May 23, 2009
BY CAROL MARIN Sun-Times Columnist
Prime time producers at NBC are missing the boat. They should be camped out in Springfield next week, home of the Illinois Legislature, plotting their next pilot.
Forget "I'm A Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here" with the stoic, long-suffering Patti Blagojevich and her feckless sidekick, Goofy Governor Rod. That's so yesterday.
Time to launch the sequel: "I'm a Reformer . . . Get Me Out of Here."
Springfield lawmakers led by the real governor, House Speaker Michael Madigan, have set out far tougher survival tests for would-be reformers than shimmying up the Tower of Terror or eating roasted-rodent-on-a-stick.
Madigan's commandos consider that child's play.
Former prosecutor Patrick Collins, who leads the Illinois Reform Commission, was a formidable force in federal court when he sent former governor George Ryan and four of Mayor Daley's minions to the joint, but when it comes to changing the system in Springfield, even Collins has had to rethink and retrench.
This is a guerrilla war where even your legislative friends are really your enemies because, in the end, they'll never vote against Madigan, who controls the vast Democratic Party war chest that can make or break them in their next bid for re-election.
Mess with Madigan and he can crush you politically. The rank-and-file members of the Legislature have been scared silly of being voted off the island.
In Illinois, money is power. So when Collins' commission argues that there should be real limits on campaign contributions and that leaders such as Madigan can't be allowed to give limitless donations to designated legislators, well, you know this is the front line in the war for reform.
Do lawmakers care that you've been calling and e-mailing and faxing in your views on passing a real package of reforms in Illinois?
No. It's not an election year.
And when the legislative leaders don't bother to respond to your calls -- a number of you have written in anger and frustration after failing to reach Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton -- then you get the picture about how important you are vs. how important they are.
And if nothing else drives home that point, consider this: Tucked inside the capital bill that will bring home the bacon to lawmakers' districts in the form of bridges and roads, there's an interesting little window into their priorities.
The Senate bill sets aside $250 million to refurbish legislative offices in Springfield but is eliminating $100 million set aside for affordable housing in Illinois.
That outrages Greg Pierce, a longtime affordable housing activist with United Power for Action and Justice. "To spend $250 million to buy yourself better drapes and cut out the first $100 million ever for state-sponsored affordable housing . . . dem-onstrates how legislative leaders don't understand what's going on."
A reform rally in Highland Park last weekend drew a whopping 800 to 1,000 people who showed up to cheer Collins.
Maybe citizens finally are getting angry. But don't count on it making any difference. The fact that legislative leaders Friday sud-denly deferred action on a bill capping campaign contributions until next week doesn't demonstrate a certain jitteriness down in Springfield. It means next week they'll try to kill the whole measure.
Your calls and e-mails haven't penetrated the Madigan defensive shield.
Yes, the leadership and the rank-and-file hate the campaigns waged by the Sun-Times and Tribune and newspapers across the state in favor of a comprehensive package of reforms. But they believe we -- and you -- will go away.
Prove them wrong. On the next page are numbers and e-mail addresses for lawmakers. And the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, www.ilcampaign.org, can help you find your lawmaker.
Tell them the reformers run the island now.
If they don't agree, make them eat bugs and vote them off.