Sadly, the conviction of Rod Blagojevich, the former governor of Illinois, of trying to sell his appointment of a replacement for then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama is a continuation of embarrassments for that state. And sadder still, this conviction has no better chance of serving as a warning than others have in the past.
Cook County, the most powerful county in the state, itself has been a “dark pool of political corruption” for more than a century, according to a study by the University of Illinois at Chicago. Since 1957, nearly 150 employees, politicians and contractors have been convicted on corruption charges, the report states. And those are the ones who got caught. In the last 36 years, 31 sitting or former Chicago aldermen also have been convicted of corruption or other crimes, according to the report.
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels joked that Indiana may want to formally establish an “Illinois Governor’s Wing” at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., where former Illinois Gov. George Ryan is serving his sentence for racketeering and other crimes. Other Illinois governors who served time include Otto Kerner and Daniel Walker — Kerner for bribery, conspiracy and perjury, and Walker for improprieties involving fraudulent loans he received for his business and yacht.
In fact, one of the defense arguments was that Blagojevich was merely doing what politicians do all the time in Illinois, throwing elbows around in that rough and tumble world to get what you want. That’s another sad indictment of the situation in Illinois. Hey, it’s just politics as usual.
Efforts have been made to legislate reform in Illinois, but meaningful restrictions like party leadership donations to candidates never got much traction.
A former federal prosecutor, Patrick Collins, told the New York Times: “I don’t think you can indict your way to reform. There is still a structural ethics deficit in Illinois that won’t be cured by indictment or legislation. Ultimately, the long-term solution for Illinois is a more engaged public who steps up and demands better government before the next scandal develops.”
Illinois Times columnist James Krohe Jr. wrote: “Voters are guilty of apathy, ignorance, scandal fatigue and an insensitivity to manipulation that rivals that of a corpse on the embalmer’s table.” When we don’t hold our candidates accountable, when we ignorantly follow those people who say things we want to hear without question, we allow poor leadership to happen and that’s our own fault.
Without vigilance, anything can happen and anyone can get into office. In the end, the people of Illinois — or any other state for the matter — end up with the type of government it deserves.