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Legislative Action

End of session squeeze


I ambled up the back door to the Capitol past construction workers building fancy brick walkways. Sprinklers spewed water onto the lawns. Illinois might be broke, but the Capitol would look nice. Inside it was quiet, lawmakers having been given a long weekend to attend district business. They'd be back at noon and with them the horde of lobbyists.

The sun would make the day outside the Capitol unbearably hot. The political maneuvering would make the rhetoric inside even hotter. There were two issues this year: (1) the budget, or who gets what; and (2) the redrawing of legislative maps, or who gets to decide who gets what. Not even the greenest page believed the issues were unrelated.

My charge today was not the mysteries of state finance. It was not any of the myriad maps being floated about the Capitol. My assignment was to track down Robert Miles.

"Find him. Our readers want to know all about this guy," the editor had said, pushing a book at me: Suicide Squeeze, by David Everson. "It's all in there." The editor is a person of few words; she's a tough lady.

I took the elevator up to the pressroom; there'd be time enough for walking when the elevators were loaded with lobbyists, legislators and pages fetching lunch, popcorn and cold drinks for legislators. The pressroom was quiet, Springfield's newshounds taking advantage of the lull to grab some extra sleep.

I leaned back in my chair, propped my feet on my desk and plowed into Suicide Squeeze. It was a good read. Lots of action, including baseball and a pair of spectacular shootings. The obligatory fixtures of the genre, a beautiful blond and tough cops.

This Robert Miles character was a Springfield private investigator. He called his business Midcontinental Op and had his office in the Leland Building. There was no listing in the phone book for Robert Miles or Midcontinental.

I would start my search for Miles in the Leland Building. I headed out the main doors of the Capitol and ran smack into a mob on the front steps carrying placards that read, "Off the backs of the poor" and "No Layoffs." State workers outnumbered the poor about 10 to one, I estimated. I paused long enough to get the gist: The group was pushing an $800 million income tax increase to forestall $1 billion in budget cuts. A Republican mayor in Chicago would be more likely than a big tax increase in a redistricting year.

At the Leiand Building, no one had heard of Miles or Midcontinental. The former hotel was now occupied by the Illinois Commerce Commission, the group that decides how much the phone and power companies get to soak their customers. The odds favor the utilities, Illinois' electric rates being the highest in the country.

Back at the Capitol the rally was winding down as a string of Democratic lawmakers condemned the governor's budget cuts. Each talked of Republican fiscal mismanagement. Each was applauded for pledges to restore the governor's cuts. None mentioned the T-word.

Next stop was the office of the speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives, Robert Miles' top client. The real speaker was conferring with the black caucus, no doubt about the budget and redistricting. In this redistricting year both parties were making overtures to minorities, whom the federal courts had given special standing in crying discrimination in the drawing of legislative maps.

None of the speaker's lieutenants, all cogs in Illinois' premier statewide political machine, had heard of Robert Miles. I wandered out to the rail, where lobbyists gathered to push their causes. The lobbyists were mostly in a defensive posture, watching to see that no harmful bills emerged. A labor lobbyist said that his legislative allies had little time for issues other than redistricting and the budget. A business lobbyist said the same thing. Neither had heard of Robert Miles.

I took the stairs down to the first floor and walked next door to the Stratton Building. On the first floor was Democratic Remap Central, a collection of hardware, software and data that Democrats would use to come up with new legislative boundaries. Besides state legislative districts, mapmakers had to draw the boundaries for congressional seats. Illinois seats would drop from 22 to 20, and one of those 20 would be a Hispanic seat.

In Remap Central's public access section, a group of Hispanics and African Americans was trying to construct a Hispanic congressional district. The problem was that Chicago's Hispanic neighborhoods weren't contiguous and joining them would cut into an incumbent black congresswoman's district. There was a sense of urgency and lots of fancy computers, but there was no Robert Miles.

Back at the Capitol, I ran into the rally group headed for their buses after an hour and a half of buttonholing lawmakers. Had they convinced lawmakers to raise taxes in just 90 minutes? Had anyone thought they would, or was it one more act in the grand theater that is Springfield in June?

I had one more idea and headed back to the pressroom in the Capitol. The state's senior U.S. senator was just starting a press conference on campaign finance reform. The senator was making his weekly preelection district swing, raising his visibility with voters and picking up some campaign contributions while he was at it. None of the senator's staff had heard of Robert Miles.

At the front desk of the pressroom a small knot of reporters and lobbyists were watching the Cubs and Cardinals on the tube. The Cubs were supposed to be on top and the Cards on the bottom; both were in the middle, chasing the Pirates. None of the fans had heard of Robert Miles, a former Cubs nonplayer.

I went back to the office and banged out my report to the editor.

1. Robert Miles is not here, but he would fit right in.

2. Don't bet against the speaker or for the Cubs.

3. Read Suicide Squeeze. It's more fun than late June in the General Assembly.

Suicide Squeeze is David Everson's fifth book featuring detective Robert Miles, the Chicago Cubs and Illinois state government. It is published by St. Martin's Press, New York.

July 1991/Illinois Issues/31

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