The most positive thing to come out of last week's umpteenth special legislative session was that Gov. Rod Blagojevich didn't call another one for the next day.
Blagojevich had threatened to call lawmakers to town every day until they passed a mass transit funding bill for the Chicago region. But when almost none of his Senate Democratic allies bothered to show up last Wednesday it was obvious they were voting with their feet. So, once again, the governor conveniently forgot about a promise and skulked home to Chicago.
Just eight Senate Democrats - out of 37 - made it to Springfield last Wednesday. Senate President Emil Jones, the governor's staunchest ally this year, was a no-show. Sen. Carol Ronen, the governor's floor leader who is about to retire, didn't show up either. Sen. Rickey Hendon, the toughest critic of House Speaker Michael Madigan in the "upper" chamber, was also not there (although Hendon was reportedly not feeling well). Sen. James DeLeo, the governor's go-to guy for Hannah Montana tickets, was nowhere to be found.
The governor sued House Speaker Michael Madigan last year in an attempt to compel him to force his members to town during special sessions. Madigan skipped last week's festivities, but the House, at least, had a quorum present. Seventy House members answered the roll call, compared to a 14 or 15 across the Statehouse rotunda. There were almost as many reporters present in the Senate as members.
This turn of events put the governor in a bit of a bind. He often seems to live to bash Madigan, but even Blagojevich didn't have the chutzpah required to slam the House Speaker for not coming to town when almost no Senate Democrats made the trip. So, he contented himself with releasing a generic slam on the General Assembly.
"WeĠre disappointed that most lawmakers failed to appear for the special session called by the governor to fund the CTA and avert a planned January 20 doomsday," his spokesperson said in a written statement.
"Most" House members did show up, of course, but the Senate dragged the curve way down.
One never knows what will go through the governor's mind at a time like this. A couple of stray electrons in his brain could bump into each other and set off an uncontrollable chain reaction that his staff and top advisors are helpless to stop. So Statehouse types waited around for a signal about what Blagojevich might do next. Several had come to town prepared for the long haul, bringing enough clothes to get them through the weekend.
Thankfully, sanity finally prevailed. Or maybe it was presidential politics.
One of the reasons that so many Democrats, particularly in the Senate, weren't in town last week was because they were in Iowa campaigning for their former legislative colleague, US Sen. Barack Obama. If the governor had called another special session for Thursday - Iowa Caucus Day - and harangued lawmakers into showing up, he could have been accused of sabotaging Obama's campaign.
So instead of calling yet another fruitless, futile and politically dangerous special session, the governor cut his losses and went home. Considering the miserable legislative turnout, he probably spent more on his flight back and forth to Springfield and his Chicago press conference than the General Assembly spent on per diems. In the end, last Wednesday was simply an expensive media opportunity for one of the biggest publicity hounds in Illinois history.
And the press pop didn't even go all that well. Chicago reporters wanted to ask him about the latest allegations contained in a federal proffer that Blagojevich had bragged about how he could use state contracts to raise campaign cash. The governor was forced to spend most of his time denying that he was a crook and slamming the media for focusing on the negatives while he was trying to do what's right for Illinois. It was a real George Ryan moment. And we all know how that story ended.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.