The toxic combination of an overabundance of testosterone and fragile male egos seems to be contaminating everything it touches during the Illinois General Assembly's overtime session.
More issues were added last week to the large pile of bills being held hostage to the never-ending feud between House Speaker Michael Madigan on one side and Senate President Emil Jones and Governor Rod Blagojevich on the other.
The legislation designed to ease phone company AT&T's entrance into the cable TV marketplace has reportedly stalled in the Senate. The bill passed the House unanimously and has strong bipartisan support in the Senate, but it has apparently hit an ego snag.
The trouble may have started with a laudatory editorial in the Chicago Tribune, which praised the "active and the unflagging commitment of the bill's House sponsor, Rep. James Brosnahan (D-Oak Lawn) and Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan," and noted that Speaker Madigan also provided "important support."
The editorial looked very much like an AT&T plant to a whole lot of Statehouse types, including the people who run the Senate. It probably didn't help matters when the Sun-Times then ran essentially the same editorial praising the same set of characters. Democratic state Sen. James Clayborne was also involved in the negotiations at Jones' behest, yet he has not received any public recognition. And, like her father the House Speaker, Attorney General Madigan isn't exactly on Senate President Jones' "A List" these days.
Sen. Jones has twice criticized Attorney General Madigan on the Senate floor this year. The first time, during the debate over adding ComEd into an Ameren rate freeze bill, Jones mocked Madigan for filing case after case against his close pals at the giant utility and losing every one.
The other day, after AG Madigan's name was brought up in debate as supporting a particular bill, Jones cracked that his fellow Democrat, who was once a member of his own caucus, was free to run for the Senate if she wanted to be a member of the General Assembly again. "There may be an open seat for her on that side of the aisle," Jones said, pointing to the Republicans.
It's also pretty well known that the governor detests the attorney general, believing, among other things, that she has strategically leaked what appears to be damning evidence from her various investigations of his administration. The governor's feelings about Ms. Madigan may be fueling at least some of Jones' comments. Jones has parroted just about every one of the governor's lines and followed him down every blind alley this year, from the notorious gross receipts tax to a monster-sized health insurance proposal that many of Jones' own members aren't supporting, to the governor's refusal to even consider an income tax hike, an idea that Jones avidly supported until just a few months ago.
According to sources, Jones is resisting a provision in AT&T's cable bill that gives the attorney general more oversight powers. Hardly surprising.
Just to show you how weird things have gotten, do you remember the bill that moves the spring primary up to February from March? It was ostensibly designed to help Barack Obama's presidential campaign by putting Illinois in play during primary season. Well, as of this writing, that bill hasn't been sent to the governor's desk yet.
The legislation received overwhelming votes in both chambers and cleared its final legislative hurdle weeks ago, but one or both of the two leaders haven't certified it as official. Without both of those signatures, the governor can't take any action.
The primary bill is not alone. At this writing, well over 600 bills have passed both chambers, yet just twelve bills have actually been sent to the governor's desk.
Then, of course, there's the budget bill that was passed by the House last month but is still in the House because one of Madigan's members placed a parliamentary hold on the legislation. The Senate President's people believe that Madigan did it deliberately to stop the Senate from passing the bill and avoid any potential government shutdown when the fiscal year ends. Madigan claims his Downstate members placed the hold on the bill to prevent any budget action until some sort of agreement could be reached on the electric utility rate issue.
Such is life at the Statehouse these days.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.