George and Me
So this is a tricky post to write, but it's something that I've been wanting to weigh in on, so here goes. As the trial of Governor Ryan gets underway, I've read a lot of comments on Rich Miller's blog and numerous other sites discussing George Ryan the person and whether or not he was a culpable participant that knowingly broke the law or simply a back-slapper that went along with helping his pals.
Being a firm believer in our legal system, I agree that Gov. Ryan is presumed innocent. And unless you are seated in the jury box, none of us is in a position to cast an worthwhile opinion on whether or not that presumption is accurate. So instead, I will just share with you my experiences with the man when it came to the issue of campaign finance reform.
George Ryan never liked me. Probably still doesn't. Here's part of the reason why. You make whatever judgment you deem appropriate.
In the mid 1990's, before my election to the House, Pat Quinn had been working with some legislators in trying to push a bill known as the Inspector Solicitation Misconduct Act. Without going into all of the details, suffice it to say that the bill prevented state inspectors from seeking campaign contributions from individuals or entities whom they oversee. The bill was borne of a series of news stories about car dealers being shaken down by inspectors on behalf of the Secretary of State. But when you realize that state inspectors oversee everything from driving schools to day care centers to nursing homes to nuclear facilities, the public safety and public health implications of cutting the ties between fundraising and inspection approval become clear.
Even though Democrats controlled the House, the bill was killed in committee after all of the Republicans voted against it, as did a couple Democrats wanting to 'help out George'. Quinn tried several times to push for passage of the bill to no avail.
Quinn apprised me of the legislation in 1998. Having been working on other pieces of reform legislation, I was interested in pursuing this worthwhile initiative. That year, there was a heated election for Governor brewing between Ryan and Glenn Poshard. News outlets were buzzing about stories concerning licenses for bribes and whether Ryan was the target of an investigation. I thought that the time was right to get some leverage on my issue.
On October 21, 1998, about two weeks before the election, I faxed a letter to both men seeking their support of the measure. The letter reads in relevant part, as follows:
Dear Gentlemen:I am sending this letter to you to advise you of proposed legislation that I am announcing at a press conference this morning. The legislation, entitled the “State Inspector Misconduct Act”, would prohibit state agency employees responsible for oversight of businesses or activities in the State from soliciting or receiving campaign contributions on behalf of a candidate or political committee from any person or business regulated by that agency.
As you are aware, state inspectors oversee a wide range of activities ranging from nursing homes to day care centers to landfills. I trust that you would agree with me that there should be no link between public safety and political fundraising. Even the appearance of such a nexus is enough to undermine public confidence in our state government.Accordingly, I am respectfully asking each of you to join me in supporting this measure, thereby letting the people of Illinois know that their next governor will lead in a manner in which they can trust and have respect.
Thank you both for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you. Best wishes on November 3rd.
That afternoon, Poshard called me himself to tell me that, if elected, he would do everything in his power to get the bill to his desk. A couple of hours later, Scott Fawell called me and before even saying hello, blurted out "What the f**k are you doing?" I'll leave the rest of the conversation alone, although it was colorful.
So George won and I was persona non grata in the Governor's office for the next four years. And although I had managed to pass the bill out of the House almost unanimously, (I still respect the Speaker letting the bill out of Rules), Pate had no intention of letting it move in the Senate.
After repeating my futile efforts, and with media pressure still building about license for bribes and the Guzman/Willis matter, I decided to again try to plea my case to the Governor. Since he wouldn't return my repeated phone calls, I sent him a letter on the subject. The following is my June, 2000 letter to Gov. Ryan (I omitted a paragraph that describes what the bill does in more detail):
Dear Governor Ryan:
For too long now, the news has been overrun, and Illinois’ reputation tarnished, by the scandal surrounding the activities of the Office of the Secretary of State. Because I am hopeful that you share my belief that something must be done to address both the substantive issue as well as skyrocketing public cynicism of State government, I am sending this letter to you in an attempt to enlist your support for legislation that I have successfully worked to pass out of the House of Representatives during each of the past two legislative sessions by a near unanimous margin.
In essence, House Bill 530, the “State Inspector Misconduct Act”, would prohibit state agency employees responsible for oversight of businesses or activities in the State from soliciting or receiving campaign contributions on behalf of a candidate or political committee from any person or business regulated by that agency. The logic and need underlying this concept are beyond question.
As you are aware, state inspectors oversee a wide variety of activities ranging from drivers license facilities and nursing homes to day care centers and landfills. Given this fact, House Bill 530 is every bit a public safety measure as it is a campaign finance reform issue. One need to look no further than to the grief of the Willis family to fully comprehend the devastation that can occur when our regulatory measures are circumvented for financial motivations. (Emphasis added)
I trust that you would agree with me that there should be no link between public safety and political fundraising. Even the appearance of such a nexus has proven to be more than enough to undermine public confidence in our state government. Despite this, and the unequivocal message sent by the House, the Senate has failed to take any action to advance this measure to your desk. Accordingly, I am respectfully asking you to publicly support this measure, specifically by calling for its passage by the Senate during the upcoming Veto Session, and working to secure the same
Thank you for your time, consideration, and anticipated assistance. I look forward to hearing from you.
The Governor's response? When a couple of my colleagues went to see him the next day on an unrelated matter, Ryan held up the letter and stated, "Look what this c**ksu*ker sent me." I don't know about you, but those words just didn't really strike me as the words of a guy wanting to 'get to the bottom of corruption', as he was fond of telling the press those days. He never responded to me personally. Probably for the best.
The point of this whole post? While I am sure that George is a great guy to have as a friend, you would be sorely mistaken to think that he was unaware of what was going on in state government or to think that he wanted it corrected. He was very content with the way things were, and directly or through associates, he lashed out at anybody who tried to mess those things.
As for my bill, it took me two more years to get it done, but it's Public Act 92-853. I believe it was the last bill of the last regular session under George Ryan to become law. And not a moment too soon.