Jones' single greatest legislative accomplishment during his long term in the minority was during George Ryan's tenure, when he was able to force the Senate Republicans into supporting a law making education an entitlement program. The media mostly ignored Jones' accomplishment.
Jones' Democrats finally regained the majority in the 2002 elections, and the first bill introduced in that chamber, Senate Bill 1, sponsored by Jones himself, was designed to make sure the entitlement, which expired in 2003, would remain part of state law.
It's easy to be cynical about legislative leaders and their pet projects, but Jones has always been truly committed to increasing funding for schools and providing education with a stable and ample revenue source. He saw the "education as entitlement" proposal as a major part of his legacy - perhaps the single most important thing he could do as a legislator - and he was eager to permanently ensconce it in Illinois statutes.
After Jones' bill flew out of the Senate, House Speaker Madigan stuffed it into Rules Committee and refused to move it, claiming the legislation's costs were too high to bear during the ongoing fiscal crisis. Jones retaliated by bottling up one of Madigan's top legislative priorities in his own Rules Committee.
Anyone who spoke to Jones about Madigan during that time sensed that big trouble was brewing. There wasn't much of an opportunity to do anything about it in 2003, however, because the governor seemed to go out of his way to snub both Madigan and Jones equally, and the Democratic Party's special interests did a good job of keeping everyone focused on the tasks at hand.
The tipping point came the following year when Madigan suggested that he could go along with Senate Republican budget proposals that, in Jones' mind, drastically shortchanged schools. Jones threw in with Governor Rod Blagojevich, who wanted a much more generous education appropriation. The spring session devolved into a summertime free-for-all, with Madigan and the Republicans on one side, and Jones and the governor on the other.
This year, Jones dropped Senate Bill 1 from his wish list altogether and instead supported a tax-swap idea that would pump millions into education. This, he decided, would be his legacy: property-tax reductions to help struggling homeowners and an income-tax increase that would get schools out of hock and provide them with a stable revenue source.
Governor Blagojevich had other ideas, however. As support built across the state with school boards and editorial pages for Jones' plan, Blagojevich, who campaigned against supporting any income-tax hike, decided to nip the whole thing in the bud.
The governor waited until his budget address to drop his bombs.
Not only did Blagojevich propose a "paltry" (Jones' word) $140-million increase for education, but he made a grand point about vowing to veto any proposal that raised the income tax for schools. For good measure, he publicly scolded those who supported any such ideas.
Always the boxer, Blagojevich didn't bother notifying Jones about the impending punch. Jones was stunned and angry, and he made no effort to hide his emotions during a press availability later that day.
"I didn't appreciate what he had to say about education, trying to slap the reform of education," said Jones. "It leads me to believe he doesn't understand it."
The governor told me last week that he didn't think his attack on Jones' tax idea was personal. "It's political," the governor explained.
He's right, but only about himself. The governor might not have intended to personally insult Jones, but that's not how Jones sees it. He's not a happy man.
All Jones has ever really wanted was respect, not just for him, but for his ideas. Blagojevich finally gave him that respect last year, and Jones responded well. This year, Jones feels insulted all over again. And if things don't calm down, it could be another long, hot summer in Springfield.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter. He can be reached at (http://www.capitolfax.com).