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My life’s preparation for covering the Statehouse

Friday, Jun 26, 2009

* My Sun-Times column

As we all do on Father’s Day, I was thinking a lot about my dad last Sunday. One thing I chuckled about were the little phrases Dad relied on in times of stress. When you have five sons, stress is a constant. So, we heard them often.

“Richard,” he would say to me with a dramatic, exasperated sigh, too exhausted to be angry, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

I never really understood what he meant until many years later.

And then Rod Blagojevich was elected governor.

And then re-elected.

And then arrested in a pre-dawn raid and ousted from office in a bloodless, constitutional coup d’etat, all the while grinning for the cameras and declaring it to be yet another “Up day.”

Most rejoiced when Pat Quinn was installed in Blagojevich’s place. Heck, people were so ecstatic to finally be rid of the Blagojemonster that the new governor could’ve been Dick Cheney, for all anybody cared.

Well, maybe not Dick Cheney.

There are limits.

But now we are a month into the third overtime legislative session in three years. Actually, the ruinous session that began the January after Blagojevich was re-elected in 2006 has never really ended.

The budget is in tatters, there is no resolution in sight, tempers are beginning to flare and disgust is the watchword.

The only comfort is cold. The same scenario is playing out all over the country right now. Illinois is just unlucky enough (of course) that the nationwide state revenue plunge happened right at the end of our long political civil war.

For instance, according to CNN, Arizona’s Republican governor is suing the Republican legislature for not sending her a budget bill. The legislature is holding onto the bill because the governor wants to veto it.

That has a familiar ring.

The Democratic-controlled Illinois Senate is refusing to send Democratic Gov. Quinn a crucial budget bill because Quinn won’t say whether he’ll sign it. State Rep. Lou Lang (D-Chicago) has put a hold on the capital projects bill for the same reason. The Senate also is refusing to pass a constitutional amendment for gubernatorial recall until Quinn says he’ll sign a controversial ethics bill that the governor publicly endorsed on numerous occasions.

In other words, Quinn won’t say he’ll sign these bills because the General Assembly won’t send them to him. And the General Assembly won’t send them until he agrees to sign them.

Oh, and did I mention that at this late date the Legislature and the governor are suddenly several billion dollars apart on defining what the state budget deficit really is?

I get that the problems are enormous. I understand that there are no easy ways out. I fully comprehend that solutions to gigantic problems can take time to sort through. And I certainly wouldn’t want to be in their position. It’s easy to criticize on my side of the fence.

But I’m way past sick and tired of being sick and tired. In fact, if the State of Illinois could talk, I’m pretty sure it would say the same thing.

Dad had another saying that we’d usually hear during long car trips when the five brothers couldn’t stop pestering each other. He’d turn around, wave his index finger at us and utter what he called his “Three S’s.”

“Sit down. Sit back. And shut up!”

As we got older, it became a joke. We’d all say it with him in mocking unison, while the car swerved this way and that because Dad had turned almost completely around in his seat.

Little did I know back then my chosen career would be to report on that very same behavior.

…Adding… Some excerpts from that aforementioned CNN article

In Arizona, Republican Gov. Jan Brewer has filed a lawsuit against the Republican-controlled legislature seeking to compel lawmakers to send her the budget it passed on June 4. The lawmakers are holding back until an agreement is reached because she has said she would veto it.

Leaders are at odds over how to contend with a deficit that exceeds $3 billion. The governor has proposed raising taxes, including hiking the sales tax by a percentage point, while the legislators are cutting spending. […]

In some states, the leaders aren’t even talking. Pennsylvania’s governor and Senate Republicans, who have to close a $3.2 billion gap for the current year, are not negotiating on their budgets. […]

Pennsylvania’s Rendell has already said state workers would have to stay on the job without being paid if the budget isn’t approved. Services will start to be affected if the budget standoff continues beyond its typical week’s delay.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - JLP - Friday, Jun 26, 09 @ 9:06 am:

    I remember when my dad swerved and nearly took out a rural mailbox when he tried to turn around in the seat to yell at me and my two brothers!

    Good article. When do you think the voters will get as disgusted as you and vote these yahoos out?

  2. - What's in a name? - Friday, Jun 26, 09 @ 9:18 am:

    My father died at the age of 43, when I was 14. He was a simple but great man. He had a few sayings along the lines you suggest. The first and perhaps the most important was, “Try to leave this world better than you found it.” The second, equally appropriate for this point in history, “Get your head out of your a##!

  3. - shore - Friday, Jun 26, 09 @ 9:31 am:

    at the golf course I used to caddy at the motto was keep up, shut up and don’t fudge up.

    again I realize the dems run everything, but there needs to be more understanding for those of us who are not down there as to why the republicans aren’t seizing this opportunity to do more. Is it fear of obama? Are these nice hard working people with no political skill? are there other forces at work?

    Also where is andy mckenna? I just got an email from Kirk asking for last minute donations, and I assume andy is out there helping him raise money, but it’d be nice to see our party chairman doing things and not hiding in one of dick cheney’s secret locations.

  4. - Deep South - Friday, Jun 26, 09 @ 9:37 am:

    LOL on the Dick Cheney thing. Good one!!!

  5. - Frank Booth - Friday, Jun 26, 09 @ 9:38 am:

    The difference Rich is that you grew up and learned from the experience to become a wiser person and can now apply that experience to rational thinking and decision making. Lawmakers don’t appear to ever grow up. If anything, they’ve become more childish over the past six years. And with good reason, they watched Blagojevich run the governor’s office without ever making a tough, unpopular decision and what happened: He got re-elected.

  6. - dupage dan - Friday, Jun 26, 09 @ 9:39 am:


    Good question re McKenna. The GOP has a golden opportunity here and the leadership is in the bunker.

  7. - Anon - Friday, Jun 26, 09 @ 9:40 am:

    I enjoyed the article Rich. The stories remined me of car rides with my father. “I’ll turn this car around right now!” Hilarious!

  8. - wordslinger - Friday, Jun 26, 09 @ 9:42 am:

    I can’t make heads or tails of where this budget is at. Numbers seem to change every day, and by quite a bit.

    In the interest of transparency and open government, would it be too much to ask the Quinn Administration to put out a simple one-page press release that would state, as of today:

    1. Current all-source revenue projections for FY 2010

    2. Projected FY 2010 expenditures, based on the FY 2009 budget.

  9. - VanillaMan - Friday, Jun 26, 09 @ 9:50 am:

    Athorities Schedule Autopsy for Illinois

    Authorities scheduled an autopsy for Friday in the death of Illinois State Government in an attempt to clear up the mystery surrounding it’s death, including whether massive political incompetence played a major role.

    Illinois, whose fame spanned from it’s beginnings with the opening of the Chicago-Michigan canal in 1936, to a global economic superstar that earned it the nickname ‘The State That Works,’ died Thursday afternoon at a Chicago hospital. It was 191 years old.

    The autopsy was planned for 11 a.m. EDT, though results were not likely to be final until toxicology tests could be completed, a process that could take several days and sometimes weeks.

    However, if a cause can be determined by the autopsy, they will announce the results, said the Chicago County Coroner’s office.

    Police said they were investigating, standard procedure in high-profile cases.

    The State died at the Springfield State Capitol building, and the James R. Thompson Center after being stricken in smokey backrooms. Paramedics tried to resuscitate it, then rushed it to Stroger hospital, where dealmakers continued to work on it.

    “It is believed it suffered massive political incompetence under the Dome. However, the cause of it’s death is unknown until results of the autopsy are known,” it’s favorite son, President Barack Obama said, at a press conference Thursday in the White House Rose Garden.

    There has been speculation that stupidity may have played a role in the death of the icon, with TMZ citing sources who claim it was given a “heavy dose of reality” before it’s death. Other reports claim that Illinois received a shot of banking credit — a narcotic— shortly before it’s death.

    President Obama said Governor Pat Quinn was with Illinois at the Capitol at the time of it’s suspected demise, and both the Governor and the “Four Tops” who transported it to the Stroger Hospital attempted to resuscitate it.

    Illinois’ death is not a surprise to it’s residence. After a decade of governmental neglect, a structural deficit, massive political corruption, and one-party political control, Illinois fell fatally ill when the winter recession arrived in September 2008.

  10. - Dan Vock - Friday, Jun 26, 09 @ 9:54 am:

    FYI, the Arizona Supreme Court declined to intervene in the fight between Brewer and the legislature.

  11. - casual observer - Friday, Jun 26, 09 @ 9:59 am:

    Good article Rich. My dad’s constant admonition to us kids seems appropriate…”You’ve got to live up to your responsibilities”!

  12. - South Side Mike - Friday, Jun 26, 09 @ 10:06 am:

    At some point one of my mother’s most famous car-ride quotes will somehow apply to Illinois (uttered at the end of a long, hot day in a car with no A/C):

    “It’s not nice to laugh when you hit your little brother!”

  13. - Amy - Friday, Jun 26, 09 @ 10:06 am:

    oh vanilla man, how you amuse us. rich, your dad prepared you well. however, i do think that governing in a time of big fiscal crisis is more dificult than most think. constituencies for a program, a building, whatever cause, hold powerful sway on not just those with a vote, but on those who run things day to day.
    and the daily grind, in any job, not just governement, blinds us to the bigger picture and how to get out of troubles.

    the bigger picture in the case of all governments is to fund what is really necessary, and figure out how to jetison the rest. because it’s basiscally about human resources and operating buildings, this is very difficult. or raise taxes. personnel costs go up and with a big payroll, big problems. everywhere, not just Illinois.

  14. - How Ironic - Friday, Jun 26, 09 @ 10:54 am:

    At least today VM didn’t call the State “Fatty” ;)

  15. - Six Degrees of Separation - Friday, Jun 26, 09 @ 11:53 am:

    Or call it “The King of States”.

  16. - Cheswick - Friday, Jun 26, 09 @ 12:43 pm:

    Excellent article, Rich.

    My dad had a few things he said all the time. To us kids, “never loan anything unless you don’t care about getting it back.” My least favorite one, “do as I say, not as I do.” And, my favorite, “never get in a p*ssing contest with a snake.” All of which I used on my kids.

  17. - Secret Square - Friday, Jun 26, 09 @ 1:16 pm:

    Cute story, VM, but a couple of glaring errors need to be corrected: 1) it’s the Illinois and Michigan Canal, and 2) it was built (or, more precisely, started) in 1836, not 1936.

  18. - Arthur Andersen - Friday, Jun 26, 09 @ 1:22 pm:

    Great column today, Rich.

    I don’t have to tell you how fortunate you are to have your Dad (and Mom) around to see their boys as successful adults. I lost my dad just about 10 years ago and time has never really healed the hurt.

    A couple of his most memorable lines, often repeated to my older brother and AA:

    “Discretion is the better part of valor.”

    “Don’t do anything that you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the Chicago Tribune.”

  19. - fed up - Friday, Jun 26, 09 @ 1:50 pm:

    Pennsylvania’s Rendell has already said state workers would have to stay on the job without being paid if the budget isn’t approved. Services will start to be affected if the budget standoff continues beyond its typical week’s delay.

    I think I just figured out how to solve our budget problem we force state employees to work and dont pay them. This is awesome.

  20. - southern illinoisan - Saturday, Jun 27, 09 @ 8:40 am:

    Outstanding Rich! I had to laugh out loud. Your analogy was right on the money. :)

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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