2004 takes the cake


In my opinion, 2004 was the weirdest year in Illinois political history.

January: Governor Rod Blagojevich used most of his State of the State address to blast the State Board of Education for being a "Soviet-style" bureaucracy — the first time a sitting governor red-baited a state agency.

February: Reporters discovered that the ex-wife of millionaire Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Blair Hull had filed an order of protection against him after he allegedly struck her during a late-night argument. Hull’s candidacy imploded.

March: A relatively unknown black man with the weird name of Barack Obama won the Democratic US Senate primary in a landslide.

April: Breaking a self-imposed two-year media silence, House Speaker Michael Madigan told reporters that Governor Blagojevich’s budget proposal was dead on arrival because it relied too heavily on tax and fee hikes. Madigan had refused to talk to reporters ever since he was accused of all sorts of wrongdoing (almost none of which has ever been proved true) during his daughter Lisa’s 2002 campaign for attorney general.

May: Speaker Madigan, who is also the chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois, created an alliance with the Senate and House Republican legislative leaders against the Democratic governor and Democratic Senate President Emil Jones. Madigan’s odd coalition refused to support the governor’s tax and fee hikes and, as a result, the spring legislative session, which was supposed to conclude at the end of May, was thrust into a long and bitter overtime session.

June: A California judge released redacted copies of Republican U.S. Senate nominee Jack Ryan’s divorce records. Included were allegations that Ryan had forced his ex-wife to visit several swingers clubs. Republicans were outraged that Ryan had repeatedly assured them that the records contained nothing embarrassing. Ryan dropped out of the race soon afterwards. Also in June, Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich used an interview with a southern Illinois radio station to taunt freshman Democratic state Rep. John Bradley for being a "wallflower."

July: Several Republican leaders asked former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka to run for U.S. Senate. Ditka milked the publicity for a while, then turned the Republicans down and leaked the story to a Chicago TV station that had agreed to hire him as a football commentator. Also in July, the spring legislative session finally concluded after a two-month overtime brawl which just about ripped the Democratic party wide open.

August: After a month of searching, the Republicans finally chose the ultra-conservative Marylander Alan Keyes to run for U.S. Senate. Keyes promptly alienated everyone he possibly could, even calling Vice President Dick Cheney’s lesbian daughter a "selfish hedonist."

September: A rumor spread on the Internet that Illinois Congressman Henry Hyde was terminally ill. As of this writing, Hyde is still very much alive. Alan Keyes declared that Jesus Christ would never vote for Barack Obama. State Rep. Patricia Bailey was indicted for allegedly filing false paperwork claiming she lived in her House district when she actually lived with her mother in an adjoining district. William Wozniak, a guard at the Illinois Statehouse, was shot and killed while on duty. And some alert Internet bloggers discovered a website apparently run by the daughter of anti-gay candidate Alan Keyes, in which she openly acknowledged being a lesbian.

October: Lt. Governor Pat Quinn was threatened with a "political divorce" from Governor Blagojevich if he continued bashing a toll hike pushed by the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority. The Illinois Supreme Court race in southern Illinois heated up to a boiling point, with both candidates accusing each other of being soft on child molesters.

November: Alan Keyes won just 27 percent of the vote against Barack Obama. GOP Congressman Phil Crane lost his seat after a thousand years in Washington.

Despite the Democratic landslides, the Republicans picked up a Supreme Court seat in southern Illinois that had been safely in Democratic hands for decades. The Republicans also defeated two entrenched legislative incumbents, Sen. Pat Welch and Rep. Ricca Slone, but they lost a House race in Cicero to a woman who was apparently "planted" on the ballot by their own Republican candidate — another first.

December: Governor Blagojevich announced that he wanted to criminalize the sale of violent or sexually explicit video games to minors. The proposal generated tons of press but prompted some to wonder why the governor can’t seem to put any energy into solving "real" problems like the school funding crisis or the state’s rapidly deteriorating industrial base.

I, for one, am glad this year is almost over.


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