For months, most Statehouse observers have predicted a
battle royal between the state’s three top Democrats.
The three men aren’t getting along — and
the relationships between House Speaker Michael Madigan and Gov. Rod
Blagojevich and between Madigan and Senate President Emil Jones are
So far, Jones and Blagojevich are getting along, but
that could change, thanks to the issue of school funding. Jones wants more
money for schools, but Blagojevich refuses to increase taxes.
At its core, most of the fighting is about disrespect.
Jones and Blagojevich believe that Madigan, who
has ruled the Springfield roost for years, doesn’t give them enough
respect, and Madigan is not happy with Blagojevich for breaking his word,
time and time again.
Anyway, a couple of Fridays ago, Blagojevich
couldn’t have signaled his desire for a fight with Madigan more
clearly if he had smacked Madigan in the face with a glove.
I don’t think Madigan has ever worked harder to
pass a bill than he did in support of House Bill 4050, which established a
pilot program in his district to run out predatory lenders.
A community group in Madigan’s ward had been
agitating for action for years. Whole neighborhoods were being destroyed by
predatory mortgage practices, and Madigan was determined to placate
residents in any way
he could. The law he passed requires the state to monitor predatory lending
practices in a high-risk area of Cook County and to require borrowers with
low credit scores to take a credit-counseling class, among other things.
Madigan was relentless when he finally decided that the
time had come to pass the legislation, cutting deals with or putting the
strong arm on everyone in sight. He used every single one of his powers to
muscle the bill through both chambers, over the strong objections of the
financial industry. “I’m bleeding from every orifice,”
moaned one industry lobbyist after a meeting with Madigan.
Madigan was so determined to pass his bill that the
House Republicans refused financial-industry pleas to make sure that
everyone who voted on the final roll call was actually in the chamber at
the time — even the Republicans understood that Madigan would make
their lives miserable if he stood in his way.
One of the compromises that Madigan had to make was to
allow the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation to designate
the areas within Cook County where the pilot program would be implemented
— but late one recent Friday night, Blagojevich ordered the
department to stop enforcing the law by essentially zeroing out the
ZIP-code areas that were included in the pilot program. The governor
claimed in a statement that it is “clear that the program may be
negatively affecting the communities it is designed to protect.”
Neither Madigan nor the bill’s principal sponsor
in the Senate, Marty Sandoval, D-Chicago, was notified of the action in
advance. Madigan found out about it Friday night, after a reporter called
his spokesman while he was eating dinner at a restaurant. The Madigan camp
was furious, and revenge is being vowed.
The governor claimed that at a public meeting held by
the DFPR last year, there was “overwhelming opposition from community
groups and real-estate professionals to the impact the law was having in
the affected communities.” The Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. stepped up
shortly after Blagojevich nullified the law to defend the governor’s
actions, claiming that Madigan’s bill “has the smell of
apartheid.” Jackson said that he will push to have the law
repealed. Fat chance of that happening.
You can argue the merits of Madigan’s proposal
for days, but, as with most everything else in Springfield, this issue has
nothing to do with the merits and everything to do with politics.
Blagojevich knew how important this law was to Madigan. He knew what
Madigan’s reaction would be if he killed it off without so much as a
heads-up or an offer to negotiate a compromise. This was a deliberate
action, designed to inflame emotions and show Madigan that the governor
intends to play hardball all year, despite their later pleas that they were
trying to avoid a showdown with the Rev. Jackson.
Two can play that game, however, and retaliation is
certain. Without some sort of divine intervention, we may be in for the
mother of all legislative wars.
Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political
newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.