Paul Jacob

Government of, by and for the people.

Yeah, right.

If government were “of, by and for” us — as President Lincoln spoke so eloquently over the fallen at Gettysburg — well, for starters, we’d have term limits.

Especially in Illinois. The Land of Lincoln has sadly become the nation’s capital of corruption. Four of the last seven governors left their “service” in the governor’s mansion to serve time in prison. After former Governor Rod Blagojevich was indicted for selling a U.S. Senate seat to the highest bidder, the head of the FBI’s Chicago office quipped that if Illinois “isn’t the most corrupt state in the United States, it’s certainly one hell of a competitor."

The state’s most dominant politician, however, isn’t the governor. It’s House Speaker Michael Madigan, the longest-serving speaker in state history, having wielded power as legislative top banana for 29 of the last 31 years.

Over the last five, The Chicago Tribune has perennially published features on how Speaker Madigan “wields clout to help friends and allies, benefit his legal clients and maintain his decades-long grip on state government.” The series, called “The Madigan Rules,” boasts headlines, including: “Favorable legislation flows to private clients of House Speaker Madigan,” “How Madigan builds his patronage army,” “Madigan’s allies get slice of village business,” and “Madigan’s son’s employer rakes in suburbs’ insurance business.”

You get the idea.

One public employee discussed a phone call from the Speaker asking him to give an employee a raise. “I didn’t feel like he was putting a gun to me, but,” said the former Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority chief, “then again, he is the speaker of the House . . . who to a great extent controlled our legislation and funding.”

“Madigan clearly has so much power he has made himself impregnable,” according to James Browning, with the liberal watchdog group Common Cause. “How do you push back when one man has amassed so much control?"

Yes, Mr. Madigan is very, very, very powerful.

But not at all popular. Polls show the long-serving, patronage-spewing speaker is rated negatively by a whopping 65 percent of the public.

Last week, almost like Spring breaking up the long, cold winter, the oppressive negativity of Illinois politics was met quite positively — and head-on. The Committee for Legislative Reform and Term Limits delivered to the state Board of Elections a 36-foot long box, weighing nearly two tons, filled with 68,000 pages of petitions containing nearly 600,000 signatures from state voters.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.