Democrats unified in one respect -- support for Obama
Hundreds of Illinois Democrats descended on Springfield Wednesday to rally in support of the one thing on which they agree — that Barack Obama should be elected the next president.
But that single-minded support of Obama could not mask the deep, ongoing divisions within the party at the Statehouse.
Governor’s Day at the Illinois State Fair, featuring an afternoon rally of the Democratic faithful, indeed had Gov. Rod Blagojevich in attendance.
Missing, though, was the chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party, House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, who has had sharp differences with the governor for the past two years.
Also absent were Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Comptroller Dan Hynes. Quinn was attending the funeral of an Illinois soldier killed in the Middle East. Lisa Madigan said she had to tend to work at her office. Hynes said he simply didn’t want to go.
“I really don’t want to participate in some sort of campaign demonizing Democrats,” Hynes said. “It’s lost its traditional role of being an event where Democrats come together and unify and speak of our common values and goals. Now it has become the governor’s latest tactical maneuver.”
Blagojevich said last week that Governor’s Day would be a rally to push for passage of a long-stalled public works bill. Blagojevich blames Michael Madigan for the failure to pass a capital bill, and many thought the governor would bash Madigan at Wednesday’s rally.
“We’ve received reports that people are being bused in, and it’s going to be more about a campaign against fellow Democrats as opposed to speaking of Barack Obama or things that unify us,” Hynes said.
Passing a capital bill and creating jobs was the foremost theme of the rally. Illinois AFL-CIO president Michael Carrigan said 500 to 1,000 union workers attended to show support for the capital bill. He said he wasn’t aware that any were bused to the event.
Blagojevich pushed for the public works spending, but made only indirect references to the House speaker.
“We want to protect you from those who want to solve all of the problems of government by reaching into our pockets…” Blagojevich said, a reference to his belief Madigan wants to raise the state income tax.
“It’s not enough to simply say you are for those things. You’ve got to stand up and be counted,” Blagojevich said, referring to Madigan’s professed support of a capital bill while refusing to personally participate in negotiations.
Earlier Wednesday, Madigan said the House is looking seriously at one of the governor’s proposals — leasing the state lottery — to pay for a capital bill. Madigan previously resisted efforts to lease the lottery for any reason.
“We’re still concerned about how the money would be spent and where it would be spent, but today the prospects look very, very good,” Madigan said at the Democratic County Chairman’s Association breakfast Wednesday morning.
“I hope it’s not a cynical attempt to run the clock out,” Blagojevich said later. “I take him at his word. I have no reason to believe he would say that if it wasn’t truthful.”
The atmosphere at the Democratic chairman’s breakfast was different from the fair rally. At the breakfast, the emphasis was on Obama and getting other Illinois Democrats into Congress. The event drew about 1,500 people, the largest crowd in years.
“They see a very big win in a good year coming,” said Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley, of the large turnout. “They’re not focused on what is happening inside the Capitol in Springfield.”
Although Democrats at the breakfast may not have been focused on what was happening in the legislature, they were aware of it. Hynes got some of the biggest applause of the morning when he told the crowd that the state’s problems aren’t caused by Democrats, but rather “a power clash, a personality clash that is impeding our progress and keeping us from moving things forward.”
Former Peoria County Clerk JoAnn Thomas said she views the intra-party tensions as limited to Madigan and Blagojevich, not among Democrats as a whole.
“It’s annoying, but it’s such an important national year that it’s like a sideshow,” added her husband, Jim. “It’s kind of like a little mosquito that keeps buzzing around, you know?”
Some Democrats looked to Obama, a former Illinois legislator, to provide the party unity that’s been elusive.
“That’s one of the things we need to focus on, the fact we’ve got a national election going on where we can elect somebody from Illinois the next president,” said Sen. David Koehler, D-Peoria. “If that’s not unifying for Democrats, I don’t know what is.”
Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527. Adriana Colindres can be reached at (217) 782-6292.