* Blogging will be very light today. It’s my birthday, but a breakneck session schedule the past two weeks has meant that I fell behind on lots of personal and business errands that I just have to deal with. Plus, my daughter is coming for a visit. I see a few stories online that I want to talk about, but unless something big breaks, don’t expect much by way of the blog today.
The only reason I mentioned my birthday is because I’d like to encourage you to donate to Lutheran Social Services of Illinois. We started this last year and I decided I want to help them again this year. No party this time around, though. Just a link. Click here to give, please. Dig as deep as you can and report back in comments. Thanks!
* Meanwhile, the National Journal’s Hotline made me a “Friday Feature” last week…
Rich Miller runs the Capitol Fax newsletter, an IL politics newsletter/blog. He was born in Kankakee, IL and spent his early years on a farm in Iroquois Co. His mother was a Defense Dept. employee, which led the family to live in Utah and Germany. He later returned to IL, attended what was then Sangamon State University in Springfield (now the University of IL Springfield), worked construction, did telemarketing, sold knives and fire alarms. By 1990, Miller was working for Hannah Information Services, which gathered and disseminated legislative information for lobbyists in Springfield. He wrote a series for Hannah that year on the GOP’s inability to make a dent in state House Speaker Michael Madigan’s Dem majority. Miller wrote a series of pieces on GOP House Leader Lee Daniels. For Miller, the Daniels showdown convinced him there was a market for that kind of ground-level political reporting. In April 1993, he quit Hannah and started Capitol Fax. He initially charged $250 a year, grabbing customers through direct-mail marketing and sending the daily fax out himself. By October of that year, he had paid back the loan from his parents and bought a house. As the client base rose, he branched out with an Internet version of his newsletter. He moved to Chicago for a while, commuting to Springfield during legislative sessions. He pieced together a group of small newspapers to fund reporting trips to Kosovo (in 1999) and Baghdad (in 2003). Capitol Fax has subscribers throughout state gov’t including the General Assembly, large corporations media organizations and politicians. Today, he’s our Friday Feature!
Where’s your hometown?
I was born in Kankakee, but we moved around a lot growing up (Department of Defense parents), so I don’t really have a home town.
What were you like in high school?
A kinda/sorta bridge between the nerds and the jocks and the, um, partiers. I was eclectic and tried to have as many experiences as possible. Good grades, played in a rock band. Theater, wrestling. Party at the lake after lunch, college classes at night. Mime troupe, football. Also, I couldn’t wait to get outta there. I enjoyed high school, but I almost never look back with great fondness. Been to one reunion.
What’s your favorite story that you’ve had for Capitol Fax?
Rod’s [Blagojevich] arrest. Finally, somebody listened.
What does downtime look like to you?
Illinois never seems to stop, so I can’t ever completely shut down. I went to Miami a few years ago for a little winter R&R and Blagojevich appointed Roland Burris to the US Senate. Totally harshed my South Beach buzz.
How’d Capitol Fax start?
I was making almost no money doing something similar for somebody else, so I quit and went out on my own.
Favorite IL politician ever?
George Ryan, who’s from my hometown. We had the weirdest relationship. He wanted to love me because we were from the same small city. George loved everybody from Kankakee who wound up in Springfield. But that meant I was supposed to be on the team. I wasn’t, and he’d always get so angry at me over what I wrote about him. We had a real throw-down in Cuba at the ambassador’s mansion during a trade mission. Whew, that was something. His wife (may she rest in peace) even joined in. He was one of the most effective governors of my lifetime, but then there was that crookedness. His downfall was an all-around tragedy. Such a waste of talent.
Who do you look up to as a journalist?
Bob Novak. Yeah, he had his share of problems and whatnot. But he stomped on the terra, man, and helped set the DC agenda for years. He also had a private newsletter. He was my inspiration and a personal hero. One of my greatest regrets is that I never tried to meet him.
What’s something about IL that outsiders don’t get?
We don’t want nobody that nobody sent. Period. End of story. Go away.
“Chicago style” pizza sucks. That being said, there are lots of great pie shops all over the state. My personal favorite these days is Gabatoni’s.
Most underreported story currently going on right now?
Down-ballot maneuvering ahead of the 2014 primary.
What’s your guilty pleasure TV and last good movie you saw?
If you weren’t running Capitol Fax, what would you be doing?
I’d probably be unemployed and homeless. I discovered a long time ago that I really can’t do anything else. My dream job used to be war correspondent. But I’d likely be dead by now.
In one sentence, your best advice to young, fresh-out-of-college journalists?
Go to law school, but if you absolutely insist upon a career in journalism, then work sales for a while because nothing trains you to get what you want from sources better than that.
Finish this sentence, today I …
Today I wasted way too much time trying to think of the last good movie I saw. I blogged a lot and, despite making several calls, I don’t yet have a good story for tomorrow. So it’s 4:51 pm and now I have to go out and find something to write about at tonight’s legislative cocktail receptions or I’m screwed because I spent too much time on this stuff that nobody cares about.
And, yes, next month will mark 20 years of Capitol Fax. There won’t be a big party. I’m saving that for the 25th anniversary. But I may do some more charity fundraising here.