With one governor in a halfway house, another beginning a stint in a federal penitentiary, the Jackson family under the fed’s microscope, and numerous members of the Illinois General Assembly under investigation, it’s no surprise Illinois’ politicians have finally decided to do something about prisoner treatment in our correctional facilities. I believe it was Baudelaire who said “nature is nothing but the inner voice of self-interest.”
That’s right, a recently impaneled blue ribbon commission will spend your tax dollars investigating how Illinois’ prisoners are treated in the wake of prison downsizing – a move triggered by the State’s budget woes. As the supermax facility Tams closes its doors, more and more prisoners are being moved into existing facilities.
While some of these inmates may have legitimate grievances, they’re not grabbing the headlines. Instead it’s the man at the helm of this committee – none other than State Representative LaShawn Ford of Illinois’ 8th District, currently under investigation for bank fraud. An accused criminal leading a group charged with investigating prisoner treatment in Illinois. You can’t make this stuff up, folks.
Everyone knows there is something seriously wrong with the ethical climate of Illinois’ political system. What’s becoming more startling is the indifference with which the leadership in Springfield treats the problem. Democrats are so secure, so entrenched, so immune from any scrutiny that this serious problem becomes little more than a joke in the press. And it’s mainly because no one is willing to do anything about it – including Illinois’ voters.
Despite the laissez-faire attitude that has become commonplace, corruption and immoral behavior should be no laughing matter. Bloomberg reports that the “corruption tax,” the estimated cost of corruption across the state, comes to roughly $500 million a year – a cost unbearable in a bankrupt state with sluggish job growth.
What’s more, these costs are exacted upon parts of the city, county and state that can least afford it. We rarely hear that a large company, successful person, or affluent community has become the victim of government vulturing. Rather, it’s usually poor communities ripped apart by people who claim to have their best interest in mind.
The role of government in the “community development” business is a discussion for another time, but the underlying problem must be addressed. The unchecked, unfettered, and unmatched power that Speaker Madigan enjoys is undoubtedly the major impetus. One party rule inevitably leads to corruption in American government. It was true during the Republican led General Assemblies of Pate Philip and Lee Daniels during the 90’s and is likewise true of their modern Democratic counterparts.
Understanding this principle is vital not only to the honest government we deserve as citizens of this state, but also to solving the State’s fiscal problems. Serious attention cannot be paid to the real problems our state faces (unmet pension obligations, budget deficits, mounting debt, and a lagging economy) when every other week a member of some governmental body is facing indictment.
The public is owed a serious discussion about these problems. But it’s one it seems we’ll never have as the current Speaker has a veto-proof majority and continues to distract and deflect. Despite their feet-dragging, if Madigan and his supporters hope to one day control the legislature and the governor’s mansion, they simply have to take corruption seriously.
From a political perspective, polling data shows that corruption is a non-issue in Cook County. However, it becomes a top 3 issue for voters in collar counties and down state. While Lisa Madigan, current Attorney General, daughter of Speaker Madigan and anticipated gubernatorial candidate, enjoys high approval rating, she could easily be saddled with the sins of her father. This could potentially split the Cook County vote along racial lines and allow Governor Quinn to squeeze back into a nomination.
It’s time for the Speaker to take corruption in his caucus seriously. Really, we won’t ask for much, let’s just begin by not allowing members charged with crimes to consult on the treatment they might receive when being ousted from office by a paddy wagon.