BERNARD SCHOENBURG: Governor changes flight habits after bad publicity

Bernard Schoenburg

The way he’s been acting lately – slashing health care funding along with what he calls “pork” from the state budget, and suing a leader of his own party -- it almost seems as if Gov. ROD BLAGOJEVICH likes bad publicity. But it does appear that he’s changed his flying habits a bit in response to bad press.

Still, that doesn’t mean Blagojevich is grounded.

There was a rash of publicity in late June about the governor commuting on state airplanes between Chicago and Springfield – at an estimated real cost of $5,800 per day. State records showed that he made eight single-day round-trips on state aircraft between May 22 and June 7. An Associated Press analysis showed he spent an average of less than five hours in Springfield for each of those trips.

Then came the special session craze. Even though legislative leaders he had been meeting with thought he was giving the General Assembly the week of July 4 off, the governor on June 29 made the bold declaration that he would start a series of special sessions so lawmakers would be working “without fail every day, seven days a week, until we pass a budget that helps people.”

Since those sessions started, there have been some weekend breaks that the talk-is-cheap governor allowed so as not to offend his ally, Senate President EMIL JONES JR.

State flight records show that Blagojevich did not use state planes to commute in order to spend his nights in Chicago. However, records from early July through Aug. 10 show that, over the period, the governor flew on state planes from Chicago to Springfield six times and from Springfield to Chicago six times. A seventh flight from Chicago took the governor via helicopter to Farmersville on July 30. There, he signed a bill designed to lure the FutureGen coal-to-energy project to the state.

Even while special sessions were being convened at his request in Springfield, the governor twice used state plans for single-day trips to Chicago to face TV cameras. On July 9, he left Springfield at 11:05 a.m., flew to O’Hare and had a news conference about gun control at Children’s Memorial Hospital. He was back in Springfield, a 302-mile round trip by air, at 3:10 p.m.

On July 12, a similar jaunt got him out of Springfield at 10:55 a.m. to an announcement in Chicago’s medical district about new rules he wanted to prevent insurance companies from raising premiums based on medical condition. He was shuttled back to Springfield by 2:25 p.m.

In the wake of a bridge collapse in Minnesota, the governor flew Aug. 3 from Springfield to Quincy and back to have a news conference calling for a $10 billion state construction program. He left Springfield at 1:05 that day and was back in the capital city at 4:15.

In all, the governor flew from Chicago to Springfield by King Air turboprop planes on July 5, July 9, July 12, July 16, July 24 and Aug. 7. He flew similar aircraft from Springfield to Chicago on July 9, July 12, July 14, July 20, July 28 and Aug. 5.

That itinerary shows that Blagovejich was not in Springfield some of the days he called lawmakers into special session. For example, there were special sessions on July 23 and Aug. 6, but it appears that Blagojevich was in Chicago those days.

Following a recent state audit that showed the real cost of flying a state airplane was $1.85 per rider mile, the state increased the amount it charges agencies for business flights to get closer to that cost. The per-mile rate was increased July 1 from 41 cents to 68 cents.

At the $1.85-per-passenger real cost, each Chicago-to-Springfield one-way trip would cost about $270. The state’s new billed cost is about $100.

The total cost billed to Blagojevich for his 12 one-way flights between Springfield and Chicago between July 5 and Aug. 7 was $1,223 for about 1,800 miles. At $1.85 per mile – the estimated real per-passenger cost – it would be $3,330.

The auditor general had also said the real cost of operating a plane – no matter how many passengers it is carrying -- is $9.81 per nautical mile. At that rate, the flights between Springfield and Chicago would have cost more than $17,000.

The logs also show that First Lady PATTI BLAGOJEVICH and daughters AMY and ANNIE flew from Chicago to Springfield on July 6; back to Chicago with the governor on July 14; back to Springfield on July 16; to Chicago on July 20; to Springfield on July 27; to Chicago July 28; again from Springfield to Chicago on Aug. 5; and from Chicago to Springfield on Aug. 9.


Gov. Blagojevich didn’t do very well in a recent statewide poll.

The Rasmussen poll of 500 likely voters in Illinois on Aug. 22 found that, when respondents were asked to rate how Blagojevich is doing as governor, results were 5 percent excellent, 17 percent good, 25 percent fair, 53 percent poor and 1 percent not sure.

Asked who is most to blame for the budget stalemate, 53 percent said Blagojevich, 20 percent said special interest groups, 19 percent said the legislature, 2 percent said voters, and 7 percent weren’t sure.

The poll was done in partnership with Fox Television stations. ABBY OTTENHOFF, spokeswoman for the governor, told Fox News Chicago that “Numbers go up and down, so we don’t read a lot into these polls. There’s no question it was a long and sometimes frustrating budget process. What matters in the end is what we got done for the people.”

The poll also found that President GEORGE W. BUSH’s performance was rated15 percent excellent, 17 percent good, 14 percent fair, 53 percent poor, and 1 percent unsure.

In potential presidential matchups, Democratic Sen. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON led Republicans RUDY GIULIANI and FRED THOMPSON each by about 10 points, but Democratic Sen. BARACK OBAMA leads Giuliani and Thompson each by more than 20 points.

The poll was done by automated phone calls and had a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.


A couple of Springfield aldermen have been named to the Sangamon County Board of Health – both taking the places of their city council predecessors.

The Sangamon County Board approved the appointments of Ward 8 Ald. KRIS THEILEN and Ward 2 Ald. GAIL SIMPSON to the panel Aug. 14 after their names were forwarded to the county from the city council. The board of health has 10 members, each paid $100 per month.

JIM STONE, the county’s health director, said the law requires the board to meet quarterly, though it usually meets six or seven times a year. He said meetings have been more frequent recently as planning is continuing for a new building.

Theilen said former Ward 8 Ald. IRV SMITH was on the panel and told Theilen it was a “really important” board. Theilen said he once worked as a supervisor at an Osco drug store and ran an over-the-counter drug section for a while and trained as a backup pharmacy technician. So he feels issues that may come before the health board will be “right up my alley.”

Simpson said it was her understanding that because she got the appointment because former Ald. FRANK McNEIL, also of Ward 2, was on the board, and she’s in the process of finding out about issues facing the panel.


A simple bill to make it clear that members of the public can freely view the economic interest statements of politicians has been signed by the governor.

On his way to becoming Springfield Ward 5 alderman, SAM CAHNMAN discovered in late 2006 that people were still being asked to fill out a form in order to see the economic interest statement. He received a mailed form showing that somebody had viewed his statement at the Sangamon County clerk’s office.

When he was on the Sangamon County Board, Cahnman had successfully pushed a change in law so that such notification was no longer necessary. But he found that another part of state law still called for the forms to include the address where notification of people viewing the form should be sent.

Cahnman pushed yet another law to remove the language, and the change passed the legislature unanimously. The governor signed it Aug. 14, and it takes effect Jan. 1.

Sangamon County Clerk JOE AIELLO said months ago that he is no longer having people fill out any forms in order to view economic interest statements.

“This is a good bipartisan bill that enhances my philosophy of open government by helping to ensure citizens the right to look at their elected officials’ economic disclosure statements without fear of intimidation,” Cahnman said.

Bernard Schoenburg is political columnist for The State Journal-Register. He can be reached at  (217) 788-1540 or