Divided Democrats gather for Illinois State Fair

Thursday, August 14, 2008

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- On a day dedicated to Democratic unity, the Illinois comptroller condemned personal feuds among party leaders, the governor complained that some Democrats don't stand up for the party's values and several officials skipped the traditional state fair rally.

Comptroller Dan Hynes got round after round of applause Wednesday when he told the Democratic County Chairmen's Association that working families, veterans, the disabled and other groups are not getting the help they deserve from state government.

"Why is this happening? Not because of a political decision or some change in agenda of the Democratic Party but instead because of a power clash, a personality clash," the Chicago Democrat told an audience of nearly 2,000.

Hynes, a potential candidate for governor in 2010, did not criticize anyone by name, but his remarks were clearly aimed at Gov. Rod Blagojevich, House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President Emil Jones.

Shortly after Hynes' lecture, Blagojevich took the stage and delivered one of his own.

He criticized Democrats who say they want to help people in need but give up because it's too difficult.

"It's not enough, in my judgment, to say you want health care, you want jobs, you want education, you want to protect working-class and middle-class families, but then you take 'no' for an answer," Blagojevich said to applause. "At some point you gotta do more than just the talk. You gotta do the walk. You gotta get it done."

Afterward, Blagojevich refused to say whether Madigan is one of the Democrats he believes is not living up to the party's words. He also refused to comment on Madigan's performance as state Democratic chairman. But in the past Blagojevich has accused Madigan of acting like a conservative Republican.

Madigan also addressed the group but didn't address divisions within the party.

Madigan skipped the annual Democratic rally at the State Fair, an event that traditionally has been used to energize party insiders and foot soldiers for the fall election.

Other no-shows: Hynes, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Secretary of State Jesse White and Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn, who attended the funeral of an Illinoisan killed in Afghanistan.

Hynes said he didn't want to attend because he feared the event, organized by Blagojevich, would be used "to demonize other Democrats."

Governor gets flak

Blagojevich arranged for plenty of supporters to show up at the fairgrounds and wave signs in favor of a proposed $25 billion construction program, but there was little criticism of other Democrats.

In fact, Blagojevich received the most flak.

Members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees interrupted his speech at the fair with a protest over the union's contract negotiations with the state. They urged Blagojevich not to cut their health benefits.

Blagojevich told the audience that the state employees are better off than the many unemployed Illinoisans.

"They're lucky to have a job and health care they're going to keep," he said.

Others at the Democratic events echoed Hynes' message to party leaders.

"It takes courage to say something like that in front of a bunch of party regulars, but I think that Comptroller Hynes spoke what we all know," said state Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign.

And Ron Worman of Effingham said everyone should "stop acting like children."

"In Washington, they talk a lot about bipartisanship, but in Illinois, you don't see people working together within the party," he said.

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