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Why Madigan, Blagojevich have such a prickly relationship
By John Patterson and Dave Beery | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 7/10/2008 12:12 AM | Updated: 7/10/2008 12:35 AM

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Michael J. Madigan is an old-school Democratic politician, the kind that believes a good compromise is one that has everyone walking away from the table angry, but in agreement.

He says there are no easy answers to the state's problems and fixing them will require leaders to make painful decisions.

"There's just too many people in the legislature that think you can have a construction program at a time when there is a shortage of money in the treasury and do it where there is no pain," the veteran Illinois House speaker and chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party told reporters a few weeks ago. "It's going to require some people to do something which is going to carry some pain."

Rod R. Blagojevich is a new-age Democratic politician, one who revels in the spotlight, is prone to talk about "win-win" policies and is loath to put his name on anything that could lead to political pain.

"I didn't run for governor or become governor because I want to inflict pain on people," Blagojevich, the two-term Democratic governor from Chicago, recently told a radio station, "I'm in the business of trying to ease the pain on families."

And that, in a nutshell, is one of the key reasons why the two don't get along - the eternal battle between an optimist and pessimist.

Oh, there's more. But you could write books trying to explain the historic snubs and clashes within Chicago's ethnic Democratic political clans.

In general, Madigan came to power during an era of Illinois politics in which Republicans and Democrats sparred inside the Capitol, but it was rarely personal outside the dome.

Blagojevich, on the other hand, often has been accused of making it personal from the beginning. As a candidate in 2002, Blagojevich criticized Madigan getting taxpayer subsidies for a college pal's livestock show. As governor, he's derided the speaker's daughter - Attorney General Lisa Madigan - fired the wife of the speaker's top aide and slashed funding for the Illinois Arts Council run by Madigan's wife.

Right or wrong, warranted or not, the moves deepened the divide between the two men, who now seem to have little to do with each other publicly, privately or politically.

Former Gov. James Thompson, a Republican, has worked with both Madigan and Blagojevich and said he's surprised by how prickly the relationship has become.

"With Speaker Madigan, my relationship was always excellent with him when I was governor," said Thompson. "Even though we sometimes disagreed, I never let that get in the way. We achieved what I thought we needed to achieve."

"They're both strong political personalities. They both have enormous power by virtue of their offices," he said. "It's something they'll have to work out - or not."

Another former Republican governor expressed similar puzzlement over the Blagojevich-Madigan standoff.

Jim Edgar, who served as governor during much of the 1990s and before that was secretary of state and a House member, said Blagojevich's approach to Madigan when he first took office surprised him.

"It seems like Blagojevich wanted everyone to understand that he was top dog," Edgar said. "I never quite understood it, because the governor is the top dog. He just is. It seems like he kind of went out of his way to aggravate Madigan when he could have been his top ally."

This from a Republican who had his share of disagreements with the speaker.

"There were days when (Madigan) made my life miserable," Edgar recalled. "When I had my quadruple bypass, I credited him with two or three of the bypasses."

But, Edgar said, their policy differences never became personal in nature. And, Edgar said, after Madigan initially challenged him aggressively and consistently, the two later settled into a working relationship that sought and often found middle ground on which to compromise.

"In fact, my last two years, ... he was one of my best allies, particularly on the budget," said Edgar, who attributed their ability to work together to each being direct and honest with one another and making sure that their public actions matched their private conversations.

A student of Illinois history, Edgar said he's never seen or read of anything comparable to the Blagojevich-Madigan battle.

"But I'll tell you one thing," Edgar said. "Fights within a party are a lot more bitter than fights between parties. It's more personal."

Daily Herald staff writer Nick Shields contributed to this report.