5-19-2017-1-18-20-PM-4802911

Some pols can take a joke, some can’t

The thin-skinned, strong-arm Statehouse partisanship of the

past two and a half years reached out and infected the Illinois Conference of

Women Legislators’ annual fundraising gala last week.

COWL is a bipartisan organization which raises money every

year to “assist mature women who wish to continue their undergraduate

education,” according to its website. “The goal of the scholarship is to focus

on deserving, qualified women whose educations were interrupted due to family

concerns and economic problems,” the group says. Women who have shown

“leadership promise through community service” are given preference.

Anyway, it’s a good organization and it’s one of two events

that I never miss each year – the other one being the House vs. Senate softball

game. Both events allow legislators to do things together without partisan or

leadership barriers. They help build relationships and trust. Plus, they’re

both a lot of fun. And after two and a half years of watching politicians fight

each other to a draw on a state budget and economic reforms, we all need the

occasional good time.

Lately, COWL has also brought in professional comedians to

set the mood. This year’s comedian was Patti Vasquez, who has her on show on

Chicago’s WGN Radio and did an increasingly rare interview with House Speaker

Michael J. Madigan last week.

The evening often has the feel of an old-time variety show

staged by amateurs. It’s not supposed to be perfect, and that can sometimes

make things funnier. A legislator singing way off key would be unlistenable in

another context, but at the COWL event it can be hilarious.

Some legislators have lots of talent. Rep. Will Guzzardi

(D-Chicago) stunned the audience with his exquisite piano playing abilities. That

he chose to cover a Tom Waits song and sang it in Waits’ gravelly voiced style

made his performance all that much better.

Rep. David Olsen (R-Downers Grove) is a cheery and bright

young man who generally speaks softly and is of, shall we say, slight build.

But he sang a full-throated,a capellaversion of “Illinois,”

our state song. Olsen mesmerized the audience.

Come to think of it, the men kind of stole the show last

week.

COWL always stages some sketches and songs that are drenched

in political satire. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Rep. Rob Martwick (D-Chicago) plays guitar and sings and

wrote a parody of Otis Redding’s universally famous “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of

the Bay.”

“I’m sittin’ here on the House Floor / Waitin’ for a budget

deal that I can vote for / I’m sittin’ here on the House Floor / Wastin’ time.”

Martwick wrote several strong lyrics: “Sittin’ here resting

my bones / ‘Cuz the lobbyists won’t leave me alone / 200 miles I’ve roamed /

Just to make this seat my own.”

But I particularly enjoyed the break: “Looks like nothin’s

gonna change / Everyone keeps on passin’ the blame / I can’t do what the

Governor tells me to do / This state’s going down the drain.”

He got a big howl of approval for that one.

COWL also produced a dance routine this year to a song by

R&B singer Cupid called “Cupid Shuffle.”

Legislators on stage were dressed in checkered,

western-style shirts just like Gov. Bruce Rauner wears in his latest TV ads

featuring him in a pristine workshop and talking about the Democrats’ “duct

tape solutions.”

Some members held up large signs with “Do your

job” written on them, which is a constant refrain of Rauner’s critics.

Some also carried signs featuring a large, menacing cartoon image of House

Speaker Michael J. Madigan that was devised by the Madigan-hating Illinois

Policy Institute.

Duct tape was supposed to be part of the routine, but the

gimmick was scrapped at the last minute because the players didn’t have enough

time to remove the tape and change between songs. So, they wound up with extra

boxes of the stuff.

But a freshman Republican House member reportedly took a

video of the skit during rehearsal last week and sent it to a member of her

leadership team. Republican legislators told me later they were then yanked out

of the dance and by showtime last week only Democrats performed during the

routine.

Unreal.

Some people just don’t know how to laugh at themselves.

Let’s hope the softball game survives intact.

Rich Miller also

publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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