Column

EYE ON ILLINOIS: Ethics commission debacle another example of Madigan’s distraction techniques

Republicans don’t like Mike Madigan. Many Democrats don’t, either, and his remarks this week make for good evidence.

In a Tuesday GOP press conference, House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, reminded voters of “the crisis of confidence and corruption that persists in Springfield under the Democratic majority control.”

In response, House Speaker Madigan, D-Chicago, told reporters he “would suggest that the Republicans that want to pursue ethics reform go out to Washington, follow up on President Trump’s promise to drain the swamp.” 

Certainly a majority of Democrats consider corruption to be rampant at the White House. But that’s Washington, not Springfield, and it isn’t hypocritical for state lawmakers to support state laws.

This all happened before Friday’s reports of Madigan’s implication in a federal bribery investigation. Expect to hear a lot more about that in coming days, with justified vitriol given the speaker’s track record.

He’s also rejected the GOP’s position that Democrats ignored ethics reform when the General Assembly convened in May to quickly pass a budget.

“It was on the table,” Madigan said. “It was under discussion. It continues to be under discussion. It will be under discussion when we reconvene whenever we’re able to do that.”

Madigan’s remarks imply his hands are somehow tied despite his outsized power under the state constitution. If he wanted his chamber in session, they’d be in session.

This kind of shell game is common practice for Madigan, especially in regards to ethics. Republicans proposed an ethics task force last October, then increased support as more Democratic colleagues fell under legal scrutiny. But when Democrats (who control both chambers) floated the joint resolution to create a commission on ethics and lobbying reform, Senate Republicans pulled support en masse, and it passed only 32-18 with nine abstentions. 

The sticking point was the makeup of the 16-member panel: With six lawmakers from each major party, the remaining four members are the inspectors general from the offices of the attorney general and secretary of state, plus one appointee from each office. The current inspectors have extensive experience in rooting out political corruption, but they are indeed Democrats.

Senate Republicans made a good faith amendment to correct this perceived imbalance by stripping the state employees of commission voting power. It didn’t get a hearing.

The commission’s report was due March 31. A slight delay due to COVID-19 is understandable, but a 15-week wait for simple suggestions is absurd. Lawmakers can propose their own bills without this report, but Madigan functionally controls which proposals actually advance.

Politicians from all parties are capable of corruption, but in Illinois the majority alone can pass or defeat reform policies. When Madigan doesn’t want to address a concern he won’t, and on ethics he’s made it crystal clear what Illinoisans can expect: talk without action.

The commission was never a panacea, but now it’s just another distraction.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at [ mailto:sholland@shawmedia.com ]sholland@shawmedia.com.

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