Just Jim and the Four Tops
By CHARLES N. WHEELER III
After almost a decade atop the political charts in Illinois, Big Jim and the Four Tops are splitsville, and someone new is stepping in as the lead. To be sure, the news does not have the music world agog in quite the same fashion as did John Lennon's decision to leave the Beatles some 20 years ago. But the end of the longest-running collaboration in state government history likely will have more impact on the lives of Illinois citizens than the lads from Liverpool ever did.
Big Jim and the Four Tops are not a musical group, of course. Rather, that's the rather irreverent label Statehouse journalists slapped on former Gov. James R. Thompson and the four legislative leaders during one of their many session-ending summits. But Big Jim — the former governor — has returned to private life after a record tenure as chief executive, leaving to his successor, Gov. Jim Edgar, the task of harmonizing with the legislature.
So far, all the right notes have been sounded by Just Jim (Edgar's preinaugural press kit included the admonition that he is not to be called James), but the show has barely begun.
Perhaps the first test came from House Speaker Michael J. Madigan (D-30, Chicago) just moments after Edgar presided over the speaker's reelection during the opening session of the 87th General Assembly. "My pledge to Jim Edgar is to work cooperatively with his administration," said Madigan. "But having said that, I hasten to point out that the Illinois Constitution does provide for a separate and independent legislative body to protect against any possible excesses on the part of the executive department.
"This should not be construed as a declaration of war . . .," added Madigan, "but I think that it behooves all of us as members of this institution to always recognize our constitutionally granted position in state government."
Though some saw the speaker's remarks as a thrown gauntlet, Edgar chose to view them in a positive light. "Any chief executive who doesn't recognize that the legslature is a coequal is in for a rude awakening," he told reporters looking for, spark of controversy. The same conciliatory tone was repeated in his inaugural address: "I seek cooperation, not confrontation, with the legislature."
In that quest, Just Jim comes better prepared for his new role than did Big Jim, Edgar has worked with the legislature for more than half of his 22 years in public life, including serving in the House with Madigan, then the majority leader, from 1977 until 1979. In contrast, Thompson's most notable involvement with the legislature before his election in 1976 came when he sent a passel of wayward lawmakers to prison.
Big Jim was a quick study, however, faring remarkably well as a Republican governor dealing with the Democratic majorities that dominated the legislature throughout his tenure. While his affable nature played no small part in his success, Thompson also benefited from good relations with a succession of Chicago mayors, who were able to deliver Democratic votes to pass the deals the two leaders cut.
The new governor is confident he, too, will enjoy a good relationship with the current Chicago mayor, Richard M. Daley, who was a state senator during Edgar's stint in the House. "I think our temperaments, our past, would indicate that we should work together very well," he said, "I think he is going to have certain things he is going to want for Chicago, and I'm going to take probably a broader state view."
Thompson also worked well with the Democratic leaders — Madigan in the House and Senate President Philip J. Rock (D-8, Oak Park), who sometimes was the
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GOP governor's staunchest legislative ally. Together with the GOP leaders, Sen. James "Pate" Philip of Wood Dale (23rd Dist.) and Rep. Lee A. Daniels of Elmhurst (46th Dist.), they evolved a cozy style that led to end-of-session summits in which blockbuster deals were hatched, not only to solve the issue of the moment, but also to satisfy each leader's wish list.
But the U.S. Supreme Court and the state's troubled finances have conspired to deprive Edgar of two of the bargaining chips that proved most potent for Thompson — patronage and pork. Last year's high court ruling that state jobs can't be filled on the basis of political affiliation will make it difficult, if not impossible, for the new governor to repay lawmakers for tough votes with jobs for their allies. In like manner, the state's threadbare budget is forcing Edgar to take a budget ax to socalled pinstripe patronage, the practice of awarding lucrative, no-bid contracts to well-connected consultants. The fiscal crunch also rules out the sort of pork-barrel projects slathered around so generously in past years to win support from rank-and-file legislators for the governor's pet programs. Particular scrutiny is being given to a slew of pending funding requests for the most popular pork dish of the '80s, local civic centers, for which the state's largesse may have run out.
Edgar may need lawmakers' help to rein in spending this year if the initial belt-tightening he has ordered is overwhelmed worsening economy. Moreover, legislature approval for extending the temporary income tax surcharge is critical to his hopes of averting draconian cuts in the budget he must craft for fiscal 1992.
The new governor also must enlist the legislature to achieve such aims as putting a brake on skyrocketing property taxes and focusing on preventive measures that head off future crises before they occur. "Though we will have honest differences, I am confident those we have elected will choose statesmanship over partisanship and progress over pettiness for the good of the people we all represent,'' Edgar said in his inaugural address.
If he's right, Just Jim and the Four Tops will make sweet music for the citizens of Illinois. If he's not, we may all be singing the blues.
Charles N. Wheeler III is a correspondent in the Springfield Bureau of the Chicago Sun-Times.
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