The day before Independence Day, former Gov. George Ryan received his freedom.
The 79-year-old Republican, convicted in 2006 of political corruption, was released from home confinement by the federal Bureau of Prisons.
The action followed more than 5 years served by Ryan in a federal prison, and 5 months confined to his Kankakee home.
Ryan is not totally free yet. He must serve a year of court supervision, during which time he must report to a parole officer occasionally.
But Ryan can now come and go as he pleases, which must be a great relief to him and his family.
Illinoisans have come to know several George Ryans over the years.
Kankakee residents knew him as George Ryan, an Army veteran, pharmacist, and county board member.
Then they knew him as George Ryan, state representative and later House speaker.
Then Illinoisans knew him as George Ryan, the lieutenant governor and secretary of state, before they knew him as George Ryan, the governor from 1999 to 2003.
Now, they know him as an ex-convict, found guilty of mail fraud, racketeering, tax evasion, and lying to federal investigators.
Is that the last impression Ryan wishes to leave for posterity?
We argued for Ryan to serve his full term in prison. He did.
Now, Ryan could perform a valuable service to the state he wronged by taking up the cause of political and governmental reform.
Stronger laws are needed to force more responsiveness, fairness, and accountability in a debt-plagued state government that spends too much money and doesn’t pay its bills on time.
While governor, Ryan argued eloquently for an end to the death penalty. Previous Ryan crusades targeted drug abuse and Illinois’ crumbling infrastructure.
As a former government insider and political power broker, Ryan would speak from experience about Illinois’ culture of corruption.
Perhaps fellow Illinoisans would listen to him and demand change.
Through such an effort, he could partially repair his tarnished reputation.
George Ryan, the political reformer?
If Illinoisans ever get the chance to know that George Ryan, they might remember him later with a smile, not a frown.