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Our view: End to corruption requires change in leadership

Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich acknowledges Cubs fan Ronnie Woo Woo after a news conference Wednesday outside his home in Chicago.
Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich acknowledges Cubs fan Ronnie Woo Woo after a news conference Wednesday outside his home in Chicago.

There he was again Wednesday, standing in front of his home in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood, as deluded and self-pitying as ever: disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

A day after President Donald Trump commuted Blagojevich’s 14-year federal prison sentence for official corruption, we saw an encore performance from one of the most corrupt politicians in Illinois history, the only Illinois governor to be impeached and removed from office.

Blagojevich was convicted of official misconduct charges including shaking down a children’s hospital CEO and a racetrack operator, trying to sell an “[expletive] golden” U.S. Senate seat to the highest bidder and lying to the FBI. Yet on Wednesday, he told a crowd his freedom had been “stolen.” Blagojevich cast himself as a political prisoner, a victim of an unfair justice system.

The words “I’m sorry” never crossed his lips – a telling sign that Trump’s decision to free this unrepentant man was a self-serving mistake.

With a new crop of state lawmakers facing and admitting to bribery charges, no less than the president has sent a message that sentencing corrupt officials to serious prison time is “ridiculous.”

Meanwhile, the political culture that created Blagojevich and continues to produce corrupt legislators still is thriving under the watch of Illinois House Speaker and Democratic Party boss Michael Madigan.

Former state Sen. Martin Sandoval, D-Chicago, pleaded guilty in January to accepting more than $250,000 in bribes from multiple sources, including a red-light camera company that wanted him to protect its business of fining vehicle owners.

Former state Rep. Luis Arroyo, D-Chicago, an assistant majority leader in the House, resigned Nov. 1 after being indicted on felony bribery charges. Federal authorities allege that he paid a state senator to support a gambling bill that would have benefited one of his lobbying clients. Arroyo has pleaded not guilty.

The investigations are far from over, the feds have said – and other lobbyists, businessmen and politicians may well be under suspicion.

In the Legislature itself, reports of wrongdoing have been hidden from the public. Julie Porter, the state’s former legislative inspector general, has said three investigations by her office – including one that found evidence of serious wrongdoing by a state lawmaker – were blocked from release by the Legislative Ethics Commission. The commission’s members themselves are state lawmakers.

State Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, has proposed legislation to require the public release of reports that find wrongdoing, regardless of whether an official is disciplined. We support this proposal.

But why would an ethics commission block the release of this information in the first place? Who is being protected, and at whose behest?

That leads us to Madigan, often thought to be the state’s most powerful politician. If Madigan wanted these reports released, he probably could make it happen. But it appears he does not. We don’t expect any meaningful ethics changes so long as Madigan is in charge. He has to go.

Yet Democrats, whose party Madigan leads, appear unwilling to make this change. As Capitol Fax’s Rich Miller wrote in his column this week, some are trying a new line – they say publicly that Madigan should step down as speaker, but later say they would vote to make him speaker again because they couldn’t support a Republican for the job.

This false dilemma is a poor excuse for their hypocrisy.

In watching Blagojevich again basking in the attention outside his Chicago home, it seems clear that nothing really has changed in Illinois.

He’s the same as he ever was, and so, it seems, is our state’s culture of political corruption. What a shame.

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