East Central Illinois Observers Weigh In on the Blagojevich Conviction

June 27, 2011

Observers of the Illinois political world say even though past governors have been jailed for misdeeds, the conviction of Rod Blagojevich may hit closer to home for current political leaders.

Chris Mooney is a political science professor at the University of Illinois-Springfield. He said the case is only the latest of a series of criminal cases that should have had power-brokers in the state thinking twice before acting.

"It's not widespread, but there's enough people in the political world that think it's okay to do this stuff, until they get the message that even if they can't understand that it's morally wrong, they'll get the message that bad things happen if I do this, so I'm going to stop doing it," Mooney told IPM's Tom Rogers after the verdicts were read.

Former state representative Bill Black of Danville served on the committee that impeached Blagojevich in 2009. He said the impeachment led lawmakers to pass several ethics reforms.

Black hopes the Blagojevich conviction will help inspire resolutions to other situations, such as a campaign finance loophole that lets legislative floor leaders raise unlimited amounts of cash.

"Maybe general assembly tuition waivers, that have been around a hundred years and the subject of a dozen scandalous news stories -- maybe it will finally disappear," Black said after the verdict. "Maybe we'll figure out a way to be a little more transparent in the bid process so we don't go through 90 days from now what we just went through with Health Alliance. What happened there?"

Lawmakers in the Champaign-Urbana area vocally protested a sudden change in health insurance providers that had thousands of state workers scrambling to find alternatives. Health Alliance ultimately won 90-day emergency contracts to continue service, but state officials still contend that switching providers will save the state money.

Black said he doesn't want to see Blagojevich face an overly-long sentence, but he said the sentence should fit the former governor's role in what he calls the state's financial wreckage.

And now that the former governor has been convicted, former state legislator Rick Winkel says it's up to political parties and voters to put honest people in office. The director of the Office of Public Leaderhip at the University of Illinois' Institute for Government and Public Affairs says ethics and campaign finance laws only go so far. He notes Blagovich was twice elected to the state's top office. And the second time, Winkel notes it was after the indictement of political fundraiser Tony Rezko.

"We knew that there were serious problems, and yet we re-elected him," said Winkel. "We have to as a state come to grips with this and demand more of our public officials, of our political parties, and ourselves to keep track and to be informed, and not to allow this to happen again."

Winkel says the only thing that surprised him about the verdict was Blagojevich's reaction, saying a rational person could have seen it coming.

Story source: WILL