* My weekly syndicated newspaper column takes a look at the new Senate leadership…
The historical significance of last week’s votes to elect a new Senate President and a new Senate Republican Leader is difficult to overstate.
For starters, replacing both chamber leaders at once is an extreme Springfield rarity. According to Kent Redfield, one of the state’s leading political scientists, the last time this happened was 34 years ago.
Also, Sen. Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) became the first woman in all of Illinois history to lead a legislative party caucus.
The historical novelties, however, pale in comparison to the historical imperatives.
The state’s political process has just plain stopped functioning. Illinois’ unemployment rate is soaring, yet no job-creating capital construction bill can be passed. The state’s budget deficit is eye-popping, yet nobody is seriously talking to each other about a real solution. Hundreds of important bills have died because of a fight over administrative rules. Gridlock is too kind a word. It’s as if the government has developed a terminal case of toxic shock syndrome.
As you probably know by now, the Senate Democrats unanimously selected Sen. John Cullerton as the new Senate President last week.
Cullerton vowed to do his best to end the gridlock. He has a long personal and political relationship with House Speaker Michael Madigan and he lives just two blocks away from Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
His campaign for the presidency was a work of art. For instance, he raised almost a million dollars between early September and early November, which impressed just about everybody.
But it was his persistence, patience, evenhandedness and hard work which seemed to pay off the most. A Republican friend of Cullerton’s said he spoke with Cullerton on the phone the Sunday evening before the vote. Cullerton couldn’t talk long because he had just pulled up to Democratic Sen. Ira Silverstein’s house for a private meeting. That’s just one example of many to illustrate how much effort Cullerton put into this contest.
There were no threats of retribution from Cullerton, even when things got nasty.
Last Wednesday, one of Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s most favored black Chicago activists held a press conference with a few Champaign-area ministers to pressure Sen. Michael Frerichs (D-Champaign) to vote for Sen. James Clayborne for Senate President. But the specter of a Chicago-based Blagojevich ally traveling to Champaign to urge a local legislator to vote for an East St. Louis Senator who was privately backed by the horribly unpopular governor didn’t go over too well at the Statehouse.
“If that’s how Clayborne is campaigning for Senate President, how would he govern?” several Senate Democrats wondered.
Also last week, voters in the districts of four Cullerton supporters - Sens. Michael Frerichs, AJ Wilhelmi, Susan Garrett and Linda Holmes - were hit with robocalls. The negative robocalls, paid for by a downstate Teamsters local on Sen. Clayborne’s behalf, were made in direct retaliation for their support of Sen. Cullerton.
Sen. James Clayborne’s people claimed that all four had pledged to back Clayborne and had broken their word. That’s not how the four Democrats saw it, and tempers flared in the hours leading up to the president vote. Several Democrats demanded some sort of retribution against Clayborne, including withdrawing Cullerton’s offer of Senate Majority Leader. But Cullerton calmed the waters and made the offer anyway. Clayborne accepted.
The calm under pressure, the disavowal of the political retribution of the recent past and the willingness to bring opponents into the circle are all extremely positive signs. Cullerton said last week that his first priority is to unstick the capital construction bill and then move on to education funding. Both of those issues have taken a back seat to the politics of vindictiveness that have plagued the Statehouse for years.
The road will not be easy, of course. Cullerton remembers well how Speaker Madigan undercut Senate President Phil Rock back in the day, because Cullerton was in Madigan’s war room at the time.
Madigan prefers junior partners, as does the governor, but Cullerton’s mandate is to remake the Senate into an independent yet cooperative body. That means Cullerton must be an equal partner at the table. And the admirable skills which got him this new job will have to be stretched to the limit if he hopes to succeed.
Failure is not an option.
* Chris Wills at the AP also takes a gander…
But it’s hard to see how a new Senate president can fundamentally change the picture in Springfield.
First, the governor is still the governor. […]
Second, the speaker is still the speaker. […]
Finally, the facts are still the facts.
This year’s budget is out of balance by $2 billion or more.
All true. But one thing he misses is that we will no longer get dragged into months-long overtime sessions for no good reason other than the fact that the Senate President wants to help the governor whack the House Speaker.
The governor might try to force meaningless and mean-spirited overtime sessions, but he won’t have any real support.
And here’s something else worth pondering: The Illinois constitution does not spell out who convenes a post-impeachment Senate trial. The Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court presides, but the governor’s people have long claimed that they could prevent an actual convening as long as Emil Jones was running the Senate. That’s no longer true, of course. It’s still doubtful that an impeachment proceeding will begin soon, but that card is now certainly on the table.
They dynamics have completely changed.
* From the Tribune…
Incoming Illinois Senate President John Cullerton said Sunday the Democrats who control state government should be embarrassed by the constant fighting between the legislature and Gov. Rod Blagojevich that has led to a Springfield stalemate.
“We have been embarrassed. We have embarrassed ourselves with all the fighting between the governor and the legislature and the speaker and the president of the Senate. That’s going to end,” […]
Cullerton was joined at the church by his chief rival for the post, Sen. James Clayborne of Belleville. Clayborne was appointed by Cullerton to the chief deputy post of Senate majority leader.
“We’re going to work together to get Illinois back to working. We’re going to provide the social services we need. We’re going to work on the educational funding. And most of all, we’re going to make sure we take care of the most vulnerable in our society in our seniors and our children,” Clayborne said.
* Things are not so touchy feely on the other side of the aisle. Paul Caprio, the Family PAC director who actively opposed Sen. Radogno’s campaign, had this to say last week…
Last night, the Illinois Senate Republican Caucus formally filed a divorce petition from millions of Illinois pro-life and pro-family voters and their own political base.
It will be a messy divorce.
By electing Christine Radogno, a pro-abortion, pro-homosexual rights Senator as their leader, Illinois Senate Republicans have placed themselves under the authority of someone who has been indentured to two of the most radical anti-family groups in Illinois: Personal-Pac, an abortion on demand organization and Equality Illinois, which promotes same sex marriage. Radogno has done the political bidding of these anti-family extremists throughout her political career.
* SJ-R: Cullerton is person to limit state dysfunction
* Tree-huggers in the Illinois Senate leadership
* Editorial: State needs cooperation — not lone wolf governor
* Noland sees positive shift in legislature
* A threat to Frerichs?
* A warm welcome back
* Cross retains role as House GOP leader
* Legislative Leadership Changes in Term-limited States