By Rich Miller
Near the top of any list of Illinois government’s many problems is that House Speaker Michael Madigan has made a decades-long game out of messing with the minds and the agendas of our governors.
If there’s one constant since 1983, it’s Speaker Madigan’s jiu-jitsu moves against whoever happens to be governor. Sometimes he was wholly justified (particularly in the waning months of Rod Blagojevich’s administration), but he often appears to do this simply because he can. Just ask Pat Quinn. That guy never did figure out why Madigan messed with him on a constant basis.
Understandably, all that can get on one’s nerves. Governors can start seeing nefarious plots where none actually exist—like when Gov. Bruce Rauner recently shut down a leaders meeting after Senate President John Cullerton spit-balled an idea about a stopgap budget to get the state past the election. Rauner thought at the time that it was somehow a plot by Madigan to scuttle the nonbudget negotiations, even though Madigan said during the meeting that he didn’t support his fellow Democrat’s idea.
I do give Rauner some credit, however. The guy has some jiu-jitsu moves of his own. The governor eventually flip-flopped and decided to demand passage of a stopgap appropriations bill at almost literally the spring session’s eleventh hour, completely reversing course from just a few days earlier when he rejected the same idea from Cullerton.
Madigan had told Rauner and the other leaders that he’d only support a stopgap proposal for this fiscal year, not next. So, Rauner can now once again blame Madigan, with justification this time, if a stopgap isn’t approved and the government completely falls apart.
But the governor’s default position that Madigan and the Democrats are to blame for almost everything wrong under the sun also recently got him in a bit of trouble. Rauner embarked on a mostly downstate PR tour designed to loudly blame the Democrats for their inability to yet again close a deal on the budget and his economic reforms.
During that tour, Rauner accused Democrats of shying away from “tough votes” on things like Exelon’s corporate bailout, according to the Quad City Times. Exelon had just announced that it was closing two downstate nuclear power plants because it couldn’t get its bailout legislation passed.
Passing Exelon’s bill wouldn’t have been a “tough” vote—it would’ve been a stupid vote.
The bill simply isn’t soup yet. Yes, negotiators got closer than they ever did in the spring session’s final days. But the interests that weren’t at the negotiating table have yet to have their say.
The only way a massive corporate subsidy for an otherwise fabulously profitable company can be passed is if all four legislative leaders and the governor are pulling in the same direction. And that can’t happen until all stakeholders have their say.
Without that progress, voting to hike electricity rates on just about everybody to save some jobs is both legislative and political stupidity. And to grant the company over $2 billion in subsidies that cannot be clawed back if the plants become profitable is, frankly, ridiculous.
Not to mention that one of those districts with a nuke plant targeted for closure is represented by Republican Rep. Bill Mitchell. I happen to admire the guy for his survival skills, but he has made a career out of railing against welfare and demanding that Chicago secede from the state. To bail out his district while the governor publicly fumes on an almost daily basis about not wanting to help Chicago’s fiscally bereft public school system is unrealistic in the extreme.
And despite saying that he has “focused” on this problem for “quite a while,” and was “in there fighting hard,” Rauner never once mentioned Exelon’s legislation at the leaders meetings. His staff also reportedly waved off an inquiry by House Democratic staff about where the governor stood. As the Quad City Times noted in an editorial, Rauner never made any sort of firm public commitment to the proposal except to have his staff say the matter was “under review.”
This Exelon finger-pointing put the governor’s gamesmanship on display. He’s never to blame. He’s just a helpless victim of the Democrats.
If the governor has any mandate at all from the voters it’s to “Shake up Springfield,” like he endlessly promised during the campaign. It was, by far, the defining issue for candidate Rauner. And nobody personifies Springfield in voters’ minds more than Speaker Madigan. To constantly portray himself as powerless to stop Madigan’s sorcery is essentially an admission of failure.
One day, people are gonna catch on to this.