Governor Rod Blagojevich is becoming way too predictable.

Twice now, the governor has told a legislator that he’s for a gaming expansion deal, then his staff denies that the governor said any such thing.

Last summer, Governor Blagojevich visited Hampton, near the Quad Cities, for a Labor Day rally. Sen. Denny Jacobs (D-East Moline) told a reporter that during the rally the governor, "asked him to pursue an expansion."

Jacobs told the reporter that it was unlikely the governor would want to be seen as the initiator of a gaming expansion package. "He wants it to look like it came from the legislature," Jacobs said.

Not long afterwards, the governor’s aides denied that the governor had asked Jacobs to put a deal together.

A couple of weeks ago, Senate President Emil Jones told reporters that the governor had told him he supported a Chicago casino, even though the governor had rejected Mayor Richard Daley’s Chicago casino idea last spring. The governor’s deputy chief of staff, Bradley Tusk, quickly shot down Jones’ assertion, claiming that Blagojevich had not made any decision yet. Jones stood by his comment and Tusk stuck by his.

The back-and-forth between Jones and Tusk prompted a lot of speculation around the Statehouse about what was really going on. Had Emil Jones strung out Blagojevich, or was Tusk covering up for an overly enthusiastic boss?

It’s probably neither. The reality is that this governor almost always refuses to take a public stand on anything controversial until the last possible minute.

Look at the Commonwealth Edison bill a year ago for an example of how the governor plays these things. The giant electric company wanted the General Assembly to pass a bill that would help it buy Illinois Power’s assets. Consumer groups and House Speaker Michael Madigan claimed the utility was simply using the purchase as a red herring to disguise a stealthy bump for its bottom line.

A few months before, the governor had been excoriated in the media for signing an "anti-consumer" bill at the behest of telecommunications giant SBC, so the governor was undoubtedly wary of being attached to ComEd’s bill. The governor had claimed for days that he was undecided about the SBC legislation which was being muscled through the General Assembly, only to sign it into law before the printer’s ink was even dry.

The governor refused to say anything about the ComEd bill. The Senate passed the legislation despite Speaker Madigan’s opposition and, during the debate, President Jones surprised onlookers by revealing that the governor had told him he supported the bill.

This governor obviously doesn’t like to get out in front of anything that could tarnish his image. From SBC, to ComEd to the gaming bills, he has allowed the General Assembly to take the lead on all of the unpopular decisions. He jumps in only at the last minute, leaving as few fingerprints as possible.

It also seems pretty clear that, no matter what his aides say, the governor supports gaming expansion. Senator Jones and Senator Jacobs can’t both be lying. But the governor can’t force himself yet to make a public statement.

The idea is to pass the gaming bill out of the Senate, which is run by the governor’s closest legislative allies. This will supposedly put enormous pressure on the House Democrats to run the bill even though Speaker Madigan has said he won’t move it until the governor publicly announces his position. Madigan wants to make sure that the governor doesn’t flip at the last minute and veto the bill, blasting the General Assembly for kowtowing to the gaming industry.

Madigan is also tired of the governor’s cagey behavior. Still, the betting on the other side is that Madigan will have no choice but to cave to pressure from Mayor Daley and put the bill on the governor’s desk, allowing the governor to sign or veto the bill without ever having publicly supported it.

So far, though, the bill is hopelessly stalled in the Senate. The Democrat Madigan and the Senate Republicans have worked closely together for much of the year, with Madigan helping the Republicans as much as possible. The Republicans have returned the favor by refusing to provide any votes for a gaming bill. If they continue to hold tight, the governor may be forced to share his true feelings about gaming with the state.

It’s a supreme test of wills. And it’s what passes for entertainment at the Statehouse.


Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter. He can be reached at