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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Speaker Madigan to Illinois: It wasn't worth trying

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Now that Senate Democratic big wheels Dick Durbin and Harry Reid have decided to seat Roland Burris, Illinois Donkey Party leaders cannot escape blame for failing to call an election to fill President-elect Barack Obama's Senate seat.

House Speaker Michael Madigan on Sunday finally voiced an excuse why Illinois voters should be stiffed, and he demonstrated anew that however hard Democrats try to climb out of the hole they've dug for themselves with this mess, the deeper they sink.

On WGN radio, Madigan said even if the legislature enacted a law removing Gov. Rod Blagojevich's power to appoint a successor and set a date for a special election, he couldn't trust the governor to sign it. "I think that had a bill gone to the governor's desk providing for a special election, Blagojevich would have vetoed the bill, made his appointment and then there'd be a matter of a motion to override in the legislature. But the appointment would have been made." Realist that he is, Madigan may be right, even though he first said he would call a special session to pass special-election legislation. Blagojevich first said he would sign such legislation, but jumped ahead with the Burris appointment instead.

This is funny: Madigan cringing at the thought that his arch-foe Blagojevich might veto something, and then using it as an excuse to do nothing. Whatever happened to the idea of passing something just to back the governor into a corner, such as a deficit-heavy budget that contains no revenues? That once was standard practice.

More important: Why not pass something because it's the right thing to do, such as giving Illinois voters a chance to elect an Obama replacement? So what if Blagojevich had vetoed a special election? Madigan could have demonstrated that at least someone, anyone, was on our side. That someone in this woebegone state wasn't so frightened out of his wits about losing a slice of power that he would stick up for the voters. In this, Madigan has come off as oily as Durbin and Reid, who, while trying to speak earnestly about what is true, good and real, appear as insufferable fakers.

It's ironic justice that Madigan, by his inaction, could wind up with a ticket in the 2010 general election headed by a loser anyway, Roland Burris.

Now, if you think Democratic pirouettes can't get any funnier (or sadder) than this, then wait until the fight over who fills Rahm Emanuel's 5th Congressional District seat heats up. The Northwest Side and northwest suburban district has produced such luminaries as Blagojevich and convicted former Democratic U.S. Rep. Dan Rostenkowski and we're breathless to see who is the next to bubble up from this swamp.

The stage is set: Mayor Richard Daley isn't taking sides, having been deprived of a kinky political organization headed by convicted felon Don Tomczak; Democratic state Rep. James DeLeo, who is the big dog in the district, failed to install a candidate at a Saturday slating session of the district's committeemen, and now the race is wide open. This should be a classic bloodletting.

The political family tree in the district is so incestuous that it looks like an inkblot. You've got Ald. Patrick O'Connor (40th), Daley's City Council voice box, vying for the seat against state Rep. John Fritchey (D-Chicago), a lawyer representing real estate interests in City Hall. Supporting Fritchey are several powerful committeemen, including Ald. Richard Mell (33rd), the guy who gifted us with his son-in-law, Blagojevich, Also supporting Fritchey is another kingpin, Ald. William J.P. Banks (36th), who just happens to be the uncle of Fritchey's wife and related to a few other cloutmeisters.

O'Connor was crowing that he had the committeemen's endorsement nearly sewn up, but he fell far short of Fritchey, who fell short of winning the outright party slating. There's a bunch of other office seekers that'll add to the confusion before the March 3 special primary, prompting Ald. Thomas Tunney (44th) to declare an open primary to be a good thing because "the voters need to be heard."

Now, that's really funny. It's something that his fellow Democrats have strenuously avoided saying about picking Obama's replacement. Meanwhile, the joke these guys are playing is on Daley, who, thanks to the global laughter generated by his party, can kiss his treasured 2016 Olympics goodbye.

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