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Column

EYE ON ILLINOIS: Few travelers on the state’s political high roads

Through the machines they raced round and about again

Changing their stars every minute or two.

They kept paying money. They kept running through

Until neither the Plain nor the Star-Bellies knew

Whether this one was that one … or that one was this one

Or which one was what one … or what one was who.

This stanza from Dr. Seuss’ 1961 tale “The Sneetches,” a fable about the folly of superficial discrimination, rang through my head while trying to make sense of the current state of political corruption in Illinois.

On Thursday, Democratic state Senators asked the Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform to include new transparency and accountability measures in a report regarding outdated ethics laws. That same day, federal prosecutors charged Sen. Terry Link, D-Vernon Hills, with filing a false income tax return in 2016, prompting his resignation from the (irony is dead alert) Legislative Ethics Commission. 

On Sunday night, House Speaker Mike Madigan gave the official welcome at the Illinois Delegation Welcome Reception, part of kickoff festivities for the Democratic National Convention. It’s what you’d expect from the head of the state party, but Madigan faces mounting pressure to resign from several members of his own caucus following his implication in a federal bribery investigation.

On Monday morning, the campaign committee of state Senate hopeful Thomas McCullagh, R-Shorewood, announced a fundraiser billed as a celebration of the president’s acceptance of his nomination. The event features guest speaker Rod Blagojevich.

The optics of headlining a proud GOP event with a former Democratic governor so corrupt he earned a stout federal prison sentence — and is only free now because the Republican president let him go home early — were so bad the state Republican party had to issue a statement:

“To be clear: we have nothing to do with this event and we don't condone it. It's a bad idea. Republicans in Illinois are for cleaning up Democrat corruption that has plagued us for too long — not celebrating one of its most insidious characters.”

Also Monday, reporters discussed Gov. JB Pritzker’s court filing seeking for a vacation of decrees from the early 1970s instituted to curtail politically motivated hiring in Illinois. Republicans seized the opportunity to point out sketchy job offers are a crucial aspect of the aforementioned bribery investigation.

Democrats can’t claim any high ground on ethics while Madigan and Link still hold such sway. Republicans can’t point fingers at Democrats when one of their flock embraces Blagojevich, to say nothing of the White House occupant’s reputation for self-dealing.

In Illinois, the road less traveled is the high one. Politicians — whether or not they have stars upon thars — must do more to earn and keep voters’ trust.

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

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