You see, Illinois, the Prairie State, once again finds itself as the poster child for extreme political corruption. Our current Governor has once again brought the news spotlights of the entire world on this “Land of Lincoln.” The limelight once more focuses on the most sinister side of the political maxim “the buck stops here.” Unfortunately, this does not always just refer to the actions of a US President. This is the third time in my lifetime where misdeeds, greed, and corrupt behavior have made Illinois the brunt of jokes nationally and globally. This hurts me and all citizens of Illinois. It defiles the reputations of the many great political figures associated with this state over the course of our history.
The first scandal involved a cash-filled shoebox found in a Springfield Hotel suite after the death of our then-long-term Secretary of State some 40 years ago. The second occurred when our most recent ex-Governor began his lengthy term in the slammer. He was not our first to do time by any means, and it appears he will not to be the last. The current alleged “pay to play” debacle lowers the bar for elected official misconduct even by Illinois standards. Last week saw the opening monologues in the late-night shows of Leno, Letterman, Kimmel, O’Brien, and Fergusson were replete with Illinois jokes. The most damning came in the opening skit that ended with “Live from New York, It’s Saturday Night...!” Illinois is no longer colored a red state, or a blue state; it is colored “THE black and blue state.”
When US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald last week held the press conference and read from the 76-page indictment of our sitting Governor, he said that the behavior noted would have Abraham Lincoln (a Republican) spinning in his grave. Lincoln is without a doubt the greatest political figure associated with Illinois. His legacy enjoys a world-wide following. Hundreds of thousand of visitors come to the Lincoln sites in the greater Springfield area to pay homage to him every year. Lincoln’s leadership preserved the Union of the United States. His “with malice toward none and charity for all...” set the standards for bi-partisanship and healing in a time of great troubles, division, and hatred.
Almost a century later, former Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson (a Democrat) captured the spotlight of the world during his tenure as US Ambassador to the United Nations. The world was in crisis as Russian missiles were being deployed 90 miles off our shores in Cuba. He rose to the occasion, seeking a confirmation (or public denial) of the build-up: “You can answer yes or no. You have denied they exist. I want to know if I understood you correctly. I am prepared to wait for my answer until hell freezes over, if that’s your decision. And I am also prepared to present the evidence in this room.”
Also in the 1960s, Illinois was represented in Washington, D.C. by perhaps two of our greatest US Senators: Paul Douglas (A Democrat) and Everett Dirksen (a Republican). These men not only served this great State, but also this nation as a whole. They worked together for the good of all Americans. Their cooperation, teamwork, and leadership were instrumental in achieving the passage of the Civil Rights Act at a critical time of great crisis and turmoil for our nation.
The press has zeroed in on recent Illinois ex-Governors who were indicted and/or did time. They mention only in passing that Dick Ogilvie, Jim Thompson, or Jim Edgar (all Republicans) did not. They also fail to zero in on the accomplishments of these men for the citizens of Illinois and the wider public.
In the crisis now embroiling Illinois, we have only seen media snips of Illinois Lt. Governor Pat Quinn and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan (both Democrats) rising to the occasion to remedy the unfolding crisis and placate our troubled waters here. Where is equal coverage of the good, the honorable, and the positive?
I’m Fred Cederholm and I’ve been thinking. You should be thinking, too.
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This story was published on December 15, 2008.