Illinois Republicans are taking aim at a big target.
Politics, especially in an election year, involves sharp elbows and, sometimes, even sharper rhetoric.
That's why Illinois Republicans have been making increasingly critical comments about Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Given his immense power in the General Assembly and Illinois' increasingly desperate financial situation, the veteran Chicago politician makes an inviting target for Republicans hoping to win votes in the fall election.
"The reality is that the cause of the problems in this state can be directly attributed to Michael Madigan," said Pat Brady, chairman of the Illinois Republican Party. "Our message (for November) is going to be that a vote for any Democrat is a vote for Michael Madigan."
Those are two separate points that bear examination.
Given his iron-fisted grip on power, ruthless nature and tactical genius, there is no question that Madigan controls the Illinois House and, to a certain extent, much of what goes on in state government. Nothing happens on the legislative front without his permission or active support.
But one can certainly dispute the claim that he's responsible for all that is wrong in Illinois. Many elected Democrats — former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, to name one — bear responsibility for the state's effective bankruptcy. Let's not exclude Republicans from the list either, particularly former Gov. George Ryan. He willingly made deals with Speaker Madigan.
As for a vote for any Democrat being a vote for Madigan, there's truth to that, as far as the Illinois House goes.
Many voters may not see the connection, but it's there.
When Democrats like local state Rep. Naomi Jakobsson of Urbana vote for Madigan as speaker, they're putting him in absolute control of the legislative process. Individual legislators are, effectively, nothing, and Madigan is everything, under the rules of the House.
Some House Democrats love Madigan while others certainly do not. But they all fear him, realizing that to get crossways with the speaker is to commit political suicide.
While the internal dynamics of the Illinois House may be catnip for political junkies, most Illinois voters are too busy with their own lives to pay much attention. So the GOP's attempt to equate Madigan in the public mind with all Democrats running for the legislature is a long shot.
The speaker is a most interesting political personality, brilliant to be sure, but flawed in a significant way. To him, politics almost always trumps policy, and his political ploys have contributed significantly to Illinois' current troubles.
While Madigan certainly rejects any blame, he does recognize that Illinois is in deep financial trouble. He has pushed to hold the line on state spending the past two years. He talked of the need to solve the problems surrounding the state's public pensions. He has been a voice of reason in connection with a variety of issues some of his colleagues would prefer to ignore. But his newfound parsimony has come way late in the game.
The Chicago Tribune recently ran a lengthy series detailing Madigan's firm grip on power, describing how he uses his public office to win lucrative legal business. Madigan mostly ignored the Trib series, labeling its stories as "garbage" produced by a "bankrupt" organization.
Madigan responded as he did because he's firmly in control. It's hard to imagine criticism from minority Republicans doing much to change that.