WE ARE ILLINOIS
Our turn to vote
Chicago Tribune Editorial
"We all know there's a huge scandal hanging over our heads. My view, my recommendation: Let's deal with it head-on."
— Michael Madigan, state chairman of the Democratic Party and speaker of the Illinois House, to fellow Democrats at the Illinois State Fair, Aug. 18, 2010.
In a court of law last week, 12 jurors voted to impose consequences — not enough to suit some citizens — on one ill-behaved politician.
In the court of public opinion, the rest of us have our own options when we vote on other politicians come Nov. 2.
Some of what we've learned in the former court should inform our decisions in the latter. Just ask Mike Madigan:
On a sweltering Aug. 15, 2002, Madigan wielded a broom to rev up Democrats at the state fair in Springfield. At the time, Republicans had a huge scandal hanging over their heads. Then-Gov. George Ryan wouldn't be indicted for another 16 months. But voters were rabid over corruption on his watch, and the feds were in full swivet. Madigan, clad in a yellow polo shirt, waved that broom as if to thrash every Republican in Illinois. "I want you to go find the biggest broom in your house," he instructed, "and get ready for a clean sweep in November!"
The gubernatorial candidate Madigan urged Democrats to elect: Rod Blagojevich, sworn to reform the Illinois culture of political sleaze.
We now know, from Blagojevich's criminal case and those of his felonious associates, how deeply corruption infested his administration. His cronies tried to ransack state government.
Eight years after fed-up voters overhauled governance in Illinois, they again need to exact punishing consequences. As is, too much power is concentrated in the hands of officials who have too little regard for too many cloutless citizens.
The result: From ethics legislation to pension giveaways to prison releases to explosive spending to jobs-crushing tax policy to utterly reckless borrowing to a general climate of mismanagement, our pols have made years of crucial decisions based on what's best for them and theirs.
You see their handiwork at the state, county and local levels. But if we accept that we've too long tolerated debacles like those of Blagojevich, his predecessor and their timid enablers, we can begin to undo the wreckage.
It's a big if:
Over the next 10-plus weeks, will each of us care enough not only to get our own fanny to the polls, but to recruit and educate other citizen-soldiers in the fight to recapture Illinois?
Because if we do, we can create real consequences in this election — and in Chicago municipal elections that follow.
Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton last week used the state fair to further a fiction. They and others in government here have pretended since early 2009 that the impeachment and expulsion from office of Rod Blagojevich fully cleansed the body politic. Blagojevich, they would have you believe, was never more than a rogue tumor, an anomaly. They passed a few good-government measures, they slyly made sure not to crimp their own clout going forward and …. Voila, all fixed!
Which is why you heard so little talk about ethics in the 2010 legislative session: The powers that be want to bluff you into thinking that most of what Illinois needed already is law. Those stronger anti-corruption recommendations from the all but forgotten Illinois Reform Commission? To Madigan, Cullerton and their caucuses of timid castrati, those pesky annoyances expired with 2009.
The fiction that Madigan and Cullerton push — after their combined 72 years in Springfield — is untrue. Rod Blagojevich didn't invent the Illinois culture of sleaze. He was but one more pol to ooze from the swamp. He nuzzled with the Chicago machine, but with each public gig he became less the insider. The establishment was glad to amputate him. Only his sister-in-law voted against impeachment in the House; the Senate vote to expel was unanimous.
But the embarrassments and the bad governance survive Blagojevich. So do many of his enablers. In 2006, Madigan co-chaired the governor's re-election campaign. Gov. Pat Quinn famously assured voters that Blagojevich is honest. In 2008, 26 state senators — all but one his fellow Democrats — decided that you shouldn't be able to add a broad recall amendment to your state constitution. In 2009, 61 House Democrats opposed a similar proposal. Many of these same folks made sure you didn't get to choose a U.S. senator to replace Barack Obama. Your consolation prize: Roland Burris.
The crucial history here has to be what happens next. If this state's cunning pols convince us that lousy government in Illinois is a function of two bad governors, they'll all be re-elected in 2010, 2012 and beyond. They'll continue to wave off game-saving reforms, ethical and financial alike.
If we instead challenge our own rote loyalties, to this party or that interest group, we can stop playing the roles of clueless victims. We can work instead to elect better candidates.
That doesn't automatically mean opting for Republicans because the Democrats control everything in this state. Plenty of Republicans enabled George Ryan. It's not enough for them to promise reform — Blagojevich promised a boatload of reform in 2002. Voters need to demand of every candidate: What have you done to change the status quo?
The culture of sleaze, the billions in deficits, the additional billions in borrowings, the astonishing billions in unfunded pension obligations — this state simply needs more capable leaders.
Will we demand better? Or will we retreat into the unofficial motto of Illinois: "Um, this is how it is here."
This general election is the time to begin eradicating that culture of sleaze. Change is possible. Over the next 72 days, we at the Tribune will do all we can to identify the candidates likeliest to deliver a new Illinois. We are devoting more months, more resources and more technology to deciding and promulgating our endorsement efforts than ever before.
Please do your part. Tell the voters you recruit — the disaffected, the "too busy," the lazy, the young — to help you deliver consequences to politicians who have failed them. Tell them to demand the honest services of their public officials, because without that, public corruption savages … the public.
We concur with Speaker Madigan.
We all know there's a huge scandal hanging over our heads. Our view, our recommendation: Let's deal with it head-on.
SOURCE: Chicago Tribune
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