State lawmakers have made fresh vows to clean up the statehouse amid a sweeping federal corruption probe and brazen allegations of bribery, but those who have been paying attention to the General Assembly in Illinois know what to expect.
Toss out the worst of the bad actors, or at least those who get caught. Create a couple of committees. Make some recommendations. Maybe even pass a law or two. But don't expect any real change from the cast of characters running state government in Illinois.
When federal prosecutors indicted state Rep. Luis Arroyo, D-Chicago, this predictable cycle was restarted.
First up: House Speaker Michael Madigan.
"I have instructed my staff to begin bringing together stakeholders and experts to closely examine our ethics and lobbying laws and find ways to strengthen existing law," he said.
This from a man who has served as Speaker of the House for all but two years since 1983. During that time, three Illinois governors have gone to prison. Madigan became chairman of the state's Democratic party, where in addition to controlling proposed legislation in the House he also controls the party's purse strings. Madigan continues to run a law firm that helps people and businesses lower their property tax bills, all while property taxes continue to skyrocket, forcing people out of their homes.
If Madigan was interested in changing things, he would have done it already.
Madigan employed the same reactionary strategy when women in the statehouse demanded changes amid the national #MeToo movement. It turned out that Madigan's longtime chief of staff, Tim Mapes, was one of the worst offenders. Madigan accepted a bit of the blame for rampant sexual harassment and intimidation under the dome, but only after his hand was forced. He promised changes, but they've barely scratched the surface of true reform.
Next up is Gov. J.B. Pritzker: He's been talking a lot about how corruption and self-dealing won't be tolerated. It's OK because when Pritzker got busted for cheating the taxman (see Gold Coast toilet removal scandal), he paid the money back, right?
Pritzker has demonstrated that he can get things done in Springfield when he wants to. He should want to get rid of corruption. And he doesn't need to rely on Madigan to do it. The governor should be leading the charge to overhaul ethics rules at the statehouse. Prohibiting sitting lawmakers from serving as lobbyists would be a good place to start.
The other side of the aisle: Republicans in the General Assembly don't have the numbers to get anything done without support from Democrats, who hold veto-proof majorities in both legislative chambers. Still, Republicans should be able to find some support for common-sense reforms, such as a ban on lobbying for elected officials.
Republicans also have some of the same conflicts of interest that have gotten Democrats in trouble. Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady helped usher through bipartisan legislation that allowed for video gambling establishments to add terminals and for users to place bigger bets. He also has a business interest in Midwest Electronics Gaming, one of Illinois' largest video gambling companies. When Pritzker enacted the state's budget and a $45 billion capital plan that relied on gambling revenue, Brady's personal economic outlook got rosier.
Once again, it will fall on voters to get the real work done.
Federal investigators might be able to help root out corruption, but in the end, it's up to voters to hold elected officials accountable and demand changes.
Corruption is far too costly. Illinoisans can't afford to let it fester.