From the very beginning, Gov. Rod Blagojevich sought to centralize the operation of state government as much as possible in his office. A cadre of deputy governors have overseen daily agency operations with an iron fist and reported directly to Blagojevich's chief of staff or to the governor himself.
But Blagojevich is now under siege and spending much of his days meeting with attorneys about his criminal case. His chief of staff has resigned, as did one of his deputy governors. Another deputy governor was hired only recently.
Almost nobody in government really knows what to do next. Lt. Governor Pat Quinn could be elevated within weeks or at most a few months. The US Attorney has already raided the Thompson Center office of one deputy governor, and more raids and grand jury probes are probable.
There has been talk among top staff of a mass resignation to send a message to Blagojevich that he must step down now. The state budget is literally crashing as the nation's economic situation worsens. Decisions that need to be made aren't being made, and even when decisions are handed down there is a real fear that following those orders might lead to trouble with either Quinn or US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald or both.
Gov. Blagojevich has put on an appearance these past several days of staying busy at the office, commuting from his home almost every day to the Thompson Center, signing bills, approving contracts even issuing commutations.
But, Blagojevich is fighting to keep a job that he was never really interested in doing to begin with. He's probably been to the Thompson Center more in the past two weeks than he has in the past six months, partly for show with the TV cameras around, partly because his new lawyer is downtown and partly because his campaign office, where he usually "worked," was bugged by the feds.
So, given all that, would a mass resignation force the governor to take notice and step down? Probably not. As mentioned above, he hasn't much cared how the government functioned for six years. If he did, we wouldn't be in this awful fiscal shape right now. He's all about himself.
With paralysis at the top, it will be up to agency directors and their subordinates to run the government from below. But in some instances, the paralysis has filtered down to the agency level. "Many are thinking, 'Do I take charge or do I wait?'" said one longtime Statehouse insider recently. "Nobody wants to commit professional suicide."
And, considering the state of the economy right now, many of those agency directors and top administration staff would be putting themselves in severe jeopardy by stepping down in protest. They have their own families to care for, mortgages to pay, children to put through school. Considering this month's ignominious events, it's highly doubtful that anyone will be able to make a late jump from the Blagojevich administration to the White House. They're in a no-win situation.
Then there are those like Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs Director Tammy Duckworth. Ms. Duckworth has been thought to have a bright political future in front of her. A recent statewide poll showed her running several points ahead of powerhouse Attorney General Lisa Madigan in a hypothetical US Senate special election.
But Duckworth's quandary is immense. Resigning in protest would score her major political points for any future political bids. There would be gigantic media coverage of any resignation, and she'd be one of the few people who might move Blagojevich off the dime a bit. Director Duckworth, a wounded combat veteran, is not a wealthy person, however. A high-profile resignation might help secure her a job with the Obama administration, but then again it might not. Obama is rightly treating Blagojevich as a radioactive pariah.
In the meantime, the people who always get the shaft are getting it even worse. Illinois' social service safety net is mostly operated by private providers, and the budget crisis combined with the leadership vacuum have stretched them to the very limits of their endurance. Many have been forced to lay off employees at a time when most won't find a new job. These providers have simply been put in an untenable situation by an amoral governor.
Somehow, some way, this must end.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.