My favorite holiday missive in a season of oddball snail mail offerings comes in the form of a letter from the powerful speaker of the Illinois House, Michael J. Madigan, with whom I’ve had a rocky relationship over the years due to the often-conflicting demands and priorities of our respective vocations—me as a TV news political reporter and now a good government watchdog and MJM as a controversial political leader and tax attorney.

Oil and water, some might say, although I’ve always had a private appreciation for his wry sense of humor and offbeat charm and an oft-stated respect for his intelligence, work ethic, political skill and organizational expertise. We’ve also shared some quality time away from our respective pressure cookers, and that leads me to think that under different circumstances we could have been friends.

That may help you understand why I reacted with bemusement and curiosity to this week’s letter from the speaker in response to an erroneous solicitation for a year-end contribution to the BGA. We don’t accept money from politicians, PACs, candidates or office holders, so he shouldn’t have been on our mailing list, and his name’s been removed.

But he apparently found the solicitation letter provocative enough to send this reply:

Dear Andy: Concerning the enclosed solicitation where you state “we’re watching.” Andy, who is watching you. With kindest personal regards, I remain, sincerely, Mike.

He signs it “Mike” in the neat and methodical style that characterizes his persona.

I appreciate his endorsement of a transparent process that encourages a vast audience of Illinois residents to watch all of us—that’s the civic engagement we so desperately need to clean up the mess we call Illinois government. So I invite Mr. Speaker and everyone in Illinois to watch what we’re doing at the BGA, as we attack waste, fraud, patronage, cronyism, nepotism, pay-to-play and inside deals with every tool at our disposal—media partners, TV, radio, website and social media

I also encourage the speaker to mobilize his considerable power and expertise in concert with other political, business, labor and civic leaders to forge longterm solutions to the state’s budget and pension crises. The BGA is eager to join the discussion, and we hope that Illinois residents will be watching this process closely because no government challenge is more important as we turn the calendar on another year.

Finally, let me take this opportunity to wish Michael J. Madigan and all of you a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year and a healthy 2011 characterized by better government. It’s our right and our responsibility—we can no longer tolerate public officials who treat our hard-earned tax dollars like it’s their money. If we’re smart, aggressive, creative and, most importantly, if we walk the walk together, better government can become a reality.

So enjoy the holiday season—I’ll be back with more of “What I’m Watching” and the rest of the Shaw Blog on Jan. 3.