Monday, October 31, 2011

Button-gate??!? Please!

It has been just over a decade since the days when I was an Illinois Statehouse reporter, yet I still vividly remember the day that a now-former member of the Illinois House of Representatives called me over to his desk on the House floor.

Gov. Pat Quinn would like to think the Statehouse lingers under a dark cloud (as in this century-old postcard) on account of the "Smart Grid" votes last week. But all he's doing is making himself the butt of various legislative jokes.

Specifically, he wanted me to see for myself the mechanism set up at each legislator’s desk that enabled them to push a button in order to cast their votes on the issues.

WHAT HE THOUGHT was key for me to understand was that there was “a key” – it had to be inserted and turned into the device in order to turn it on and make it possible to vote.

This legislator insisted with all the earnestness he could muster up that he took that key everywhere he went, never gave it to anyone else, and therefore it was impossible for ANYONE ELSE to even think of leaning over and pushing a button on his behalf to record a vote.

I can’t help but wonder how many legislators these days are making variations of the same argument – on account of the fact that this “dirty little secret” of the General Assembly has cropped up yet again.

It is Gov. Pat Quinn who is stirring up this stink – claiming that the only reason he lost on the “Smart Grid” issue is because many legislators were not on the floor to vote when the issue came up. Therefore, somebody voted for them.

THE GOVERNOR HAS demanded an investigation. He throws out hints that somebody deserves to be prosecuted for causing the votes that resulted in the General Assembly overturning his veto of the bill that was so desired by the Commonwealth Edison and Ameren utility companies.

Of course, that just has legislators and other political observers snickering at the governor’s expense. They won, and he lost. Now, the Mighty Quinn is being a sore loser and the only debate is who is being the bigger whiner – the Illinois governor or fans of the Boston Red Sox who still haven’t gotten over the fact that their favorite team wasn’t good enough to even make it to the playoffs this season.

I was not at the Statehouse when these bills were debated and voted upon this week. So I don’t have first-hand information.

But I can recall the scurry of people when votes were taken to either get back to a desk to vote, or to have someone reach around and vote for a buddy (who may have left a key in the device) who sits near them in the legislative chambers.

THERE USED TO be a lot of jokes about all the new laws that got approved because the pages (those youthful kids who are supposed to be fetching papers and sandwiches for the legislators) were present to cast the votes.

What I also recall is the fact that that the ambiance of the chambers of the Illinois House or state Senate is nowhere near as formal or organized as people might want to believe.

It usually is a free-for-all with few people actually paying attention to what is being said by whoever happens to be speaking publicly at any given moment, and people do come and go.

In fact, it often seemed that the only people who were paying any serious attention to the details of what was happening at any given moment were the reporter-types sitting in the press boxes that exist off in the corners of each floor.

SO DO I find it believable when Quinn says a large number of legislators in the Illinois House were not anywhere near their desks when the vote was taken? Yes, I do.

Could there have been some people going around casting votes for others who were not present? Yes, there could.

Although I do seriously believe the bulk of those votes, if not all of them, were cast in accordance with the wishes of the legislator in question.

For let’s not forget that this was an issue that the General Assembly, for many reasons, was determined to shove right up the governor’s (my mother would be offended at the use of such language, even though she’d agree it was accurate).

WHICH IS WHY by complaining now, Quinn comes off as a mere whiner (all too similar to those Los Angeles Angels fans who still complain about the ’05 American League playoffs and White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski “cheating” them out of a victory).

You lost, dude. You got outmaneuvered by Com Ed and the lobbyists who came up with that trailer bill that bought the legislators off into wanting to support the issue by claiming they offered some utility bill help to lower-income people.

Whining about buttons being pushed improperly will play about as well this time as it has in the past. This is a perpetual issue that crops up, only to wither away a few days later.

Which means the only person who can win now are the “Smart Grid” backers because continued complaining by Quinn will merely make his “crusade” appear to be all the more foolish (at least one legislator is now going around calling him “Gov. Spin”) – even if, deep down, Quinn does have a few legitimate points to make.


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