Yet another bizarre year of Illinois politics has been duly capped by Gov. Rod Blagojevich's recent stated opposition to a constitutional convention.
Only in Illinois, perhaps, could voters be shocked into voting "Yes" on the convention referendum because their own governor strongly urged a "No" vote.
The big business and big labor opponents of the constitutional convention referendum surely cringed when the governor told reporters last week he wanted people to vote "No," and said he thanked God that the current Illinois constitution grants him "a lot of power to get around the legislative branch."
The reality is the current state constitution is absolutely riddled with gigantic loopholes, and Gov. Blagojevich has taken full advantage of all of them.
Blagojevich has abused his veto powers by doing things never imagined by the constitution's drafters.
The governor has called endless special sessions for no special reasons, and took House Speaker Michael Madigan to court over Madigan's refusal to go along with every single word in the a special session proclamation.
Blagojevich has expanded the concept of executive orders to the point where some of them look a whole lot like laws, and he strongly believes (supported by a too-broad reading of the constitution) that he can create state programs without the General Assembly's approval.
Recent polls all show Blagojevich's job approval rating at historic lows, with 60 to 70 percent saying they disapprove of the way he does his job. The feds are chasing him like a cat with a new toy; his only major legislative ally, Senate President Emil Jones, has retired; Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley called him "cuckoo" in public; and almost nobody else wants to get anywhere near him.
Simply put, the man is radioactive.
Despite the polling, the House Republicans played ball with Blagojevich all year, to the chagrin of most Democrats in that chamber who opposed the governor at almost every turn. At one point last summer Blagojevich told reporters he was frightened by the very real prospect that his own party could win more House seats come November.
But you'd never know the House Republicans were the governor's bestest buddies by the way they ran their campaigns this fall. "Blagojevich, Bad" was their simple, and pretty much only message in every race.
Over and over and over again, they pounded the message into voters' heads that a vote for a House Democratic candidate was a vote for "Bad Rod." They even ran a radio ad in Chicago urging voters to remember Rod Blagojevich when they cast their ballot.
But it was the House Republicans, and not the governor's mortal enemy Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, who trusted Blagojevich to honestly dole out contracts for one of the largest construction programs in Illinois history. The Republicans did this despite the fact that US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald is investigating Blagojevich and has succeeded in convicting people close to him for "pay to play" politics.
The irony of the Republicans' subsequent campaign message that a vote for them was a check on Blagojevich's power and corruption was deeper than a southern Illinois coal mine, but it was all they had. With Barack Obama at the top of the ticket, using Blagojevich's spectacular unpopularity was the one thing the Republicans could do that might stop voters from electing Democrats all down the line. Ergo: "Blagojevich, Baaaaad!"
The governor must've gotten a big chuckle out of all this.
Imagine the entertainment value for Blagojevich while he watched his fatally wounded public image used to defeat House Democratic candidates - who, if elected, would ally with Speaker Madigan against him - in order to elect Republicans who would work with him. I'm sure the Blagojevich headquarters was a barrel of laughs throughout the fall.
Blagojevich: "Didja see this one? The Republicans called me a crook! That'll teach Madigan!"
Yep. Nonstop hilarity.
It's also admittedly weird that people like myself who pushed for a "Yes" vote on the constitutional convention referendum were giddy as school girls when the governor urged a "No" vote last week. After the governor made his vote "Vote No" comments I wrote this on my blog: "If he was standing here right now IÕd kiss him."
Yeah. It was a bit yucky. I know.
But that's politics, man. Especially in Illinois.
Too bad the governor has never really figured that one out yet.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.