Judged by the company he insists on keeping, the road ahead for State Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Collinsville) would seem a bumpy one.
In Springfield, Hoffman plays right hand man and loyal ally to second-term Governor Rod Blagojevich, he of the Chicago-centric agenda, mega-tax hike plans and statewide approval rating that's so low, even members of his own party (and his own Lt. Governor) are publicly pondering a recall.
When he's home, it bears repeating, Rep. Hoffman works for the controversial Lakin Law Firm in Wood River, namesake of famously indicted plaintiff's lawyer L. Thomas Lakin. It's also the former base of besmirched class action ace Gary Peel, who was convicted in March of obstruction of justice, bankruptcy fraud and possession of child pornography and awaits sentencing.
But in politics, as President Bill Clinton taught us, one man's paralyzing baggage is another's mild distraction.
Rep. Hoffman, vying to win his tenth-straight term in the Illinois House, curiously doesn't seem a bit concerned that either association-- with the Lakin Law Firm or Blagojevich-- might cost him votes next November.
That's no matter what is the verdict with Tom Lakin, who faces trial in January on sordid morals charges. And no matter what transpires with Blagojevich, who in addition to his policy stumbles, currently faces a federal investigation and stands accused of trading state jobs and contracts for political contributions.
Maybe Hoffman figures both men will be swiftly vindicated. Or perhaps he figures, given his electorate's inherently Democrat-leaning tendencies and its 16-plus years of familiarity with his last name, the best strategy is ignore it all, projecting an air of inevitability.
But we'd bet the real reason Hoffman is loathe to distance himself from Lakin or Blajojevich is that he's trapped by the trappings.
That "of counsel" slot at the Lakin Law Firm, no matter how tarnished its name, comes with a paycheck that helps Hoffman afford the finer things otherwise out of reach to a full-time public official.
And his relationship with Blagojevich, regardless of how badly the governor's anti-business policies might directly sting our state border communities, or benefit Chicago at the rest of Illinois' expense, carries with it a personal prestige at the State Capitol.
To be sure, Hoffman is the only member of the Metro-East's Statehouse delegation who knows the governor's cell phone number by heart.
Indeed, this is all good for Jay Hoffman. He's somebody in Springfield, recognized at the cocktail parties and respected by the heavy-hitting lobbyists. But is it good for the rest of us?
As we swing back into election season, it's a question worth asking. It's our representation in Springfield, after all, not another's means to their ends.