“Politics Ain’t Beanbag:” Illinois Edition

Congressional Elections, Politics, US Elections, US Politics
Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D-Elvis)

Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D-Elvis)

It is common for political candidates to link their opponents with an unpopular or discredited figure from the opponents’ political party. Barack Obama, for instance, has joined John McCain so thoroughly with George W. Bush that McCain had to remind Obama in the last debate that “I am not President Bush.” In 2006, many Republican congressional candidates seemed to be running against Nancy Pelosi rather than their Democratic rivals. And so there is nothing particularly unusual about a television ad, run by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), attacking Marty Ozinga, Republican candidate in IL-11, in which the voice-over intones: “Republican Marty Ozinga and his companies gave 23 grand to Rod Blagojevich.” If true, it’s a contemptible instance of bribery and corruption. The ad, however, omits one small detail: Rod Blagojevich, governor of Illinois, is a Democrat. Yes, that’s right: the DCCC, in an ad supporting Democratic congressional candidate Debbie Halvorson, is accusing Democratic governor Blagojevich of taking a payoff.

The governor wasn’t altogether pleased to be the victim of friendly fire. “Mr. Blagojevich, himself a former congressman, is said to have ‘gone ballistic’ when he first heard of the spot.” He couldn’t have been much happier when Ozinga explained that he gave a $10,000 contribution to Blagojevich’s campaign committee in 2005 “so that he and other concrete industry officials could have a private audience to express their concerns to him about state construction projects.” Somehow, that doesn’t make things sound a whole lot better, Marty.

Meanwhile Halvorson, Democratic majority leader in the Illinois state senate, was quick to jump on the bandwagon. Her own campaign ran an ad in which she had this to say: “Debbie Halvorson blocked Rod Blagojevich’s tax increases.” Take that, Governor Tax-and-Spend-evich!

So, how did Blagojevich end up with the big “Kick Me” sign pinned to his back by fellow Democrats? It probably has something to do with the unavoidable perception that voters just don’t like the governor. The Chicago Tribune published a poll on Thursday showing that only 13 percent of Illinois residents approved of Blagojevich’s job performance. By way of comparison, a recent ABC News poll put George W. Bush’s job approval numbers at around 23 percent. That means Bush is almost twice as popular as Blagojevich, despite the fact that the Illinois governor, unlike Bush, never started a foreign war in a vain attempt to find nonexistent weapons of mass destruction.

He is, on the other hand, implicated in various influence-peddling and bribery investigations, including the prosecution and conviction of political fixer Antoin “Tony” Rezko, which has indirectly touched Barack Obama but which has placed Blagojevich squarely in the crosshairs of federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald (he of Plamegate fame). Even Blagojevich’s wife has come under scrutiny for real estate deals that may have been covers for political payoffs. Meanwhile, state government has ground to a halt as the governor and the Democratic state party chairman and leader of the state House of Representatives, Michael Madigan, have engaged in a bitter and increasingly personal feud. Complicating matters is that Madigan’s daughter, Lisa, is the state’s attorney general, and she has also started to poke around into the governor’s murky financial dealings.

Obama is fortunate that Illinois is a deep shade of blue this year, so he doesn’t have to campaign in there or take sides in the intramural squabblings of the Prairie State’s profoundly dysfunctional Democratic Party. Goaded by the media, including conservative suburbanite columnist John “Don’t Call Me Jack” Kass, Obama briefly injected himself into local politics by urging the general assembly to pass ethics legislation, but he has otherwise declined to get involved.

This Illinois imbroglio has national implications: if Obama is elected president, then Blagojevich will appoint Obama’s replacement to the senate. State law does not restrict his choice, so he can pretty much appoint anybody, including himself. Congressmen Jesse Jackson, Jr. (IL-2) and Jan Schakowsky (IL-9) have already thrown their hats into the ring, declaring themselves “available” in case Blagojevich wants to name them to the soon-to-be-vacant senate seat. Other names include failed congressional candidate and Iraq War veteran Tammy Duckworth and Obama protégé/state treasurer Alexi Giannoulias.

Blagojevich, under normal circumstances, would pick from among his loyal supporters, but that is an increasingly small and isolated minority within the Prairie State’s Democratic Party. Duckworth is one of them, which may mean that she has the inside track right now. An intriguing possibility involves Blagojevich choosing Lisa Madigan. That would require the negotiation of a “peace treaty” between Blagojevich and Michael Madigan, and would also mean that Madigan fille would call off her state investigations of the governor. The governor could, at one stroke, break the legislative deadlock and rid himself of a pesky political opponent who would otherwise be a leading rival for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2010. Blagojevich, therefore, might be well advised to take a page from Obama’s foreign policy and start negotiating with his enemies. After all, these days, he has very few friends with whom he can talk.

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