It is not often that a panel of federal judges gives politicians a green light to make secret deals.

But that's exactly what the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals said last week in its decision to toss out some of the charges that led to the imprisonment of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

When it comes to the legacy left behind by the Democrat from Chicago, there are surprises around every corner.

Although the ruling doesn't mean Blagojevich will go free any time soon, it did say that politicians are allowed to exchange one government favor for another.

"A proposal to trade one public act for another, a form of log-rolling, is fundamentally unlike the swap of an official act for a private placement," the three-judge panel ruled. "Political log-rolling has never before been condemned as extortion."

The ruling noted that a proposal to appoint a particular person to one office in exchange for some else's promise to appoint a different office is a common exercise in American politics.

Indeed. The appointment of like-minded people by governors is commonplace.

Take Gov. Bruce Rauner's appointment of Dan Cadigan to the Illinois State Board of Elections as an example.

Cadigan, an attorney from Rauner's hometown of Winnetka, was heavily involved in a failed effort last year to get a political redistricting amendment on the November ballot.

One piece of Rauner's agenda is to change how Illinois draws its political maps.

Hence, you can bet Rauner is hopeful that Cadigan's presence on the board — after the old board scuttled the remapping initiative — will alter the outcome next time around.

Still, the 7th Circuit's ruling was puzzling to some observers.

"Logrolling may not be illegal but it certainly is unethical," noted a statement from Common Cause Illinois Director Brian Gladstein. "In a state that has been mired with corruption and back room deals, we need to aspire to a political culture that breaks down voter disenfranchisement and special interest control."

"I hope that the ruling today is a reminder to everyone that we need ethical elected officials that work for the people to solve our state's important problems," Gladstein added.

Ironically, Common Cause is on the side of Rauner when it comes to how the state redraws its political boundaries.

Open government

Although Rauner always insists he runs an open and transparent shop, here's another example last week of how secretive his administration can be:

In June, I filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the governor asking for copies of the responses to a questionnaire sent to state agencies asking them how they'd deal with a strike by their unionized workers.

I knew the questionnaire had been sent out to agencies in May. They asked things like how many temporary workers would have to be hired if members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union walked out.

I figured the responses might be newsworthy.

The governor's office responded last week.

"The governor's office performed a search and found documents responsive to your request," Rauner attorney Christina McClernon wrote.

McClernon, however, said the governor's office wouldn't be handing them over because they fall under a category of records that can be kept secret.

On Tuesday, in an unrelated matter, Rauner was asked why his administration is secretive about releasing certain documents.

"I don't agree with your supposition," the governor said. "My position on every issue is very clear."

About that strike

AFSCME sent out a bulletin last week outlining some of the demands Rauner is making as the two sides negotiate a new contract. They say he wants no raises for the life of the contract. The union says he's also looking to stick workers into a more expensive health insurance plan and force them into "voluntarily" joining a lower-value pension system.

Although the word "strike" is rumbling through state government, AFSCME says workers are still willing to negotiate.

"We don't want a strike," said AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall.

But, he added, "We have a responsibility to be prepared for a strike."

Especially given Rauner's posture on unions.

But going on strike isn't like turning on a light switch. There are at least six steps that would have to take place before any kind of walkout could occur.

Although no one is quite sure how a timeline would look, it appears as if those steps would take things well into August before any work stoppage might occur.

Follow Kurt Erickson on Twitter @Illinois_Stage


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