2003 Barack Obama deal with Emil Jones

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When Illinois' U.S. Senator Peter Fitzgerald announced he would be retiring in April 2003, Obama jumped at the opportunity, declaring that he would be a candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2004.[1] To boost his chances at reaching the U.S. Congress in the 2004 elections, in 2003 Barack Obama approached the newly crowned head of the Illinois Senate, Emil Jones Jr., with a proposal. According to Jones, who Obama has since called his "godfather"[2] the conversation went as follows:

"After I was elected president, in 2003, he came to see me, a couple months later. And he said to me, he said, ‘You’re the senate president now, and with that, you have a lot of pow-er.’  And I told Barack, ‘You think I got a lot of pow-er now?,’ and he said, ‘Yeah, you got a lot of pow-er.’ And I said, ‘What kind of pow-er do I have?’ He said, ‘You have the pow-er to make a United States sen-a-tor!’  I said to Barack, I said, ‘That sounds good!’ I said, ‘I haven’t even thought of that.’ I said, ‘Do you have someone in mind you think I could make?,’ and he said, ‘Yeah. Me.’ "[3][4]
Because of the deal, Obama's entire Illinois Senate legislative record was, as longtime Obama reporter Todd Spivak put it, built in a single year. During his 7th and final year in the Illinois Senate, Obama sponsored an incredible 26 bills into law, including many he now points to when criticized as inexperienced[5] - as CNN's Suzanne Malveaux observed, "With help from on high, Obama got his name on hundreds of bills that he pushed through."[6] Jones not only had Obama craft legislation addressing daily tragedies to raise his political profile[2], he also appointed Obama head of almost all high-profile legislation in the Illinois Senate, angering other state legislators with more seniority who'd spent years supporting the bills.[5] Illinois State Senator Rickey Hendon, the original sponsor of the famous racial profiling bill requiring videotaped confessions in police interrogations, complained bitterly about Jones' decision.
"I took all the beatings and insults and endured all the racist comments over the years from nasty Republican committee chairmen. Barack didn't have to endure any of it, yet, in the end, he got all the credit. I don't consider it bill jacking, but no one wants to carry the ball 99 yards all the way to the one-yard line, and then give it to the halfback who gets all the credit and the stats in the record book."

-Rickey Hendon[7]

Hendon admitted he ultimately released the bills because of Jones' newly acquired power, saying, "President Jones has considerable influence and a lot of power. I knew the President would like me a whole lot more if I went along with his wishes."[7] Hendon also has made sure to remind Obama of how much was due to Jones, stating, "He owes it all. He owes everything to President Jones. I never let Barack forget that. And we shouldn't let Barack forget that."[6] Jones' influence had a major impact on Obama's chances in the 2004 elections, preventing major political players from backing Obama's opponents. To quote Emil Jones,
"He knew if he had me in the run for the Senate, it would put a block on the current mayor. The current mayor and the father of the controller, which was Dan Hynes, they were roommates in Springfield when the mayor was a state senator, so they had a relationship. Another big financial backer for the governor was Blair Hull. Barack knew if he had me it would checkmate the governor, ’cause the governor couldn’t come out and go with Blair Hull, ’cause the governor needs me. Same with the mayor. So he had analyzed and figured all of that out. He knew I could help him with labor support. And I could put a checkmate on some of the local politicians that didn’t know him, but they couldn’t really go against me."

-Emil Jones[3]

See Also

References

  1. MSNBC (2008, February 20). "Obama Becomes Rising Star Among Democrats."
  2. 2.0 2.1 Associated Press (2009, June 18). "Obama's Political 'Godfather' In Illinois."
  3. 3.0 3.1 Purdum, Todd (2008, March). "Raising Obama." Vanity Fair.
  4. Scott, Janny (2007, July 30). "In Illinois, Obama Proved Pragmatic and Shrewd." New York Times.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Spivak, Todd (2008, February 28). "Barack Obama and Me." Houston Press.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Malveaux, Suzanne (2008, August 20). "Barack Obama Revealed." CNN.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Spivak, Todd (2004, March 25). "In the Black." Illinois Times.
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