Friday, August 20, 2010

Fun with Blagojevich

When former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was charged with a zillion corruption charges, I told some colleagues that I wouldn't be surprised if he wasn't convicted. The reason was that, in the absence of a powerful new political force in Illinois, there would be few people willing to testify or convict a governor for shaking down the state's businesses and citizens. Those shake-downs have been occurring for too long, and they simply are seen as the way business is done in that state.

I don't like corrupt politicians – in fact, it annoys me deeply in my Wisconsin-bred heart and soul – but I simply don't think Illinois is going to go through a great awakening of political and social reform that will make the state government operate in a transparent and clean manner. (BTW, if you want a fascinating and at times jaw-dropping story of Chicago corruption and amusing reform movements, check out the book Sin  in the Second City.) Don't forget that Blago himself got into the governor's chair by campaigning as an anti-corruption reformer.

It's how Illinois operates. It's how Chicago operates. And the fact is that I think most Chicagoans and most Illinoisans figure the system runs pretty well. You know, you never want to see legislation or sausage being made. Chicago's got its problems (crime is stubbornly bad, for example), but it's a great city with so much going for it. Take away the current Great Recession-related financial problems, and Illinois doesn't have too much to complain about.

So for all of us good-government types, this should be horribly depressing. And yet, I'm not depressed.

I can't quite explain why. Perhaps living in Chicago in the 1990s corrupted my reformist's heart. But whatever's the case, I make this prediction: Little will change in Chicago locally or Illinois statewide in terms of how business is done with the government. Some new rules and laws will be put into place. They'll be adhered to in word if not in deed. And the state will continue sending a high percentage of governors to jail.

Fun fact: The lawyer for a 1920s Illinois governor charged with corruption – who was himself a former governor – argued that Illinois governors enjoyed the divine right of kings. Laughable as that is, was Blagojevich's in-your-face legal counter-offensive any less brash?

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