Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Being popular

Politicians need to feel loved. They smile, shake hands, tell jokes…They are so fun to be around. Parades, kissing babies, photo ops at tragedies…

But they have an increasingly difficult time maintaining their reputation. Approval ratings are in the tank. Indictments abound. Panic! Lots of elections this November. What’s a glad-hander to do?

Let us review the business model established by George Ryan, once a humble pharmacist in Kankakee, a town of 28,000 about 60 miles south of Chicago.

He became the most influential politician in Illinois, serving in the state legislature before becoming Secretary of State and then Governor.

Then his life began to unravel as it was discovered that drivers licenses were sold for bribes, which bribes were then donated to his election campaign. Next thing you know a trusted associate, Scott Fawell, was telling the court that Ryan had all sorts of deals going that benefited Ryan and his family and tainted the bidding process for state contracts.

As George saw it all unravel he began scrambling for his “legacy” (or was he just making efforts to appease future jurors?).

One such effort to establish his legacy was to remove the tollbooths. The tollway has been a thorn in the side of politicians in Illinois from the beginning. The promise way back in the 1950s was that they would build the toll roads, put up the booths, and once the roads were paid for they’d turn them into freeways.

Ryan was going to be a hero by finally tearing down the tollbooths. As popular as the idea was, Ryan got zero support for his idea. People knew it was just a stunt.

He finally settled on commuting the sentences of every inmate on death row in Illinois. He had the power to do it and didn’t need approval from anyone else. So he did it.

That was a long background story for the gas tax idea. Unleaded is over $4 a gallon here in Chicago. Our state reps are now proposing that we stop collecting the 5% Illinois gas tax to give people a little break on fuel costs.

Obama is even floating the idea on a national level.

The history of it is that George Ryan in his quest for a legacy actually stopped collecting the state fuel tax back in 2000. Obama was serving in Springfield at the time. Everyone was so happy with old George for doing us the favor.

In early 2001 they figured out that the tax was necessary for our road construction, so it was brought back.

So, here we are again. After fighting all last year over a state budget and people wanting to impeach Blagojevich, along come our leaders to rescind the state motor fuel tax.

Timing is everything in politics. Note that Denny Hastert is now working for the Democrats in Illinois, studying our infrastructure needs. He issued his preliminary report yesterday, stating the obvious:
Poshard, Hastert push $31 billion plan
By Kevin McDermott
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Former Congressmen Glenn Poshard and Dennis Hastert on Tuesday called for a sweeping $31 billion Illinois infrastructure program, to be funded partly by allowing slot machines in horse racing venues and by privatizing the state lottery.
But the two veteran political leaders — who have been Gov. Rod Blagojevich's roving emissaries on the issue lately — acknowledged that legislative distrust of Blagojevich has hampered their effort. Their recommendations include "accountability provisions" to reassure legislators that the
Democratic governor won't break any agreements on how the money is supposed to be spent. Blagojevich's administration backs the plan, but lawmakers may remain hesitant."
Part of the problem is a trust factor, frankly, between the Legislature and the governor," said Hastert, a Republican who is a former speaker of the U.S. House. "The reason we're here is because there's a stalemate." (end of quote from news story)
(As a sideshow, it was just last August when Glenn Poshard nearly lost his post as president of a state-owned university (SIU) because it was determined that he plagiarized parts of both his Masters and Doctorate theses. Cover your work with your arm, Denny!)
So, to recap. We have our state legislature trying to cut off road construction funding by taking away the gas tax. Blago is in bed with the former Republican Speaker of the House who sold his district to a Democrat by resigning early. Hastert’s bipartisan pal is known as the human copy machine. The plan is to turn a quick buck by selling the lottery (which by the way was supposed to be earmarked for education funding but got diverted to the general fund).
Hastert nailed down the problem in the news report above. Take note all you politicians. He said, “Part of the problem is a trust factor.”

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