* My syndicated newspaper column this week deals with the growing irrelevance of Gov. Rod Blagojevich…
Two months into a record-breaking overtime legislative session, the four state legislative leaders met last week to talk about the budget, but for the first time ever, they made a point not to invite Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Senate President Emil Jones and House Speaker Michael Madigan, as well as very high level members of the other two legislative caucuses, all described the talks as generally positive.
The governor’s people also described the meeting as a positive event. Jones sat down with the governor later to brief him about the meeting. The governor’s people say Blagojevich also outlined where he wanted the budget talks to go. The governor’s office insisted that the two men are still on the same page. Blagojevich and Jones have been practically welded at the hip all year, so attending a budget negotiation without Blagojevich was seen as a major step by the Senate president, which is why the governor’s office was quick to claim everything was still fine between the two men.
The idea behind the meeting sans governor was that Blagojevich isn’t much of a negotiator. Instead of trying to find mutual solutions, the governor tends to give canned speeches over and over again and endlessly repeats his talking points, particularly about his demand for his much-beloved health insurance plan for the uninsured. He’s also quite abrasive and confrontational during the negotiating sessions, particularly with House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate GOP Leader Frank Watson.
In other words, he was more of a hindrance than a help when it came time to negotiate the budget. On Friday, Blagojevich brought Sen. Watson into his office to discuss “building a relationship,” according to WLS Radio reporter Ryan Hermes. If he had done that sort of thing six months ago, the governor might not have had so many problems this year.
* The Tribune has more on Senate President Emil Jones’ attempt to mediate the budget talks and distance himself from Blagojevich…
Jones has tried to show the governor that there is insufficient support for his plans even in the Senate Democratic caucus, which stood most strongly with Blagojevich over his first term. A few weeks ago, rank-and-file Senate Democrats said Jones gave them a chance to tee off in an animated and frank closed-door discussion in the president’s office, where they made it clear to Blagojevich that boosting school funding outranked his health-care agenda.
Underscoring that point, Jones last week separated the slimmed-down version of the governor’s health plan from his spending plans, isolating it in its own bill.
Jones also has come down from the $1.5 billion he and Blagojevich initially sought for schools, in favor of a $900 million infusion that would be backed by a massive expansion of gambling.
* Finke doesn’t believe that the governor will call an endless series of special sessions, as Blagojevich has threatened to do if he doesn’t get his way on the budget…
Remember how Blagojevich said he would keep lawmakers in session every single day until a budget was passed? That pledge lasted just over a week before he caved to pressure from Jones to give lawmakers a day off.
Maybe the public sees or reads that stuff about special sessions forever and still takes it seriously. No one inside the Capitol does anymore.
* The Daily Herald looks at the governor’s flip-flop on a one-month budget. First he was against it, now he’s for it…
Ironically, just a few weeks ago, it was Blagojevich who cautioned lawmakers that temporary budgets were not a solution and he’d soon stop supporting them because the spending levels are far below what he wants.
“A continuing string of one-month budgets is nothing more than a Republican budget in disguise,” Blagojevich, a Chicago Democrat, said in late June.
Blagojevich spokeswoman Abby Ottehnoff said a temporary budget is better than a government shutdown.
However, House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, said the apparent change by Blagojevich illustrates the difficulty lawmakers have in working with the governor.
“See, that’s his behavior that’s not helpful to this process. It’s behavior that’s not helpful toward negotiating a budget for the people of the state of Illinois,” Madigan told reporters. “We need good, firm leadership. Leadership that unites; does not divide. When the leadership changes its position, changes its direction, it simply doesn’t help.”
* Kurt Erickson has some adjournment predictions…
State Sen. Terry Link, D-Waukegan, suggested that things could be wrapped up by this weekend.
State Rep. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, said the General Assembly would be stuck in the Statehouse well into September.
And, House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego, sounded like he was joking last week when he said lawmakers might be here in December.
Maybe he wasn’t being silly. In other words, no one really knows when they’ll figure out a way to end the stalemate over the budget.