Tuesday, February 28, 2006


The Auditor General of Illinois is an appointive, constitutional officer. The Office exists to keep the state from wasting money and to detect any unsafe financial practices or diversion. Unfortunately, this one has taken to wasting money himself. Wonder who audits the Auditor?

The AudGen conducts required budgetary audits. These, called "compliance" audits, are the ones that really make sure money is being spent on the proper line items and there are documents to back up every major expenditure. This is very important, vital work.

Over time, the AudGen has crept into another type of audit, much less useful. These are called "performance" audits. These are supposed to measure the effectiveness of programs. They are really just public advocacy @ the taxpayers' expense.

The AudGen released one of these last Wednesday about business and job incentives from the Governor's Dept. of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO). Essentially the quarrel with the DCEO reporting was their using projections and counting training opportunities as"jobs created". It is impossible to read his report and see where it saved the State of Illinois any money. In fact whatever it cost for AudGen to do the audit and prepare the report is lost money.

I'm going to raise just two points about so-called performance audits of legislatively approved Deparment programs. First, I thought it was the job of the electorate to rate the job performance of our officials and that we do that every four years. Second, performance audits are only conducted "at the request of legislators". What a concept! We get close to election time and unfriendly legislators ask the AudGen to poke and prod at the Gov's numbers. Out of that we get a real scoop. Elected Officials sometimes overstate their accomplishments! Wow, it took a "performance audit" for us to figure that out.

The Auditor General should not be allowed to engage in wasteful activities any more than the other constitutional officers. Given there was no indication any money was mispent or that any of the funds used were not authorized by the legislature, it is impossible to find any value in this exercise.If the AudGen wants to go into politics and public advocacy, he should see Ralph Nader and sign up as a volunteer. If he wants to oppose the Governor, he should go sign up with Giddy, Obie or Spike (Brady being comprehensively hopeless in all respects). If, however, he wants to save Money for the People of Illinois, he should get back to Audit Trails and Get off the Campaign Trail.

Monday, February 27, 2006


You get, "Spread the Love" emails? Sometimes they just have text. Some have photos Some have really cutesy graphics of, for example, a purple teddy bear swinging on an idyllic park swing. Under the heading of "Overkill", some of them even have insidious background music. They go something like this "Love is [picture of puppy]. Love is [picture of rainbow]. Love is [picture of banana split]. Love is [picture of two little girls playing dolls]....que the background music......Shouldn't you tell those you love how you feel. Are you too busy for those you love? I'm sending you this to let you know how much you're loved [picture of big, red, animated heart in background]. If you want to spread the love, send this email to 350 of your closest friends sometime in the next 15 seconds and then send a copy to me to prove you did and because I'm so freaking insecure I need affirmation constantly....."

Sometimes these little guilt trip beauties will have religious backdrops and sometimes they'll give a sermonette about how we're all too busy to show the love and we really should do better. I guess this is designed to make us all want to move to Vermont and do wood carving or macrame while we wait for the sap to run. This would also leave us time to send elaborate caligraphy to our loved ones. Somehow, I just can't see St. Peter being particularly concerned at the pearly gates with whether I mass-forwarded a computer file to a bunch of people who already know I care for them. It pretty much just convinces me the sender might be a little too needy/clingy. For a topper, Sometimes we'll even be promised a curse of some vague sort in the event we don't forward the little electronic bucket of love to the equivalent of the entire population of New Zealand. ("The last man who failed to forwarded these blessed wishes, suffered through 38 years of jock itch").

To those of you who are simply compelled to send these electronic love spams, please leave me out. First, I'm perfectly capable of selecting a medium to tell my loved ones who they are. Second, I receive about 1000 non-spam email transactions in four different boxes a day. There is just no time to fit reading of gooey cyber-valentines into this challenge. Third, one of my best friends sells paper greeting cards for a living. I don't want him to lose his job. Fourth, if you really want to like me and tell me what swell pals we are, compose something yourself, and hold the dancing teddy bears soap opera synthesizer music. If your write it yourself and you don't ask me to forward it to my entire family tree, my second grade teacher's ex-husband and partridge in a pear tree, I'll read it.

So do me a favor and don't do me a favor. Save the cyber love chains.
I'm already wearing the paint off my "delete" button.

Sunday, February 26, 2006


Everyone in the world, with the possible exception of Ozzie Guillen, self-censors a bit. As I noted a few days ago, there are certain topics I can't discuss. It seems a good idea to spell out the boundaries of my self-censorship on this page.

Because I'm City Attorney, it would be inappropriate to discuss any pending matter of or before the City. The Mayor has recently done something that I really would like to applaud but it would be impossible to sort out the parts of my knowledge that are privileged and the parts that come from being a private citizen. Similarly, there are often things I want to say about pending legislation. It would feel good to use this Board as a support device for creative work the Council wants to do but there is just a chance that would make some Alderman or Department Head worry their conversations with me weren't protected. That's the prime purpose of the Attorney-Client Privilege, to have clients feel completely free to be as candid as possible. So, much as I would like to, can't discuss City Policy, personnel or CIty business. That's an absolute.
Similarly, because I represent a municipality, it is not wise for me to talk about any proposed State Law which would impact munipalities. The city has lobbying capabilities but that is not in my job description. The last thing in the world I would want to do is say something which would be contrary to any strategy the City or its municipal allies would have adopted.
That doesn't mean I can't discuss an overview of some things where I might have some unique knowledge such as Human Rights Law, Homeland Security, Law Enforcement, Environmental Law, Eminent Domain and Baseball (not necessarily in order of importance).
For a number of legal reasons, I can't make referrals or discuss the legal abilities of private lawyers. I may occasionally discuss the ups or downs of public figures who happen to be lawyers (For example, I have a little essay coming up on Elliott Abrams which might surprise my democrat colleagues and our Republican Friends).
The law says I have a 24/7/365 duty not to say or do anything that reflects discredit upon the legal system. In a case where I have no involvement, I am allowed to say that I think the court got it wrong or a certain attorney may have adopted an incorrect or confusing strategy, but I am not allowed, nor do I foresee a situation where I should, suggest a result was reached for any ulterior purpose or as a result of any improper conduct or inducement. Fortunately, here in Western Illinois, we have an excellent judiciary and a diligent practicing bar. There are cases reversed on appeal from time to time but those usually are close calls under existing law or the result of the law being a dynamic and constantly changing set of principles, not because of any improper motives. Again, that doesn't mean that, where a public figure who may also be a lawyer says something incorrect, I am not free to disagree here.
At the risk of underscoring the obvious, I'll add I can't identify private or institutional clients or talk about developments in their cases. Those of you have read my journal for some time know I actually crossed that line once when I wrote of my personal heartbreak over a client closing down its operation. In that case, the activity was already public as a consequence of heavy press coverage. I was not writing about the substance of the activity but about how it all made me feel. Also, I had the client's permission. Still, that won't happen again.
So we have the paradox of a relatively opinionated guy having to operate in the context of rules-based self-censorship. It's a tough trick. The only thing I can promise is that, if readers ask for something and I can't take it up, I'll tell you I can't take address it. I won't temporize. You may ask perfectly valid questions but they may be ones I can't decently take up. I'll be honest about that.
Both my mother and the Illinois Supreme Court have informed me of the importance of civility. My approach in life and in cyberspace is that civility is the default. If the default does not work in a certain cyberexchange, then the possibility of escalating unpleasantness is not off the table. In other words, the general rule is that I'll be as polite as you allow me to be. I probably won't call you a mouth-breathing, gap-toothed, knucklehead, genetic link-drop unless you establish clearly that's what you want your cyberpersonality to be, in which case I'll ultimately assume permission to describe you as such.
Finally, I really cannot be in charge of a site where the comments section might cross any of the lines I mention above or involve me in conduct that would not bring credit upon the legal system. I'm going to write about moderation in a separate section but let me explain briefly how the setup here works. When someone posts a comment, it goes into a holding tank and I'm notified. I review the comment. If the comment doesn't contain any indecent language, is not defamatory and doesn't move the site into any of the above areas, I punch a key and the comment becomes public. Unless the commentor is a registered blogger and chooses to identify, this system is set up so I never know the id of the commentator, even after I approve it. That's an interesting tradeoff, but it made sense to me when I set this up. Simply because a comment disagrees with my opinion or is unflattering to me is no reason for me to reject it. Fair's fair. Please try us.
Your comments will be given the respect they deserve and you might be exposed to some that expand your horizons.

Saturday, February 25, 2006


The USA won an Olympic medal in the sport of curling. That's great. Still, I can't help thinking: If the Olympic Committee can get curling into the Winter Games, why can't it find a way to keep baseball and softball, already there, in the Summer Games?

Especially with the softball, you think that displays just a bit of Anti-USA bias by the IOC? I do.

The real pain will be felt by baseball players and fans all over the world.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Topinka has made a political career out of being everybody's favorite bartender, a little raspy, a little edgy, something to set her apart. That's great for a minor office. Governor's different. Everything's under a microscope.
Gidwitz sits third right now, a chunk behind Topinka, in between is extreme right Oberweiss who pegs at about 20%. Giddy must take Topinka's name recognition and use it against her. That means simply that he must drive up her negatives while selling his professionalized approach to Government. Trick is, he must do it tastefully enough that he doesn't drive any voters over to Obie. Obie can't win but he can keep Giddy from winning by getting 22, 23%. Giddy's scenario has to be he gets to maybe 33-31-20, ten undecided and six for Brady (although that high a number for Brady is difficult to imagine--everything's fine until he starts to talk.). If enough of that ten per cent see momentum and jump, Giddy can picture himself nipping Spike at the wire.
Sound preposterous? Can you say Carole Mosely Braun? At least Giddy's got a scenario you can work out with a calculator. CMB was just, "Where did That come from?"

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Some folks have a smile that will light up a room. Some don't. Lisa H-G does. The incumbent doesn't. Doesn't mean she's not a nice lady or that she has nice friends or even that she's made many enemies in office. She just doesn't have a high beams personality.
Usually, the challenger has to give some kind of reason for ousting an incumbent (and I'm not saying Lisa won't do that, too.). Every once in awhile, someone will just catch on and the public will attach itself to him or her. Certainly, Charlie Williams did not make a compelling case for his first election as Recorder and his opponent had great credentials and was well liked. Still Charlie had the "High Beams" on all the time.
The other reason it's really difficult to run against a "High Beam" candidate is that, for some reason, races like that are "unpollable". You can do all the telephone surveys you want from either party. People aren't going to know how they'll vote until they fill in the circle.
For the incumbent, running against Lisa is a little like Catching Michigan State in the first round of the NCAA tournament. May not be a high seed but they're the team nobody wants to play.
If the money's even close to equal, this is dangerous race for Big Red.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The right of workers, public or private, to organize for their common good is precious and powerful. I am privileged to represent some unions in court and the collective power of unified workers can be astounding. Likewise, union endorsements can also be powerful. In order to have that power, endorsements, in my experience, must appear to be based upon a fair process and must be related to legitimate interests of the labor organization's constituents.
Fairness is usually shown that all candidates have had a fair chance to present credentials and be heard. I remember a State Central Committeeman race some years ago where a union only heard from one of five candidates, endorsed that one and publicized their endorsement. Not only did that approach not help the candidate but the union leadership was also later ousted by members who supported the ultimately winning candidate. Those wounds took a long time to heal. A wise local president will go to great pains to appear fair, even if he or she supports one particular candidate.
The other prong is usually not a problem but comes up sometimes. A coal miners' local in another state once endorsed a legislative candidate based solely upon that candidate's position on abortion. Members and union sympathizers were offended at the local going so far afield from the local's legitimate business interests. This led to an upset of a candidate in a favorable district who really should have won.
Sometimes the collective bargaining process gets all tied up with political support. Public Empoyees' Unions and municipalities should avoid contracts ending in election years at all costs.
When Employer and Union Bargain, they first agree on ground rules. One of them is that what is said in the bargaining room is kept private in the bargaining room. Tempers sometimes flare in bargaining. Sometimes proposals get floated to avoid impasse which, upon examination, are not practical. In order to protect everyone reputation damage and to encourage the free flow of information, the only things that ever leave the bargaining room are the "deal points" mutually agreed upon and the final form of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Thus it is never fair for the Government Employer to say it "Prevented" or "Refused" this or that proposal by the Union and it is never fair for the Union to make public statements about the conduct of the Employer's bargaining team in bargaining sessions. What happens in the bargaining room, unless it's a crime, stays in the bargaining room.
Within in those bounds, in my opinion, it is perfectly appropriate for the Union to support the ouster of an incumbent officeholder they feel is unsympathetic and equally fair for the officeholder to campaign on the basis of keeping union power in check. Both are a little predictiable and, for the average voter, kind of boring, but legitimate.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

For the next four weeks, I am going to be involved in two major projects for clients. I have prepared a number of journal entries and will post fairly regularly. I will look in on the moderation screen (I haven't screened anyone out yet) and approve posts at least daily. It is unlikely I'll be able to reply for at least the next week.
It is unlikely I'll be visiting anyone else's local or any of my usual membership blogs during that period. If readers have comments or questions for me, I'll try to answer when I look in to moderate. Thanks.

It seems like a trendy thing these days for progressives to be in favor of limiting private giving and publicly financing campaigns. Our state has wisely avoided doing that. We are a "disclosure" jurisdiction. There are no limits on contributions and there is no prohibition against corporate giving. The campaign just has to report its financial activities.
I guess there are two essential reasons for that, one legal and one practical. First, nobody's every really figured out how to do all that without limiting potential givers' first amendment rights. Second, and probably much more important, there are as many wealthy democrat givers in this state as there are republicans. Both parties have a disincentive to pass caps or public financing. I think that is a good thing.
Policitical fundraising is a discreet skill, that skill can help win elections. Someone with that hard earned advantage should not have it taken away when running for public office. Someone who has been diligent and clever and assembled a bunch of money should not have her right to give it away to a cause she believes in. And the clincher for me is that, if we equally and governmentally fund campaigns, it is only going to increase the power of "cause" PAC's who don't play by quite the same rules and could actually help chosen Illinois candidates from locations out of Illinois, avoiding our rules altogether.
Illinois has passed a lot of ethics rules for politicians and officials and that's fine. It hasn't changed the basic approach to political money. Voters can still get on the Web and "follow the money".

Monday, February 20, 2006

Illinois, like many other states, has gone to a pure early voting period. Some western states have been doing this for more than a decade. Some of my political friends from a southern state say it is a pain for campaigns. In Early voting, the voter needs none of the excuses or reasons required for absentee voting. They just come in and vote.
There are those who think this gives incumbents an advantage because some people will vote before the challenger has gotten his or her name fully established. My guess is that this would be true in Municipal Elections, where the cycle is short. In a Statewide General or Primary, if folks don't know who you are and what you stand for a month before the vote, you probably didn't have much of a chance anyhow. For a Countywide or Legislative District election, my guess would be the same in the November General. I don't know about a Countywide Primary. It might increase turnout, which would usually be good for an energetic challenger, but it would put the heat on the challenger to explain sooner why the incumbent should be put out of office.
In another State that has early voting, 5% of the citizens voted early in the '04 General. If that turns out to be the Early Vote in a County primary, there wouldn't be much impact. If it's something like 20%, primary candidate would have to rework entire campaign calendars. Instead of a concentrated message in the last two weeks, the hypothetical challenger would have to spread expenditures out over something like six weeks.
Early voting in even numbered years in Illinois could turn on Spring Vacations schedules, how convenient some folks find their polling places and how high the profile is for that race. RIght now candidates will have to make decisions based upon guesses or other state's data. Eventually we will know what an expected early turnout is and the political consultants will have a field day, explaining to candidates why they have to stretch out their final push.
It could be crazier. One state already has early voting by mail, without absentee excuse, on demand. I can think of about ten legal ways to take advantage of that, but they would all be expensive.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Most local folks may not realize it, but Jon McCoy is very good friend of mine. We don't see each other a lot but, if he needed any help in any phase of his personal life, he knows I'd give it. Likewise, if I called him to help with a problem, he'd be there. That's hard for some of my friends to process because Jon and I haven't always been such a good mix. Still, for the last twenty years or so, I have been glad to call him "friend".
Now, he's in elective politics and he wants to take another friend's job. That's his right. That's the process. But that brings us to the guy whose job he wants. Brent Fischer is my friend, my ballplayer, arguably my party's titular head. On the merits, I don't see where he's brought anything but credit to the office. In my book, he's an admirable person who keeps improving himself.
Both guys have fine families but I've been friends with the Fischers since Brent was 11.
Politics makes citizens choose between friends. In my case, it's not just how to vote. When I support a general election candidate, I'm in it up to my elbows. So I'm with the Fishman till the last dog dies. You won't hear me say a bad word about Jon McCoy, the man, but you won't have any trouble telling who I support. Jon won't be surprised. That's just the process.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

It is becoming clear what the McCoy campaign strategy is at this stage. He's going to events and being his usual, genial self. His people are telling everybody who will listen that he is in an uphill battle and it will really take a fantastic effort to knock Fish off. This is right off of page one of the Shrub playbook for 2000. Make it look like a potential blowout so, when it actually appears to be a presentable race in the fall, it will look like he's in middle of great upset with tremendous momentum.
This is a simple strategy to blunt. Simply expect a top notch effort out of Jon and prepare for it in all respects now. The only way this downplay strategy works is Fish and his close people start to buy into it. Apply the Charlie Williams theory: Run like you're 10,000 votes behind.
Still, you have to give the GOP leadership a lot of credit. They make it sound like Jon's one step away from a sleeping bag and a shopping cart. Good Strategy, Good Message Discipline. One Problem: Fish isn't listening.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Yesterday I might have been a little hard on the Governor. It's only because I wish he'd humanize himself a little so people could see how good his intentions really are. I supported him in the '02 primary and the general and was proud to attend his inauguration. There's nothing wrong with his heart or mind. I just wish, about once a month, he'd go to a coffee shop or a Legion Hall or a grain elevator and chew the fat with real people for a few minutes.
He's had to dig us out of a huge hole financially so he's still struggling to get his brand on some programs. History will probably credit him with being the Gov. who emphasized shrinking government through use of applicable technology. It would be nice if he got another term to actually lead the state somewhere. The poor guy has just spent four years patching holes in the boat he inherited from Ryan. So, if I left any doubt yesterday, I was just calling on my friend to improve his style. There's no doubt he's going to get my vote two more times, March and November.
The "World Baseball Championship" sounds so cool, how could one be against it. Because it is just a slapdash idea by Bud Selig to take the focus off of steroid abuse? Because it is a gambit to prevent the excellent baseball-playing world (Japan in particular but Taiwan, Korea and Australia are coming fast) from having a professional team in a real World Series? Because it comprehensively screws up Spring Training for the established, attractive produc, MLB? Because ARod or Jeter or Ivan Rodriguez might be lost to their teams for a year due to an injury in these mere exhibition games? Yeah, those are all pretty good reasons.
Having said that, one good thing will come out of it. We will get to see the fantastic talent still playing baseball, anonymous to the world, in Cuba. One of the tragic features of Cuba's outlaw status is the number great baseball talents the world has never gotten to see. Still a bad idea but I'll watch the Cubans play anybody.

Thursday, February 16, 2006


Our governor did yesterday what he always does when he's trying to bolster his numbers, gave a speech promising new spending programs. As nearly as I can tell, he has no close advisors who would know Rockford for Rochester or Kankakee from Kaskaskia. They would never consider just letting him sit down with some journalists and talk about what is in his fairly generous and responsible heart. He soldiers on predictably, governing by speech and press conference. So why, then, didn't he lose the news cycle for what will be characterized as his obvious attempt to buy our votes with our own money?

Ah, that's where our heroine, tough gal Judy Barr "Spike" Topinka comes in. In lines ripped right out of a "B' women's prison movie, she warned the other GOP candidates not to "Mess with me". In her raspy, whiskey-and-cigarette voice, she said that three or four times to open mikes. She never really said "or what?" but I'm thinking knifing or automobile explosion, mob style. I guess she thinks she got the soccer moms so she's branching out and going after the Hell's Angels vote.

Anyhow, whatever she meant, she stole that news cycle with a monster bad impression as a unisex thug, thereby doing the impossible: made the Governor look better than he deserved. Keep it up, Spike! As remote and unengaged with the people of Illinois as Rod may seem to be, you could still manage to get him reelected. That is, if you don't expose yourself as such a thug that you get caught at the wire by Giddy/Rauschy or Obi-Whan Knobe Weiss.

Another day, we'll talk about Spike's pay-to-play running mate. One breathtakingly foolish performance a day is all I can fit in for now.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


Well, Sports Fans, we're in political spring training and the politicians are all trotting out their anti-meth positions. Almost all of this amounts to "I hate meth more than you do!" or " I'll try harder to bust meth than you will!" It's all pretty stupid.

Think about it. Do you know any registered, likely voters who are pro-meth? It's easy to be against. That takes no talent.

If someone has a genuinely new approach, great. Let's hear about it. Lisa Madigan, for example had an honest-to-God innovative approach for child protection. That was productive. Most other people running for Law Enforcement office just posture on the topic, just like they did with weed years ago and powder cocaine relatively recently.

We could skip a lot boredom and demagoguery if both candidates for Sheriff in any county would just agree that both of them think meth is terrible. Perhaps then they could move on to genuine differences about budgeting, assignments, rural crime, identity theft and things where the public might actually be able to learn something about the candidates and the office.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


I laugh when people who have never handled yard signs and wouldn't know a post-driver from an ashtray talk about other people's sign effort. In the first place getting the permissions and logging the data is damned hard work. Getting a crew with gear and written instructions takes some coordination. Getting a crew with a BAC of under .08 can frequently be challenge.

Once you get them up, you always find areas where you are weaker than you'd like to be. That starts another round of permission calling. Then there are always a few calls from people who gave permission and are having second thoughts (this is usually due to spousal discord and is usually an excellent indicication that divorce court is imminent.).

The next stage is always vandalism. This can be official vandalism where some mysterious authority says the sign is illegaly placed and must therefore be pulled. It can also be unofficial vandalism. With the old signs on driven poles, it used to be simply breaking the sign (took no talent at all). My old Buddy, Davey Sparks, once built an imregnable sign then hid out at a vantage point to watch the the vandals (in this case it was just kids, not Republicans) try to break it. Even though he's a very nice nice man Davey laughed until he got teared up when "One Kid damn near broke his shoulder and the sign didn't budge!" With the recent elevation of bag signs as the sign of choice, the vandalism has gone more to theft. The routine is simple (I'm sure this technique was developed by Halliburton), just put the frame of a sign, prongs down, into a garbage bag, boldly walk into the yard where the target sign has already been placed and stick your prongs down right next to the target sign. Cover the target sign with the bag, pull both frames out of the ground and carry the bag off and ditch the sign later. Go to Republican Headquarters (when there is one) and brag about how clever you are.

For some reason that I really don't understand the vandalism usually happens before the weather damage. You can just about count on, about three days before any election, there will be some severe weather event that will twist, mangle and otherwise rip up your signs. They are usually not hard to fix but it takes a concerted cruise to find and repair them.

The longer anyone has signs up the more of this kind of distress they will face. Being in charge of somebody's signs requires almost full time follow-up. I've always felt like the signmaster in any campaign ought to be allowed to take each sign as a dependent/exemption in that year's tax return. For a brief period they require as much attention as children.

Quincy is a yard sign city. Other towns, Decatur and Carbondale for examples are much less interested in yard signs. It must be some kind of cultural, John Wood thing. That puts a lot of pressure on signmasters. It's not a job for people who like to sleep late or who can't adapt quickly to changing circumstances. We have had some real professionals in their day, both parties. Dave Nuessen, in his JayCee days, was probably the best of all time for Citywide Races. For a County Board District or a Ward Race, you couldn't beat team of Davey Sparks and Jim Cookson. In Gubernatorial race, Cookson once got a yard sign placed for the opponent of the property owner's employer. George Sackett was the best in the world at getting permission on cold call to some property owner. He'd just knock on the door and ask. If he got a "yes", the sign would be up and he'd be out of there before the property owner could reconsider. Judge John Wooleyhan had the same skill. Instead of thinking "Who will let me put up a sign?", he would think 'Where do I need a sign?" Spot the house and go secure permission. No candidate ever did that better.

Anyway, to get back to my basic point, Being the signmaster is a huge job. Those signs call to the signmaster 24/7. From the time they go up until the bags, frames poles and hard signs are stored, that signmaster bears a huge weight on his or her shoulders.

When most people see a yard sign, they just see a little political advertising or a little sight pollution, depending upon attitude. Those who have been in the game, see the evidence that someone has undertaken a huge responsibility and, irrespective of political party, admire it when it's done well.

Monday, February 13, 2006

I'd have been a Republican.....

..if I had been active in politics in the 1850's. Those guys had all the progressive ideas and they had recruited the best guys from the Whigs, Democrats and "Know Nothings".

It's weird. Then we went through the industrial age and the democrats were the ones with new views about how Gov't could legitimately help people (To all those of you who have drunk deeply of the Fox/Rush Kool Aid: Yeah, I understand we could have a great polemic discussion about whether they were "right". Let's not. That's not my point here). That sort of pooped out in the seventies. Then Democrats came to stand for more decency in Gov't--probably, more accurately, less indecency. It was sort of "Vote for me because I'm not Nixon!".

Then the GOP got Newt and the Dems got the DLC. Democrats run for office trying to convince people they weren't really democrats. Republicans run for office on the premise that Gov't doesn't work then, once elected, set out to prove they were right (with apologies to P.J. O'Rourke for the paraphrase). That's pretty much where we are now.

Are the Democrats where the Whigs were in about 1854? Do they need to blow themselves up and and find an identity and a new set of unifying principles? It's close. Just for example, Tom Vilsak has been running for president for about a year. Great Guy, Compelling Story. But has he laid down a marker about how a Vilsak presidency would make us better? Has he said what the general approach to foreign policy in a Vilsak administration would be? Has he said how he'd deal with nuclear proliferation in Korea and Iran? Has he taken a position on tariffs for Human Rights/Environmental international outlaws like China? No. That's typical of my party right now. With no dream, we're just contrarians. We're doing the impossible. Making gasbags like Rick Santorum and Saxby Chambliss look like real leaders.

We will probably do pretty well in the Senate in '06. That will mask the problem I'm talking about here. There is danger in that. Like the Whigs, there is danger to the democrat party in fooling itself. Election tactics are no substitute for a National Strategy.

At the State Level, we control both houses of the General Assembly, and not without some skill in the leadership positions. Of course, we inherited crippling debt from "Build Illinois/Illinois FIRST" Republican giveaway programs which were designed to purchase votes from Illinoisans by using the citizens' own money and thereafter to have the citizens grandchildren pay for them. So we have no money and are in no danger of getting any time soon. Still, what is the "signature" of this legislative period? I can't discern an overriding principle. We just sort of show up and get by. Sure, everybody responds to the lobbyists. That is not a leadership principle. It's a constant, just background noise. To my friends who are lobbyists, it's not a personal criticism. You know better than anyone else I'm right.

Sure, Illinois is a blue state and that's all fine. Imagine how good the democrat party could be, statewide and nationwide, if we had a set of principles that could excite people and to which our legislative and chief executive candidates could commit. We'll keep having successes. That is more a measure of the quality of our opponents in the large races that our own skill or value. Still, if we don't state some goals that working mothers and IT workers and small businessmen can get their arms around, we run the risk of being the next Major Political party in U.S. history to "Whig" itself.

Long before it was a popular song, my Dad used to say "If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything." He was talking about people but the same thing holds for institutions. My party doesn't have long to get this right.

Sunday, February 12, 2006


Like the song says, "One toe over the line." Gently and experimentally, I jump into the blogosphere.

Here are the beginning Rules of Engagement. I'm going to moderate comment for taste and personal attack. There will also be a death penalty for stupid. OTOH, there is a premium for arguing with me in clever ways. There is no Appeals Court. Like Rich Miller, I'm going to shut the comments off when I'm not available to moderate them. Sure, you will be able to get some offensive ones in from time to time before I moderate them. Does it mean that much to you? If you comment, take few seconds to assume a nickname. C'mon, how much talent does it take to use the same, consistent handle for each post. Anon 427 is a lousy name for discussion purposes. Be anonymous but be consistent. I'm asking nicely.

Because of what I do for a living, there are some topics I can't discuss. I'll also whack comments that allude to those topics. Fair's fair.

I'm going to do precisely nothing to promote this site for at least a couple of weeks. Maybe @ some point, I'll plug it in my journal "abccommittee.com"

This is not going to a "cut and paste" blog. Most of what you get in the daily entries will be right out of my head. Some days, it'll be torture policy. Other days it'll be the market value of Jim Edmunds. Still others, it might be a review of the performance of modern golf balls. What it will not be, day in and day out, and is me trying to impress you with what I read, what I know or who I know.

The goal is to have some conversations like I could in the back yard with my neighbors. I've got smart neighbors. They make it a fairly high level conversation and I try to hold up my end.

I'm sure I'll make up more "Rules" on the Fly. Guess I'll print a Rule Book someday. Until then, then, let's get after it.

Not sure what this lawyer shooting signifies. Could be that it's just Uncle Dick's small way of conducting Tort Reform, one lawyer at a time.

The other possibility is that the Dickster just missed out on a lot of gun safety training when he got his five military service deferments instead of being inducted.

In any event, the RNC is staging a new contest as a fund raiser. For $50,000.00 you get a one week quail hunt with Uncle Dick. For $100,000.00, you get your choice: You can either skip the hunt or Cheney will stay home.