The people who pay attention collectively threw up their hands in exasperation when Governor Blagojevich called for campaign reform that will "rock the system" (you could almost hear Queen starting up in the background). How can Rod the Bod position himself as a reformer, and get the headlines for it, when he is the most successful fundraiser from state contractors in state history? Speaker Madigan essentially made that point today (getting some headlines of his own) when he called on Blagojevich to give back any money from contractors.
But on the other hand, Blagojevich does deserve real reform credit for his work in 2003. He campaigned on a clean up government platform ("ending 25 years of Republican corruption") and when the Senate weakened the ethics bill in late May of 2003, the governor vetoed the bill to the surprise of many and after tough negotiations in veto session, a stronger bill (much closer to what the House had originally passed) emerged. That's not fluff.
So now, without an obvious scandal that triggers a clear reform remedy, what's the reform agenda? Senator Miguel Del Valle laid down the obvious first choice -- ban contributions from contractors. Comptroller Dan Hynes, with all the other statewides (except for Rod) agreed, and most passed an executive order banning the practice in their office. (I think A-G Madigan is still working on it). That's a big step. Blagojevich has not yet responded, except for the vague call to come up with something even bigger.
Well, I've got a few suggestions.
Blagojevich is particularly interested in weakening some of the power that Speaker Madigan and President Jones hold over their respective members. Speaker Magidan especially runs the House, with his leadership team, and if there's a bill that he doesn't like, it simply doesn't get called. I think he gives the other 117 members quite a bit of room to advocate for lots of bills (and he is remarkably fair to the House Republicans who get basically the exact same treatment as the House Democrats in terms of their bills getting assigned and called -- which is, come to think of it, quite extraordinary that he doesn't get more credit from Republicans for being a fair guy). But if a bill falls on the wrong side of his calculation, it just doesn' t move. Sometimes that power is used for good (like when he single-handedly saved the state from another billion in long-term unfunded debt from the older-teachers' pork project called the Early Retirement Option), and many times it is used for bad (and these are the bills that never get called or get assigned to the Executive Committee that would improve lives).
This must be frustrating for Governor Blagojevich who would prefer more manuevering room and try to construct a 60-vote majority of his own with some backbencher Dems and some Republicans. That's why he called the very intelligent Representative John Bradley a "wallflower" in 2003. So what can Governor Blagojevich do to encourage a tad more independence among the backbenchers?
Clean Elections, on the Arizona, Maine and Vermont model would help a lot, where if a candidate qualified for the ballot, s/he gets a government check in the neighborhood of 30 grand if they promise not to raise any other money. That's not a lot of money, but with 60 grand, a hard-working candidate with a big volunteer base could compete without relying on Speaker Madigan's staff or money for their election.
I'm sure lots of legislators would prefer to have a way where they could run and win on their own. Any way to encourage that from happening, whether through tax credits for small donations, or free television time, or a voters' guide with information about the candidates or a government check to candidates, would be good for small-d democracy.
It isn't clear what Governor Blagojevich will propose, but it is fair to say that he is a reformer (getting back to the title of the post). He's a Reagan reformer.
I believe that Rod likes small government. Remember, he voted for Ronald Reagan. Twice. Over John B. Anderson! It's inconceivable! So the guy who said "government isn't the solution to the problem; government is the problem" earned the vote of our current Democratic governor.
I think that the governor's budget reflects Democratic values, especially in the investment in Medicaid, but in the context of a shrinking budget, ever-fewer dollars for education and a brick-wall refusal to raise taxes, Blagojevich ends up looking like a Reagan reformer.
The pension problem is another example of Reagan reform from Rod. He's right about that issue, and he's basically taking on a core Democratic interest group. That is reform. It's Reagan reform, but is reform. Why do you think both George Will and Tom Roeser like Rod so much?
So what does a Reagan reformer propose for fundamental campaign reform? Probably not (unfortunately) government checks for candidates. Maybe he proposes limits on contributions. We're already about fully-disclosed in terms of contributions. Maybe a ban on contributions from regulated industries or corporations or lobbyists (which saves me a few hundred bucks every year). We shall see. Anyone remember what Ronald Reagan considered campaign finance reform in the 80s? That's probably as good a guide as any.