The oldest axiom in government is that it's always easier to kill something than it is to pass something. And that was proved true yet again last week when Senate President Emil Jones and Gov. Rod Blagojevich teamed up to kill off the proposed constitutional amendment for recall of elected officials.
Jones gave marching orders to his leadership team to get in line and recruit as many "No" votes as possible before the proposal came up for a vote. Blagojevich's team was apparently busy wheeling and doling out state money and jobs, releasing grants, moving one state facility and promising not to close another.
Only two of the "No" votes among Senate Democrats have Republican opponents this fall: Sens. Terry Link and Mike Jacobs. But neither of those Republicans are considered top tier types yet. Sen. Jacobs covered himself a bit by calling on the governor to resign before he is impeached. Sen. Link, who has had some problems locally with his own nominating petitions and with some of his candidates' campaigns, will undoubtedly be moved up the target list. But his district is so Democratic that it will be very tough to dislodge him. Even so, expect a lot more money to be spent there, if, that is, the Senate Republicans can raise it.
Senate President Jones is philosophically opposed to recall, but he also sent a very clear message last week: Enough with the Blagojevich bashing. But the heat is not off the governor, not by a long shot.
Ali Ata's devastating plea bargain and testimony at Tony Rezko's federal corruption trial has reinforced the view among many Statehouse types that Blagojevich probably won't survive this investigation. Ata talked about delivering a campaign check to the governor in Rezko's office, then the two talked about a state job. He also claimed that he gave Rezko - a top Blagojevich insider - $25,000 to help pay off contractors working on Blagojevich's house.
It seems even clearer now than it was before (and it was pretty clear then) that the governor is the ultimate target of US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation.
Jones' actions with recall show the length he will go to protect Blagojevich's back. Those considering the idea of impeaching the governor in the House have to be wondering what Jones will do if the House takes that drastic step against the governor. The Illinois Constitution directs the Senate to hold a trial and designates the chief justice of the Supreme Court to preside, but nobody knows who is in charge of actually convening the proceedings. A call last week to the Supreme Court came up empty. They don't appear to know, either. Since there is no definitive timeline in the Constitution, Jones could postpone convening a trial almost indefinitely.
Is impeachment likely in the House? Maybe. The longer the legislative session drags on, the more that comes out of the Rezko trial, the lower the governor's poll numbers drop, the closer the election becomes will all contribute to the momentum building in the House right now to do something - anything - about this governor. The passage of recall might have "lanced the boil", but its failure in the Senate means that there is almost no other alternative except waiting until January of 2011 for a new governor to take office.
Impeachment might instead be used as a threatened weapon in order to get things done at the Statehouse. Last year, House Speaker Michael Madigan refused to even consider the prospect of impeachment because he feared the governor could use it to generate a public backlash against him. Those days are pretty much over.
The theory goes that Madigan could use the threat to push Blagojevich to wrap up the spring session in a timely manner, rather than allow it to drag on into the winter, which is what happened with last year's session. The Senate's vote to kill recall was partially a move to prevent Madigan from doing just that.
But even if the Senate never puts him on trial or votes to remove him from office, no Illinois governor has ever been impeached by the House. Getting tagged with that ignominious badge of dishonor throughout the rest of history can't be something that Blagojevich would relish, particularly when he is fighting off a relentless federal prosecutor.
This game is far from playing itself out.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.