Blago Conviction Treats Symptom, Not Disease (Updated 07.01.11)


Yesterday the jury handed down its verdict in the long-running, sordid saga of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich: guilty on 17 of 20 counts, almost all of which involve some form of selling out the public interest for somebody’s private, personal benefit.

Selling out the public interest has been Play No. 1 in the unofficial playbook of Illinois government and politics as practiced for at least the past 30 years, primarily by the Democrats who have controlled one or both chambers of the General Assembly for all but 2 of those years – but with the willing and shameless assistance of Republican governors like “Big Jim” Thompson, “Big George” Ryan and, to a lesser degree, “Slim Jim” Edgar.

While “trickle down” economics may be a suspect theory, “trickle down” government corruption is hard reality in our state.  Watching two of our last three governors get convicted of multiple public corruption charges in which they were aided and abetted by some of their closest advisors – also public officials who owed the people of this state honest services – sends the message, at least subliminally, that government corruption is unremarkable standard operating procedure.

But corruption can, and does, take many shapes and forms, some of which seem almost benign to a populace numbed by a steady stream of “Safe Road”s, “Silver Shovel”s, “Gambat”s, “Hired Truck”s, “Crooked Code”s, and too many other assorted scams and frauds to deserve their own catchy nicknames.

Sometimes it’s public “funding” that magically appears after somebody puts the arm on a pliant or outright sleazy politician. Other times it might be a zoning variance that gets pushed through without rhyme or reason. Maybe it’s a summer job that leap-frogs earlier applicants with equal or better credentials to land in the lap of the fortunate son of a public official’s buddy.  Or maybe it’s some other similar “favor” to one special interest or another that inexplicably trumps more important public interests.

As a state with more units of government than any of the other 49, Illinois is effectively a petri dish of government-bred pathogens infecting us at every level. Which means that we can’t realistically rely on the U.S. Attorney’s office and the FBI to protect us from even a fraction of them, including in our own community.

What can we do with our local governments here in Park Ridge?

We can start by paying attention and questioning everything our public officials do.  Asking questions, and demanding substantive and meaningful answers rather than hot air, is a great screening device for detecting wrongheaded or kinky dealings. Public officials owe each of us an explanation of what they are doing when they act on our behalf with our money, and why they are doing it: if they can’t explain it understandably, or if it doesn’t make sense, or if it sounds too good to be true, chances are we’re getting fleeced.

And that questioning shouldn’t just be at the City level. The two least-scrutinized and least-transparent branches of local government are School Districts 64 and 207, which do not televise or videotape their meetings and which have become quite comfortable cultivating the sense that the business of education can be understood only by “the educators.” To make matters worse, those two branches of local government account for about 2/3 of our property tax bills.

The bottom line is that every time a public official “put’s his thumb on the scale” – for either his own benefit or for that of some special interest – the rest of us are being cheated out of good government. Even if that doesn’t technically qualify as “corruption,” it most definitely is not “good government.”

And it’s “effing” wrong.

UPDATE (07.01.11):  Sometimes you need to laugh to keep from crying: our new Illinois license plate and Jon Stewart “Blago” bit.

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