Friday, June 01, 2007

Twilight zone

Just when you thought things couldn’t get weirder, the Statehouse erupts with tension-riddled drama. Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s communication staff has a public relations emergency on its hands leading into the weekend after Democratic Sen. Mike Jacobs of East Moline didn’t hold back in describing his confrontation with the governor over a spoiled deal.

Jacobs’ fellow Democrats tried twice to pull him away from the microphones in the Senate press box Friday afternoon.

The apparent tension started to build more than 12 hours before, at 12:15 a.m. on the last night of regularly scheduled session. Jacobs pressed the “no” button for the biggest item on the governor’s wish list: expansion of state-sponsored health insurance for adults. It was agreed that in exchange for Jacobs’ “yes” vote on the health plan, he was promised $75 million for a college in his western Illinois district. Right after he pressed “no,” however, Jacobs said loud enough for reporters to hear, “Sometimes you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do.”

The governor’s office had this to say in an e-mailed statement: “Senator Jacobs wanted a commitment of a $75 million project in his district in exchange for his vote to provide healthcare for everyone. The governor refused.”

Jacobs said the governor went as far as calling Western Illinois University president Al Goldfarb and said he had Jacobs to thank for putting the college’s capital funding at risk. A spokesman for Western Illinois University confirmed that the governor’s office called Goldfarb asking him to encourage Jacobs to vote in favor of the health plan. University spokesman John Maguire said no threats were made to withhold funding, and the university has been working with Jacobs and the governor’s office for months to arrange $73 million in new funding for capital projects, as seen in Blagojevich’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2008.

Though unconfirmed by the administration, Jacobs also said that the governor threatened his political career and that he felt intimidated in the governor’s Statehouse office Friday morning. “We can disagree. We can have moments where we don’t even like each other. But there should never be a time when the governor of Illinois threatens someone in a political and personal manner. It’s beneath the quorum of this building.”

According to Jacobs, he rejected the health plan because of its $1.5 billion tax increase. “It’s a lot of money for an experiment, for tinkering,” he said. “Somebody suggested, ‘Senator, throw the bill over to the House and let the House take care of this.’ Well, OK. But I want to stay focused on what I found offensive, and that was not the message, but the tactics. It was beneath the governor of Illinois.”

We’ll never be in that room to know who’s telling the truth.

Other Democrats voted against the governor’s health plan on the last night of regular session, too. They included first-year Sen. Dan Kotowski of Park Ridge, Latino Caucus leader Sen. Tony Munoz of Chicago and Sen. Louis Viverito of Burbank.

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