But he's our Rod Blagojevich

The debate inspired by President Donald Trump over whether he should commute the sentence of our disgraced ex-governor and our state felon, Rod Blagojevich, whose image should be displayed right up there with the state bird, misses the point.

Here’s our Blagojevich. Both sides of this dispute–the ones who say his sentence is unfairly too long and the ones who say the scheming chiseler should serve out his full time–are picking the wrong targets for their outrage:

The voters of Illinois.

Otto Kerner

Otto Kerner

What is it about Illinois’ voters that makes them so skilled at electing assorted scum, felons and cheats? Four of the last seven governors are cons. There of course is Blagojevich, who preceded ex-Gov. George Ryan, who preceded the supercilious Otto Kerner, who resigned as governor to become federal  appellate judge.

Kerner’s story deserves a review because his time was before most Chicago Now readers and because his controversial conviction (the Democrat charged his prosecution by the Nixon administration was politically inspired) had so many interesting facets. He had purchased stock in a horse-racing association at prices far below market value in return for favorable racing dates awarded by the state. The horse-racing matron and briber, Marge Everett, had deducted the cost of the exchange was–get this–an ordinary business expense in Illinois (in truth, bribes are) had written off the stock’s value on her federal income tax. Kerner, apparently sharing that belief, reported the profits on his tax return.

Dan Walker

Dan Walker

Voters might be excused for electing the fourth governor, Dan Walker, because he was convicted of bank fraud committed after he left office, unlike the others who were convicted for crimes while in office. His long-shot victory against sitting Gov. Richard Ogilvie could be credited to Ogilvie’s backing of the imposition of Illinois’ first income tax. Walker also was considered a reformer who got under the skin of Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley.

Returning to my point: Illinois voters have elected many, many crooks, almost too many to count. (Here’s a list.) So, turning up our noses at Blagojevich and the rest of them for sullying our state’s name is, let’s say, a little misplaced. Chicago and Illinois voters have a habit of electing crooks. The political machines of both parties are created by elected politicians and tolerated by the voters. Politicians like House Speaker Michael Madigan are installed on their thrones because they control blocs of voters who, getting a share of the boodle, couldn’t care less about the common good.

Personally, I’m of two minds about whether Blagojevich’s sentence should be commuted. I generally try not to second guess our judicial system because I’m not in the court and jury rooms for the trial. But Chicago and Illinois voters shouldn’t be so high and mighty about who’s the guilty party.



My historical novel: Madness: The War of 1812

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    Here’s one way to look at the price of Illinois political corruption. The research of several different organizations reveals that the tax burdens (the total of all state and local taxes expressed as a percentage of household income) imposed by Illinois and Wisconsin on their residents are virtually identical. BUT Wisconsin’s bills are paid on a current basis; it passes and adheres to balanced state budgets; it borrows (at preferred rates) only to fund capital improvements, not to pay the ordinary operational costs; it has an ample rainy day fund; and its public employee pension plans are 100% funded. The contrast with its neighbor to the south couldn’t be starker. Illinois (whose entire state budget is a bit north of $38 billion) is $6.6 billion in arrears on bills; it hasn’t passed a balanced budget in years (not even what passes for the current one); it’s credit rating is a sliver away from junk; it borrows to restructure existing debt, not retire it; is has no rainy day fund; and its public employee pensions are grossly underfunded at about 40%, creating an ultimate liability of over $130 billion. It’s nit so much a matter of which party that’s in control. Illinois, though dominated by Chicago Democrats has elected Republican governors and other state-wide officials and Wisconsin has had progressive Democrats in the seats of power in Madison. It’s the political culture that accepts corruption as a way of life.

  • In reply to Bob Foys:

    Bravo! So well said.

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