During the last scheduled night of the spring legislative session, a reporter decided to step outside for a smoke.
While he was outdoors, he tried to catch a glimpse inside the governor's office.
In one window, the reporter saw Deputy Governor Bradley Tusk talking to someone on the telephone. Tusk is always connected to some form of electronic gadget or another. He works constantly.
In the next window was Governor Rod Blagojevich. Unlike Tusk, the guv wasn't working. Instead, he was playing catch with somebody. And this wasn't just any ordinary game of catch. The governor was winding up like a big league pitcher and hurling the ball with all his might.
This story could go a lot of different ways from here.
I could use it to explain how the governor doesn't appear to work very hard. He never seems engaged until the last possible minute, and is rarely prepared to answer anything beyond the most basic questions. Budget negotiators claim that the governor prefers to mouth platitudes rather than offer up solutions.
Or, I might show how the governor delegates way too much authority to his underlings. The ever-connected Tusk and a handful of others seem to make an awful lot of decisions that the governor either isn't aware of, or barely notices. Last week, the governor cut a preliminary budget deal with Senate President Emil Jones and didn't even know if a major state prison would close.
I could use the office-baseball story to bring up the recent embarrassing newspaper article about how the governor allowed a ghost-written column to run in a national publication about his love for the Chicago Cubs without making sure that he agreed with what the column, under his own byline, stated.
Instead, I think I'll take the pitching-during-session angle and talk about the governor's hardball tactics.
The subject is not new. The guv delights in taking shots at his fellow politicians. He called legislators "drunken sailors" last spring, then signed a budget that increased spending by a billion dollars. He signed off on a budget for other statewide officials, then back-stabbed them by demanding that they cut their operating expenses. This year, he claimed legislators were more interested in pleasing their lobbyist friends than doing the people's work, then went on a trip to Washington, D.C., with a favored lobbyist. Etc.
The latest hardball pitch came last week.
Attorney General Lisa Madigan worked for three months to answer a request by a Republican state senator about the constitutionality of the governor's plan to mortgage the Thompson Center in Chicago. For the past few weeks, Madigan has worked closely with the governor's office. Her staff asked for revisions in the $216-million, 20-year loan and warned them not to give her the final document right before they planned to close the deal.
But her words went unheeded, and the guv's office never changed the plan and slipped the final agreement to her just two days before closing deadline. Her conclusion, which she included in a well-thought-out, seven-page letter, was that the law allowing the loan was unconstitutional.
When the governor was asked about Madigan's letter, he threw another hardball. Madigan, he said, was just doing her father's bidding.
Madigan's father is House Speaker Michael Madigan, who has refused to back the governor's tax hikes, thinks he is borrowing too much, and has demanded spending cuts. The impasse between Speaker Madigan and Governor Blagojevich sent the spring session into overtime, setting up a possible government shutdown.
"I just can't fault her," Blagojevich said about Ms. Madigan. "She has to be with her father."
He repeated the assertion, or a variation on the theme, at least four times.
But suggesting that the attorney general phonied up a constitutional opinion at her father's behest was too much.
Representative Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago) said Madigan was "just doing her job," and the governor "shouldn't insult her."
Senator Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) called the governor a "Neanderthal."
"She is not carrying water for her father," insisted Representative Julie Hamos (D-Evanston).
Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka called the governor a "chauvinist pig."
The lesson here, I think, is that you can get away with throwing all the showy windup fastballs you want at the Springfield establishment. But after years of being dismissed and discriminated against, women at the statehouse have come together to form a fearsome, bipartisan team, and they'll hit those goofy pitches out of the park. The governor should stick to safer targets.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter. He can be reached at (http://www.capitolfax.com).