Peoria Journal Star

February 26, 2004

Governor: Hastert has 'Illinois on his mind'
Blagojevich discusses road funding, state priorities during Capitol Hill visit


By DORI MEINERT
of Copley News Service

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich came away from a private meeting with House Speaker Dennis Hastert on Wednesday in an upbeat mood about the state's chances for gaining more federal transportation funds.

While not relaying any specifics of their conversation on Illinois' transportation needs, Blagojevich said the meeting reconfirmed his belief that Hastert "very much has Illinois on his mind, and he's very determined to do the best he can for the state he comes from."

"There's a total and completely good working relationship between us," Blagojevich, a Democrat, said of his relationship with the Republican speaker from Yorkville.

Illinois lawmakers seek to increase the state's share of federal road money as Congress considers a six-year reauthorization of the nation's transportation programs. Blagojevich is pushing for the $318 billion funding level passed by the Senate recently. But President Bush has threatened to veto anything more than $256 billion.

One possibility is that a short-term transportation reauthorization bill favorable to Illinois would be passed, Blagojevich said after his meeting with Hastert.

Blagojevich also met with other members of the Illinois congressional delegation Wednesday to discuss the state's other top priorities for federal funding, including the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield and protection of Scott Air Force Base and Rock Island Arsenal in the upcoming round of defense base closings. Blagojevich also said he is working with the delegation to attract a clean-coal power plant project called FutureGen to southern Illinois and to ensure Argonne National Labs is chosen as the home of the new Rare Isotope Accelerator, both of which would spur the state's economy.

In between his Capitol Hill appointments, Blagojevich squeezed in a meeting with James Carville, former Democratic strategist and co-host of Crossfire, CNN's political debate program. Carville had hosted a fund-raiser for Blagojevich in Washington in 2002 during his gubernatorial campaign.

However, Blagojevich said his visit with the "ragin' Cajun," who retired from domestic consulting after the 1992 presidential race of Bill Clinton, shouldn't fuel speculation that he has national aspirations.

"I don't have any," Blagojevich said. "I'm focusing exclusively on my job to be the best possible governor I can possibly be."

"James Carville is someone who understands Washington, understands the process here," Blagojevich said. "It's always helpful to get insight from people like him, who can try to help you improve your game when it comes to try to do better for your state at the federal level."

Carville later said the lunch was a social visit, arranged by a mutual friend whom he declined to name.

"His political aspirations didn't even come up," Carville said.

Blagojevich and other governors met separately Tuesday to maintain pressure on the Bush administration to allow the re-importation of prescription drugs from Canada.