The Art of the Unbelievable

The trouble with Illinois politics

In many places, voters become disenchanted when politicians move directly from high offices to lucrative jobs as lobbyists and consultants. Not in Illinois. Here, we are just happy when a politician doesn't go directly from high office to prison.

Of the most recent eight governors (not including the incumbent), three have been convicted of felonies. That's a batting average of .375, which is high in any league. And then we have the last governor, who got impeached and is now on trial.

It would not have been hard for Rod Blagojevich to raise the ethical standards of his office. His immediate predecessor, George Ryan, is serving a 6 1/2-year term in federal prison for bribery, extortion and other mischief.

Yet Blagojevich has managed to disappoint even the most pessimistic voters. His tenure brought to mind comedian Lily Tomlin's lament: "No matter how cynical you become, it's never enough to keep up."

All he did was get caught on wiretapped phone calls running his office like a used car lot. Most notable was his effort to trade an appointment to the U.S. Senate for money, campaign contributions or a job—such as secretary of Health and Human Services, which was about as plausible as his winning the Cy Young Award.

Yet last week, it came as a stunner to find we cannot believe everything he says.

For months, the state's most infamous Elvis impersonator had vowed to take the stand at his corruption trial.

In June, he told reporters, "I can't wait to testify, to set the record straight and clarify some of these conversations, and tell the people of Illinois exactly what was on my mind and what I was trying to do and what I ultimately attempted to do."

But after the prosecution rested, he elected to maintain a discreet silence. Given a choice of hanging himself in court or being exposed as a brazen fabricator, well, you know which one Rod would choose.

He's not entirely alone. The events involving that particular Senate seat, which was vacated by Barack Obama in November 2008, have generated an epidemic of mendacity.

There was Obama, who the White House said "had no contact or communication with Gov. Blagojevich or members of his staff about the Senate seat." But it emerged in the trial that Obama had personally called Tom Balanoff, head of the Service Employees International Union, to suggest the appointment of his longtime aide Valerie Jarrett. Balanoff promptly set up a meeting with Blagojevich to pass on the recommendation.

There was Roland Burris, the former state comptroller who got himself named to the vacancy. Burris originally said "there was not any contact" between his people and the governor's people about the appointment. He later amended and re-amended that claim—with the crucial revisions coming after the Senate had agreed to let him be sworn in.

Much later came the revelation of a wiretapped call between him and the governor's brother, before Burris was chosen, in which they discussed ways an appointee might express his gratitude. He promised to send Blagojevich a campaign contribution.

The Senate Democratic leadership, including Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, originally declared that "anyone appointed by Gov. Blagojevich cannot be an effective representative of the people of Illinois and, as we have said, will not be seated by the Democratic Caucus." A few weeks later—I know this will shock you—that promise went poof.

Gov. Pat Quinn, the Democrat who succeeded Blagojevich following his impeachment, had supported holding a special election to fill the vacancy. But seeing the possibility that the Democrats might lose, he and the legislature dropped the idea like a hot stove.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Suki||

    Good morning reason!

  • ||

    Good morning!

  • Suki||

    Hi RS! Nice to see you are in a perky mood today. What's wrong with the new person?

  • ||

    Why don't they just put through some sort of legislation that makes the person they elect from 2011-2017 able to serve an extra 2 months in this one instance? Or is it a US Constitutional issue?

  • Suki||

    Are you talking about the Senate seat? Yes, I think the US Constitution mentions something about those terms. Might be in one of those articles near the top.

  • ||

    Last week, though, it was revived by a federal appeals court, which said the Constitution requires a special election.

    Didn't know if it meant United States' or Illinois' constitution.

    and P.S. What's difficult about posting of value as the first comment, instead of this preprogrammed 5:30am shit that worms its way ahead of the actual first person to comment?

  • Suki||

    I was asking if you would clear up which office you were talking about. The article talks about both Senate and Governor seats.

    P.S. there is nothing of value in Illinois politics. Wait until tomorrow morning to complain.

  • Fiscal Meth||

    In a wire-tap recording of Suki
    RE:First Comment Status

    "This thing is fucking golden and I'm not giving it away for nothing!!"

  • Suki||

    LULZ

  • Fiscal Meth||

    What does that one mean?

  • Fiscal Meth||

    Lifting Up Little Zappatos?

  • Shoeless Chris||

    Ly-nching Undesirable Lugubrious Zombies

    (Sorry 'bout the hyphen, Spam filter barfed on me)

  • ||

    1) Not a Constitutional issue and 2) I don't think it would deter them.

    Now, if you bar them from holding public office or a job like it (lobbyist, etc) then you're closer, but it would be hard to close all the loopholes on that.

  • ||

    Unless you're not talking about politicians who do the whole Chicago-corruption thing.

    Whoops!

  • ||

    My b, 17th Amendment clears it up a little. It doesn't explain why it took them this long to hold a special election, or why it has to take place on the regular Senatorial voting day (and not some random Tuesday or whatever, like California's gubernatorial a few years ago)

  • Christian Audigier||

    Hi, nice post. I have been wondering about this topic,so thanks for sharing. I will certainly be subscribing to your blog.

  • Suki||

    +1

  • Alan Vanneman||

    Why does everyone insist on giving Rod Blagojevich a hard time? First of all, I submit that anyone named Rod Blagojevich has, by the time he has finished first grade, suffered enough crap to last anyone a lifetime.*

    Secondly, what is so shocking about politicians trading favors? If you raise $100,000 for the Republican or Democratic Party, or even, God forbid, the Libertarian Party, you will get something for it, if the party has anything to give.

    *Granted, if he were named "Blolojavich" it would be even worse, but"Blagojevich" is bad enough. It's right up there with "Buttafuco."

  • ||

    it is chicago...a name like milorad blagojevich isn't as uncommon as it might be in, say, Enid.

  • ||

    "Yet last week, it came as a stunner to find we cannot believe everything he says."
    And this makes Blagojevich different from any other politician...how???
    I actually think Blagojevich is one of the more honest politicians - he does something, he wants something. Considering that he bribes cheap, and doesn't spend billions, unlike Byrd, he's a bargain!

  • Ron L||

    fresnodan |7.26.10 @ 11:51AM|#
    "...I actually think Blagojevich is one of the more honest politicians -..."

    Agreed. Most politicos make you guess what's for sale and what the price is. This guy just laid it out; take it or leave it.

  • TheOtherSomeGuy||

    Let's not forget that an Illinois politician was the only person who started a Civil War in this country, quite possibly the most extreme shift of power to the Federal Government the US has ever seen.

    FDR and LBJ could only marvel at what Lincoln got away with.

  • Soonerliberty||

    Racist x 3!!!

  • poopy||

    There was no civil war in this country, because the term civil war implies an attempted overthrow of the central government.
    What happened was the opposite: the central government overthrew the the power of the states.

  • ||

    Shhhhh. Don't ruin my mythology!

  • Michael Ejercito||

    Let's not forget that an Illinois politician was the only person who started a Civil War in this country, quite possibly the most extreme shift of power to the Federal Government the US has ever seen.


    An Illinois politician ordered Confederate troops to fire on Fort Sumter?

  • ||

    Ever heard of Harper's Ferry, dumbass? The federal govt was already bankrolling the subjugation of the southern states well before the first shot was fired (in retaliation) at Ft. Sumter.

  • St. V||

    Lol? Seriously? Those poor southern states... why they may have had a slave uprising on their hands! Good golly we wouldn't want that!

  • Fiscal Meth||

    "The federal govt was already bankrolling the subjugation of the southern states..."

    It would have been even more powerful if you had said "bankrolling the enslavement of the southern states". If you're trying to convey the impermissible evil of the subjugation of one group(the states) to another(Federal Govt.) through the use of force, "enslavement" is just one of those words that really packs a wallop for some reason. I can't remember what that reason is right now. Probably not important to this conversation.

  • Hooha||

    +2

  • poopy||

    Repeal the 17th!

  • ||

    Illinois is corrupt because of scumbags like Obama and Daley. And the people of Illinois do not demand different.

  • ||

    Here at H & R, we are just happy when a politician doesn't go goes directly from high office to prison.

  • The Libertarian Guy||

    Wish I could remember who it was, a political comedian perhaps, who suggested that the moment a politician is elected, he goes straight to prison to serve where we can keep an eye on him. If he doesn't get re-elected, he gets paroled.

  • Terry Pratchett||

    ...Some chief went to prison to see the prime minister...

  • poopy||

    The problem is that those who seek positions of power want power, and that makes them least suited to have it.

    Sometimes I think we'd have better representation if we replaced elections with a lottery, kinda like jury duty.
    You receive a letter in the mail informing you that you're a representative for the next two years.

    That and we need an amendment to the constitution banning lawyers from government employment.

  • Michael Ejercito||

    The problem is that those who seek positions of power want power, and that makes them least suited to have it.

    Sometimes I think we'd have better representation if we replaced elections with a lottery, kinda like jury duty.
    You receive a letter in the mail informing you that you're a representative for the next two years.

    That and we need an amendment to the constitution banning lawyers from government employment.


    How would you feel about having a computer program rule a country?

    Such a country would have a lot less corruption in the government.

  • poopy||

    The problem with computer programs is that they do exactly what the programmer tells them to do, and the programmer tells them to do what their employer tells them to do.

    Why do you think all the climate modeling software shows the end of the world?
    Because they guys paying the programmers (politicians) want them to.

    As a software developer I can tell you that I would never trust a computer program commissioned by politicians.

  • Shoeless Chris||

    I think we need to go with the Genghis Khan solution. Have a second programmer kill the original programmer of Government Vista and a THIRD programmer (or web designer) kill the second.

  • ||

    I would support that.

  • ||

    The problem is that those who seek positions of power want power, and that makes them least suited to have it.

    Natural selection.

  • ||

    Choosing public officials by lot was actually tried in ancient Greece; the practice is known as sortition. This was semi-humourously suggested by some political pundits in Canada in the 1990s, with discussion of it becoming a running joke. Sample arguments included that the sale of lottery tickets to choose members of parliament would make the system more financially solvent and less corruptible, and probably raise the calibre of politicians.

  • Almanian||

    Thank goodness this Illinois-style corruption hasn't infected neighboring states, or, heaven forfend, Washington DC.

  • ||

    I would not. DEATH TO THE MACHINES!!!

  • ||

    Chicago and Illinois as a hole ... whole, excuse me ... is a patient with an extreme form of what ails every other state. That is, too much of everything that takes place in Illinois is controlled in all important ways by politics. To see a more advanced stage of the same disease, see Detroit. To see any earlier stage of the same disease, see Texas. To see a state in the final stages of it, see California. They have sown divide-and-conquer-by-ethnicity, "we're smarter and wiser than you", "if you want it and it is there, that's market failure" ... every foolish notion in the Progressive seed catalog has been sown across the nation. Now the crop is coming ripe in some places, but is tall enough to recognize in all places. They have sown the winds of "power to us, 'cause we're smart" and will reap the whirlwind of "Who destroyed our paradise on earth??", just as all who have tried progressive thought in place of liberty. For better or worse, we all will share in that disaster, but that's fair since few of us did anything to prevent it, when prevention was possible.

  • wingnutx||

    For months, the state's most infamous Elvis Nick Gillespie impersonator had vowed to take the stand at his corruption trial.

    FTFY

  • Suki||

    +1

  • Suki||

    Follow-up: it was take your little children to federal court day today for the Blagojevichs. They had their two little daughters on the front row.

  • ||

    So this person who would hold office for only two months in Il, would they be charged with a misdemeanor at their term end, rather than the traditional felony? Given the shortened term, it would only seem fair.

  • ||

    I've been underwhelmed by Blago's trial. Compared to some Illinois politicians, namely both mayor Daleys and now-deceased alderman Fred Roti, Blago isn't that bad of a guy.

    I think there's a good chance he'll walk. I imagine they're asking themselves in the jury room "Is that all?"

  • Becky Chandler||

    I don't really care about goo goo politics—especially when the subject at hand is a political blowbag like Blago--whose talk of shakedowns was captured on a federal wiretap--and it was all talk--he was not enriched a bit.

    Of course, we know the emergency arrest was so Obama would not get caught on tape—and that is the only part of the story that interests me.

    For the life of me I don't know why people get genuinely worked up over this sort of thing. I would rather live under Blagos (or even competent robber barons) than, as C.S Lewis put it, be under the rule of omnipotent moral busybodies.

  • p90x||

    40 days to go!

  • insanity||

    before the school day begins!

  • ||

    Please don't lump all of Illinois with the Chicago political hell-hole. Downstate Illinois is a different place, and we are held hostage. I would wager that a lot of us would love to secede and join Indiana or perhaps Missouri, which has a lot more in common with us. Maybe Indiana would give up Gary in return?

  • jacob||

    Gary Indiana for Southern IL seems like a fair trade. East St. Louis may as well be merged with North St. Louis.

  • ||

    If we can get rid of East Chicago as well, then you've got a deal.

  • ||

    Provided Blago is convicted, Illinois hasn't elected a Democrat as governor who didn't eventually serve a federal prison term since Adlai Stevenson II was elected in 1949.

  • blancpain replica watches||

    which limited the actions of Congress and by extension had to be incorporated, the Second Amendment stated that RKBA was not to be infringed, and lacked detail as to by whom, and therefore applied to all government. By its very language it was already applicable to the states!

  • Scarpe Nike||

    is good

  • ||

    They are very convincing and can definitely work. Still, the posts are very short for novices. May just you please lengthen them a bit from subsequent time?www.itunes.com/download

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Progressive Puritans: From e-cigs to sex classifieds, the once transgressive left wants to criminalize fun.
  • Port Authoritarians: Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal
  • The Menace of Secret Government: Obama’s proposed intelligence reforms don’t safeguard civil liberties

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement