Monday, December 24, 2007

A defense (of sorts) for Rod Blagojevich

Illinois’ governor is too parochial.

He never leaves his hometown.

He makes no effort to build working relationships with his political colleagues. By snubbing them, he’s only ensuring himself a more difficult time politically when trying to pass his public policy dreams into law.

That’s what snide political observers used to say back in the 1990s about then-Gov. Jim Edgar when he used to do his one-day-a-week routine in Chicago, then spend as much time as possible in his office at the Statehouse in Springfield.

But Edgar managed to do his job with his routine, and that's why I find it a tad ridiculous to hear similar charges made now against current Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Political observers used to say Edgar spent way too much time at the Statehouse, favoring Springfield at the expense of the rest of Illinois -- particularly Chicago.

Now, people say Blagojevich spends too much time in Chicago, refusing to have much (if any) direct contact with government officials who work at the Statehouse or in the capitol complex.

They used to say Edgar’s difficulties in getting his goals passed into law (remember education funding reform’s failure?) were due to his refusal to ply support from Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and the city’s business community.

Political people now speculate part of the reason there is a severe stalemate in state funding for mass transit is because Blagojevich won’t put in the time to build ties between himself and the two legislative leaders – House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President Emil Jones – who ostensibly are his allies.

Of course, I can remember Edgar being dumped on just as bad many times by his alleged political allies – then Senate President James “Pate” Philip and House Speaker Lee Daniels.

Blagojevich admits he doesn’t spend much time in the offices maintained for him by the state at the Statehouse, the Thompson Center in Chicago AND at the Executive Mansion in Springfield.

Citing family concerns and the needs of his two young daughters, Blagojevich actually works from home or from an office in his home neighborhood on Chicago’s Northwest Side, saying that modern communications technology allows him to be in contact with state officials from just about anywhere.

He’s got a point.

Illinoisans are going to have to adapt to the notion that a governor should not be sitting around a fixed office in Springfield, which has been Illinois’ capital city since the days of Abraham Lincoln solely because of its location at nearly the physical center of the state.

It is feasible in the 21st Century to oversee Illinois government from Chicago, the metropolis that drives the state’s economy and is the reason that Illinois stands far above its counterpart Midwestern states on the shores of the Great Lakes.

Some even argue the capital city of Illinois should be Chicago, since it would put state government operations in the same area as two-thirds of the state’s population. Fortunately for Chicagoans, serious talk of shifting the capital to the Second City went up in flames along with the city in the Fire of 1871, since the thought of a second set of political geeks hanging around Chicago in competition with the City Council is more political punishment than any one city deserves.

Chicago-centric talk upsets political people who come from outside of Chicagoland. They see it as a Blagojevich snub of rural Illinois, although their parochialism reeks more than anything of partisan politics.

Rural Illinois is the land of the Republican Party, with some local organizations dating back literally to the days of Lincoln. Democrats are largely irrelevant in local politics and locals have a hard time comprehending how Illinois can be so solidly in the Democrat column for federal elections. Blagojevich’s election in 2002 broke a 26-year string of Illinois governors from the GOP, and that is what really bothers the critics.

Think I’m exaggerating?

Former Gov. Jim Thompson lived in a Chicago home for the last 12 of his 14-year stint as governor, and spent much of his time working out of his Thompson Center office (although the building back then was known as the State of Illinois Center). Thompson didn’t get anywhere near the grief that Blagojevich does.

But Thompson had the “R” after his name and was the former federal prosecutor who sent governor Otto Kerner (a Democrat) off to prison. Many rural political observers semi-seriously refer to Blagojevich as “Public Official A” and speculate that an ongoing government corruption investigation being conducted by the U.S. Attorney's office in Chicago will result in the governor’s indictment.

There are legitimate reasons to question the gubernatorial service of Blagojevich, a journeyman state legislator and backbench member of Congress who reached Illinois government’s top position primarily because of the connections he acquired by marrying into a Chicago political family.

But getting all bent out of shape because of where he lives and goes to work is not one of them. It just makes one look like a rube.


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