Well, it has been quite a few weeks in Illinois politics indeed.
This past Monday, after a thirteen year investigation and a five month trial, former Illinois Governor George Ryan (R) was found guilty on all counts in his federal indictment.
This would be a big story by itself, but the added bonus of it coming down in a gubernatorial election year makes the speculation (at least for me) that much more dastardly.
For Ryan himself, good riddance. My grandfather said that he met George Ryan in 1960 when he was a Kankakee County Supervisor and did not trust him from that moment. Oh, if the rest of the state would have had the same experience. He rose through the ranks of the legislature and the Illinois G.O.P. to the rank of Secretary of State under Governor Jim Edgar. After Edgar decided to call it quits and not seek re-election in 1998, Ryan ran and beat a rather un-electable Democrat, Dawn Clark Netsch. He, at that time, at least seemed like the "devil we knew."
Illinois politics has a funny effect on people. No matter who the are or what they say, that ol' culture of corruption is a tempting mistress and most fall prey to her whims. We all knew that the new governor was a Springfield hack who would have his snout in the trough just like the rest of them. What was not counted on was that this corruption would get people killed.
No need to recount the whole story here (if you want me to, I will in subsequent posts), but the "licences for bribes" scandal exposed a web of racketeering, mail fraud and lies that all centered on Ryan, who decided not to run for re-election in 2002. This was the point when I realized that this would become serious, that there was much more at play that the normal downstate corruption that is endemic to state government in Illinois.
George Ryan is an egregious offender and liar who deserves the worst that can be given him. He joins the growing list of Illinois governors who have been convicted, forced out of office or in general acted in an extremely shady manner. I am thinking of Otto Kerner and Dan Walker here.
As for the "blow-back" from this on the governor's race, Topinka may well feel it soon. She was in state government while all of this was going on (she has been the State Treasurer since 1994). Could she have done anything to stop Ryan and his dealings? Officially, maybe not. But as a leader in the GOP in Illinois, she certainly could have appealed to him from a party standpoint. Could it hurt her chances in the election? Maybe, just maybe.
Blago, of course, wasted no time in linking the two, saying that something could have been done. What does this mean for the incumbent governor? It is a sort of a late Easter present that he has not let go wasted (as the above article makes plain). This is just the sort of thing that he needed to portray his opponent as a Springfield insider who was anxious to support her friend George Ryan (although Blago is no outsider by any means and Topinka has not been friendly with Ryan for a while. Wonder why...)
My advice for Blago is the old favorite "timeo danaos et dona ferentes," which loosely translates as "beware of Greeks bearing gifts." In this case, it might not be Greeks but the Irish in the form of Patrick Fitzgerald, the dogged prosecutor who I think might get a nod for U.S. Attorney-General one day (or not; he's a little TOO good at his job. But, here again, people said that about Elliot Spitzer). It is never good to be in Fitzgerald's radar, but it seems that Blago might be just there now.
Apparently, there were some interesting fund-raising methods that Blago may have had a hand in. In this investigation, there is constant reference to "Public Official A." This investigation, undertaken by Fitzgerald and his office, has not identified this mysterious official, but all signs point to Blago.
The election is in November. Seven months is an eternity in politics (remember the 1992 presidential campaign?) Anything can happen and I hope it does. Politics is my favorite bloodsport.
When it comes down to real issues, though, don't kid yourself. We are just deciding which lunatic will run the asylum for the next four years. Barring that, engross yourself in these people and their curious ways. It is better than the zoo and the animals act thousands of times stranger.
Year in review
4 months ago