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July 06, 2006

Cheap and easy

Decrying the state of American politics is cheap and easy sport these days. Not much fun in it, really.

Despair more than "fun" is appropriate in places like Illinois, which is enduring a third consectutive gubernatorial election in which executive corruption is a dominating theme.

Back in 1998 Republican George Ryan was elected governor after a campaign he spent fending off questions about investigations into his conduct as secretary of state. Nothing there, he said, and if there was, it was the fault of underlings whose actions he knew nothing about.

By 2002, the bloodhounds of U. S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald were so close and baying so loudly that even the brassy Ryan chose retirement over seeking a second term. (Didn't save him. Indictment and conviction followed.)

Enter Democrat Rod Blagojevich, who campaigned as the anti-Ryan, the man who would clean up state government. He's seeking re-election now, fending off questions about the several investigations into his hiring and contract-awarding practices. Nothing there, he says, and if there is, it's the fault of underlings whose actions he knows nothing about.

May be a lot of "know nothing" involved, given Mr. Fitzgerald's declaration that "our investigation has now implicated multiple state agencies and departments and we have developed a number of credible witnesses" to fraudulent hiring practices.

The statement gave Republican Judy Baar Topinka a bigger club with which to beat Blagojevich, who in the meantime has been busy raising the specter of George Ryan. Topinka, the gov says, was state treasurer during the Ryan party and should have done more to shut it down.

The best that can be anticipated is that, through the flying mud, there may be an occasional mention of pension funding, the state debt, the ever-dreary condition of the schools and other such matters.

In the meantime, people who might well serve us better often find it difficult to get involved. In Cook County an eerily familiar scenario is playing out. County Board President John Stroger won the March primary and a week later had a stroke. No one but family and doctors have seen him since. This week, he issued a letter declining the nomination and recommending that his son, Todd, replace him on the ballot. The letter was unsigned. Eyebrows went up; a second version, containing a scrawled signature, appeared the next day.

Democratic committeemen will decide who the nominee will be. Good luck to any candidate not named Stroger.

In the 17th Congressional District version of this soap opera, at least seven willing people were deprived of the chance of a full-blown shot at the Democratic nomination after incumbent Lane Evans won and then declined the nomination. Lots of people feeling shut out, because, well, they were. Before that, of course, was the 36th Senatorial District thing, where we swapped the old Sen. Jacobs for a new Sen. Jacobs in advance of the primary election.

Giving the favored one an appointment in advance of an election is a practice of both parties, old and if not honorable, at least common. Its evils include a hardening of the institutional arteries, which in turn contributes to consectutive gubernatorial campaigns in which the major issue will be who's the Biggest Crook.

The major battlefield will be television, which will dispense vicious ads, the enormous cost of which will be borne by people who are going to expect something in return for their investment: Honest, efficient government probably doesn't top many of the wish lists.

Is it too late for an independent candidacy? A place to turn for those many people who are more than ready to declare a pox on the houses of both major parties?

Posted by jcb at July 6, 2006 10:35 PM


It seems clear that our politicians care more for power and reelection than they do with the needs of the Country, but the voters just do not respond to Independent candidates - and the two party system seems very able to strangle the life out of any third-party attempts at life.

Posted by: havinfun at July 7, 2006 06:13 AM

I cringe when people talk about how antiquaited the 2 party system has become. Not because I disagree, but because I feel they are only giving lip service. Because 90% of the time (made up statistic) the same people that are spouting off about the lack of candidates that represent their values and the fact that every politician is in bed with special interests, they go ahead and support a major party candidate. They show support with money, with votes, and with apathy.

The state of politics in Illinois is indeed sad. And even as young as I am, I have already realized that nothing is going to change. I will continue to try my hardest, but I feel like people may bitch, but they are actually content with how things are. Why else would they continue to put up with it?

Posted by: Robbie at July 7, 2006 08:59 AM

Preach it, Brother John! As a proud member of the POBTH Party (Pox On Both Their Houses), reform is needed. But the Dems and GOP have all the power and have tailored the laws to favor the two parties and hinder insurgencies.

So what can a POBTH Party member do? Not much, but we need to find a way to encourage independent candidates, since legislative reform ain't gonna happen.

Phil Hare is an abomination. The position of Congressman of the 17th Dist. is too important and should never have been left to a handful of party elites. My hope is that someone will come out against the Politburo and run as an independent. Even if they don't win, it will give a green light signal to those wishing for a full-blown primary in '08 to gear up and proceed.

And unfortunately, we are hampered by the fact that the GOP has died in RICO.

It's just so frustrating----Phil Hare was on no one's radar screen as the successor to Lane's seat, yet there he is, all fat and happy and for all practical purposes, elected.

And don't get me started on the Jacobs.

It's just so aggravating it makes me want to declare jihad on the whole process.

Posted by: paladin at July 7, 2006 01:30 PM

Too bad Dan Hynes didn't run for Governor back in 2002. He had the support of the Democratic Party, but couldn't pull the trigger and commit to running. That opened the door to Rod Blagojevich, whose governing style and performance leave a lot to be desired. Hynes is known for rock-solid integrity and effective public service. Illinois Democrats need a good dose of that right now, so I hope Hynes plays a very active role in the upcoming statewide campaign.

But no one can bash Blagojevich without acknowledging that Judy Topinka is cut out of the same type of cloth. She governed this/closely to former Gov George Ryan. Ryan was one of her mentors.

Posted by: values matter at July 7, 2006 02:21 PM

Values matter -- What active role could Hynes -- or anyone -- play in this campaign? That would be helpful?

Posted by: jcb at July 7, 2006 03:44 PM

Dan Hynes' public service career has been defined by its integrity and professionalism.
He successfully enacted the first "Rainy Day Fund" in the state's history, so that during sunny economic times the state would set aside funds to use in emergency times. He has spent the past two years pushing a major campaign finance reform plan that would help clean up the bi-partisan system of campaign finance in Springfield.

Some say Hynes is bland, but his kind of leadership by example, leadership though fiscal responsibility and integrity, is a pretty damn good thing right now.

What role can he play? If I were the Governor, I would ask him to play a major role talking about how the Governor inherited a $4.5 billion deficit from Ryan and through some belt-tightening (including shrinking the number of state employees), the state is in better fiscal shape.

Let's face it. Hynes is a more responsible kind of public official than Blagojevich. He takes public office very seriously. The Governor should give him a very visible role, which would help the entire Democratic Party's ticket.

Posted by: values matter at July 7, 2006 04:17 PM

The problems with the party appointment process that jcb mentions are that 90% of all incumbents are re-elected. Don't let the politicians feed you the line that they are doing a good job that is why they are re-elected - they benefit from a system that has been designed to secure incumbent victory. This includes ridiculously gerrymandered districts, immovable party bosses, and an unfair monetary system – among other things. Incumbents not only have the built-in advantages that working for the public entails, but they also automatically get the most money. 80% of all PAC money goes to incumbents – the PACs have limited resources so they spend it on those that have the greatest chance to win (incumbents). Moreover, the media follows the candidates they think will win so there is little those that paladin would support can do. The average person is shutout or told to shut-up. I tried to enter the process outside of this scenario and I was vilified locally. Unfortunately, the focus is only on one day - Election Day. What a candidate will do is completely secondary to whether the candidate can maneuver through the political electoral labyrinth and get elected.

Posted by: Rob Mellon at July 7, 2006 05:29 PM

I saw Senator Evan Bayh tonight in Davenport. He was stumping on behalf of Bruce Braley, the Dem's #1 hope of reclaiming a GOP House seat. Bayh was pretty impressive tonight, speaking forcefully about how Democrats needs to fight back hard when attacked on patriotism and values by Karl Rove and Co. He also showed the crowd a map of Indiana in 2004, in which all but one county voted Republican. Yet Bayh won with 70 % of the vote.

The obvious political plus for Bayh is that Democrats, desperate to win back the White House, will want a proven vote getter in red county/red state America. But will Bayh have enough Buzz to be the guy? Stay tuned.

John Edwards just took first in an Iowa poll of Dems, beating Clinton, Bayh, Warner and Kerry.

Posted by: values matter at July 7, 2006 11:54 PM

I would like to say that Rob Mellon didn't even get 1% of the vote for congress. I feel that he should look inward. This was a race that was not influenced by money. Hare won in a landslide. Maybe you are a sore loser that just won't admit that no one liked your ideas and the better man won.

Posted by: Anonymous at July 9, 2006 11:25 AM

Does the following quote belong to George Bush or Evan Bayh?

"We need to leave in a way that leaves that (Iraq) country as stable as we can because it's in our best interests that there not be a regionwide war break out that would destabilize the entire Middle East".

For the answer, go here.

Posted by: paladin at July 9, 2006 01:37 PM

Paladin, your link is broken.

Posted by: Huck Finn at July 9, 2006 07:35 PM

My comments were not in reference to merely the recent Democratic nomination I am talking about the entire process. If you do not think that money is the driving force in modern politics then you are blind. I stand by all of my comments and the statistics that I mentioned can be verfied very easily.

Posted by: Rob Mellon at July 9, 2006 10:01 PM

dear 11:25 anonymous, i was just wondering how many votes you got in the recent election? because i am pretty sure rob mellon got more votes than you. so if you are judging validity of opinions based on votes received, then you can kindly keep your mouth shut :-D

i may be in minority for what i know, but i personally enjoy rob mellons opinions...

Posted by: Robbie at July 9, 2006 10:23 PM

Mr. Mellon has been one of the more responsible and reasonable posters on this board. And unlike most of us, myself included, he offers not just criticism but puts forth suggestions and possible paths to solve issues and problems. He is even very gracious to the personal attacks and criticism he receives. Whether I agree with his logic or not, I respect his sensibility and desire to see and be a part of progress instead of ignoring the current stagnancy in our country, as so many other politicians in this nation do.

Posted by: NMP at July 10, 2006 02:56 PM

Sorry Huck, for whatever reason, my link to the siouxcityjournal.com story about Bayh's appearance there didn't work. Being the technomoron than I am, I wasn't able to retrieve it.

So the answer to my question was "Evan Bayh".

Sorry for being so ignorant, but please have compassion. ;-)

Posted by: paladin at July 10, 2006 04:16 PM

Mr. Beydler, you make have a point but I'm not sure it's political process that drives voters crazy. I think it's inaction on significant public policy --- like the free flow of American jobs overseas and the exploding federal deficit -- that drives people to vote independent.

Remember 1992. It was Ross Perot's constant harping about the federal deficit that gained him traction and several million votes. Fast forward. We now face the largest deficit and this is after a so-called "consevative" administration. There is nothing "conservative" about this reckless fiscal policy.

I would suggest to you that that issue may drive folks into the independent column this fall, if a credible third party ticket emerges for President and Vice President. And that is also why candidate Phil Hare must be a credible leader on the deficit issue. Andrea Zinga, so far, says she'll be a rubber stamp for Bush's disastrous fiscal policies. Not good enough.

Posted by: values matter at July 10, 2006 04:44 PM

Values Matter -- inaction on significant public policy matters is a key element in the disaffection with the political process.

Closely tied to credibility on the deficit is health care. It is well past time for the federal government to use its buying power to drive down the unconscionable cost of drugs. Walmart's but the latest example of how a big buyer can control prices.

Posted by: jcb at July 10, 2006 07:38 PM

The recent faux democrat primary in the 17th District offers a quick but shameful gaze at the corruptness of modern politics faced by the average American voter. The Local Party put it right up front, do not expect consideration unless you can beg, borrow or steal a million dollars for the run for the roses. Now how many of the candidates have or could really be expected to come up with such an enormous sum of money? Even Hare who was awarded the bootlicking nomination did not have that kind of money on hand. In fact he will be relying on the same benefactors that the Party always relies on when it come to raising election money. Yet if the Party were really one big brotherhood it should not have mattered who won, most of the normal money benefactors should have rallied around the chosen candidate. The money should never have been an issue in the faux primary. But the truth of the matter is that unless the elite moneychangers are satisfied that the chosen candidate will push the right buttons and twirl the puppets dance that allows the elitists control of the party, they tie up the purse strings. We only need to look at the State of Illinois’ long running soap opera saga of “As Our Governor’s Stomach Turns” to see just part of what that puppet dance brings to our politics. The names and faces change but the puppet show continues to repeat the same syndicated stench of corruption. It has become very simple in politics, the higher the office you aspire to, the more of your soul and ideals you must be willing to sell to the elite puppet-masters.

Posted by: NMP at July 13, 2006 12:11 PM

NMP, until Illinois and Washington change the way we run political campaigns money will continue to be the "mother's milk of politics" whether we like it or not. We have to change the campaign finance system first, on the state level and the national level. Remember when George Bush first ran for President? All the buzz was that he could raise the most money -- $150 million, largely from the oil companies and corporate elites. I'm sure that makes your stomach turn as well.

Our political candidates are stuck in this process of having to raise lots of money to do paid TV, radio, newspaper and direct mail. That doesn't mean Phil Hare or Andrea Zinga or Jim Nussle are unethical; it means that in order to be competitive and viable they have to be prolific fundraisers.

I'm not sure who the "elite puppetmasters" you are referring to. Would that be the oil companies who dump millions into Bush-Cheney campaigns? The labor unions that dump millions into Democratic campaigns?

We need to reform the system, not smear those running for office. They're doing the tough work. Try it sometime. Not easy.

Campaign finance reform is the challenge and the issue, not ripping the character of candidates for public office, whether it's Zinga, Hare, Whalen, Braley, etc.

Posted by: values matter at July 13, 2006 01:17 PM

I agree with the idea that most politicians get into the business for the right reasons: although there are some people that are now schooling themselves for a lifetime of living off the taxpayer. But as my post talked about once in the business it is almost impossible to stay clean if you are a successful candidate. The cards are stacked against an honest citizen holding and succeeding to hold a position in our government. It just requires too much payola and knee-bending to get in office and even more to stay there. As seen with our last three governors you wind up owing a lot of political favors. And it does not stop at local and state government positions. As I was attempting to point out in my previous post, the higher you climb the more favors you owe. To be a powerful politician or be someone with a long track record of serving in politics you have to make friends to survive in the puppet-show. And I don't mean the kind of friends you invite over for a cold Pepsi and a hamburger on the grill. You have to be making friends that don't mind shelling out thousands of dollars for a steak dinner and a photo-op session. It is a true bi-partisan effort; sell your soul and your ideals to the elitist puppet-masters to stay in the political game. The longer any politician stays in the puppet show the less I trust that individual. I think every Politician and every political worker should have term limits with a maximum set at eight years similar with the Presidency. There should be a complete staff change-over at the end of every politicians tenure. The crooks and puppet-masters will still run the show but they will have to corrupt the idealists before they can have complete mastery. Hopefully it would limit corruption during earlier parts of the tenure. And who knows it might flush out some of the bad seeds and skullduggery that is taking place behind closed doors. Some people do not corrupt easy and spill their knowledge when being forced by pressure from within. I think long-term political lifers only leads to people who should be out of the business controlling and selling out our country.

Posted by: NMP at July 14, 2006 03:39 AM