Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Playin downstate

The Peoria Journa-Star ran a strong editorial this morning. Anyone wondering where reform is should look at HB 743, HB 4073, SB 39, or SB 1822. The solutions are there; the problem is as much a lack of will as anything else.

[text of the ediorial]

New scandal a new distraction

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

We want to believe Gov. Rod Blagojevich when he says he had "no involvement whatsoever in anything surrounding the alleged corruption at the teachers' retirement system, and nobody close to me does either."

Yet . . .

History has taught Illinoisans to be skeptical. Two former governors served prison time in the last 30 years and a third, George Ryan, went on trial Monday for official misconduct. Seventy-three state workers and their friends have been convicted in Operation Safe Road, the bribes-for-drivers-licenses inquiry that mushroomed into a full-scale investigation of various irregularities during Ryan's tenures as secretary of state and governor. Now two men, one a former chief fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee, have pleaded guilty in the burgeoning TRS scandal. It would be fair to say that, where politics are concerned, Illinois has long fostered a bipartisan culture of corruption.

That does not mean Blagojevich ever took part in it or that he should in any way be held accountable for the sins of others. Indeed, maybe this governor really is different. Maybe he really didn't have anything to do with an alleged scheme that traded consulting fees for pension fund business, payments that ultimately rewarded a "high-ranking public official," according to plea agreements in federal court. Maybe two of Blagojevich's top fundraisers had nothing to do with the scam, though they've reportedly been identified in court documents. And maybe "Public Official A" - the unnamed state official referred to in the plea agreement - is someone else.

Yet . . .

Blagojevich has amassed the largest campaign war chest of any governor in the state's history, raising $14 million, a good deal of it from people who do business with the state. The man who ran for governor as a reformer promising to change "business as usual" in Springfield has headed an administration plagued by state and federal inquiries. Those have involved allegations of pay-to-play politics, improprieties at the state agency that oversees hospital construction, and trading state appointments for campaign cash. Political allies have gotten state jobs. Blagojevich brought his ethics reforms forward too late in the last legislative session for them to have much chance of passing.

The governor hasn't been charged with anything, says he hasn't been subpoenaed in regard to the TRS probe and emphatically maintains that the allegation "does not describe how we do things." No prosecutor has publicly suggested he personally committed any wrongdoing. At this juncture, he deserves the benefit of the doubt.

Still, this is disconcerting in a state that has endured years of investigations and convictions, apparently with no end in sight. It's also a further distraction in a state that has no shortage of public policy issues requiring attention. In the land of Honest Abe, this stuff just has to stop. With one of the most aggressive U.S. attorneys this state has ever had in Patrick Fitzgerald, it's a wonder it hasn't already.

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