December 12, 2008

Ummm, So How Did Blagojevich Get Elected?

Scandals will come and scandals will go. Politicians or their operatives will misspeak*.

What's more interesting is how a total schmuck like Blagojevich could get elected governor of one of the biggest states in the union in the first place. The voter vetting might well have gone astray. As we say in the biz world, a voter post-mortem is in order. Those who voted for Blagojevich, as much as Blagojevich himself, failed.

So what happened? Despite being a non-Illinoisian and thus risking arrogance I'll pontificate with the help of Wikipedia & Michael Barone:

1) He married well. His father-in-law is an influential Chicago Alderman named Richard Mell. This got him in the door. As a non-utopian, I know there's always going be cronyism and nepotism on the local level so I accept how he got his place at the table. It is annoying but it doesn't reflect badly on voters yet.

2) He had the luck of a sitting Congressman resigning due to fraud. (Although in Chicago politics, resigning due to fraud may be more a "when" rather than an "if".)
"The Fifth Congressional District, in which Blagojevich lived, had long been represented by the powerful Democrat, Daniel Rostenkowski, who served as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Rostenkowski was defeated for reelection in 1994 after pleading guilty to mail fraud, being succeeded by Republican Mike Flanagan. In 1996, Blagojevich defeated Flanagan with support from his father-in-law, and went on to serve three terms in the United States House of Representatives."
Okay now wait a sec. This is a key promotion for Blagojevich. How did this happen? Partly luck again.

Michael Barone 'splains:
"It was obvious [the Republican] Flanagan wasn't going to win a second term. Blagojevich as Dick Mell's son-in-law, with a Slavic name (this had long been thought of as a Polish seat), managed to get the endorsement of Mayor Daley and to engage the consulting services of David Axelrod.

...Blagojevich's chief opponent in the Democratic primary was a left-wing state senator named Nancy Staszak. Her natural base was the lakefront liberals; Blagojevich's natural base was the 33rd and 32nd wards, a couple of miles to the west, and the rest of the district west of that. He beat her 50 percent to 38 percent. The general election was no contest; Blagojevich outspent Flanagan $1.5 million to $724,000 and beat him 64 percent to 38 percent."
3) Now he's serving in the House without distinction. Suddenly in 2002 there is a vacancy for governor due to Gov. George Ryan not choosing to run due to scandals (later he would go to jail). Blagojevich wins a close primary campaign against former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris, an mediocre candidate, and Chicago Public Schools Superintendent Paul Vallas, a good candidate. Here is the clearest case in which the voters failed. Barone explains:
Blagojevich was opposed by Paul Vallas, who had been the Daley-appointed CEO of the Chicago school system but had fallen out with Daley... None of the three candidates seems to have had the backing of le tout Chicago... In metro Chicago, where most of the votes are cast in Democratic primaries, Vallas led with 38 percent of the vote to 32 percent for Burris and 29 percent for Blagojevich. But a big TV budget enabled Blagojevich to win 56 percent of the vote Downstate and that gave him a 37 percent-34 percent-29 percent over Vallas and Burris statewide.
4) Barone on the general election:
The general election was anticlimactic. The Republican nominee, Attorney General Jim Ryan, had the misfortune of having the same last name as the disgraced incumbent governor. Blagojevich won 52 percent to 45 percent. An accidental result.
There's a self-perpetuating quality to government corruption is there not? If it's perceived as corrupt, good people won't be tempted to enter politics due to the hopelessness of getting very far.

So it looks like you can attribute Blagojevich's ascent to five basic things:

  • His father-in-law
  • Corruption (Ryan and Rostenkowski's) opening up seats prematurely
  • Stupid voting based simply on his last name sounding Polish
  • Money; a big TV budget influencing downstate voters
  • Stupid voting based on the his opponent having the same last name as the deposed Governor.

    In a close election, as the gubernatorial primary was, stupid votes have a lot of sway.


    *   -- “I know he's [Obama] talked to the governor and there are a whole range of names, many of which have surfaced, and I think he has a fondness for a lot of them," Axelrod told an interviewer from Chicago’s Fox affiliate.

    - "I had no contact with the governor or his office, and so I was not aware of what was happening."- Obama calls for Illinois governor to resign - Yahoo! News
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