In the blue corner from Moline, Illinois and representing the 36th District: Senator Mike Jacobs.
In the red corner from Lebanon, Illinois and representing the 51st District: Senator Kyle McCarter.
Gentleman, we want a clean fight, no kicking or biting, no referencing apparent family conflict of interests, and no running off to the capitol police. The political arena is set for a return to craziness as Jacobs v. McCarter prepare for a rematch on the Illinois Senate floor.
In a well-publicized event, happening in the closing hours of the last session, Senator Mike Jacobs took umbrage to Kyle McCarter's sudden urge to promote ethics in Springfield. According to the Chicago Tribune:
McCarter observed aloud [during a Senate floor debate on the ComEd bill] that Jacobs, chairman of the Senate Energy Committee and sponsor of a controversial utility-backed bill, is the son of former Sen. Denny Jacobs, a ComEd lobbyist. The 150-page bill came up for a vote in the last hours of the session after a six-minute committee hearing, McCarter said.
At this point the details get shaky, McCarter was either poked, pushed, nudged, pricked, punched, struck or may have even been tickled by Sen. Jacobs resulting in some choice words and the two sides separating. Sen. McCarter later filed a report (which was dismissed) and Sen. Jacobs later publicly apologized for his actions, (as reported by Rich Miller's Capitol Fax) which he says "were inappropriate and have resulted in little more than lowering the respectful standards of the Illinois Senate."
While entertaining (in a reality T.V. sort of way) I suspect we won't see a Rocky-like rematch when the Senate goes back into session on the 22nd, but it may make for good drama to see how the two sides interact. Will Senator McCarter implement the grudge response á la Senator Brady to Rep. Ricky Hendon? Maybe Senator Jacobs will use a point of personal privilege to publicly apologize, resulting in a Rudy-like slow clap on the senate floor. Regardless of how our own Springfield version of the Jersey Shore resolves itself, the one guarantee is that nothing changes.
Drama sells papers and website views, but the real story is how there is an actual expectation that apparent conflicts of interest shouldn't be expressed on the Senate floor. Think about that for a second.
At issue is a break in decorum. See, in Springfield, our representation is free to debate a bill however they choose but that doesn't include making public the fact that there is a very clear conflict of interest or that a sponsor has received sizable donations from the benefactor of the legislation.
The reason that it is taboo? Politics isn't a clean sport, it requires donations and connections, and since both sides are guilty of passing legislation that directly benefits major donors (or family members working for major donors) both sides refrain from bringing up their opponents' conflicts.
According to a telephone interview on WQAD News 8, Sen. McCarter said, "This is not about Senator Jacobs. It's about if I have the right to stand up on the Senate floor and speak about corruption and conflicts of interest."
Yet a quick look at this last session and you can find numerous bills where Sen. McCarter's calling (to speak out on corruption and conflicts of interests) didn't seem to manifest itself on the senate floor. Take SB0107, a bill that lowers the intrastate switched access rates and limits the Illinois Commerce Commissions regulation powers in regards to telephone and internet service deliveries. This bill was sponsored by both Sen. Mc Carter and Sen. Jacobs without a single mention of the thousands of dollars Sen. McCarter received from a local St. Jacob telephone and internet service provider who stands to benefit from the bill's passage. Apparently Sen. McCarter only finds the lack of conflict of interest disclosures troubling when it isn't him sponsoring.
Also, regardless of whether or not Sen. Jacobs can separate himself from his family, you have to question the logic in allowing the son of a Com-Ed lobbyist to carry a bill that directly benefits his father's employer. Even with a trial of former Governor Rod Blagoavich in the background, the audacity to not care about the optics of such a move speaks volumes on how far we still have to go before we get true reform in Illinois.
Since Sen. McCarter has taken up the charge, why not take it a step further and pass legislation that allows for an influence note to be requested on legislation. This note will require the original author of the legislation to be declared including who that person is working for. It would include a list of all known family members and close associates of all sponsors (past and current) that stand to benefit or work for a company benefiting from a specific bill. It would also include aggregated political donations of the sponsors from entities and individuals that stand to benefit from the bill's passage.
Seems simple enough, however, I am not holding out much hope that Sen. McCarter has suddenly become the spokesperson for the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. Nor am I holding out much hope that the Chicago media will actually write about this corrupt culture after Wednesday's session is over. I do, wholeheartedly, expect the news to cover the drama with intensity deserving of The Situation and Pauly D. So sound the bell. Cue the Ring Girls.