Recently on my WLS Sunday night radio program, two Republican candidates for governor, appearing individually, attacked Gov. Blagojevich. No news in that. But what struck me was their statements that the governor had actually added to the welfare rolls. As if that were bad. Is it?
I double-checked and found out they were right: Blagojevich indeed has added poor families and poor children. A bad thing? Not if they indeed were needy. What's bad about allowing 50,000 poor parents and children to get state health coverage this year if it's done without raising taxes, which would further depress the economy? For that's what Blagojevich is doing. And rather than praise him for this, the Illinois media are silent, while across the border, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is contrasting this governor with the Missouri governor and praising Blagojevich.
''In Missouri,'' says the Post-Dispatch, ''Gov. Matt Blunt is pressing hard to cut 90,000 poor people from Medicaid coverage. In contrast, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich plans to add 50,000 poor parents and children to the state health coverage this year. And he's proud of it.'' Call me mushy, but I think a governor should be proud to add deserving poor to the program.
While in Springfield recently I talked the matter over with a man I very much admire: a state fiscal wizard, Budget Director John Filan (In fact, a Democrat who is thinking about running against Blagojevich told me he'd keep Filan as budget guy -- he's that good. Filan's answer is at the bottom of this column). Both Illinois and Missouri are fighting budget deficits and have been for three straight years.
The Missouri governor, says the Post-Dispatch, responds to the problem with ''cold indifference.'' Unlike Blunt, Blagojevich's instinct is to consider health coverage for the poor and ask, ''How many people can we add?'' My gut tells me that Republicans ought not criticize Blagojevich unless they want to be viewed as unfeeling, which is what they have been accused of since the Great Depression. I wince when I hear Republicans blister Blagojevich for this statistic, much as I groaned when one of my earliest heroes, Sen. Robert A. Taft (R-Ohio) declared that since inflationary food prices were caused by people spending too much for food, they should eat less. He said it with his hands shoved deeply into his pockets as his vest and gold watch chain spanned a rather ample belly. I admired Taft for many things, but not that time.
Blagojevich has managed to set a good record on health care for the poor, and Republicans ought to recognize it and concentrate their fire somewhere else. Illinois ranks first in KidCare across the Midwest in the number of new children enrolled: 11,600 from June through December 2003. During that period, Illinois ranked first in rate of enrollment growth in the Midwest. Among all the states in that time frame, Illinois ranks first.
From April 2003 to July 2004, Illinois was one of 26 states that did not make enrollment in KidCare and FamilyCare more difficult by raising premiums, freezing enrollment or complicating the registration process. And among the 10 most populous states in that period, Illinois was one of six that didn't make it more difficult for parents and children to sign up.
You can be reasonably sure I will vote Republican for governor next year as I have in the past, but it depends on who the GOP nominee is. There are two candidates whom I would not vote for and for whom I very well might not vote in the general election; people with whom I disagree on key social issues: Judy Baar Topinka and Ron Gidwitz.
Oh, and when I told Filan about that Democrat's pledge to keep him on in another Democratic administration, the budget director said, ''Now go ahead and ask me if I would stay.'' Meaning he wouldn't.
I like Filan. He's independent. Sorta like me.