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Your Tax Dollars at Work 

The Springfield Follies of 1987: This Is the Way a Legislative Session Ends

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You have to understand the legislators in Springfield. They're away from home. They don't see their families. They don't eat right. They stay up too late. They drink too much. They're only human. I understand them because I used to teach second grade. --A veteran Springfield observer

Capitol Building, Springfield, Illinois

June 30, late at niqht

The janitors clear the rubble from the desks of the empty house chamber . . .

In the gallery above them, TV reporters confidently predict that, for the first time in 17 years, the legislature will break for summer before the July 1 deadline . . .

Across the hall, in the senate chamber, only a few last-minute, routine budget details remain to be dealt with . . .

And down the street, in his mansion, the governor has kicked off his annual end-of-the-session party . . .

When up from his chair pops State Senator Jeremiah Joyce.

"I don't think we should take any more of this," he announces.

And with his next few words, Joyce sets off a chain of events that eventually forces House Speaker Michael Madigan--in an airplane somewhere over Rockford--to turn around and fly back to Springfield.

The boys in the legislature aren't done with business yet; this session of the 85th Assembly ain't history.

House Chamber

Earlier that day

"OK, boys and girls," whines the tour guide, a demure blond, "this is called the house chamber."

It is here, she continues, that a bill takes its first step in the long journey to become one of the many laws that you and I must follow.

The kids survey the scene. And what a scene. An enormous room, several floors high, bathed in an ocean blue--blue chairs, blue carpets, blue drapes, set off against the rich brown wood desks. Two large oil portraits--one of Stephen Douglas, another of Abraham Lincoln--overlook, respectively, the Democratic and Republican sides of the chamber.

"Those chandeliers above you," says the guide, "weigh 440 pounds each and were a gift from Austria."

On the floor below, she adds, sit the 118 members of the house. The podium in front is for the speaker, Michael Madigan, a Democrat from Chicago. He is not here right now, so one of his assistants takes his place.

The kids look up at the chandeliers and then let their gaze drop to the floor below, where a boyish-looking state representative from Chicago's northwest side leans back in his chair and eyes his newspaper.

But the legislator doesn't look happy. It doesn't look like he is quite comfortable yet. So he shifts his rump a little, leans back a bit, and stretches his legs.

Ah, that's it. The perfect position. He turns the page of his newspaper.

All about him swirl dozens of pages, aides, lobbyists, and other state representatives. Their movement, seen from above, looks like a mess of aimless energy. Hundreds of people roam the floor. They cluster briefly in small groups to gossip, then disperse.

Negotiations over Governor Thompson's proposed tax increase have fizzled out, and now the representatives are hurriedly cleaning house. Anything they pass that Thompson doesn't think the state can afford--well, he can veto it later. Every now and then a clerk announces a bill and the legislators push little buttons at their desks--green for yes, red for no--which activate a large electronic scoreboard near the front of the room. And so it is that bill after bill gets disposed of. If all goes well, they can leave for the summer by five--just like Speaker Madigan told them.

But not everyone is ready to go home.

"I just want to say that this is an outrage."

It is some suburban Republican, and he is angry. He doesn't believe that Madigan's election-reform bill is strong enough. And he wants to say so.

Only no one--absolutely no one--is listening, or even remotely pretending to listen. With all the chitchat, you can barely hear him at all. And that is surprising, because by now he is bellowing. From the upper gallery, the kids crane their necks, but they can't spot him. His voice and body are lost in the chaos of sights and sounds--rising and falling, twisting and turning--on the floor below.

A black representative from the south side speaks on his desk phone, engaged in an animated conversation.

A white north-side representative munches a sandwich, his second in the last 15 minutes.

One legislator--a Democrat who resembles sports announcer Bob Uecker--takes what looks like a broken TV antenna and rubs it against a corrugated microphone stand. It makes an obnoxious racket. A few legislators--their conversations interrupted--turn in annoyance. He smiles and rubs his stick even harder.

The digital clock on the electronic tote board marks four minutes to five, and the final bills have not yet made their way to the floor. Several legislators start chanting.

"Four minutes, four minutes."

Two more minutes tick off the clock, and a new chant erupts.

"Two minutes, two minutes."

And still the final bills have not arrived.

The black representative is so excited he cuts off his conversation, hangs up his phone, and joins the chant.

"One minute, one minute."

Hugh Hill, the Channel Seven news reporter who is standing in the balcony set to broadcast God-only-knows-what live at five, turns around to look.

The clock moves to five.

The boyish northwest-sider sits up, lifts a thick copy of the budget, and bangs it repeatedly against his desk.

"You [Madigan] never lied to us before," he says, a twinkle in his eye. (Despite the speaker's assurances, the session will drag on into the evening.)

The kids in the gallery behold it all in amazement, their eyes and mouths open wide. From the few dry and boring civics classes they have suffered, never, ever, could they have imagined that their state government was so entertaining.

Senate Chamber

Later that night

It is nearing midnight and the end of the fiscal year, and by now the back of the room is jammed with senatorial aides and pages--their trip to the governor's party, as well as their summer vacations, hanging in abeyance as a result of Joyce's salvo.

"What Speaker Madigan did was an offense to this entire body," continues Joyce, who despite his gray hair is a young-looking man. He sports a corduroy jacket and running shoes, and his face is flushed. "I have had enough."

What Madigan--a fellow Democrat--did was to push through the house the entire $20.2 billion budget package for fiscal year 1987-88, and then a couple hours ago adjourn for the summer. Already, most representatives are at the governor's party or on their way home. And that means the senate must abide by Madigan's budget, even if several senators now want to make changes.

Unless, of course, they simply reject it. Which is exactly what Joyce has in mind.

Why should we, Joyce continues, allow this guy--Michael Madigan--to tell us what we should do? Who the hell does he think he is? A representative dictating to senators! Why don't we show Madigan? Why don't we adjourn right now with these last two budget bills (appropriations for mental health and the supreme court) still outstanding?

My God, that would throw state government into chaos! With the new fiscal year beginning in just a few minutes, there would be no money to run those offices.

We would force the house to recognize our importance and independence. Best of all, we would force Madigan back from his summer vacation.

Of course, Joyce does not say all of that. He does not have to. Most of it was understood from the moment he proposed to adjourn without passing the budget.

At the podium, Senate President Philip Rock looks out over the top of his reading glasses, sighs, and drops his head. This is not what he needs at all. For a second he seems so alone, almost deserted.

He motions to his Democratic floor leader, Senator Vince Demuzio, who assumes Rock's place at the podium so that the president can return to his seat on the floor and formally address the senate.

It's a short trek, no more than 30 feet. But Rock ambles. He fiddles with his floor mike, and for a moment stands silently beneath the towering ceiling, ornately garnished with marble angels and glittering chandeliers.

"Come on guys," Rock says. "I don't know about you, but I want to go home."

We have but two bills to consider, he says, just two little bills. That's all. Get them out of the way and we can be out of here in 15 minutes. So, what do you say, huh? Why don't we just call it quits and go home for the summer?

But James "Pate" Philip is not convinced. The burly senate Republican leader out of Du Page County, his belly protruding over his slacks, his white mane sprayed into a sculptured pompadour (a fashion, by the way, sported by dozens of Pate groupies throughout the capitol), rises from his chair.

"I admire the president's infinite patience," he begins. "But the house has adjourned. I've had it. It's long overdue. We are equal to the house."

The audience murmurs. Philip's backing guarantees Joyce's proposal for immediate adjournment unanimous Republican support. There are 59 senators: 31 Democrats and 28 Republicans. To carry his motion, Joyce needs only one more Democrat to abandon his leader and party.

Demuzio calls for a vote, which the electronic tote board instantly carries. There are 30 nays; Joyce has been beaten.

Rock, much relieved, moves that the senate finish adopting the budget.

But Joyce is at it again. How can we accept this budget, he declares, with mental health so grossly underfinanced?

What? murmur a few surprised onlookers. Since when has Jeremiah Joyce been such an advocate for mental health?

But now Jack Schaffer is inspired. As if on cue, the bald and brawny Republican from McHenry County takes the floor. A few senate aides groan at the sight. All session long, Schaffer's been pushing hard for an extra $20 million for mental health. And all session long, most people--Republicans like the governor and officials in the Department of Mental Health among them--have been saying, Jack, the money's just not there.

Give Schaffer credit, though; the man is persistent. And now, with the minutes ticking closer to midnight and the spotlight upon him, he can make one final push.

"We must leave the state with a message," Schaffer says, "and the message is that we're serious about mental health."

Republicans across the floor are nodding their heads. Suddenly--as if by magic--the senate's Republicans have all become avid boosters for bigger, better, and more expensive mental health facilities.

Schaffer finishes, and to the floor rises Howard Carroll, a Democrat and chairman of the senate's appropriations committee. A stylishly dressed character with Jagger-like lips and bushy hair, Carroll is recognized as one of the few legislators who know the budget inside and out.

Sure, mental health is understaffed, he begins, but how can we boost its budget if you Republicans--Jack Schaffer included--steadfastly refuse to raise taxes? Besides, all state programs are feeling the pinch. With no new taxes, everybody's facing cuts. In fact, Mental Health, scheduled for a $47 million boost, is one of the few state agencies that are getting a raise.

So come on guys, let's get on with business. Let's adopt the budget--like President Rock suggests--and deal with any inequities when we return in October.

But the Republicans are adamant. There's no room for compromise. Demuzio calls for a vote on the mental health and supreme court appropriations--the only items standing between Springfield and a summer vacation.

A few Democrats join the Republicans, and Rock's motion is narrowly defeated. The last two house bills are dead in the senate. Rock frowns, Philip grins, but no one knows what to do.

Under normal circumstances, senators would sit down with representatives and work something out. But the house has adjourned.

Indeed, at this very moment, many of its members are whooping it up at the governor's mansion.

Governor's Mansion

Shortly after midnight

"Boy, they really screwed Madigan," a legislative aide confides to a reporter.

They stand beside a glass case filled with antique plates--one of many groups of celebrants filling the cavernous rooms with a buzz of casual conversation.

"Yeah," says the reporter, "I hear the governor had to call a special session."

"Yeah, and do you know where Madigan was when the governor called him?"

"Back at his hotel?"

"Hell, no. I heard he was in a plane somewhere over Rockford on his way to a vacation in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin."

"What was he doing over Rockford if he was going to Lake Geneva?"

"He was dropping Zeke off."

"Zeke?"

"Yeah, Zeke Giorgi, a legislator from Rockford. He's one of the guys who gets a personal lift home in Madigan's plane after every session."

"Wow."

"Yeah, then Madigan had to come right back."

"Damn, I bet he must have really been pissed."

"I can't wait to see what he does tomorrow."

And then they cackle. Nearby, several pages lounge on posh antique couches. A black man plays a Dave Brubeck tune on a white baby grand. Hovering over it all is Big Jim Thompson--the governor himself--his grinning face sunburned a lobster red, his sleeves rolled up.

"Excuse me, Mister Governor, can we have our picture taken with you?"

It's a couple of pages, no older than 18. They gaze at the governor in awe and appreciation.

Why certainly, Thompson says. And he puts his long arms around them, as a flashbulb pops and the pages beam.

Meanwhile, in the corner of the room, under a turn-of-the-century impressionist oil painting, a Madigan aide nurses a Budweiser and reveals the inner workings of that evening's maneuvers.

"Everybody's pissed at Madigan," he says, "because he cleared out early. But why should Madigan stand on ceremony? Why should he wait for the senate? With no new taxes, there's nothing he can do. There's no new programs he can add.

"That Joyce just likes to make trouble. Rock can't control him. People call Joyce 'Jack Nicholson.'"

"Jack Nicholson?"

"Yeah, you know, like in Cuckoo's Nest. He plays the game, but he doesn't obey the rules."

They stop talking to join the line that winds around several long, narrow tables piled high with chicken, pizza, meatballs, tacos, and a platter of Swiss and cheddar cheese.

"Of course, Joyce doesn't really matter," the aide continues. "He wasn't the real instigator, anyway."

"Who's that?" asks the reporter.

"That guy over there," says the aide. And he points to a stout man in wire-rimmed glasses and a conservative blue suit who nibbles on some cheese and hobnobs with various politicos.

"But that's Lee Daniels. He's not a senator, he's in the house."

"I know. That's the point. He's the Republican leader of the house, which is sort of like rooting for the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium. It's kind of sad, really. Daniels always loses; Madigan never lets him win.

"So this afternoon, after his annual trouncing, Daniels figures that's it, I've had enough. And he creeps over to the senate floor to stir things up. You should have seen him, whispering to all the senators about how Madigan had pissed in their face by adjourning early. Never mind that the senate did the same thing to the house two years ago.

"You mean this wasn't the first time one of the bodies left before the other?"

"Hell no. Nothing around Springfield is original anymore. So anyway, Daniels gets the Republicans and Joyce and a few other turncoat Democrats all fired up about how insulted they ought to be 'cause Madigan denigrated their manhood, and they killed the appropriations."

"Now what?"

"Now the two sides have to meet in a conference committee to smooth the whole thing out. They'll probably tack on a few million to shut Schaffer up, but it's all bullshit."

"Why?"

"Because you can't spend what you ain't got. Carroll wasn't lying--there is no money. They'll throw some money at mental health--just to shut Schaffer up--approve the budget, and dump the mess in Thompson's lap. And he'll probably just take the extra Mental Health money out."

"He can do that?"

"Sure. The law allows the governor to take money out of a budget, but he can't add any in. Yeah, the senate. It's just egos, man, big fat egos. We don't have those ego problems in the house."

"But I was there today. It was wild. It makes the City Council look civilized."

"You should have seen it before Madigan. I heard they used to have food fights there."

"You're kidding, food fights?"

"Yeah, food. I'm not saying things aren't wild there anymore. They don't call it the 'blue zoo' for nothing. But at least Madigan sort of keeps them under control. He's got them working together. And it ain't easy. He's got downstate rubes--real farmers--cutting deals with the black guys from the city and suburbanites in polyester. It's amazing they get anything done."

They fill their plates and head back past the winding white staircase toward the parlor, passing the governor, who's huddled with Pate Philip, whose mane's still perfectly sculpted.

"I notice the governor's in a good mood," says the reporter. "How come? I thought he'd be sulking. He didn't get his tax through."

"Yeah, but he got even. Sure, Madigan blocked Thompson's tax increase. But Thompson ruined Madigan's summer vacation."

It's close to 1:30 in the morning and the party is still going strong when several state secretservice agents start clearing the crowd.

"Time to go," they say, "we have to close the mansion."

But the real revelers refuse to sleep. So they move the party over to Baur's Opera House, a watering hole that resembles a Chicago disco, circa 1977.

Rock music blasts from the stereo as a curious conglomeration of couples--some politicos in three-piece suits, others "townies" in blue jeans--dance on a platform four feet above the ground. Below, lining the bar, legislators, drinks in hand, howl with laughter.

"Look at these clowns, do you think any of them really give a shit about the mentally retarded?" shouts a senatorial aide, his voice barely heard above the din. He stops talking for a moment to watch one of the governor's most prominent appointees shake the shimmy with a much younger blond lobbyist.

"When it comes to mental health, most of them only want to keep the real loonies locked up," he adds.

"But the governor said without new taxes the state faces a fiscal crisis," says a reporter.

"Maybe, but no one knows for certain. None of these guys really knows what's in the budget. It's all a bunch of numbers on a piece of paper. Nobody knows what the hell it all means.

"Nah, it's politics. Plain and simple politics, that's all. Joyce hates Madigan for some Democratic political bullshit back on the southwest side. Pate Philip and Daniels hate all Democrats. Thompson's just messing with Madigan for not passing his taxes. And Madigan didn't push Thompson's taxes 'cause if he had, Thompson, all the other Republicans, would have turned right around and clobbered Madigan with it. Hell, they would have been running around the state telling voters that the Democrats are the party that raised your taxes.

"I'll tell you what, though, tomorrow, Madigan's gonna be hot. I can't wait to see his face."

House Chamber

One in the afternoon

Speaker Madigan clutches the podium and glares at the specially called meeting of the house.

He's small--almost dainty--so much so that he looks lost in the baggy brown coat that hangs over his angular shoulders.

He wears big tortoise-shell glasses and a wide, chocolate-brown tie.

"The purpose of this special session will be to resolve differences relative to appropriations for mental health and the supreme court and nothing else," Madigan says, attempting to conceal his anger. "Please, let me underscore that point. That is our purpose and nothing else."

He goes on to explain that he has called for a special conference between senate and house leaders to iron out the differences on the budget.

Unlike most conferences, however, he has ordered that this one be public. It starts in one hour. In room 114. And I encourage everyone, Madigan continues, legislators, media, and the general public included, to attend. Do you understand?

Reluctantly, many Democrats (several obviously feeling the effects of last night's celebration) rise and, like obedient schoolchildren following the teacher's command, file from the room.

"I don't know about you," wisecracks one class clown, a Republican legislator in a baby-blue jacket and matching trousers, "but I really enjoyed my summer vacation."

Everyone laughs, except Madigan, who manages to stifle an impish smile. He then recognizes Lee Daniels.

"You are correct as to the reason for the special session," Daniels says. "But I want you to know that several members raised the constitutional issue that this house cannot adjourn without consent of the senate."

"Thank you, Mister Daniels," says Madigan tersely. "Mister Huff?"

Douglas Huff Jr., a black man with a bushy gray Afro, rises. He's a longtime legislator from a near-west-side district.

"I respectfully suggest, Mister Speaker, that we could accelerate our business if we merge the supreme court with the Department of Mental Health."

The legislators rock with laughter, spontaneously, rising to reward Huff with a boisterous ovation. Beaming, Huff works his way up the aisle, modestly accepting the congratulatory handshakes and backslaps of his colleagues.

It is, perhaps, Huff's finest moment as a legislator. Even Madigan manages to crack a grin.

Conference Room 114

An hour or so later

Madigan is one of the first legislators to arrive for his public hearing.

He takes a front-row seat in the mezzanine that rises from the floor of the large room. His very presence ignites a buzz of conversation.

"This is totally unlike Madigan," whispers one lobbyist.

"He's even issued press releases inviting the media to attend," adds another.

"That's not like him. He's a backroom guy. He shuns public spectacles."

"He's trying to embarrass the governor."

"He's trying to humiliate him."

The 11 conferees--5 from the house, 6 from the senate--sit behind three tables placed together to form a large U in the middle of the room. Their names have been hastily scrawled with black marking pens on cardboard placards. The governor's placard sits in front of an empty chair at the center of the head table.

A row of television cameras--crowded so close together there's barely enough room for their operators--takes it all in.

"Madigan's really putting the senate Republicans on the spot," whispers a reporter. "He's saying, 'OK, you want to pad the mental health budget? Well, here's your chance to tell the whole state how you're gonna do it.'"

"The reason we are in this session," says Representative Jim McPike, "is because the governor called us down to hear two bills that had died in the senate." McPike, a close Madigan ally, is chairing the meeting from a seat almost immediately in front of where the Speaker is sitting.

Instead of encouraging his fellow senators to pass these bills, McPike continues, the governor called us into special session at the taxpayers' expense of $10,000 a day.

One man somewhere in the back laughs, but no one joins him. Silent and grim-faced, McPike pushes forward.

We spent 14 hours in a conference committee earlier in this session banging out a compromise, and still the senate wouldn't pass the budget.

He pauses.

I should note that we invited the governor; we invited the governor's chief of staff, as well as his budget director. I should also add, for the record, that all of them, apparently, have declined our invitations.

The television cameras zoom in on the governor's empty seat.

"I assume we are only going to resolve the differences between the two bills," quips Howard Carroll, sitting next to McPike, "and not the differences between the two chambers."

His crack wins a few laughs.

What follows is a debate in the coded babble of legislative fiscalese--a mishmash so obtuse, convoluted, and devilishly misleading that no normal human being can possibly understand it.

"The budget request is $114.7 million," says Forest Etheredge, a Republican senator.

"Is that approp. or expenditure?" asks Carroll.

"1986 expend.: 141. Eighty-seven approp.: 144."

"Are you taking into account this year's level?"

"Well, you asked an approp. and we gave you an approp."

"Except, you gave reduction, right?"

The spectators--many of whom take pride in their understanding of such matters--seem baffled.

"Spending numbers include reduction," Carroll clarifies. "'Cause you couldn't spend it if you didn't reduce it."

Ah. A few listeners nod. What Carroll has said is so confusing, so Yogi Berra-like in its logic and implications, that it must make sense.

"I'm looking hard at the budget book," says Etheredge.

"When was the last time we used it?" asks Carroll. "We tore it up last week."

"But I like the book," Etheredge confesses, sounding somewhat disappointed.

Perhaps we could eliminate funding for pretrial review, Etheredge suggests.

But we can't do that, Carroll replies. It's required by a law. A law the governor signed.

"I think everyone knows what our problem is," says Senator John Maitland Jr., a Republican. "The house went home. We don't think Mental Health is what it should be. We are down here in good faith, trying to resolve our problem. A problem created by the house, which could have settled it last night, except that the house went home."

The conferees fall silent.

"We're at an impasse," admits Carroll, apparently ready to request that they reconvene in private.

"Jim," Madigan whispers, bending forward so that he's almost talking into McPike's ear. "No. Keep a public meeting."

"We'll take out some clerks for the supreme court judges, OK?" offers McPike.

"I don't think we want to be looked on as the individuals who restrict the flow of state government," says Maitland.

It's too much for Carroll. How can you suggest that we give more money to mental health, he says, when cuts in education may mean school strikes all over the state?

"Can I interrupt this television program?" says Michael Tate, a Republican representative.

Surprised, Carroll nods and turns to listen. It is perhaps the first time Tate has spoken.

Well, Tate begins, it seems to me that the house made a mistake. You see, we forgot to appropriate about $50,000 for an AIDS testing program. So as long as we're reopening the budget, why not, you know, just pop in some money for AIDS?

Silence--stunned silence--falls. The conferees, even his fellow Republicans, stare at Tate in disbelief. Here they are trying to extricate themselves from an embarrassing mess and this fellow wants to open the discussion to minute line items.

Representative Woody Bowman, a Democrat, reacts first, speaking slowly and politely, so as not to confuse or embarrass Tate. Let's save that one, he advises, for later. Tate reddens and Madigan just shakes his head.

And now they sit in silence. Carroll looks at Etheredge, and Etheredge looks at Carroll. Nobody knows what to say.

After all, what can they say? They've all scored some points. The senators have shown Madigan, and Madigan has shown the senators, that neither will let the other push his team around. So they sit, stuck--TV cameras, reporters, and everyone else watching.

And then Schaffer, up to now quiet, hunches toward his microphone and starts to talk. He speaks slowly and carefully, reminding the conferees--again--that the state has for far too long overlooked the needs of the mentally ill and their custodians.

How important is mental health? Carroll asks. Is it so important that you would deny our schools the money they so desperately need?

Yes, Schaffer insists. If necessary, I would take money from the schools.

"There," he proclaims, turning to the cameras. "I said it, but lightning has not struck me."

For a few more dollars in mental health, you would stand by while teachers walked the picket lines? Carroll presses.

Well, uh, no, that's not what I mean.

You would take even from Northern Illinois University? asks McPike.

Schaffer stiffens. Oh, I see, he says, that's supposed to embarrass me, by reminding everyone that I went to Northern.

"I'm down to my last shirt," he concedes. "And the grass is a yard high at home. I am ready to offer a compromise. . . . But I want to send a message to the governor."

Jack, Carroll intercedes, you asked for an extra $12 million. How about six?

"In the spirit of further compromise," Schaffer says, "I'll come down to eight."

"Done," says Carroll.

"All in favor say aye," demands McPike. "Going, going, gone."

With his gavel, he bangs to an end the meeting before any of the conferees have time to say aye or nay. The television camera lights shut off. And Speaker Madigan smiles wanly and just shakes his head.

Epilogue: Later that afternoon both houses passed the budget. They eliminated the $160,000 the supreme court intended to spend on extra law clerks and added $8 million for the Department of Mental Health.

Thompson then told reporters that he would have to cut $400 million worth of programs to balance the budget, because the legislators had failed to enact his tax plan.

Daniels countered that only $200 million or so had to be cut.

The superintendent of Chicago's public schools, for his part, predicted massive layoffs and crowded classrooms unless the state sends him more money.

The legislators, meanwhile, are home for the summer, or at the beach, or off to Europe. Schaffer presumably has mowed his lawn and washed his shirts.

But they all will return sometime in the fall, for the opening of the next session on October 1.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Carl Kock; photos/Richard Foertsch.

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