Illinois Citizens Deserve Corrupt Government

The current Illinois governor, Rod Blagojevich, recently charged with crimes by the federal government, just follows in the footsteps of previous convicted Illinois governors and a huge number of other Illinois officials convicted of crimes. What is remarkable is that in the 2008 election Illinois voters had the opportunity to recognize that they needed to use their constitutional convention opportunity to reform state government. They voted not to use it.

Which raises the question: How stupid or brainwashed are most Illinois citizens?

Here is the story behind the headlines. According to the Illinois state constitution, voters must be given the opportunity every twenty years to vote for or against having a state constitutional convention that can be used to amend the constitution or rewrite it altogether. Considering an incredibly long history of public corruption you would think that Illinois voters would be inclined to give serious thought to how they could improve their government by means of a state constitutional convention. Many prominent people and groups worked hard to educate citizens why they should vote in favor of a constitutional convention.

In November, two-thirds voted against having a convention. Twenty years earlier they also voted against one. But even with twenty more years of public corruption, Illinois citizens could not be convinced to pursue a path to political reform free from the chains of their corrupt state government. The last convention was in 1970.

Those advocating passage of the convention measure included: Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn, the Chicago Tribune, the Springfield State Journal Register, state representatives Mike Boland and Jack Franks, former state treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, political journalists Rich Miller and Scott Reeder, and several groups with websites.

Back in January 2008 this is what John Bambenek, who wrote a book supporting the convention, had the good sense to say: “Gov. Rod Blagojevich has done something remarkable in Illinois. He has managed to unite people across the political spectrum to create consensus that he absolutely stinks as a governor. Illinois deserves better than Rod Blagojevich. Because of his low approval in both parties and the budget fiasco of last year, legislators (even those in his own party) are talking about amending the constitution to allow recall votes of sitting politicians. The timing for such talk is opportune because on the November ballot this year there will be a question on whether to have a constitutional convention for Illinois to rewrite or amend the state constitution.” Like other pro-convention advocates, Bambenek wanted to return power to Illinois citizens. Most of them did not listen.

A key argument in favor of convention was that the cost of a no-frills convention (around $23 million) would surely be repaid by the savings to taxpayers of constitutional amendments that could get the state out of the lobbyist-run budget crisis it was in. Not to mention the possibility of an amendment that could make it easier to get rid of corrupt governors and other officials by, for example, recall by citizens. How sensible, considering that even before the charges against the current governor three previous Illinois governors had been convicted of crimes.

Otto Kerner (D) governor 1961-1968 was convicted on 17 counts of bribery, conspiracy, perjury, and related charges. He was sentenced to three years in federal prison and fined $50,000. Daniel Walker (D) governor 1973-1977 was convicted of improprieties related to a savings and loan association. He reportedly received over a million dollars in fraudulent loans for his business and repairs on his yacht. He pleaded out to three felonies and was freed after 17 months in prison because he was supposedly frail and chronically ill, but is still living 20 years later and living near the ocean in Mexico. And George Ryan (R) governor 1999-2003 was convicted on 20 federal counts that included racketeering, bribery, and extortion

And consider this amazing statistic: From 1995 to 2004, 469 politicians from the federal district of Northern Illinois were found guilty of corruption.

And then there was the famous case of Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D) who was indicted in 1994 on 17 felony charges, including the embezzlement of $695,000 in taxpayer and campaign funds. The longtime powerful House ways and means committee chairman plea-bargained his way down to just two counts of mail fraud and served only 17 months in a minimum-security prison.

So what did the opponents to the convention use to sway voters? And why did they oppose a convention? They lied a whole lot and tried to instill fear, and succeeded. But what they feared was losing political power that they had used for so long to corrupt state government. Opponents included most of the state’s influential lobbying organizations: American Insurance Association, Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois, Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, Chicago Urban League, Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, Citizen Action/Illinois, Illinois Association of Convenience Stores, Illinois Association of School Administrators, Illinois Business Round Table, Illinois Civil Justice League, Illinois Education Association, Illinois Farm Bureau, Illinois Federation of Teachers, Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Illinois Manufacturers Association, Illinois Petroleum Marketers Association, Illinois Retail Merchants Association, Illinois Retired Teachers Association, Illinois State AFL-CIO, Illinois State Chamber of Commerce, Illinois State Black Chamber of Commerce, Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, League of Women Voters of Illinois, Lincoln Park Chamber of Commerce, National Federation of Independent Businesses/Illinois, Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce, Police Benevolent and Protective Association of Illinois, SEIU Illinois, State University Annuitants Association, Taxpayers’ Federation of Illinois, Tooling and Manufacturing Association, Union League Club of Chicago, Illinois Rifle Association. The convention was also opposed by House Speaker Michael Madigan (D) and former governor Jim Edgar (R) who both represented the corrupt status quo political establishment.

There is an important lesson from what happened in Illinois and several other states, as well as why the US Congress has refused to obey Article V of the federal constitution that prescribes a convention of state delegates to propose constitutional amendments when two-thirds of states ask for one, which has happened long ago. It is this: those with political power fear constitutional conventions that can truly reform our corrupt political system. What Americans need to constantly remember is that “we the people” must use constitutional conventions to improve our government and political system. All constitutions are meant to be revisited and amended if necessary.

We must not depend on electing individuals to public office to truly reform the system. We have a corrupt two-party plutocracy. It is time to stop believing the lies of both Democrats and Republicans. We can keep putting many of them in prison, but all that happens is that more corrupt and dishonest politicians get elected. Just as it has happened for the Illinois governorship.

Finally, you might ask whether Illinois Senator Barack Obama supported the 2008 convention proposal. What do you think? Obama’s key advisor, David Axelrod, who crafted his “change” message, shared a multimillion dollar contract provided by opponents to the convention who feared change.

Joel S. Hirschhorn was a full professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and a senior official at the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the National Governors Association; he has authored five nonfiction books, including Delusional Democracy: Fixing the Republic Without Overthrowing the Government. Read other articles by Joel.

4 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. tpayne said on December 13th, 2008 at 9:10am #

    Even forgetting about having a convention, these crooks have to stand for office. And in almost any election, there are other names on the ballot besides the two corrupt parties. Its easy enough for voters to demand a change. When they realize the Democrats are no change from the Republicans and that the Republicans are no change from the Democrats, then there are other choices for change on the ballot.

    We have this creaky old machinery of democracy laying around. Its tradition here, so it stays around and people would complain if it was gone. Yes, its this rusted old thing, and no body is even sure if it works any more. But, its there. Sure, a constitutional convention is one form of democracy. But so is every one of these elections. When I read the headline, that’s what I was thinking of. The citizens of Illinios keep electing one corrupt politician after another, when there are often other names on the ballot.

  2. LFeik said on December 13th, 2008 at 9:58am #

    Rod Blagojevich was originally elected as a clean reform Democrat to replace the corrupt Republican George Ryan.

    If a constitutional convention had been approved by the voters, the new constitution would have to be written by elected delegates and they would have come from the same source as the regular politicians. The republicrats and demicans who run the politics were not going to see their playhouse torn down by citizens calling for a constitutional convention. The alternative to the usual political operators would be the God, Guns, and Gays wingnuts. They would tie up proceedings by trying to write concealed carry gun laws, posting 10 commandments in the schools and gay marriage bans into the constitution.

  3. rosemarie jackowski said on December 13th, 2008 at 1:31pm #

    Come on – Rod Blagojevich is not that bad. It depends on who you compare him to. It’s a relative thing. He didn’t start any wars or cluster bomb any kids.
    Voters always get what they deserve. Unfortunately the dead Iraqi kids never had a vote.
    Where I live there were 8 candidates for president on the ballot. 90% of the voters voted for the dem/repub candidates. Does anyone think that things are much different in Illinois than they are in other States? I would like to live in a place where bribery was the most important form of corruption. There are some things that are even worse.
    Voters always get what they deserve.

  4. Matt said on December 13th, 2008 at 2:59pm #

    A constituional convention is not going to change behavior. The very people who are causing the problems are the peole who woul dbe at that convention. How’s that for change?