* 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