Governor Rod Blagojevich has said he wants billions more a year for a universal-health-care plan. Last week, a coalition of business and labor groups called on the state to put $5 billion a year into transportation for five years. The Regional Transportation Authority estimates it needs $57 billion over 30 years to maintain, enhance, and expand transit services.

For months, most Statehouse observers have predicted a battle royale between the state's three top Democrats: Governor Rod Blagojevich, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, and Senate President Emil Jones.

The three men haven't been getting along, and the relationships between Madigan and Blagojevich, and between Madigan and Jones, are particularly strained. So far, Jones and Blagojevich are doing okay together, but that could change in a heartbeat if Blagojevich and Jones tangle over school funding. Jones wants a lot of money for schools, but Blagojevich refuses to raise taxes.

Senate President Emil Jones talked for several minutes during a media availability the other day about his war theories.

Among other things, Jones recalled how Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev pounded his desk during the United Nations debate over whether to allow China into the organization. Khrushchev failed to persuade the international body to admit his fellow Communist nation, but, as Jones said, not long afterwards China detonated a nuclear bomb in the atmosphere and the UN quickly relented, bringing China in and forcing Taiwan out.

My grandmother tells the story of when she met John F. Kennedy.

It was back in 1959, as Kennedy was still gearing up for his presidential run. Grandma and my grandfather, an active Teamsters Union member and a Democratic precinct committeeman in Kankakee, traveled to Chicago for a labor event featuring JFK.

Kennedy, the story goes, was working the room, and when he made it over to my grandparents he put his arm around my grandmother, kissed her on the cheek, and told my grandfather that he had a "beautiful wife."

Grandma swooned, of course, and decades later when I asked her how she reacted, she joked that she didn't wash that kissed spot on her face for two weeks. To this day, you can't say a bad word about JFK in front of Grandma for fear of risking the evil eye.

You'd think that Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, who is forever being touted as one of the smartest politicians in Illinois history, would have realized long ago that Barack Obama was immensely popular and needed to be treated differently than others. Yet it wasn't until last week that Madigan finally offered a public bow to the man widely considered to be a top-tier candidate for the U.S. presidency in 2008 and who has a rock star's ability to turn grown men and women into giddy teenagers.

The Better Government Association (BGA) filed a lawsuit last week that could create lots of fireworks. The BGA wants to force Governor Rod Blagojevich to release federal grand- jury subpoenas his administration has been served between January and July of last year.

The BGA initially filed a Freedom of Information Act request last year to pry loose the subpoenas. The Blagojevich administration had made it a standard practice to disclose subpoenas until the feds started nosing around the governor's office itself about a year ago, then all cooperation stopped.

Dear Santa,

As I look back on things, I realized that you've been pretty darned good to me over the years. You brought me that electric guitar I wanted when I was nine, the telescope I begged for when I was 10, the Daisy Pump-Action BB gun with scope I craved when I was 11, etc., etc., etc.

As I grew older, your presents became more sophisticated. Stereos, vacations, computers, cell phones, fine Irish whiskey. I've just been overwhelmed by your generosity and thoughtfulness. I can't imagine what I've done to deserve your grand beneficence throughout these many years, but, trust me on this one: I've appreciated every gift you've bestowed upon me.

In fact, Santa, you've been so overwhelmingly kind that I hope this year you turned your attention to others and showered them with presents instead. Here's my list of what some people need.

After losing five state Senate seats and ending up on the wrong end of a veto-proof majority, there's bound to be a lot of second-guessing and finger-pointing. But Senate Republican Leader Frank Watson probably did himself no favors by going to Europe for 10 days just a month before the November election.

The consensus among insiders seems to be that the departure of Deputy Governor Bradley Tusk this month will mean a less-confrontational administration in the coming years.

Governor Rod Blagojevich has always been someone who thrives on controversy, and Tusk - a young, brash New Yorker - did his level best to keep that spark alive each and every day. Tusk had no history in politics here and never had any intention of ever working in Illinois after he left the administration, so he wasn't all that particular about whose toes he was stepping on. And it showed.

Political columnists usually focus on the dark side of politics, but indulge me today while I say goodbye to three of the best legislators I've ever had the pleasure to know.

All three are hard-working, honest pioneers. Senator Adeline Geo-Karis (R-Zion), born in Tegeas, Greece, was the first woman in Illinois history to become a member of Senate leadership. Senator Miguel del Valle (D-Chicago), born in Puerto Rico, was the first Latino elected to the Illinois Senate and the first Latino to make it to a leadership slot. Senator George Shadid (D-Peoria), born to immigrant parents from Lebanon, was the first Lebanese-American ever elected to the Senate and was also the first Lebanese-American to make it to a Senate leadership position.

Geo-Karis ("Geo" to her friends) lost her primary last spring, del Valle was appointed Chicago City Clerk last week (another Latino first), and Shadid is retiring.

Pages