Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Burning Bridges

So in the latest effort to attempt to work with Democratic House members, the Governor's office was behind an anonymous flier that was distributed to attendees at yesterday's Pride Parade.

Truth be told, I don't have the time or energy right now to post the thing, but it essentially calls out Sara Feigenholtz, Greg Harris and me by name for voting for the House budget and tells people to call us about it.

But it does so in such a clumsy way that it is almost laughable. Almost.

Did anybody in the administration really think that it was a good idea to try to assail the state's only openly gay legislator, Rep. Harris, for cutting housing resources for HIV/AIDS patients? Via a flyer at the pride parade?

But it has indeed resulted in phone calls. And let's just say that those people that have contacted Rep. Harris and myself were very unhappy. And not with us.

The frosting on the cake is that the Governor's office, directly and through another legislator, denied having any knowledge of the flier. Without wanting to put anybody in a bind, let me just say this. They're lying.

More than one group that receives state funding has indicated that they were contacted by the Administration and asked to assist in the effort. I'm believing them.

Memo to the Administration: If you're going to go after legislators (especially ones from your own party) on issues, have the decency to stand behind it. Otherwise you're just making a bad move worse.

And more to the point - in the big picture, what was this possibly going to accomplish? That we would file a motion to reconsider the GRT resolution? That being anonymously blindsided would encourage us to work more closely with the Administration?

Maybe they missed the class when you learn that this is a game of addition, not subtraction. Too bad.

And I know that my refrain is getting redundant, but...it didn't have to be this way. This type of strategy furthers no policy initiatives, accomplishes no goals for the public good, weakens people's belief in our state government, and hurts our party. Time will not judge this period kindly.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

30 Days in the Hole

So in order to avoid any interruption in government operations, it looks like there's going to be a 30 day budget passed, with details to be worked out over the weekend. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Yeah, What They Said - Updated x 2

The Pantagraph ran an editorial Sunday, urging the support of House Bill 1, legislation I sponsored that would effectively end the pay-to-play politics stories that have dominated our state for far too long.

The bill passed the House unanimously on April 25th, but has since languished in the Senate.

They have been joined in calling for the passage of this bill by the following papers:
  • Chicago Tribune
  • Chicago Sun-Times
  • State Journal-Register
  • Daily Herald
  • Daily Southtown
  • Herald & Review
  • Southern Illinoisan
  • St. Louis Post-Disptach
Not to mention, an overwhelming number of Illinoisans.

Ending pay-to-play, and even the allegations of it? Seems like a no-brainer, right?

From the Pantagraph:
With each new report of investigations into Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s campaign fund and other dealings, the need for stronger ethics legislation in Illinois becomes readily apparent to everyone except, apparently, the governor and some top legislative leaders.

Records from the governor’s campaign fund reportedly have been subpoenaed by federal investigators looking into corruption...

Meanwhile, House Bill 1, which would place restrictions on donations from state contractors, continues to wallow in the Senate Rules Committee more than six weeks after it was unanimously approved by the Illinois House.

Forty-five of the 59 members of the Senate have signed on as sponsors so far, including all senators from the Pantagraph area. But Senate President Emil Jones won’t let it out of committee.

If Jones has a better idea, we want to hear it — before the next indictment is handed down.
President Jones has said that he has some 'other things' that he would like to see done, and that HB1 'doesn't go far enough'. But every House member, good government group, and major media outlet thinks that it is just what we need, and long overdue.

At a time when a number of people who could use some good press could get some by simply doing the right thing, I think that I've got just the thing for them.

Pass and sign House Bill 1.

UPDATE - Add Crain's to the list:
Pay-to-play politics also undermines public confidence in government and encourages voter apathy. Why should ordinary citizens participate in a process they perceive to be rigged in favor of insiders?

Banning campaign contributions by big state contractors would be a move in the right direction on both fronts. It would help address the state's chronic financial woes and give Illinoisans a reason to believe their state government works for them.

If only Mr. Jones would get out of the way.
Another update - The Chicago Sun-Times weighed in again on the subject today:
If House and Senate leaders are sincere about favoring a bill to discourage the egregious "pay-to-play" politics, it shouldn't be too difficult to pass one. It's clear most lawmakers want to approve something, and the competing versions of the idea aren't so different that compromise would be impossible. If they are sincere about demonstrating that Illinois government is not for sale, then there's no excuse for not passing this legislation.
It's doesn't get much more clear cut.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Collateral Damage

The above cartoon is part of why I have had such an edge of late. While next to none of the blame for our current overtime rests with so-called rank and file legislators, the sideshow act that passes for budget negotiations tarnishes every man and woman in the House and Senate.

The majority of my colleagues are hard-working, earnest people who want to do good things for the people whom they represent. Yet the inability of a few understandably leads to public frustration with state government in general.

And I mean in general, not just legislators. I unfortunately believe that increasing cynicism with how our state has been operating, under both Democratic and Republican leadership, has caused the general public to develop a cynical perception of all state employees.

And while it might be understandable, it's far from accurate, and it's not fair to the thousands of state employees that keep our state functioning 24/7/365.

If anything, many state employees are bigger victims of this gridlock than are the general public. They oftentimes find their ability to perform (or keep) their jobs resting on political maneuvering rather than best practices. It is a wonder to me that some of the best and brightest that we have working in state government don't just pack it up and head for the private sector.

I'm not saying that there isn't dead weight in state government, you can find it anywhere. But the majority of state employees with whom I have dealt are simply trying to do a good job in an environment that can often be dysfunctional. I hope that the public can separate the proverbial baby from the bath water.

Do as I Say, Not as I Do

From the proponent of the 5-day Springfield workweek comes this tidbit:
According to a published report this morning, Governor Rod Blagojevich spent fewer than two hundred hours in Springfield from March First to June Eighth. The Springfield State Journal-Register says that according to state travel records, Blagojevich spent only five nights in Springfield during that three-month span.

The governor was in Springfield on parts of 25 days, but on 15 of those days, his airport-to-airport time was less than seven hours. And on one of those days, his Springfield presence was just a 15-minute stopover between Harrisburg and Moline. (emphasis added)

In all fairness though, I'm not sure if that has made things better or worse :)

Friday, June 15, 2007

What's Wrong With This Picture?

In my decade in office, I have never seen morale under the dome so low, and public distrust so high. I get the feeling that, more than usual, something just isn't right.

And I don't mean in the sense of 'there's always some issue going on in Springfield' not right, I mean in 'tectonic plates shifting prior to a major earthquake' not right.

I think that factors are converging - both parties being dogged by scandal and discord; large-looming fiscal obligations hovering around; clashes of egos and ambitions; a potential for a Constitutional Convention; shattered public confidence in state government, etc. - to such a degree that something just has to give. What though, I'm not sure.

I can't put my finger on why, but things are stranger than normal. I just wonder what will come of it.

Just something for you to ponder.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Deeper Meaning

An astute reader quickly discerned the source of the title of my last post. It's the title of an Elvis Costello song which my memory served to tell me contained a few somewhat apt lyrics. From the song:

History repeats the old conceits
The glib replies the same defeats
Keep your finger on important issues
With crocodile tears and a pocketful of tissues...

But I know there's not a hope in Hades
All the laddies cat call and wolf whistle
So-called gentlemen and ladies
Dog fight like rose and thistle...

I've got a feeling
I'm going to get a lot of grief
Once this seemed so appealing
Now I am beyond belief.

Beyond Belief

I was actually looking forward to attending today's leaders' meeting to discuss the property tax issue which is of critical importance to my district, and that of many of my colleagues.

Cook County Assessor Jim Houlihan was going to take part, along with representatives of Mayor Daley, and about 15-20 legislators from both chambers.

Candidly, I have not been happy with much of the maneuvering that has taken place on the issue, and I thought that the meeting would make for a productive and interesting discourse aimed toward a resolution.

Little did I know what was about to transpire.

We were seated around the Governor's office, with Watson and Cross seated at the conference table, and three remaining seats for the President, Speaker and Governor. The Governor came in about 20 minutes late, briefly shook hands with a number of us, took his seat, and then it started.

Not the meeting, the farce.

He said that he was prepared to start as soon as Madigan and Jones got there. Majority Leader Currie stated that he may be late or not coming at all due to another commitment, but that she was authorized to act in his stead. The Governor then went on a weird diatribe that this was a leaders' meeting and that he would not take part until all of the leaders were there.

I very politely suggested to the Governor that Rep. Currie had been the point person in the House on the discussions, that we had a large number of legislators who had been involved on the issue in the room, the Assessor was present and as such, I 'didn't see the harm in beginning the conversation prior to the arrival of Jones and/or Madigan.'

The Governor's response was that he 'didn't see the harm in waiting'. He stood up and told the assembled group that he was going to go to his other office to do work and that we could wait around or that they would call us when the meeting was going to start.

He turned to leave the room less than five minutes after he had walked in.

If there was a soundtrack for that moment, it would have been that of 20 legislators being simultaneously slapped in the face.

Several hours later, we were informed that the meeting was canceled and that no date had been set for a new meeting. So much for no harm in waiting.

What really got to me wasn't the disrespect or offensiveness of what had transpired, it's the fact that last week, he was tripping over himself to talk about how rank and file lawmakers should be in Springfield five days a week doing the job that the voters elected them to do.

Then today, while sitting in a room with several key rank and file legislators, and leaders, he refuses to even begin conversations with us because the Speaker and President weren't there.

I think it is safe to say that the collective reaction in the room was disbelief.

You don't get to have it both ways. It is an untenable position for him to try to maintain, and has only served to further damage the already strained relations he has with legislators in all four caucuses. No small feat.

If today was any window into budget negotiations, it is going to be a looong summer indeed. Never have I seen any professional setting in which something like what happened today would occur. It's not about politics, it's about respect for the Legislature, it's about people skills, it's about negotiating skills, it's about leadership. More to the point, today was about what happens when you have none of the above.

Perhaps he has some top-secret convoluted strategy for his otherwise inexplicable behavior. If so, more power to him. If not, things are only going to get worse.

My frustration is not just for myself and my colleagues. It's for the people of this State. With cynicism and contempt for state government at all-time highs, today's episode just makes things worse.

It's bad for the democratic process, and it may be even worse for the Democratic Party. It didn't have to be this way.

Monday, June 11, 2007

It Just Never Ends

That phrase could apply equally to this session as well as the spin coming out of the Governor's office. From Abby Ottenhoff (not the Governor of course), but from Abby:
Our administration continues to want to meet with House members about the budget they passed. They can’t fix the problems with their budget or even send it over to the Senate if they are not in Springfield. Voters pay them to work, so they should be at the capitol finishing the work of the people. (emphasis added, although the irony was probably built into the font)
Abby, I think that voters last November assumed that they would also be paying the next Governor to work, in Springfield even, to do the work of the people. It just kind of goes with the job.

I've previously posted my thoughts about the Governor now claiming gridlock because of our not being in Springfield after months (years?) of his absence in Springfield.

And I will share that, without exception, the many people who approached me on the issue over these last few days are not buying his statements either.

To Abby's credit, at least she doesn't attempt to say that it was the Governor himself that wants to meet with us, but rather his Administration. I'm sure that meetings between the House members and his administration would be very productive.

Our future would be more secure coming from a fortune cookie.

In case the hypocrisy of today's statement wasn't self-evident, Speaker Madigan's spokesman Steve Brown had this artfully compact reply to that statement:
The Governor was invited to several legislative caucuses last week and defered. He is expected this week.
Which sounds more believable to you?

Let me again repeat - my point is NOT to pile on the Governor. My point is, however, that statements like these are as unbelievable as they are unproductive.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Is Rodacity a Word?

Because that's what comes to mind when you cross Rod + audacity.

To any of my colleagues hoping to feel better about the process:

Do NOT make the mistake that I made of listening to the Sheila Nix press conference, posted at Capitol Fax. Unless of course, you will feel encouraged by the Governor's position that we 'really need to get to work' and that we can't 'just engage in 3 day workweeks' as the Speaker has proposed.
Does the Governor's office really think that it is smart and/or productive to continue to antagonize the very people that he claims to want to work with? And especially on the issue of how much time we spend working in Springfield of all things?!

I really truly have no interest in being at odds with the Governor. But at the same time, to those of us in the General Assembly who work hard at our jobs, to sit back and have him take potshots at our work ethic, it isn't politics, it's personal.

I very politely told him so during our caucus with respect to his 'Gucci and steak' comments following the crushing of the GRT proposal. My comments apparently fell on deaf ears.

All I know is that none of my constituents have been calling complaining about seeing me jogging in the neighborhood in the middle of the day. (Although I could definitely use the exercise.)

Seal of Disapproval

With all due credit being given to Eric Zorn for pointing me to the resources, I have decided upon my semi-official logo for the (unfortunately) foreseeable future.

Without getting into the various circus sideshows that have driven us into overtime, I am hard-pressed to believe that this exercise is going to wind up with a better outcome than the budget that we passed in the House.

Are there other items which I would have liked to see included in the budget? Of course there are. But as I stated in the press, I believe that this is the appropriate time to pass a budget that addresses needs before wishes.

Are there items in the budget that I don't think belong there? Yep. I'm not comfortable bailing out Stroger Hospital to the tune of $100 million dollars until Cook County gets its own house in order.

Yet the budget we passed relies on natural revenue growth and closure of certain corporate tax breaks in order to provide about a billion dollars in new expenditures. It does so without a sales or income tax increase and without relying on gaming as a crutch.

This overtime was avoidable.

The Governor attempted to lead by edict, with a plan that was doomed from the start no less. I can count on one hand, with fingers left over, the number of colleagues that feel that they have a positive working relationship with the man. It didn't have to be that way.

And style aside, he is attempting to foist an $8 billion dollar increase upon the Legislature, and the people of the State, to support programs that many experts feel are substantively unworkable.

Here is a math equation for future Governors to remember:
Bad funding plan + Unproven massive fiscal expenditure + alienated legislators + Complete unwillingness to compromise = Overtime
Of course we all want people to have access to quality healthcare. But there are other legitimate needs out there as well - education funding reform, mass transit funding, infrastructure improvements, etc. And the Governor's refusal to even scale back his proposal, while at the same time simply dismissing other priorities as unworthy may well mean that none of these needs get met.

Who wins in that scenario? Nobody that I can think of.

But there is always another need underpinning all of these issues. The need to pass a responsible budget. One that looks beyond election cycles and press releases. One that keeps in mind our duty of stewardship for this and future generations.

If it turns out that I am wrong, and that this overtime results in a budget that everybody is ultimately happier with, I will be the first to say so. But to go into overtime to wind up with an inferior outcome than what we could have had last week makes no sense to me.