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Madigan miscalculated with Obama library

Published: Monday, May 12, 2014 9:34 p.m. CST

It’s been assumed all along that Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan’s proposal to spend $100 million to help build Barack Obama’s presidential library was designed to put the Republicans on the spot and perhaps provoke an over-the-top, maybe even racial response, which would help gin up Democratic turnout a bit this November.

Obama has put the library’s location out to bid, so Madigan’s proposal is ostensibly designed to help Chicago attract what will likely be a pretty big tourist destination.

But politics is just about everything in Springfield these days. Democrats are hoping to crowd the November ballot with enough measures to help gin up their party base and get them out to vote. A constitutional amendment to forbid any voter discrimination along racial, ethnic, gender, etc. grounds was already approved for the ballot. A nonbinding referendum on whether voters want to increase the minimum wage to $10 an hour is being prepared.

So, this was mainly seen as just another in a series of ploys to fire up the base. But the Republicans have so far played it quite well, publicly pledging their own support for the library and focusing on the cost. No Republican legislator has yet crossed the line. Obama may not be all that popular elsewhere, but polling has consistently shown he remains popular here. There’s no sense attacking him and risk a backlash.

Plus, the Republicans make a good point. Obama has proved to be an incredible fundraiser. He still has a lot of very wealthy supporters, and he just doesn’t need any help raising money. The government doesn’t really need to be involved. Illinoisans overwhelmingly agree with the GOP.

“As you may know,” 1,029 likely voters were told May 7 in a Capitol Fax/We Ask America poll, “Some lawmakers in Springfield want the state to commit $100 million to help pay for the construction of the future Presidential Library for Barack Obama, if it is located in Illinois. We’d like to know whether or not you generally approve or disapprove of that $100 million proposal?”

Speaker Madigan has had a few misfires this year. He wanted to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to levy a surcharge on income over a million dollars, but he couldn’t round up enough votes.

Madigan said in March that he wanted to make the income tax increase permanent, but last year eleven of his members – many of whom are his most politically vulnerable – introduced a bill to roll the tax hike all the way back.

And, as the poll makes clear, Madigan badly miscalculated with this Obama library, both with Republican legislators and the voting public.

• Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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