes. By 1978 Mell had made a deal with Ronan, dumped Brandt, and Ronan got the House seat. In 1992 Mell dumped incumbent Myron Kulas and gave his son-in-law Rod Blagojevich his House seat. In 2008 Mell muscled out 12-year incumbent Rich Bradley and gave his daughter Deb Mell his House seat.

For years Mell has been tiresomely promising or threatening to quit and promising his chief of staff Chuck LaMantia the alderman's job. Nobody takes Mell seriously anymore. The sky has not fallen. The alderman reportedly wants Deb Mell to be the alderman, shunting LaMantia into the House seat.

The growing consensus among ward voters: Shut up and do the job or quit. Serving us is a privilege, not a favor.

Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios. Berrios views an ethical taint as no different from a shaver's nick or cut. It's part of the job. Raise millions of dollars from property owners and their attorneys as Board of Review commissioner. So what? Put family members on the assessor's payroll. So what?

Berrios won the 2010 three-way primary with 39.2 percent of the vote. He won't have that luxury in 2014. He'll face a credible "independent" -- Forrest Claypool, David Hoffman or Scott Waguespack. In a one-on-one race, he'll lose.