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Brown: Springfield ain’t a bad place to be

Updated: July 2, 2013 7:24AM

SPRINGFIELD — I found myself Wednesday wandering down a long subterranean corridor filled with a bright white light.

Far up ahead were two gray doors and behind them, well, not darkness exactly, but definitely a darker place. The doors opened, and heat rushed out to envelop me.

Moments later I arrived at my destination, only to be greeted by a stern-faced woman in a police uniform carrying a clipboard. She said I didn’t have the proper paperwork.

Was I having a near-death experience?

No, just the usual hassle of getting a security pass on my return to the state capital for the General Assembly’s annual end-of-session hijinx.

Yet the experience was symbolic, in a strange way, of the hell this place can be in the final days of a legislative session.

For five months now, state legislators have gone about their business, conducting hearings, making speeches, passing bills out of committee and, of course, consuming large amounts of alcohol.

But as always, it really all boils down to what happens in the next 48 hours when they actually get serious — so that they can start their summer vacations.

State pension funding, casino gambling expansion, a McCormick Place arena, gun rights, gay marriage and the state budget all hang in the balance — each available as a potential bargaining chip for the other.

Or not, depending on what House Speaker Michael Madigan has up his sleeve, which nobody knows.

That’s the thing that would surprise you most about coming to the Capitol and seeing it up close as a newcomer, and which I as a veteran take for granted but still find amazing when I step back from it.

Nearly everyone — legislators and Gov. Pat Quinn included — is in the dark about what exactly lies ahead between now and the scheduled Friday midnight adjournment deadline.

If there is a plan, and history shows Madigan always has a plan, it has not been shared. If there is a timetable, that doesn’t erase the fact that the only way to catch the train is to arrive early — and wait and wait and wait.

The waiting is what can make it particularly hellish. To calm the troops, the leaders will fill the time by plowing through reams of legislation meaningful mostly to the members who introduced it.

The Democrats are as much in the dark as the Republicans, but being the minority party, it will be the Republicans’ job to publicly show their frustration, perhaps today, with a rousing temper tantrum.

That makes it sound like there’s a script, but there is no script to be seen, only well-practiced actors who will improvise as pieces of the story are revealed to them bit-by-bit.

Per usual, Madigan holds most of the cards, but Senate President John Cullerton is emerging as something of a wild card himself this legislative session, insisting on his own favored approach to pension reform just at the moment that Madigan finally advanced his version.

Yet true to form, nobody knows for sure whether this is a true declaration of independence by Cullerton or a good cop-bad cop routine with his old friend and fellow Democrat Madigan.

The key is to remember that all will be revealed in time, hopefully before the midnight deadline, because after that, things tend to get weird.

Grown men and women aren’t meant to conduct business after midnight, except in bars, for which legislators have lots of practice, but actual legislating not so much. In those late hours, I have witnessed legislators cry, faint, have chest pains, even perform a strange courtship ritual — all separate incidents.

It sounds like I am complaining, but the truth is, I love it. Nearly everybody here complains, but they love it, too.

For us, the end of a legislative session is part of the rhythm of summer, as welcome as the stirring of the cicadas.

At this moment, every major piece of legislation mentioned above is deemed to be in jeopardy, and many will tell you that the safe bet is always to wager that the Legislature will do nothing on the big issues.

But as I sit here waiting for that last 48 hours to unfold, my expectation is to see pension reform, a gambling palooza, Rahm’s arena, marriage equality and the return of Illinois citizens openly carrying guns.

Or am I just having another near-death vision?

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