Chicago Sun Times
Copyright Chicago Sun-Times 2002
by: MARK BROWN
Gary MacDougal, the new chairman of the Illinois Republican Party, comes to the post with no readily apparent baggage, which is no easy trick after nearly 26 years of GOP control of the state's executive branch of government.
He replaces the guy under investigation because his staffers were allegedly doing campaign work on the government's dime, and he beats out the guy who once collected a huge finder's fee for helping win a riverboat casino license for another guy whose name was also mentioned as a possible party chairman.
The guy who got the finder's fee came highly recommended by another guy talked about for the post who lobbies on behalf of a big computer company that got the sweetheart contract that has already figured into the indictment of three other guys in connection with the overall investigation of the guy who happens to be the governor.
That's kind of confusing without the names, but the point is that MacDougal isn't any of those names, which has to be a good part of what Republican gubernatorial nominee Jim Ryan had in mind by picking him for the job.
During those 26 years of Republican control, practically everybody who was anybody within the party's upper echelon has taken a stab at cashing in.
As far as we know, MacDougal, a retired corporate CEO, is one of the exceptions, so he at least deserves a listen when he expresses "true disgust for what has happened in this state" and promises "zero tolerance" for corruption.
We should even pay attention when he says this about all the sleazy goings on in our government: "I believe the sleaze is bipartisan sleaze."
That's an important point that hasn't been made often enough in this space.
Republicans don't own the franchise on corruption in Illinois.
They've just owned the governor's office for a quarter century, which has given them extraordinary opportunities to feed first at the trough. It's more like controlling a long-term lease than owning a franchise.
Just because the Democrats want to assume the lease and feed first at the trough doesn't mean they will be any more inclined to scrub the place clean after they've performed some window-washing.
A good argument can be made that it's time to give them a chance to run things for a while anyway, but nobody should fool themselves into believing that state politics is going to get cleaned up with a Democratic administration.
You're not going to solve that problem with this election, or any single election; whatever slim hopes that existed for getting started in that direction having evaporated in the primary balloting.
Neither Jim Ryan nor Rod Blagojevich is the right man to clean up Illinois government.
Either through acts of omission or commission, both are products of the same cynical political culture that has driven this state for at least half a century.
This is the culture that even now allows McPier CEO Scott Fawell to continue drawing his $195,000 salary while under indictment, even though all the little state worker mopes who were charged in the Operation Safe Road scandal found themselves knocked off the payroll immediately.
The bipartisan McPier Authority Board, which includes the already-indicted Larry Warner, says it's up to George Ryan to dump him. Have they asked Ryan to do so to save that big salary? You've got to be kidding.
This is the culture that allows George Ryan to create a trust fund account to raise money from the usual suspects for his legal defense, even though he won't admit that's what it's for. The governor says he'll disclose the donors, but there seems to be no Illinois law that requires him to do so, and we'll see how he feels about that when the time comes.
A new state law was supposed to prevent our politicians from taking "gifts," but it turns out there's a loophole for gifts from friends. In Illinois politics, people who give you cash gifts are the very definition of friends.
You haven't heard either of the candidates for governor making a big issue out of either of these matters. That would be impolite.
So is the cynical columnist who was produced by the same cynical culture suggesting that you throw up your hands and skip the election?
Of course not.
He's suggesting that we'd better start concentrating on why Ryan and Blagojevich are seeking the job and what they hope to accomplish with it, other than to achieve their own personal ambitions.
As strange as it seems with the federal investigation of George Ryan's office still unfolding, corruption isn't a valid issue in this election. That's because there isn't a legitimate solution.