Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Bad Impressions

Unless you've been living in a cave for, oh about the last couple decades, you are keenly aware that the public has about had it with the political process in our state. It's probably one of the few issues that you on which you can find agreement across party lines and from one end of the state to the other.

The latest effort to drive that point home is a column 'to the General Assembly' in the Southern Illinoisan by Jim Muir, in which he essentially gives the Governor and the General Assembly a Happy New Year slap upside the head.

In discussing the upcoming session schedule which has us scheduled to adjourn in early April, Muir says:
You see, politicians are keenly aware these days that voters have a short attention span and an even shorter memory. So, those of you up for re-election believe that it will send a positive message to voters as they head off to the polls if you work together like a well-oiled machine during this legislative session. It's all about perception, right?

Well, in the case of this memo ¦ the answer to that question is "wrong."

I want to remind some of you that regardless of the love, adulation and BS that will soon be flying out of the hallowed halls of the state Capitol in Springfield, some of us have not forgotten the embarrassment of past legislative sessions that has turned Illinois into the poster child for corrupt politics.
Now some may try to dismiss this as 'more of the same', but I still believe that elected officials at every level of government are going to be in for a rude awakening if there is not some serious housekeeping done ASAP. And I would suggest that it's both just and preferable for the housekeeping to be done internally rather than waiting for the clean-up to come via pitchforks or indictments.

But let me be clear, for better or worse, this is not solely an Illinois issue. According to a poll reported on CNN.com, public opinion of Congress is down the tubes as well:
According to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, 49 percent of respondents said most members of Congress are corrupt. Although 46 percent of respondents said most aren't, the margin of sampling error -- plus or minus 4.5 percent -- makes it clear that the perception of congressional politicians is largely negative.

Congress' image could emerge as an election topic, with 55 percent of respondents saying corruption will be "the most important" or a "very important" issue to consider when voting in November. (emphasis added)
At the end of the day, what the public wants, and deserves, is pretty straightforward. An efficient, honest and hard-working government that puts public interest first and foremost. Now there are obviously legitimate differences of opinion as to what the 'public interest' is when it comes to issues of social services, education, etc. But there should be little room for disagreement about the concepts of an honest and hard-working government.

What is surprising is how easy it would be to give the public what it craves and deserves. A bill such as HB4073 (Fritchey-Black) would essentially elmimate the 'pay to play' issue in our state. But as much practical and political sense as it would make to pass this measure and sign it into law, we have thus far been unable to get a vote on the bill.

But I do believe that some electeds see the writing on the wall. To his credit, Comptroller Dan Hynes, the originator of HB4037, isn't waiting for action on the bill. He unilaterally imposed the restrictions on his office when we announced the bill. Good move. And smart too.

People that I speak with seem to have finally gone from being desensitized to corruption stories to being fed up with them. And like the CNN article, I think that, for a number of reasons, the issue of corruption will be a dominant one when voters go to the polls this year, especially in Illinois this November and Chicago for local elections in early 2007.

So to Jim Muir, and the millions out there of the same mindset, keep it up. It should be an interesting election year everywhere.

3 Comments:

At January 3, 2006 at 11:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

John,

Where do you stand on the Bill Benson case in Chicago?

 
At January 4, 2006 at 10:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Short of a huge number of incumbents being ousted, I don't think the culture of corruption in Illinois will be going anywhere soon.

I agree with your view that trouble is brewing with the electorate and they may finally take it out on incumbents.

However, that won't fix the problem, it will just relieve the symptoms for a short period of time. Depending on an outraged citizenry concedes that leadership will not come from within.

As you know, the public simply cannot keep up to speed on any particular issue for a long period of time. That means that short of the constant stream of outlandish corruption scandals we are currently weathering, the status quo will quietly assert itself again, aka "business as usual"

I don't mean to imply that a healthy number of upsets won't catch the attention of the powers that be, it will. My concern is that they pull out the old playbook which goes as follows:

1) Pass the minimum amount of reform to appear to be credible;
2) Avoid campaign finance reform at all costs (in particular HB 4073);
3) Wait for the public and press to move on;
4) While waiting have highly skilled staff identify every conceivable loophole and ambiguity of the reforms;
5) Exploit loopholes and ambiguities when the coast is clear or Pat Fitzgerald decides to do something else.

In my opinon the long term answer to minimizing corruption is two part. First, we do need comprehensive procurement, appropriation (no member initiatives sans a roll call vote on individual projects); ethics and campaign finance reform. Tight rules in and of themselves do not ensure ethical behavior, but it makes it more risky to be unethical. Second, and at least as important, demonstrated leadership from the Four Tops, the Governor and the other statewide Constitutionals to treat reform as a serious issue that will be worked on every session as opposed to being humiliated or scared into working on it due to scandal. Lead, don't follow.

Unrelated question, USC or Texas?

 
At January 4, 2006 at 12:45 PM, Blogger Hon. John Fritchey said...

11:23, to be candid with you, while I don't have the time to delve into what are obviously deep waters, I will say that the issue is a fascinating one.

For those unaware of this matter, Bill Benson is a former Illinois Department of Revenue employee who has spent an extraordinary amount of time and energy in support of his argument that the 16th Amendment, which gives taxation powers to the federal government, was never properly ratified, and as such, the government has been improperly acting without the requisite powers.

As I said, I have no idea if he is right or wrong, but I will say that it would be unjust for this issue not to be fully vetted. I really wish that I had the luxury of time to look at this thing some more. I would love to see some mainstream attention focused on it just to reach a conclusion one way or the other.

10:24, it sounds like you and I are on the same page. And in answer to your question, Texas by 4.

 

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