House Speaker Michael Madigan told a firefighters group last week that he, Governor Rod Blagojevich and Senate President Emil Jones are engaged in a "civil war," and that "no prisoners" are being taken.
This isn't exactly a particularly unique insight. The fight between Madigan and the Blagojevich/Jones alliance started long ago and has been vicious, mean and hurtful to a whole lot of innocent bystanders. It resulted in an eleven-month session last year, along with numerous lawsuits, special sessions and hordes of unresolved issues. I've heard it called a "civil war" before, and it's obvious that nobody is taking prisoners. It's a fight to the end.
But it's rare that a politician will state things publicly in such a stark manner, so when he does you can easily get the idea that the situation might be even worse than you thought. And if that's the case, then we're in for some true nastiness.
Madigan went through a long list of complaints for the firefighters.
The speaker is still hugely upset over the broken state budget deal last year. Not since the legislative leaders began negotiating the state budget behind closed doors has the deal been broken as it was last year, when Senate President Jones refused to override the governor's surprise veto of projects for Madigan's members after promising Madigan to his face that he would override all vetoes. As Madigan told me weeks ago, he hadn't yet spoken to Jones about the incident, but when he does, he said, he will tell Jones: "You only get one big lie."
You may recall that the governor's administration also fired the wife of Madigan's chief of staff, dumped a Madigan ally as a lobbyist for the Illinois Finance Authority because he was "too close" to the Speaker, brutally slashed the budget for the Illinois Arts Council, which is chaired by Madigan's wife, and bused in protesters who booed Madigan during his annual speech at the State Fair last summer, among plenty of other things.
Despite all this, the governor's office seemed taken aback by Madigan's remarks last week. Madigan's bold words gave the governor some deep insight into what's really going on in Madigan's mind, and a preview of what may be to come: lots more trouble.
Last week, Madigan expanded the playing field to include the House Republicans, who had been going along with much of Madigan's agenda.
Madigan, who is also the state Democratic Party chairman, has become convinced that House Republican Leader Tom Cross is somehow in cahoots with Democratic Gov. Blagojevich, and he took some extreme action last week to punish Cross for his perceived disloyalty.
On Monday, Madigan unveiled a Democratic candidate against state Rep. Skip Saviano, an influential Republican legislator from Elmwood Park.
Saviano has been a friend and ally of Madigan's for years. Back in 1997, for instance, Madigan took the rare step of appointing Saviano to a committee chairmanship, even though Saviano's Republicans were in the minority. They've always been close, and Saviano has been an effective go-between in the ongoing "civil war." He can talk to just about anybody, but Madigan apparently thought he had strayed too far towards the governor's position.
The move against Saviano stunned the Statehouse, which was probably the point.
Then, Madigan pushed two very anti-Republican bills to the fore. One would reestablish straight party voting in Illinois, which the Republicans eliminated after they lost the House to Madigan in 1996. Considering the very real probability that Barack Obama will be at the top of the ticket this November, straight party voting could imperil a whole bunch of suburban Republican incumbents.
The other proposal would reinstate another law that the Republicans got rid of during their two-year hold on total power. The first bill on the Republican agenda in 1995 was repealing the Structural Work Act, which allowed injured construction workers to sue someone besides their own employers. Business groups hated the law, and now Madigan wants to bring it back.
A pal of mine said he planned to talk to Madigan about Saviano and the rest of the speaker's new agenda, but had some real fears that Madigan might then turn on him. He's right. And the same thing goes for the other two main characters in this drama, Blagojevich and Jones. If you're not with them all the way, then you're against them, and God help you if that's the case. It's why nothing gets resolved. Nobody can mediate this war.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.