In a move that has probably fatally poisoned an already super-toxic Illinois Statehouse atmosphere, the wife of House Speaker Michael Madigan's chief of staff Tim Mapes was fired from her state job.
Ironically enough, the firing came the day after all four legislative leaders met with Gov. Rod Blagojevich for the first time in months. The meeting was arranged by House Republican Leader Tom Cross and was specifically designed to try and convince the five men to set aside their personal and political differences and attempt to work together on solving the state's numerous problems. The Democrats, who control all of state government, have been fighting like cats and dogs this year, and just about nothing is getting resolved.
Madigan left that meeting early, saying he had another engagement, but all the leaders, including Madigan, described the talks as positive and the governor was quoted as saying it was one of the best meetings of the year. Apparently, peace on Earth and goodwill towards men lasted less than 24 hours.
Bronwyn Rains worked for the state on contract for 24 years. Rains is a child psychologist whose contract was renewed this past July 1st. She was not a political appointee and had begun working for the state before she and Mapes were married. Her current contract with the Department of Human Services involved rating eligibility of applicants for Social Security disability payments, according to her husband.
Mapes, Madigan and the rest of his top staff had managed to keep the firing a secret for days, but it spilled out last week after Madigan met with Cross and Senate Republican Leader Frank Watson. The two Republicans asked for the sit-down and once again tried to smooth things over between Madigan and his fellow Democrats so that they could move forward with a much-needed, multibillion dollar capital projects plan. The Republicans were reportedly stunned into silence when Madigan told them what had happened with Mapes.
This isn't the first time that Blagojevich and his chief of staff John Harris have gone after a House Democrat's relative. They fired the uncle of Rep. John D'Amico from his state job after D'Amico strayed from the Blagojevich playbook. The brother of the House Democrats' "budgeteer" Rep. Gary Hannig was let go after his contract expired. Rep. Eddie Acevedo's brother was dismissed and the brother of Rep. Careen Gordon was recently demoted.
And the carnage hasn't been limited to the governor's office. Several months ago, Senate President Emil Jones reportedly persuaded utility giant ComEd to fire a bunch of contract lobbyists with close ties to Madigan.
But taking action like this against the wife of Speaker Madigan's most trusted aide is wholly unprecedented at the Statehouse. Not only is she Mapes' wife, but she's the political version of a noncombatant. The political honor code dictates that family members are not supposed to be messed with.
After trying three times to explain the firing, the Department of Human Services finally claimed that the federal government made them do it. But DHS's story is so full of mysterious holes, the timing of the dismissal is so questionable and the governor's office has told so many lies that even if this one is true nobody will ever believe it.
Plus, any explanation the governor's office provides, no matter how legitimate it may sound, will simply not be trusted in Room 300 - Madigan's suite of Statehouse offices. Madigan's press spokesman labeled the administration's explanation as "an absolute lie," which was not unexpected. Nobody with real power trusts anybody else with real power in Springfield these days.
And that is the most important aspect of this story, not the DHS response. As I've been trying to tell people all year, the three Democratic leaders (Madigan, Gov. Blagojevich and Senate President Jones) believe they are engaged in a fight to the political death. So, they're always on the lookout for any tiny slights. And this thing is way beyond tiny.
It probably doesn't help matters that some of the governor's top guys have been heard chuckling and bragging about the firing to intimates.
Madigan, contacted after the firing story leaked out, did not want to speak about the situation on the record, but the man was more thoroughly angry and disgusted than I have ever seen him in all my years.
If you think the Madigan vs. Blagojevich fight was bad before, you ain't seen nothing yet.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.