The decision by Governor Rod Blagojevich to attend a Chicago Blackhawks game last Wednesday night instead of remaining at the Statehouse while the Illinois House defeated his mass transit funding bailout proposal says a lot about the governor on several different levels, none of it positive.
Blagojevich knew that Chicago TV station CBS-2 was planning to air a report that same night about how he is often a no-show at his state office. As the report confirmed, he prefers to hang around his house all day.
The station's investigative report was pretty hard-hitting, but the governor's attendance at that hockey game made it a blockbuster piece. The move served to boldly underscore the point that Blagojevich simply isn't committed to his job, and highlighted his preference for all things Chicago over his duties in Springfield. There he was, gleefully chatting with the team's president while the hopes of millions of commuters were dashed on the sharp rocks of the Illinois House. Oops.
Frustration with the Springfield mess is at an all-time high in Illinois, and the situation in the Chicago area is the worst I've ever seen. After months of turbulence which saw local property tax bills delayed for weeks because of a fight between the governor and the House Democrats and then relentless coverage of never-ending "Doomsday" threats for public transit, voters are hopping mad and they want action.
Blagojevich left Springfield for Chicago around six o'clock last Wednesday evening, knowing that he would likely be at the game during the floor debate. What kind of insane doofus walks right into a trap like that? The station knew he'd be at the game because the Blackhawks promoted the grand "event." It's like he wanted to be caught.
The governor reportedly told his aides that he felt he had to uphold his commitment to the Blackhawks because he promised them he'd be there.
Let that point sink in for a bit.
Here's a guy whose word is completely untrustworthy in Springfield. He's broken his promises so many times that legislators don't even believe him when he signs contracts - called "Memoranda of Understanding" in Statehouse lingo. His untrustworthiness is one of the more valid reasons for House Speaker Michael Madigan's refusal so far to agree to a capital construction plan. Madigan figures that because of their yearlong feud the governor will shaft his Democratic members when it comes time to dole out the project funding, no matter what the governor promises. And considering the governor's miserable track record at keeping his commitments, who could possibly blame Madigan?
But, hockey. Well, on that topic, Rod Blagojevich's word is apparently his bond.
Blagojevich can recite the entire starting roster of the 1964 St. Louis Cardinals. He can tell you the bios of minor league players called up by the Chicago Cubs late in the season (I watched him do it on TV). No doubt about it, the man knows sports inside and out. He's a veritable "Rain Man" when it comes to sports trivia.
Yet, does anybody think he's ever even opened a state budget book? Blagojevich's inattention to the details of governance is legendary.
And now that he's been called out on his work ethic, or lack thereof, we can expect a flashy show of meaningless gestures designed to demonstrate that he's "on the job." Last week, the governor threatened to call daily special sessions until Christmas in order to pass a transit funding bill. More hocus pocus dominocus is undoubtedly in store.
In the old days, Statehouse denizens used to grumble about being trapped in overtime session during Springfield's 4th of July fireworks display. Mind you, that was back when the General Assembly was supposed to adjourn on June 30th. This past August, I listened to the boom and pop of the State Fair fireworks when I stepped outside the Senate chambers for a quick break. Last week, I was in the Statehouse to cover the governor's 18th special session of 2007 and couldn't help but notice that workers were assembling the Capitol Christmas tree.
If Blagojevich put half the energy into adult-level governance as he does into kid games, the General Assembly would have adjourned in May. On time. We wouldn't even be thinking about a Christmas session.
This Blackhawks blunder is the perfect analogy.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.