Those of us who toil at the Illinois Statehouse often feel alone and isolated.
State news usually isn't "important" news to most people, who tend to focus much more on national and local politics than the goings-on at the Illinois Statehouse. I suppose it's that way all over the country,
Reporters will bust their humps on a story, only to see it buried or ignored.
Suburban and Chicago legislators are little-known in their districts, since the big Chicago media outlets tend to overlook them. Their campaigns are rarely covered and most of their legislation barely rates a blink.
A top campaign staffer for a state legislative caucus told me years ago that he figured voters gave his candidates just 30 seconds a week of thought. That isn't much.
Occasionally, news will break through the clutter. Former Gov. George Ryan's troubles with the law are widely known, although some of the jurors picked for his federal corruption trial barely knew he existed.
While we accept the realities of our own obscurity, it's difficult to understand sometimes why voters don't pay attention.
Lots of reporters and columnists were disheartened last year when Rod Blagojevich cruised to reelection, despite the stories of corruption and federal investigations that swirled around him for months. It's not that any of us were hoping he'd lose, it's just that nothing we wrote seemed to have any real impact. And even though Blagojevich finished a tiny click below 50 percent, he ended up beating his Republican opponent by ten percentage points. That's a lot in anyone's book.
I've been stuck in this sinkhole of a legislative session all year. I had to drag myself to the Capitol building all spring, all summer and into the fall to watch Gov. Blagojevich pick goofy fights with just about everyone under the Statehouse dome. I've waited impatiently for countless hours while the governor met with legislative leaders, only to discover that the talks actually made things worse. I've seethed while almost nothing of any substance was achieved except a pay hike for state officials. I watched in disbelief while the governor complained bitterly about property taxes in his neighborhood, and proposed a Cook County-only solution, when I'm paying much more taxes than he is for a Downstate house worth less than half what his is valued at. I've had to explain to my wife why there would be no summer vacation, and that Christmas break was starting to look iffy because the governor was threatening to call another of his innumerable "emergency" special sessions that never accomplish anything.
Then, in late summer, a poll was released that showed the governor's approval ratings were in the dumpster. In October, two more polls were published with essentially the same results, greatly buttressing those earlier numbers.
A Rasmussen Reports poll taken in mid-October showed that just five percent of likely Illinois voters thought Blagojevich was doing an "excellent" job. Another 11 percent said he was doing a "good" job. Most of the rest, 83 percent, said Blagojevich was doing a "fair" or "poor" job.
Illinois Wesleyan University also released an October poll showing Blagojevich's job approval rating at a miserable 23 percent. Those who disapproved totaled 60 percent.
The poll numbers were bad for the governor throughout every possible demographic. No region, no gender, no race, no age group, no income level, no philosophical position believes the governor is doing an acceptable job.
Even his own Democrats have turned on him. The Illinois Wesleyan poll found that just 38 percent of likely Democratic voters approve of Blagojevich's job performance, while 41 percent disapprove. A whopping 54 percent of liberals and 65 percent of independents disapprove.
Everybody finally seems to "get" Rod Blagojevich. I'm not exactly sure what attracted their attention in the first place. It could be the gapers' block effect. Voters may simply have been fascinated by the ugly spectacle of the massive train wreck that is our state government. The governor's proposals, like his gigantic tax hike idea from earlier this year, may have sparked their ire.
Whatever the case, lots of people out there are finally paying attention. At least my cohorts and I know we're no longer alone. So from all of us, to all of you, thanks.
But, frankly, I could use a little boredom right about now.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com