Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Summer heats up

Consider the context of a memo sent to Illinois Democratic candidates and incumbents that talks about beginning impeachment proceedings against Gov. Rod Blagojevich:

  1. The Illinois General Assembly adjourned on the constitutional deadline of May 31 with an approved but unbalanced budget.
  2. The operating budget is not set in stone, meaning state employees could be strung along this summer, as they were during last summer’s stalemate between leaders that resulted in 30-day budgets to keep the state operating.
  3. As lawmakers officially adjourned the spring session and left Springfield, they entered campaign mode to gear up for the November elections.

That campaign mode produced this memo, distributed by House Speaker Michael Madigan, who also is head of the Illinois Democratic Party. Madigan sent it to political candidates as “talking points” to give them background about impeachment-related questions that they can expect to hear from voters and reporters.

The 14-page memo reads as if the speaker has been marking every wrong step the governor has made since Day 1. And it advises candidates and incumbents to blame the governor for all of the state’s problems, although all four legislative leaders and the governor play a role in the political standoffs that affect state business.

The governor's office obviously wasn't pleased. It released this statement: "This is another example of the pettiness, silliness and backroom games that Speaker Madigan has been playing for months to prevent progress. We wish he would drop his behind-the-scenes maneuvering and come to the leaders' meetings. It is time for Speaker Madigan to join the rest of the legislative leaders who have been working with the governor to pass a capital bill that will put thousands of people to work."

The memo also advises candidates to say the speaker had nothing to do with their statements about impeachment. Steve Brown, Madigan’s spokesman, said that the memo intended to make it clear that the speaker is not going to take a position on impeachment. “He expects that he might be called on to be presiding officer if something proceeds, ” Brown said, but the memo also is intended to specify that neither Madigan nor his daughter, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, is involved.

House Minority Leader Tom Cross described that directive as a “scheme” for candidates and incumbents to lie to the press and to the public. “It’s funny how — and ironic that — trust is an issue. People keep throwing that word around; yet, this very document sets up a scheme to lie to all of us,” Cross said before a leaders’ meeting in the governor’s Chicago office this morning. (Because I’m based in Springfield, I listened to the Chicago audio available from Capitol Fax Blog.) While Cross said the memo wouldn’t necessarily distract from the ongoing negotiations for a state construction plan, he did say, “It’s just another part of the ping pong battle that is ignoring true needs of the state.”

Senate President Emil Jones Jr. also said it was a distraction from the need to enact a statewide construction plan.

Senate Minority Leader Frank Watson’s comments, however, sounded a bit more in tune with the intent of the memo. “We get a lot of questions from people throughout the state about the impeachment, so I don’t know if it was improper to send that out to candidates who are running for office,” he said, as heard through the Web. “They get a lot of questions, too. ‘What do you think about it?’ This just gave some answers. It might be something that we want to do because we do get a lot of questions, more and more all the time.”

Some points in the memo raise serious questions about whether the governor’s actions have negative consequences for the state, particularly the questions about federal investigations into his administration and about his intent to bypass the legislative process to advance an agenda. It also is useful for candidates, lawmakers, members of the public and reporters to understand the process of impeachment before legislators determine whether that’s the course to take.

So far, though, the impeachment memo only is framed as a political cheat sheet for candidates who wish to distance themselves from the governor. It does not mean the House will initiate proceedings to actually impeach the governor. At the same time, the speaker did say on the last night of the spring session that his legal counsel has done his own research to be “prepared.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I read: "The top Republican in the Illinois House is blasting a memo spelling out reasons to launch impeachment hearings against Governor Rod Blagojevich."

Why on the planet earth is a Republican complaining about a memo to impeach this Governor? It doesn't make any sense, does it?!!