Talk can be cheap, and it often is, particularly when Illinois politicians give one of their periodic sermons about the need to clean up government in this state.
Despite that admonition, Gov. J.B. Pritzker has been and continues to be strong – both in word and deed – about the need to address what he calls this state’s “poisonous” political culture.
With the state’s political class (Chicago, Cook County and Springfield) swamped in pending criminal investigations and recent news stories about sickening business as usual by political high-fliers, his words are – to say the least – as timely as they are pointed.
“Every person in Springfield needs to take a good, hard look at themselves and ask what their role has been in creating this culture, the availability of engaging in corruption, that’s the culture I’m talking about that’s so poisonous. And we have to ask the question, and they should ask the question of themselves – have they been contributing to that culture or have they been working, as I am, to improve the culture, to get that out of Springfield?” he said.
Although it could stand grammatical improvement, his statement was, on one hand, on target, and on the other, stunningly naive.
The people who contribute so generously to this state’s long-standing culture of corruption got into politics to take personal advantage of that culture, not eliminate it.
Pritzker, a multi-billionaire, certainly didn’t enter politics to boost his net worth, but many movers and shakers did.
That’s why the feds have so many criminal investigations under way. That’s why a load of state legislators have been or will be charged criminally. That’s why authorities are investigating links between Exelon/Commonwealth Edison and Michael McClain, a company lobbyist who is extremely close to Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan. That’s why authorities are looking especially hard at Madigan’s massive political and governmental operations.
Speaking of McClain, Pritzker publicly urged him to cooperate with the federal investigation, something that McClain had said earlier in the week that he will not do.
That’s bad advice McClain will reject out of hand. Cooperation for those in his shoes can be the key to the jailhouse door.
And, speaking of Madigan, the governor was notably circumspect in his comments about the all-powerful speaker of the House when he was asked if Madigan is a net positive or negative for Illinois.
“Look, I am the leader of this state. I’m the governor of the state. And I set an agenda, and I have gone to the Legislature and to the leaders of the Legislature with that agenda. And for the most part, we have passed much of the agenda that I put forward for last year,” Pritzker said. “And so I intend to keep working with whoever is holding those offices going forward. I believe that it is a positive that I am getting my agenda through, and I’m looking forward to continuing the progress that we’ve made and to bring a greater optimism and success to our state, as we did over the last year.”
Those who read carefully will note that Pritzker neither answered the question nor stated Madigan’s name. He clearly is treading carefully when it comes to the veteran Chicago politician.
That reticence is a two-edged sword. Pritzker has to go easy because he needs Madigan’s cooperation to pass his legislative proposal. But his reluctance to acknowledge the elephant in the room will strike many as evidence of hypocrisy, timidity and lack of credibility.