Ethics matter always. If you know me, you’ve heard me say this. And if you don’t, you’ve certainly seen me write about ethics in this column. Elected officials should be held to the highest ethical standard. That’s why ethics reform is at the top of my legislative agenda every year.
Every Monday I look at the weekly calendar of meetings for boards, commissions and committees that serve Illinois’ 12.8 million residents. This week there are 18 meetings already scheduled. But do you know who’s not meeting? The Joint Commission on Ethics & Lobbying Reform and the Special Investigating Committee (SIC) into the ethical conduct of Mike Madigan. Whether it relates to the broad issue of ethics under the Springfield dome or the specific conduct of the Speaker of the House, it’s clear that the majority party doesn’t want to address ethics. They’re not interested in strengthening ethics laws or holding legislators accountable.
The Joint Commission hasn’t met since March 5 and the SIC hasn’t met since September 29. I serve on both panels, and my calls to reconvene are ignored. Most Springfield reporters are so desensitized to Illinois’ culture of corruption that they just shrug it off. One Springfield insider recently said no one should be surprised that these panels have gone dormant because Democrats are only behaving like they hold a super-majority. It’s true, but does having a super-majority make it OK to turn a blind eye to corruption? Evidently so. After all, this is Illinois, where former Governors make your license plates and political self-dealing is a way of life.
During his January State of the State Address, Governor Pritzker said the General Assembly must take “urgent action to restore the public’s trust in our government.” He said he looked forward to the policy recommendations of the Joint Commission, and also recently said Speaker Madigan should come forward and testify before the SIC. I agree with him. Knowing both panels have stopped meeting, it’s time for Governor Pritzker to show leadership and demand action now.
Calls for these committees to reconvene aren’t just coming from lawmakers. Organizations that promote good government are also demanding action. The majority party will continue to duck all efforts to reform ethics, but what they don’t realize is that the 12.8 million people they work for are growing sick and tired of the cloud of corruption that hangs over our state. Perhaps it’s time for the electorate to flex its own muscles and remove those who treat public office as a means toward personal enrichment rather than as a humbling privilege.