There's no violation of state law if a toxic waste landfill is partly owned by one of the governor's in-laws, or even a nuclear waste dump, for that matter.
There's no problem with the law if a member of the governor's family owns stock in a regulated monopoly like Commonwealth Edison or SBC. A family member could be a state licensed cosmetologist, real estate agent, or even a horseshoer.
The governor can have relatives in the heavily regulated banking and insurance industries, or be a doctor or a lawyer, both of which involve state oversight.
So why is the governor now proposing legislation that would make it illegal for any of his in-laws to partially own a construction waste landfill?
Could it be he suspects that his father-in-law, Chicago Alderman Dick Mell, is lying about his denials that he had no ownership interest in a controversial construction debris landfill ostensibly owned by one of the governor's cousins that the governor temporarily shut down last winter? Back then, the governor claimed that his cousin was bragging that he could accept any sort of waste at the facility because he was "protected" by the governor and Alderman Mell.
State police and Illinois Environmental Protection Agency inspectors were dispatched during the holidays to check on the situation. The landfill was shut down, but it reopened after a court hearing.
Could it also be that the guv wanted yet another opportunity to jab the knife deeper into the back of the guy who literally made him what he is today? If it wasn't for Dick Mell, Rod Blagojevich might still be working for "Fast Eddie" Vrdolyak's law firm, or stuck in a dead-end job at the Cook County State's Attorney's office. Mell ran his new son-in-law for state Representative, then Congress then pulled out all the stops to help install the "kid" in the governor's mansion.
Ever since then, the governor has tried to put as much distance as possible between himself and his former mentor. That's not all bad. Blagojevich and Mell both swore during the 2002 campaign that Rod was his own man and Dick wouldn't play any role in his administration. Mell apparently didn't take those promises as literally as Blagojevich, however, and the feuding started almost on Day One.
Despite repeated denials that an amendment adopted by the Senate Environment & Energy Committee last week to ban the governor's in-laws from partial ownership of construction landfills had nothing whatsoever to do with the governor's ongoing feud with his father-in-law, the truth is that if the governor was truly concerned about potential conflicts of interests with his family, he'd bar them from partial ownership of all other state-regulated businesses.
Should there be tougher restrictions on construction waste landfills? Absolutely. They haven't been under state EPA control and they should be, even though most of them just handle things like concrete, wood and nails. Did the governor need to go this far? Absolutely not.
Dick Mell is not exactly what you would call a sympathetic character. He's a big boy and he can take care of himself. But this all-too-public family soap opera needs to end.
Call me a backwards Midwesterner, but I don't think that family feuds ought to be played out in the open.
"How's the family, Rich?" you might ask.
"Fine," I might tell you, even though my family life could be falling apart at the seams (it isn't, but this is just an example). It's none of your business what goes on behind my closed doors. And chances are that you don't really want to know anyway. "How's the family?" is used more as a perfunctory greeting than an in-depth inquiry into an actual state of affairs.
People talk about their private lives in Hollywood and on the Jerry Springer show and that's considered entertainment. But very few of us want to see that sort of yuckiness played out on a public stage by our elected leaders. It's unseemly and not worthy of their positions.
The governor should either quietly make peace with the grandfather of his children or silently walk away. Whatever he does is his business. I just want him to stop making it ours.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter. He can be reached at www.capitolfax.com.