Reeder: Illinois’ culture of corruption continues

SPRINGFIELD – Well, another state legislator is heading to prison.

You won’t hear much outrage in Springfield.

Or dismay for that matter.

In the grand scheme of things, the conviction of state Rep. Derrick Smith, D-Chicago, on bribery charges is picayune.

You’ll hear it whispered around the statehouse: “He ‘only’ took $7,000.”

That’s right. He took seven grand, in exchange for writing a letter in support of a business receiving a state grant.

Another legislator, LaShawn Ford, D-Chicago, is facing bank fraud charges. And last year, former state Rep. Connie Howard pleaded out on a felony charge that she was siphoning money that was supposed to go for college scholarships. Instead, she spent it on herself.

Let’s face it, prison has become the repository for many Illinois pols once their time in “public service” is up.

Some embraced the penitentiary with panache.

Former Gov. Otto Kerner showed up at the prison gate in a limousine and wearing a tuxedo.

Gov. Dan Walker reported to prison wearing his Annapolis ring. That didn’t sit too well with the warden, a West Pointer.

Gov. George Ryan was chauffeured to the Big House by another governor – James R. Thompson.

And Rod Blagojevich was mugging for the cameras at a burger joint moments before entering the slammer.

Illinoisans have become jaded to criminality among those we elect.

A few years back, some Springfield resident printed up bumper stickers that said, “My Governor is a Bigger Crook than Your Governor.”

This kind of cynicism has metastases through the electorate, leaving political tumors of apathy, inevitability and suspicion.

There is no greater exploiter of this political cynicism than House Speaker Mike Madigan.

Despite Smith’s indictment, Madigan threw his support behind his re-election this year.

Madigan’s spokesman told the Chicago Tribune that the speaker supports Democratic incumbents and believes in “innocent until proven guilty.”

Well, some of the time.

I watched Madigan vote to impeach Blagojevich before he was ever brought to trial on corruption charges.

When we hope for statesmanship in Springfield, we all too often end up with raw politics.

Soon, Smith will find himself behind bars.

But will Illinoisans continue to imprison themselves with a legacy of indifference? Will we continue to tolerate the intolerable? Will we elect those wanting to serve rather than looking to take?

Or will we expect more?

Only time will tell.

But let’s hope for the best.

• Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse reporter and a  journalist with Illinois News Network, a project of the Illinois Policy Institute. He can be reached at sreeder@illinoispolicy.org.