In the grand scheme of things, the conviction of state Rep. Derrick Smith,
D-Chicago, on bribery charges is picayune.
You’ll hear it whispered around the statehouse: “He ‘only’ took $7,000.”
That’s right. He took seven grand in exchange for writing a letter in
support of a business receiving a state grant.
Another legislator, LaShawn Ford, D-Chicago, is facing bank fraud charges.
And last year, former state Rep. Connie Howard pleaded out on a felony
charge that she was siphoning money that was supposed to go for college
scholarships. Instead she spent it on herself.
Let’s face it, prison has become the repository for many Illinois
politicians once their time in “public service” is up.
Some embraced the penitentiary with panache.
Former Gov. Otto Kerner showed up at the prison gate in a limousine and
wearing a tuxedo.
Gov. Dan Walker reported to prison wearing his Annapolis ring. That didn’t
sit too well with the warden, a West Pointer.
Gov. George Ryan was chauffeured to the Big House by another governor –
James R. Thompson.
And Rod Blagojevich was mugging for the cameras at a burger joint moments
before entering the slammer.
Illinoisans have become jaded to criminality among those we elect.
A few years back, some Springfield wag printed up bumper stickers that said,
“My Governor is a Bigger Crook than Your Governor.”
This kind of cynicism has spread through the electorate, leaving political
tumors of apathy, inevitability and suspicion.
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There is no greater exploiter of this
political cynicism than House Speaker Mike Madigan.
Despite Smith’s indictment, Madigan threw his support behind his
re-election this year.
Madigan’s spokesman told the Chicago
Tribune, the speaker supports Democratic incumbents and believes in
“innocent until proven guilty.”
Well, some of the time.
I watched Madigan vote to impeach Blagojevich before he was ever
brought to trial on corruption charges.
When we hope for statesmanship in Springfield, we all too often end
up with raw politics.
Soon Smith will find himself behind bars.
But will Illinoisans continue to imprison themselves with a legacy
of indifference? Will we continue to tolerate the intolerable? Will
we elect those wanting to serve rather than looking to take?
Or will we expect more?
Only time will tell.
But let’s hope for the best.
Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse reporter and a journalist with
Illinois News Network, a project of the Illinois Policy Institute.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Readers can
subscribe to his free political newsletter by going to ILNEWS.ORG or
follow his work on Twitter @scottreeder
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