Byline: Eric Krol Daily Herald Political Writer
For a politician who likes to boast of using a bully pulpit to turn his agenda into reality, Gov. Rod Blagojevich hasn't been pounding it much since getting re-elected last fall.
The reclusive governor doesn't appear in public much, often avoids questions when he does surface, and appears to rely on a few senior staff members and small cadre of fundraising lobbyists for counsel.
As Blagojevich's tax-and-spend plan for health care flounders - a recent symbolic House vote went 107-0 against him - it's leading some in the political arena to question whether the Democrat's walled-off style could be hurting his effectiveness.
"He's dramatically hampered his ability to get policies enacted. And that's with Democrats in power," said Republican state Sen. Dan Rutherford of downstate Chenoa. "Rod is not engaged, and it's not just with Republicans. Ask his fellow Democrats."
Democratic state Sen. Terry Link of Waukegan said Blagojevich is a "reasonable man" who he wishes "would be more a part of" the process in Springfield.
"I don't know if he felt a response that wasn't as positive out there (to his tax plan), or he felt that he was going to handle it a different way," said Link, the Lake County Democratic chairman. "He didn't follow as strongly as he normally does."
Mostly, though, Democrats are worried the governor's disengagement is damaging their party's chances to make progress on key issues.
"I'm less concerned about the level of visibility than I am with how the importance of investing in education and health care has been overshadowed by the firestorm of opposition to the governor's tax (on businesses)," said Democratic state Sen. Jeff Schoenberg of Evanston.
A Blagojevich spokeswoman disputed any notion the governor has been reclusive. "He laid out his agenda in March, and he has talked to people all over the state about what his priorities are," spokeswoman Abby Ottenhoff told the Daily Herald this week.
But for a politician one critic referred to as the "razzle- dazzle machine" for his take-it-to-the-people, perpetual-campaign style, Blagojevich has slowed down that aspect in the first year of his second term.
The shift started last year, when unlike in 2002, Blagojevich ran a tightly scripted campaign featuring only one debate after Labor Day and few appearances overall.
That tactic continued this year, with the governor spending the first two months out of public view as he worked on his plan to expand health coverage by levying a controversial gross receipts tax on businesses. He has yet to meet this year with capitol reporters assigned to cover him and exits via a loading dock to avoid them. …