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Time for more reform?

Tuesday, Jun 28, 2011

* Yesterday, Gov. Pat Quinn reacted to the Rod Blagojevich verdict by reviving his proposal from last year to give Illinoisans a right to petition the General Assembly to act on ethics bills. Listen…

Quinn used his amendatory veto pen last year to add this referenda language. It would require 100,000 signatures be gathered and then the proposal would be submitted to the House, which would be required to vote up or down. If it pased, it would move on to the Senate, which would also have to give it a recorded vote. If it failed to become law, the proposal would be put on the ballot as an advisory referendum.

Since last year’s AV, the governor appeared to drop the whole idea and didn’t press for its passage during session this year.

* As I told you yesterday, Quinn also wants a conflict of interest law for the General Assembly. That’s easier said than done, of course. For instance, should a farmer be prohibited from voting on farm bills? Or do you go the way of Congress and forbid all outside income unless assets are put into a blind trust?

* Quinn also talked about open primaries. This is a longstanding cause for the governor, but he’s always been rebuffed. And he spoke about expanding recall to more state and local officials.

* Not everyone agrees that new laws are needed, however

But state Rep. Pat Verschoore, D-East Moline, said he’s not sure more laws would guarantee a clean state.

“You can’t legislate morality,” Verschoore said. “There are going to be people who try to get around the laws.”

* And sometimes reforms can backfire

Ronan said that despite appearances of business as usual, in some cases the reform movement has gone too far. The climate post-Blagojevich is so sensitive to appearances of conflicts of interest, he said, that it slows innovation and drives businesses away.

“They broke the system for procurement,” Ronan said of the contract-awarding process. “Right now, it’s difficult for legitimate businesses to go through the machinations.”

Changes in the procurement process restrict the contact companies seeking business with the state of Illinois can have with state agency personnel. An engineering firm with new technology to build bridges, for example, can’t meet with Illinois Department of Transportation officials to talk about it, and then bid on a project to install the technology, Ronan said.

The paperwork — and fear that any behind-the-scenes meetings might spur speculation of an inside deal – have resulted in undue, unreasonable constraints and caused some businesses to simply look elsewhere, he said.

* Meanwhile, two Tribune reporters offer up this bit of analysis

Republicans had hoped to capitalize last year on Blagojevich’s tainted past, yet found themselves losing a third straight election for governor. This time the loss was at the hands of Pat Quinn, the lieutenant governor who ascended to the top spot after Blagojevich was impeached and removed.

Blagojevich himself may be partly responsible for the lack of change. As governor, he courted Republican insiders and others who could strengthen his political hand, regardless of whether it built his standing with fellow Democrats.

Even out of office, the focus was on Blagojevich’s behavior. Instead of keeping his mouth shut as so many politicians facing criminal charges have done in the past, he took two national media tours to tout his innocence, wrote a book, hosted a radio talk show and appeared in a “reality” TV show.

The glib Blagojevich was routinely portrayed as a fool, the jester who turned Illinois politics into the punch line of a national joke. But that also allowed the state’s political class to portray him as an oddity instead of a symptom of a troubled system.

Voters seemed to see it the same way.

He was most certainly an outlier. If the system was full of Rod Blagojevich types, we’d have crashed and burned long ago. The man was a menace.

* Heck, even Patrick Fitzgerald all but admitted as much

On Monday, [Fitzgerald] said the key question for the jury was whether to accept the defense suggestion that Blagojevich’s activities amounted to “the kind of political wheeling and dealing that is common in Illinois and around the country.”

“That,” said Fitzgerald, his voice rising, “couldn’t be any further from the truth. … Selling a Senate seat, shaking down a children’s hospital and squeezing a person to give money before you sign a bill that benefits them is not a gray area. It’s a crime.”

* The Tribune editorial board, however, is not impressed

In the background, the cadence from Springfield never varies: Trust us — We fixed it! Blagojevich was an outlier. You can relax.

Relaxing, though, got the people of Illinois where we are. Too many of us do not treat elections as choices of how respectfully we’ll be governed. U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald alluded to that abdication of civic duty when he announced Blagojevich’s arrest in December 2008. Fitzgerald talked about the pervasive corruption in Illinois and how the feds alone couldn’t end it: “You look to the FBI to do a lot. You look to law enforcement to do a lot. But the real effort to clean up corruption is going to start with the citizenry.”

Blagojevich was an outlier, and, yes, the problem isn’t fixed, and, yes, we need better candidates. Maybe if the Tribune hadn’t wasted its endorsement on Andy McKenna last year, an electable Republican might’ve been nominated. Newspapers don’t have all that much power these days, but even the Trib could’ve swung a couple hundred votes to Kirk Dillard. Also, with the awesome corporate political power unleashed nationally by the US Supreme Court, you’re not going to find many Democratic politicians amenable to putting even stricter campaign caps into law.

* The Sun-Times partially looked at the bright side

Look closely, though, and you’ll see that Illinois already has begun putting the Blago era behind it.

The state Legislature passed important ethics reforms in the dark months following Blagojevich’s arrest. Illinois enacted its first-ever limit on campaign donations, improved the way it lets contracts and strengthened its freedom of information law. And this spring, for the first time in years, we witnessed the workings of functioning state Legislature.

During the Blagojevich years, the governor was deemed so untrustworthy that few in the Legislature would work with him, bringing the process to a halt.

But this spring, the Democratic-led Legislature started its budget work by responsibly projecting state revenues — a novel concept! — and passing a budget. The
Legislature passed a major education-reform package and fixed a broken workers-compensation system.

That was progress, although nobody would call it a whole new day. As Jim Bray of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, puts it: “The bar was extremely low.”

* And the SJ-R blamed everything on Mike Madigan

None other than House Speaker Michael Madigan — Blagojevich’s political nemesis, we learned in his two trials — co-chaired Blagojevich’s re-election campaign. Apparently in Illinois, having a Democrat as governor was more important than having a governor unencumbered by a federal investigation.

Party leaders can make all the excuses they want for their support of Blagojevich in 2006 — he had too much money to challenge in a primary, we only nominally supported him — but it changes nothing. Given what the general public knew about the federal investigation of the administration, and given the poor record Blagojevich had in his first term, the leaders of his party should have had the courage to challenge him.

* Other stuff…

* End Of Blago Case Could Mean House Ethics Probe For Jackson Jr.

* Next up for feds: Powerbroker Bill Cellini

* Many glad to see former governor convicted

* Quinn: Blagojevich conviction ‘serious day for our state’

* Pols: Verdict allows state to move past Blagojevich

* Blagojevich called ‘a pox on Illinois politics,’ his conduct ‘reprehensible’

* Poshard’s granddaughter gives up scholarship

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Tuesday, Jun 28, 11 @ 6:48 am:

    Rod Blagojevich had a primary opponent in 2006. I don’t recall the sjr or any other major paper endorsing him.

    In the words of capfax: Bite me.

  2. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Tuesday, Jun 28, 11 @ 6:55 am:

    Re sun-times: talk about rewriting history. Tom Cross was more than happy to work with Rod, going so far as to criticize Democrats for moving toward impeachment before the 08 elections.

    And if the tribune is serious about ending
    Pay to play politics in illinois, they need to lead the charge for public financing.

    The conflict for the tribune of course is that public financing limits the influence of the corporate overlords-their advertisers. Imagine how much different the debate over school reform, or the recent mayoral election, would have turned out without googobs of corporate money putting a heavy fist on the scales.

  3. - MC Gone - Tuesday, Jun 28, 11 @ 7:01 am:

    What happened to all of the state employees who went before grand juries for Rutan hiring violations?

  4. - SangamoGOP - Tuesday, Jun 28, 11 @ 7:12 am:

    >>If the system was full of Rod Blagojevich types, we’d have crashed and burned long ago.

  5. - Nice kid - Tuesday, Jun 28, 11 @ 7:34 am:

    The Tribune’s story regarding Ms. Poshard failed to note her many academic achievements. Fair reporting from the Tribune? Nah.

  6. - VanillaMan - Tuesday, Jun 28, 11 @ 7:54 am:

    State leaders are hoping to craft good government reforms to help the state when Illinois political parties nominate and spend millions electing crooks.

    The reform must come within both parties. Ryan and Blago were their leaders first.

  7. - VanillaMan - Tuesday, Jun 28, 11 @ 8:00 am:

    Ryan was a competant crook. Blago was an incompetant crook. Ryan stepped down. Blago was impeached.

    Now we have Quinn. SunTimes is wrong. We are still in hell.

  8. - Dirt Digger - Tuesday, Jun 28, 11 @ 8:02 am:

    For god’s sake. These are moon unit proposals. Some free advice from someone who actually uses data from disclosure laws:

    1)Repeat the federal government’s laws for legislative disclosure/conflicts word for word.

    2) See 1.

    That would give you a lot of extremely useful data that frequently shows up in elections, and at least one major investigation per cycle on ethics grounds. If you want more than that, master the basics FIRST.

    Walk before you run.

  9. - VanillaMan - Tuesday, Jun 28, 11 @ 8:06 am:

    We are worse off than we were ten years ago. We watched these people fail to fix Illinois for the past decade. Now we are in an even deeper hole. Convicting Blago was easy. Removing the incompetents will be harder.

  10. - NW Suburban Dem - Tuesday, Jun 28, 11 @ 8:37 am:

    As Al Ronan mentioned Senate Bill 51 does nothing to stop corruption but at a time when the state is struggling it adds enormous cost to the procurement process.
    First it adds another layer of administration that adds of cost of over 10 million dollars a year.
    It adds administrative work to the already over burdened and shrinking agency staff. An example of this is the requirement to disclose every conversation or meeting about a procurement.
    If 30 people are on a call about a procurement and at least one person on that call is from a different agency all 30 people are required to write a report to disclose the contents of the meeting.
    Many employees simply refuse to talk about the procurement or to meet with vendors to avoid having to write the reports mainly for fear that they will get caught up in an ethics violation investigation either against them or one of their co-workers. There is a real fear of being added to a witch hunt.
    At a time when the state needs to make good decisions, be agile, and move forward the procurement code encourages state agencies to stay with the status quo. At a time of fiscal crisis we should be looking at ways to be innovative. Senate Bill 51 has become a stumbling block to moving us forward and it should be repealed.

  11. - Motambe - Tuesday, Jun 28, 11 @ 9:37 am:

    Congratulations to Riverton High School for graduating a young lady with far more class and dignity than the Tribune editorial board.

  12. - Demoralized - Tuesday, Jun 28, 11 @ 9:44 am:

    We do not - I repeat - do not need more ethics laws. We don’t need the crazy laws we have now. The procurement process has been so bastardized that it is impossible to get anything accomplished anymore. You can’t make somebody be good. You simply have to weed out the bad apples and keep moving on.

  13. - langhorne - Tuesday, Jun 28, 11 @ 9:51 am:

    what hypocritical garbage from the sj-r. very early on in blagos first term i tried to get a senior sjr individual interested in the hiring and personnel abuses already evident by blago and company. his response “why do we need blago when we have george ryan?”

    fitzgerald also talked about endemic hiring fraud, but apparently those charges were too complicated to piece together. nevertheless, that damage to individuals and departments has yet to be undone.

  14. - Cincinnatus - Tuesday, Jun 28, 11 @ 10:18 am:

    Reform redistricting to make it fair and open. Competition will keep politicians more honest.

    Revise campaign finance laws to allow unlimited contributions with instant disclosure. Less pandering for nickel and dime donations.

  15. - Niles Township - Tuesday, Jun 28, 11 @ 10:26 am:

    Now we have Quinn. SunTimes is wrong. We are still in hell.


    He may be a poor chief executive, but Quinn will not wind up in jail.

  16. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Jun 28, 11 @ 10:33 am:

    VMan, how do you make it through your Job-like day?

    Better laws won’t stop another Blago. Smarter voters will.

    So many whining “victims,” so few willing to accept responsibility.

  17. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Tuesday, Jun 28, 11 @ 10:34 am:

    @Cincinattus -

    Increasing the number of competitive races only increases the demand for cash and influence peddling.

    As for unlimited contributions/instant reporting, that assumes 1) the press will report it fairly 2) the voters will be paying attention 3) fundraising stories will determine the outcome of elections.

    ALL of our experience tells us that 1-3 are not true.

  18. - Cincinnatus - Tuesday, Jun 28, 11 @ 10:47 am:


    I truly believe that the internet has changed the ability of watchdog groups to monitor elections. That’s why I recommend that disclosure be instantaneous, and I might add, transparent, something the current ISBE website makes difficult.

    I agree that more competitive races may require additional cash. That’s why I recommend that the upper limits of campaign financing be eliminated, as long as disclosure is instantaneous. I see several problems with these upper limits. Politicians must constantly fund raise, and expose themselves to a multitude of special interests in order to raise sufficient cash. The number of special favors can be significantly reduced if a couple of sugar daddies could fund a candidate. And the news would get out who these contributers are. At that point, the electorate can decide if a seat is being bought.

  19. - Abandon Ship - Tuesday, Jun 28, 11 @ 11:06 am:

    “Smarter voters” will save Illinois? Really?

    One of the staples of Machine politics is to suppress voter turn out, so only reliable Machine voters participate. Candidates who are not “approved” are muscled out with petition challenges or eliminated during the primary elections. On the remote chance that an occasional Boy Scout gets into office, the pros begin to go to work on co-opting him.

    How are the “smart voters” supposed to reform the system when good people do not run? Even the jury foreman, said that she’d divorce her husband if he chose to enter politics!

    Bear in mind something that few people are discussing today, in all of his elections, Blagojevich, had the backing of the majority of Democratic ward and township committeemen. He was their endorsed candidate in every race. This happened seven times in seven separate primaries. He had opponents, but these candidates were swimming upstream. Blagojevich never lost a round with the party pols until he was impeached.

  20. - Easy - Tuesday, Jun 28, 11 @ 11:08 am:

    I love YDD’s bizarro world view of Illinois politics.

    Madigan chairs Blago’s campaign and endorses him in his campaign, yet YDD offers this Oliver Stonesque conspiracy view that Cross is to blame because they once worked together to advance a capital bill.

    Entertaining-you bet. Remotely believable–no.

  21. - Demoralized - Tuesday, Jun 28, 11 @ 11:22 am:

    Rich - do you happen to know why my comment got deleted . . . unless it was for the boredom of it.

  22. - Demoralized - Tuesday, Jun 28, 11 @ 11:22 am:

    Strike that. Idiot in training today.

  23. - Dirt Digger - Tuesday, Jun 28, 11 @ 11:25 am:

    YDD surely you will allow for professional interest in increasing spending and/or influence peddling.

    Think of the economic stimulus, at least.

  24. - Doug Dobmeyer - Tuesday, Jun 28, 11 @ 11:29 am:

    Yeah, go for reform. Let’s get something good out of this sordid affaire! Doug

  25. - Political Junkie - Tuesday, Jun 28, 11 @ 11:32 am:

    Are we really nieve enough to believe that Cellini will be convicted, more money and the best Lawyer in the state, he will not be joining Hot Rod in prison

  26. - Joe from Joliet - Tuesday, Jun 28, 11 @ 11:48 am:

    Well written, NW 8:37. SB51 is a catastrophe for the taxpayers.

  27. - NW Suburban Dem - Tuesday, Jun 28, 11 @ 11:58 am:

    Joe from Joliet
    Thanks and I forgot to mention that one reason it does nothing for reform is that the new Executive Ethics Commission is headed by the same political hacks that were there under Blagojevich and probably Ryan. They just got new titles and more power.
    It may have made sense if there had been a real effort to bring in someone from out of state government to really change the culture but that did not happen.
    So we have a poorly written law with a bad implementation and it adds nothing to either reform or efficiency.

  28. - Ghost - Tuesday, Jun 28, 11 @ 12:02 pm:

    VMan you cant remove the incompetents, they are all in the union…IL the only operation around without supervisory or management level employees…

    Oh wait you mean the elcted oficials…the ones who are to well financaed by the unions to restore balance and define the PSA and SPSA titles as appropriately non-union… yes we need that fixed post haste. We need to bring the management union balance back to il.

    They broke the system for procurement…. and we employee even more people, many with very high salaries and no idea about state operations to oversee the procurment process. We have at least 1 million in additional salaries for new people hired to bring the system to a crawl… and at the end of the day only those private companies with salaried experts on staff to naviate our system will get the bids. End result, we pay far more for contracts because we eliminated the competitors.

    You can find something heaper of the shelf but you have to purchase at the higher price to comply with out rules. ANd we never do reverse bidding, which is another great way to cut costs.

  29. - Loop Lady - Tuesday, Jun 28, 11 @ 12:58 pm:

    Ronan as in Al Ronan of Ronan and Potts? Yeah I’m sure Al is all for streamlining the procurement process allright, just so one of the interests he represents gets the contracr and he gets his piece of the pie…Al Ronan, bastion of good government.

    I’m not sayin’ he doesn’t have a point, but as in all conversations political, consider the source…

  30. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Tuesday, Jun 28, 11 @ 1:02 pm:

    @Easy -

    I’ll grant you that Madigan “chaired” Rod’s campaign and “endorsed” his re-election, if you’ll acknowledge he didn’t actually lift a single finger to help get him re-elected.

    And Cross did a heck of alot more than work with Rod to advance a capital bill.

    Cross and Rod were constantly attempting to outmaneuver and triangulate Madigan. Remember that Rod’s first act as governor was to go jogging with Tom Cross — a friend of the family whose dad wed Rod & Patty.

    Contrast Cross with Leader Watson, who’s disdain for Blago was unequaled.

    Heck, I bet Cross was on Rod’s wedding invite list.

    I always suspected Cross & Blago - both former prosecutors with lofty ambitions - were BFF’s.

    But hey, if you can show me an example of Tom Cross actually leading the fight against Rod Blagojevich, I’ll take it all back.

  31. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Tuesday, Jun 28, 11 @ 1:10 pm:

    @Dirt Digger -

    Most of that extra campaign cash ends up getting dumped into the US Post Office or TV stations, so I think the economic stimulus is minimal.

    As for the kind of shakedowns and schemes our former governor was involved in, I think that Sen. Dillard was right on the money that the result was the decimation of our state budget and state economy.

    Crooks will keep being drawn to politics as sure as bank robbers will keep robbing banks, if that’s where the money is.

    That’s not to say that every politico is a crook, any more than everyone who walks into a bank is a bank robber.

  32. - fast eddy - Tuesday, Jun 28, 11 @ 7:17 pm:

    Do you work for the Sun times??

  33. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Jun 28, 11 @ 7:20 pm:

    If that comment refers to me, the answer is no. I write a column that they publish. I work for myself.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

* Reader comments closed until Tuesday
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