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Illinois voters haven't learned lessons of '98


*****istrator Emeritus
Mar 13, 2006
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I thought this was an interesting read.

Illinois voters haven't learned lessons of '98

should probably confess that I'm haunted by 1998. Some of us in the media did our level best to warn voters that George Ryan probably wasn't the cleanest bowl in the dishwasher.

Nobody listened. Ryan, flush with special-interest money and propped up by the powers that be, successfully branded his super-clean but cash-poor opponent Glenn Poshard as a corrupt, right-wing gun freak, and the voters bought it.

They probably had a good excuse for not realizing the extent of Ryan's problems. The media really didn't start reporting on the corruption allegations until a month or so before the election. The only exception to this was NBC5 reporter Phil Rogers' Ahabian pursuit that began way back when Ryan was lieutenant governor and finally ended with his sentencing this month.

And now the nightmare of voter ignorance is happening all over again. Only this time, they have no excuse.

For almost two years, honest, hardworking reporters have been digging up stories on corruption that comes very, very close to Gov. Blagojevich. Countless articles, editorials and columns have been written or broadcast, all with the same basic message: Something's rotten in Denmark.

I've lost count of all the federal criminal investigations that have been launched into the administration, but it's something like nine, or maybe even 10.

There's an investigation into allegations that the governor's people traded campaign contributions for seats on state boards and commissions.

Hiring practices at about a half-dozen state agencies are under scrutiny. In a rare public statement, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald claimed there are "very serious allegations of endemic hiring fraud" in the Blagojevich administration.

The feds are hot and heavy over allegations that bribes and kickbacks were part of the regular order of business at the Teachers Retirement System and at an obscure hospital board. One suspect, Stuart Levine, is expected to plead guilty next month.

There was the power washing scandal, where the insides of state salt domes were washed for a lot of money by a relative of an administration official. A contract at the state Lottery was referred to the Illinois attorney general by the governor's own inspector general, who later resigned without explaining why. The feds also are looking at the hinky goings-on when the administration tried to change the HMO for state employees.

There are more, but you get the idea.

Between December of last year and June this year, the Blagojevich campaign racked up a $720,000 legal bill with Winston & Strawn, the very same firm that represented George Ryan in his criminal case.

And just like Ryan, Blagojevich amended the official state record of his personal gifts after he was interviewed by the FBI. One of those gifts he finally disclosed was a $1,500 check from an old friend. Turns out, the check was written right around the time that the guy's wife got a state job. The governor claims the check was for his daughter's college fund.

My wife is an Assyrian Christian born and raised in Iraq. Over there, they have a word for that check. "Baksheesh." It's more than a tip, but not quite a bribe.

Yet despite all the coverage, all the investigations, all the baksheesh, voters don't seem to be paying attention. The Republicans held a focus group the other day and most of the participants were clueless about the investigations. I've heard the same thing from Democratic focus groups and polling. That's more scandalous than anything Blagojevich and his cronies are alleged to have done.

I'm not here to tell you how to vote. That's up to you. I understand that some issues can be more important than corruption. But if you regret your vote in 1998, you'd better take a closer look at what's going on now.


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