Illinois governors are to prisons as peanut butter is to chocolate. The two just seem to go together.
Whether former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s prison sentence is commuted or not, (I don’t believe it should be) one thing is for certain: Illinois’ long history of political corruption and insider influence-peddling is once again in the spotlight.
This spotlight is a good thing because corruption, self-dealing and pay-to-play politics are a way of life among the political elites in Illinois and no one political party has a monopoly. Call it the combine. Call it establishment politics. Call it what you will. It exists, neither party is immune to it and average Illinoisans pay a steep price for it.
The reputation and reality are embarrassing, but more importantly, it hinders our state’s ability to enact meaningful reforms that would benefit regular, working-class Illinoisans looking for better opportunities. Companies see little advantage investing in Illinois because of these insider deals that lead to an environment that is lucrative for the political players and special interests but are very adversarial and unsustainable for the job creators.
Talented, successful and reform-minded leaders are less likely to get involved in Illinois government because they know that without major changes, it is impossible to accomplish anything good in a corrupt state such as Illinois. Political corruption is not the only factor in Illinois losing 45,000 people last year, but it’s most certainly a factor.
The need for reform in Illinois is self-evident. Thankfully, we are finally seeing signs of improvement, at least when it comes to the city of Chicago. Newly elected Mayor Lori Lightfoot, to her credit, has taken some bold action to address political corruption in the Windy City. She pushed through legislation prohibiting aldermen and city employees from representing private-sector clients seeking a reduction in their property tax burden, and she increased the fines and penalties for ethics violations from public servants.
These efforts in Chicago are a positive development. Even the most corrupt city in the nation is capable of enacting strong ethics legislation. So, what is the state of Illinois doing?
Cue the crickets.
The feds have raided the homes of highly connected Springfield players, indicted another sitting alderman in Chicago, and just recently, a sitting state senator has been indicted for receiving income from the Teamsters Union for work he allegedly never performed. But hey, this is just how things work in Springfield. Big money special interests take from working-class people and give to politicians in order to buy influence to maintain the status quo. All of this is done to prop up an unsustainable system that has failed before and will continue to fail the very people they are supposed to be protecting.
The lack of oversight for members of the General Assembly has once again been exposed. The spotlight on the status should be a catalyst to provide some momentum for enacting real reforms on ethics, insider dealing and putting citizens above the system.
Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a push for ethics reforms or any other reforms in the upcoming veto session. In fact, what we will probably see is a push for even more sweetheart deals, bailouts and insider exchanges that continue to prioritize special interests
and highly connected corporate conglomerates.
Instead of bailing out broken systems and connected insiders, we need to be focused on rooting out corruption in Illinois. We need to enact legislation strengthening the economic interest disclosures for legislators, stop allowing lawmakers to leave the General Assembly and immediately become a registered lobbyist and require politicians to make a choice between personal profit and public service.
It is time to make meaningful ethics reform a priority in Illinois. Instead of pay increases for legislators and fist-pumps for raising everyone’s taxes, it is time for the General Assembly to take the issue of political corruption seriously. That’s what I plan to do because the cost of inaction is a price we can no longer afford to pay.
State Rep. Blaine Wilhour, R-Beecher City, represents the 107th District, which includes all or parts of Bond, Clinton, Effingham, Fayette and Marion counties.