Illinois Democrats had a moment during the final week of legislative session in 2019. Some might say a rare moment; others may say a moment they can choose to take at any time. Federal investigations are swirling about multiple Democrat leaders in Chicago City Hall, the Illinois House, and the Illinois Senate. Democrats had a moment to step back, fix the immediate problems, work on the long-range problems, and attempt to persuade the public they are worthy of their continued trust running all facets of Illinois government while corruption has reigned supreme in each under their stewardship.
How did they spend that moment? Instead of treating it like the “five-alarm fire” it is, they punted. They cowered and passed a PARTISAN task force to study the issue. The “urgency of the moment” turned to databasing bad actors instead of prohibiting them. They could have chosen to add criminal penalties to violations of the lobbying act. They did not. They could have chosen to prohibit lobbyists from being legislators at the same time. They did not. They could have chosen to add penalties to at least those who are convicted of violations of these laws. They did not.
They could have owned the issue of “ethics reform”. They did not. Instead, the credit for clearing out Illinois corruption will rest with their arch-nemesis, President Donald J. Trump. It’s under his Department of Justice that the Feds have cast their sights on Illinois corruption. While Illinois Democrats rail against the President regarding “ethics”, he is meanwhile removing the not imagined, but real, ethical lapses from their own streets, their own city halls, and their own alleged dirty dealings.
Moments after failing to address meaningful reforms, the State Capitol was abuzz with “something happening”. Democrats in the Illinois House stood shell-shocked as news broke that Senate President John Cullerton, himself holding a dual role as both a lobbyist and a legislative leader, announced he will be stepping down as Senate President and from the Illinois Senate as a lawmaker.
At the time of this writing, we are beginning to see stories in the media about alleged fiscal mismanagement of caucus campaign funds in President Cullerton’s caucus. An internal power struggle resulting in a he-said- she-said over unpaid bonuses and wages are fueling an airing of dirty laundry at a time when the Feds interest is already piqued toward rooting out self-dealing and insider corruption.
Instead of taking this issue head-on, the Democrats punted only moments earlier. They passed a partisan task force to study the issue only. They had defended their Senate President, only to see him shrink away moments later, seeking refuge in the shadows away from public office.
The battle is now on in the Senate Democrat caucus. Imagine if they debated nominating a real corruption fighter. One who will eschew conflicts of interest, self-dealing and restore power to the people through Fair Maps and a fairer set of legislative rules. Imagine that moment. Imagine we must, I fear, for if past is precedence, we may just see a punt on the next Senate President as well. We are all watching and will remember. Free advice from across the aisle? Act accordingly.