The ongoing Illinois drama over the medical-malpractice-reform debate intensified last week when President George W. Bush paid a visit to Madison County.

Yes, that Madison County - the favored courtroom home to many of the nation's wealthiest trial lawyers, made universally infamous by the multi-billion-dollar class-action lawsuits filed over asbestos and Marlboro Lights, and the focus of a multi-million-dollar Supreme Court race last year that featured both candidates accusing each other of being soft on child molesters in front of a backdrop of stories about small-town hospitals closing their doors and doctors fleeing to neighboring states, and ending with the trial lawyers' hand-picked Democratic candidate losing both the campaign and his appellate court seat, which then spun off a bizarre sequel when the loser immediately filed a nine-figure defamation lawsuit against his opponent's financial backers.

In my opinion, 2004 was the weirdest year in Illinois political history.

January: Governor Rod Blagojevich used most of his State of the State address to blast the State Board of Education for being a "Soviet-style" bureaucracy - the first time a sitting governor red-baited a state agency.

It was probably no accident that Governor Rod Blagojevich chose a Naperville school last week to unveil his proposal to criminalize the sale or rental of violent and sexually explicit video games to minors.

If he had used an impoverished inner-city school as a backdrop, the assembled parents might have asked him about the real-life violence that their children face every day.

The dust isn't even settled yet from the 2004 campaign, but candidates are already lining up for the 2006 race. You and I might be sick of campaign news, but to these people the game is just beginning.

Joe Birkett, the DuPage County state's attorney who narrowly lost the 2002 attorney general's race to Democrat Lisa Madigan, sent a letter to Republican leaders late last month telling them he is looking forward to being on the statewide ticket.

After the Republicans lost complete control of the state legislature in the 1996 election, they rushed through several bills the following January, before handing the House gavel back to the Democrats.

The state Constitution requires a three-fifths majority to pass any bills with immediate effective dates after May 31.

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is becoming way too predictable.

Twice now, the governor has told a legislator that he's for a gaming-expansion deal, then his staff denies that the governor said any such thing.

Women House members from both parties have stuck together like glue for the past few years, uniting to form the bipartisan Conference of Women Legislators (COWL).

The group has become a powerful force at the Statehouse, successfully pushing several woman-friendly bills and budget items.

Since most of you probably had higher priorities last Thursday night than catching the debate between Barack Obama and Alan Keyes (such as watching the St. Louis Cardinals win the National League pennant), I figured I'd do my civic duty and tell you what I saw.

This is an election. It is not a meeting of a Sunday School class," Illinois State Bar Association President Ole Bly Pace told the Associated Press this week.

Pace was referring to the Fifth District Supreme Court race as he made what could be the political understatement of the year.

Illinois Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn was threatened with political "divorce" not long ago by Governor Rod Blagojevich's office.

Quinn has been a critic of the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority for years, but he was completely cut out of the governor's massive restructuring and reform plan.

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