Newt Gingrich, Rod Blagojevich: What do these guys have in common — besides the hair?

Illinois voters ought to be able to tell the nation a couple of things about governance by charisma, ego and brilliance run amok. After all, we danced with Rod Blagojevich for a lot of years before the ex-governor flamed out while selling Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat.

None was better than Blago in front of an audience. Witness him at Rockford Register Star Editorial Boards, which I did many times. Having a governor in for an edit board always draws a full house. Even Pat Quinn gets a decent showing. Having Blago meant standing room only.

He could sing, weave tall tales, spin a vision for the state with which few would argue. He could remember what seemed like everything, from names and titles to questions asked the last visit. Veteran board members gave it up and sat back to watch the show.

It’s hard not to channel Blago while watching the Newt Show. The brilliance is similar; ditto the vision thing. So are the abilities to absorb complex information and re-purpose it to strategic ideas that make — at the moment — perfect sense. There’s the chuckling and eye contacting; the remembering of things.

Blago is the more charming of the two, and there are other differences, including the great hair color.

I never saw Blago lose his temper the way that Newt does publicly, though there are plenty of reports that he did. Blago didn’t walk about actively hating the news media; he used his not inconsiderable skills to manipulate it to his advantage.

Illinois’ ex-governor rode that hubris right off the ranch. Given enough time, Newt Gingrich will follow. It won’t of course, be the first time for Newt; his former Congressional seatmates will be more than happy to explain the 1990s back story.

Gaad, how we Americans love these charismatic politicians. Let’s hope we don’t have to learn on a national stage — as did Illinois on its state stage — that governance by brilliance-run-amok ought be a non-starter.

Illinois catches contractor with $18 million that was supposed to go to kids

The good news is Illinois state investigators caught him. The bad news is that over about three years, George E. Smith appears to have sidetracked a handsome portion of $18 million in state grants to somewhere other than to the kids who were supposed to be helped.

Associated Press reporter Christopher Wills broke the story yesterday and the Springfield State Journal-Register imbedded the 200-page or so report. Reading it will make a reasonable person queasy. Pages and pages of “founded” allegations of misappropriation of funds, inappropriate expenses (prime choice alcohol and pro sports tickets among them), forgeries, “ghost” employees, double billing, and the list continues.

Smith’s got pals in this mess and they’re named, too, including the former director of the Department of Children and Family Services, Erwin McEwen, who announced in August he was leaving the end of September. No reason given at the time though perhaps now we know why. McEwen is likely parsing what he really meant to say when he described Smith as his “personal friend and mentor.”

The state investigators have a litany of recommendations that start with get the money back, discipline the perpetrators and file criminal charges while you’re at it. I think the lot of them should wear “I stole from children” signs for the rest of their lives.

They stole preciously scarce dollars from the least among us. What could possibly justify such gaming of the system?

May there be a special place in hell for people with holes in their souls.

(You can read more at these links: Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times.

Pin It on Pinterest