Despite what you may have read in some newspaper editorials or Statehouse news coverage lately, it is my considered opinion that Governor Rod Blagojevich is not insane.
I can't believe I had to actually write that sentence, but there seems to be a trend to claim that the governor is losing his marbles. The Peoria Journal-Star editorialized last week that Blagojevich was "going bonkers," and more than just implied that he is insane. A House Democrat went one step further and told reporters that Blagojevich was a "madman" and "insane." House Speaker Michael Madigan's spokesman cracked wise last week that the governor has Attention Deficit Disorder.
Yes, Blagojevich is a bit "different," but we've all known that for a long time, haven't we? He is who he is - a somewhat goofy enigmatic who tries so hard to see the bright side of whatever situation he finds himself in that some believe he may be slightly pathological. But that dogged optimism has helped him weather more storms than anyone can count, and he's obviously relying on it to get him through the supreme mess that the legislative overtime situation has become.
The truth is that while he does love a fight, the governor's recent over the top remarks about Democratic state party chairman and House Speaker Michael Madigan ("right-wing George W. Bush Republican"), his taunting, confrontational style with legislators (calling them in seven days a week for special sessions and then not showing up himself for all of them) and his refusal to offer up real compromises yet are all just part of his usual schtick. He's been doing this for years.
Remember his 2003 attack on legislators for spending money like "drunken sailors" after they voted to override several of his vetoes? Remember the 2004 overtime session, when he claimed that Madigan wasn't a "real Democrat" because he had allied himself with the Republicans? Remember the 2006 campaign when he managed to turn a previously well-liked Judy Baar Topinka into a corrupt wingnut in voters' minds?
I've known Blagojevich since he was a member of the Illinois House. He hasn't changed much. The outward impression you sometimes get is a shallow, hyperactive man-child. He can be that, and more. Sometimes, the guy just can't stop himself from taking a verbal swing at whoever happens to be near. He certainly doesn't listen well. But he does take the time to think at least some things through.
I spent a couple of hours with the governor last week to get a read on where his head is at. I discovered that the governor seems to have a fairly reasonable end result in mind for the current overtime legislative session - a potential compromise on revenue-generating ideas that could fund many of the big-ticket ideas on the table, and even satisfy the Republicans somewhat.
However, I'm not at all convinced that he knows yet how to get there from here. The overtime session appears stuck right now, and it's mainly because he vastly overestimated both the ability and the willingness of the Senate Democrats to move his agenda forward in order to put House Speaker Michael Madigan on the spot.
By now, that gigantic universal health insurance bill of his was supposed to have cleared the Senate, with its veto-proof Democratic majority, and be sitting in the House. Instead, as of this writing the measure is completely stalled. Speaker Madigan, who wants a much smaller budget increase than the governor, won't even consider the multibillion dollar insurance plan as long as it can't pass the Senate.
But rounding up Democratic votes in the Senate for a bill that Madigan opposes (and which also raises taxes on business) is not exactly an easy task. Why vote for a bill if Madigan will just kill it, Senators ask themselves. Also, the Senate Democratic caucus is in a state of disarray right now, partly because of continuing revelations about Senate President Emil Jones' alleged cronyism and nepotism. And the governor's ever-growing unpopularity under the Statehouse dome because of his confrontational style of leadership isn't helping.
What I'm trying to say here is that I think it's perfectly acceptable to question the governor's competence to lead the General Assembly to a reasonable compromise. But the hyperbole about his sanity, or lack thereof, is a bit much.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com