Governors across the country are beginning their new terms with bold visions of improved ethics and campaign finance systems in their states. In Ohio, Gov. Ted Strickland signed orders on his first day in office to limit gifts from lobbyists and mandate ethics training. In Florida, Gov. Charlie Crist signed orders to enhance transparency and hold his office more accountable. In New York, Gov. Elliot Spitzer started his term by signing new executive orders to restrict campaign contributions to the governor and lt. governor and close the revolving door between government and lobbying firms. To our north, Gov. Jim Doyle yesterday called the Wisconsin General Assembly into special session to deal with ethics legislation.
But not so in Illinois. Five of our six statewide constitutional officers highlighted their intentions to improve ethics in their new terms. The governor was the only one who stood silent on the issue.
Governor Blagojevich won a second term with a smaller percentage of the vote than did President Bush. Both began their second terms claiming that victory gave them a mandate. It might be more accurate to say that, rather than a mandate, both have an opportunity to govern. President Bush failed to address the underlying concerns voters had about his first administration and his recompense was the loss of both chambers of Congress. Governor Blagojevich must address widespread unease with how his campaign warchest has been funded and how that may have influenced the way his administration has developed policy, let contracts, and hired board and commission members. While the legislative map makes loss of even one chamber unlikely in Illinois, voters and legislators are watching to see how honorable the new administration will be.