Saturday, May 24, 2008

Don’t look at me; I don’t want the job

Learning this week that Gov. Rod Blagojevich definitely is looking to hire a new press secretary made me feel a twinge of sympathy for the yet-to-be determined person who takes the job.

Somebody is going to have to walk into utter chaos, a situation in state government where nobody trusts nobody (just like Chicago City Hall) and everybody is looking out for number one, while figuring out if they need to do a number two on somebody else.

IT WAS JUST this week on the “Illinois Lawmakers” program (a long-running PBS institution in Illinois) that Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, dumped all the blame for Illinois government’s problems on Blagojevich.

Why doesn’t anyone trust Blagojevich?

The governor, Madigan said, is the kind of person who “tries to pull people apart” rather than build coalitions of government people that might accomplish something.

It is the press secretary who had to come up with a response to Madigan’s cheap shot, knowing full well that the speaker of the house has a long memory and will not forget who it was that took shots back at him.

IF ANYTHING, IT is a position for somebody who does not have a desire to have a long-standing career working in Illinois government, but would like to be able to say they witnessed government up close – as preparation for doing something else with their lives.

The governor’s political enemies will soon become the press secretary’s enemies, and their face will forever become associated with the name Blagojevich.

I have never been one to agree with the press corps jokes about people going over to “the dark side” when they take a government spokesman position. I actually believe that one can do worthwhile work in such a position in terms of making it possible for the general public to understand just what it is their tax dollars are being used for.

Some of the most decent people I ever knew on public payrolls were press secretaries. Of course, some of the laziest hacks I have ever known also held the job.

NOT THAT I’M desperate enough to try to show I could do better.

I could use better paying, more stable employment than the little bits of work I am doing these days, but the mental aggravation that a new press secretary will have to put up with working for Blagojevich is not worth it.

Now out of a sense of disclosure, I should admit that I actually circulated my resume to Blagojevich’s people about four years ago for a possible press-related job, and I actually interviewed for a job two years ago when Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan needed a new press secretary.

I didn’t get hired either time, and I have come to see both of those non-hirings as blessings in disguise. I am of such a temperament that I likely would use choice obscenities to tell off the first person (reporter-type or political geek) who annoyed me – which would result in my immediate dismissal.

I ALSO FIND my interest in government-related issues is in the institution itself. I don’t think I could ever make myself so loyal to a single individual that I would be willing to engage in the political sparring that often takes place between government agencies or constitutional officers – even if they are of the same political party. (Anybody who thinks that every single Democrat is supposed to love and respect every other Dem is naïve. The same goes for Republicans).

I don’t know how I would handle the barrage of questions that Blagojevich people are going to get in the coming months related to the forces among Republicans, disaffected Democrats and criminal prosecutors – all of whom want to peddle the notion that the Illinois governor is on his way to prison.

I probably would be too inclined to call people on their partisan desires to see a criminal conspiracy at work, and that would not necessarily be good for the people of Illinois.

Political people have to know when not to be brutally honest. That does not mean I am saying they should lie. Most just know when to shut up and say nothing, even if it means they look ignorant to the press corps.

IN FACT, THE biggest trouble that a government spokesman can get into is if they are caught passing along deliberately deceiving information. That is when the press secretary becomes worthless and ought to be fired – what’s the point of paying them if nobody is going to believe what they say?

When I worked as a reporter type for various wire services or newspapers, I never expected government press people (and yeah, I’m calling them press secretaries, even if that technically offends the broadcast geeks of the world) to dump stories into my lap.

I always figured the press secretary/communications director/spokesman/whatever you want to call it existed to double-check statistics for government stories, or to provide statements from the governor on the ongoing issues of the day.

That person also ought to be able to give advice to their politically-elected boss as to how to avoid doing something stupid that will create a public image problem – and also avoid wasted time and tax dollars from being spent fighting off controversies.

IT’S NOT THAT I think the politician’s public image is all that important, but I do have respect for the positions these elected officials hold and for the institution that is Illinois state government, Chicago city government or any other governmental institution.

The best press secretaries are the ones who realize they are working for the institution and are doing their part to keep it running soundly and on behalf of the people whose taxes fund the essential services that government can best provide.

Too much of the problem with the Blagojevich administration is that it gives off the perception that it considers the fate of Rod himself to be more important than that of the state of Illinois.

A GOOD PRESS secretary will be able to stand up to that notion and know who to put first – the taxpayers of Illinois.

So as the state/Blagojevich figures out who will be their new press aide, we all ought to take into account the high-profile tension that the job’s recipient will undergo. That person will get my sympathy – at least until they start trying to pass along deliberate untruths to the public.

And despite my sincere interest in the workings of Illinois government, you couldn’t pay me enough to take the job.


EDITOR’S NOTES: If you want to apply (or to know seriously just what a governor expects from a political mouthpiece), the job has been posted ( on the Internet.

For those of you who want to make jokes about a gubernatorial spokesman, the Capitol Fax weblog had a feisty debate ( going earlier this week.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Does the mere fact that this job is posted on Career Builder seem to indicate that the Blago people are pretty desperate? That's kind of like putting a want ad in the newspaper for a job that, normally, wouldn't even have to be advertised! I presume the ad is for a replacement for Rebecca Rausch, who is leaving at the end of this month. I cannot imagine how stressful her job must have been, given that 1) many people in Springfield knew her on sight because she had formerly been a reporter for the local TV station, and 2) nearly everyone in Springfield despises her boss and wondered how she could possibly sleep at night or live with herself.