June 5, 2013
When you mix royal Illinois political houses, ambition, jealousy and power, what do you get?
A whiff of blood in the air over Madiganistan.
Madiganistan, the state known to outsiders as Illinois, is ruled by the ruthless and all-powerful imp, House Speaker Michael Madigan, boss of the Illinois Democratic Party.
And it could just be that the landscape is changing, ever so slightly, as William Daley, former White House chief of staff and U.S. commerce secretary, turns up the volume on apossible run for governor.
"After what happened in Springfield last week, I am considering it even more strongly than before," Daley told me over the phone on Tuesday. "The inaction down there, the chaos, they're thinking politics, but they're not thinking about the state or the taxpayers."
Daley hasn't been jabbing at Madigan as much as he's been jabbing at Gov. Pat Quinn, but Daley's commentary about the ineffective legislative leadership is also clear. Madigan failed to address the unavoidable carbuncle on the state's finances:
An estimated $100 billion liability in the public pension funds.
The official explanation was that Madigan and his apprentice, state Senate President John Cullerton, D-Jimmy DeLeo, couldn't work out a pension deal.
But if Madigan wanted a pension deal worked out, it would have been worked out. Why? Boss Madigan controls the legislature, the state Supreme Court and more. He draws the state's political maps.
He is like Oz with real power. All tremble at his approach. Even Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
The common wisdom had it that Boss Madigan would install his daughter, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, as governor. Princess Lisa has been raising money, and political grovelers have been squabbling with each other over who will kiss the hem of her gown.
Meanwhile, Madigan and Cullerton have tried their best to hamstring the governor. They've been relentless, weakening the governor for Lisa the way hyenas hamstring a beast so their pups can experience the thrill of that final bite.
But if common wisdom were absolute, then Daley wouldn't be wasting his time talking about a campaign. And he's talking.
Daley floated his gubernatorial campaign months ago in this column, and later sat for an interview on my daily talk radio show on WLS-AM. The idea that a Daley would sit with me for an hour in a small, windowless room without a weapon seemed inconceivable once.
His ambition waned a bit, at least publicly, but in the last few days, it's become ravenous again. He's not only talking to me, he talked extensively this week with the Tribune's Springfield correspondent, Ray Long, who got this tremendous quote from Daley:
"Squeezy the Python was there, and he couldn't squeeze anybody," Daley said, referencing the cartoon character created by Quinn's brain trust to illustrate how pension costs squeeze money from state programs. "The governor couldn't squeeze anybody. ... Is that how things are going to work? We're looking at another five years of this? I don't think so."
For all my criticism of the Daleys, Bill is accomplished, experienced and ready to become governor. Sources say Daley is meeting with bankers, power brokers, fundraisers, figuring that he'll need $6 million to $10 million to challenge the governor. He is expected to decide sometime next week.
The governor on Tuesday wasn't amused by Daley's comments.
"There's always going to be huffing and puffing on the sidelines by people who may want to be candidates for some office, including this one," Quinn said. "I'm in the arena. I'm working hard every day. I think people know from my lifetime that I work hard on important and hard issues and I don't give up until I'm done."
Daley wouldn't be interested in a three-way race with Quinn and Madigan. But a one-on-one against Quinn might give an opening. And Quinn, for all the wounds he's taken, may still be formidable.
Illinois voters don't think the governor is in politics for the money. And he's held to his principles on expansion of gambling and other issues.
Though Princess Lisa has obvious advantages, her problem is that voters may already be sick of being ruled by her father.
If she becomes governor and her father remains speaker and Democratic Party boss, we might as well all just kneel and put our foreheads to the ground. And so a rumor has been floated, almost as if by coincidence, that if she runs and wins in the Democratic primary, Boss Madigan will resign as speaker.
But he'd never give up the Democratic Party chairmanship, which controls the political money and the rest. He could put a robot in Springfield and run things. So whether he steps down from the speaker's office he's held for three decades or not, he'll remain in power, as the hand of the queen.
Republicans will make this an issue. And the one thing the ruthless imp doesn't like is the spotlight.
Republican Bruce Rauner, the wealthy former venture capitalist, will make the Madigans an issue. Rauner is expected to formally announce his candidacy this week.
And so would Dan Proft, the WLS-AM radio talk show host who is considering another run as the lone conservative.
Right now, though, on the Democratic side, it's up to Bill Daley.
The Daleys don't play politics by accident. They don't let passion rule them when it comes to taking power.
If Bill Daley gets in this, it will be because he thinks — or knows — that Princess Lisa has decided to opt out.
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