Rich Miller, founder, publisher and editor of “Capitol Fax”, gave a speech and took questions on Illinois state government.
Miller began his speech by comparing Illinois state government to the movie “Goodfellas” and reciting a quote from the movie, “hundreds of guys depended on Paulie, and he got a piece of everything they made. It was tribute, just like in the old country, except they were doing it here in America. And all they got from Paulie was protection from other guys looking to rip them off. And that’s what it’s all about. That’s what the FBI could never understand. That what Paulie and the organization does is offer protection for people who can’t go to the cops. That’s it. That’s all it is. They’re like the police department for wise guys,” Miller said.
Miller said he thought quote was helpful to understanding state government.
“That’s a pretty good summary to how political bosses operate, particularly here in this state. After all the mafia and the political machines are really based on the structure of the Roman legions,” Miller said. “Take for instance (Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives) Michael Madigan. He’s all about protecting his members.”
Miller described politicians as “a generally nervous bunch.”
“They worry about everything. They worry about how they’re going to vote, how people will perceive the way they vote, they way they dress, the way they talk, the way they walk, the way they shake hands, they’re a nervous group, a nervous bunch,” Miller said. “He makes sure the protect them from any sort of harm.”
Miller talked about what he thinks could potentially happen if Madigan was no longer in office.
“If he does leave, and I’m not convinced that he will, I’m not convinced that they can get him, politics will change because the big ‘Paulie’ is not there. The one guy who you could count on to do exactly what he’s always done will no longer be there,” Miller said.
Miller also discussed his personal life experiences with his job, his predictions for the future of Illinois politics and his thoughts on the state of journalism.
Miller was invited to speak as a part of the Edgar Speaker Series and was introduced by former Illinois Governor and Eastern alum Jim Edgar.
The speaker series was started in 2007 by Edgar and his wife.
Edgar said he started the series to give Eastern students more during their college experience.
“I think it’s important to have people who are experts and have practical experience come and talk to college students,” Edgar said. “With going to Eastern it’s great school but we’re kind of removed from a lot of things and this gives students the chance to hear firsthand from people who have an impact in public policy and in making things happen and learn how they think and do things
Edgar said his goal for the series was to introduce students to people active in fields they may go into.
“Hopefully somebody here, whether it’s a journalism student or a political science major, they get a feel for what’s going on (in the world) and how to deal with it,” Edgar said.
Miller said thinking on his time in college, he could see the benefit of his speech for students.
“When I was a student it was always good to hear from somebody that could tell me what the world was like beyond the confines of being at a university. Sometimes (college students) think that (college) is life and it is for them but there’s going to be a whole other world out there,” Miller said. “I had a good time doing it and so if people learned anything that’s all the better.
Edgar said he thought journalism and political science majors would benefit the most from listening to Miller’s speech.
“This is unique compared to when I grew up we thought we knew how journalists work but this a different world and it’s very important to understand, particularly if you’re going into government or politics, how the world works today because it has a huge impact,” Edgar said.
Miller said he didn’t have a specific message he was trying to spread but he hoped people took something away from what he was saying.
“I don’t really know if I had a message, but I think it’s just ‘stay honest, stay true to yourself and have a little fun with life.’ Not every speech, not everything you do has to be serious. You can teach and entertain at the same time,” Miller said. “I don’t do a lot of these speeches because it takes a lot of energy to do that and as I get older, I have less energy to expend on that but it worked out with my schedule and I enjoy doing this and if people can learn something in between the jokes or even with the jokes that’s so much better.”
Miller said coming to Charleston had a more personal meaning to him beyond speaking to students.
“I haven’t been to Charleston in a long time so it was nice being back,” Miller said. “Steve Schnorf, was a great friend of mine and he’s was from and he always talked about this place and I felt his presence when I was here tonight and on my drive here I was thinking if he was still alive he would have been with me in the car or I’d make him drive so that was kind of a special thing personally.”
Schnorf was a Charleston native who worked in Illinois state government for decades and died in 2017.
Corryn Brock can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected]