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If it weren’t so important to the lives of so many people, the mayhem that erupts in the final days of the Illinois General Assembly’s spring legislative session could be considered seriously interesting entertainment.

The shenanigans I’ve watched unfold in the final week of the past 16 months of May are what make Illinois politics some of the best and some of the worst — in the nation.

And this time around, the Legislature is living up to its reputation.

Democrats who control state government are trying to ram through their initiatives. Republicans are trying to block key policies from going into effect.

Every one of the 177 lawmakers is worried about what might happen to their political futures thanks to the once-per-decade redrawing of the state’s political boundaries.

The push to lessen the burden of public employee pensions and health care costs have got Big Labor and a lot of retirees up in arms. Big Business is trying to cut the cost of worker compensation that protects people from injuries suffered on the job. And, the deep-pocketed electric utility lobbyists were wining and dining lawmakers trying to get them to approve automatic rate hikes on consumers.

And, for good measure, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was sitting in a federal courtroom in Chicago on trial — again — for corruption, making a spectacle of himself on the stand.

But, as the clock was ticking down on the scheduled May 31 adjournment, it wasn’t all hardball politics under the Statehouse dome.

On Wednesday, state Treasurer Dan Rutherford doled out pieces of cake to anyone who roamed into his office on the second floor. It was his birthday, after all.

Around the corner, state Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka had a line of hungry Statehouse denizens snaking into her office where she was giving away free cheesecake as part of a tradition she started during her initial term as treasurer.

In the evening after a tough day of trying to find agreement on everything from pension reform to health insurance costs, scores of legislators gathered at a house south of the Capitol for a party hosted by the Hispanic and Black caucuses.

Heck, even Secretary of State Jesse White got in the collegial spirit of things, bringing his tumbling team to Springfield to perform outside the west doors of the Capitol.

From my perch in the press room, I could see Jesse’s young men flying through the air while being watched by not only Democrats and Republicans, but by school kids visiting the Capitol and protesters in town to fight budget cuts.

And despite the intensity of the issues being debated inside the building, most of those watching were smiling.

Remap fodder

For many lawmakers, the focus of their week was on how they might fare under the proposed new legislative maps. Many of them were placed in unfamiliar territory or paired with their colleagues, triggering potential contests in a number of downstate districts.

One feature of the new map is a district connecting Decatur with the east side of Springfield. It appears designed to oust freshman Republican state Rep. Adam Brown of Decatur and replace him with a Democrat.

Which got us to thinking: Is there a Democrat who lives in Decatur but works in Springfield and has extensive knowledge of both state government and Decatur city government?

Indeed, there is. His name is Michael Carrigan, a former member of the Decatur City Council who serves as president of the Illinois AFL-CIO.

We ran the scenario past him during a break in the action of the General Assembly last week. He laughed and said he was a bit too busy to contemplate the idea of running for the seat because of the crush of legislative business under way in the Capitol.

But, he also didn’t say “no.”

Heavy duty

State Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, has been a workhorse during the legislative session. He was a point person on grueling negotiations over workers’ compensation reform, spending hours in frustrating, closed-door meetings with lobbyists representing trial lawyers, labor, hospitals and businesses.

But not everything he was working on fits in that heavy-lifting category.

Take Bradley’s House Resolution 397 as an example. It would designate June 11 as Willie Nelson Day in Illinois.

-- Kurt Erickson is Lee Statehouse Bureau chief. He can be reached at kurt.erickson@lee.net or 217-789-0865.

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