Emotional warnings that corruption is rampant across Illinois filled the air Thursday as Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn’s new reform commission launched a 100-day search for ways to bring a new era of ethics to the deeply troubled state.
Emotional warnings that corruption is rampant across Illinois filled the air Thursday as Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn’s new reform commission launched a 100-day search for ways to bring a new era of ethics to the deeply troubled state. "I’m sickened by the level of corruption in state government — embarrassed by it," said commission member Lawrence Oliver, a former federal prosecutor who is now the chief of investigations at Boeing Corp. Quinn has given the commission headed by former federal prosecutor Patrick M. Collins 100 days to come up with a blueprint for cleaning up Illinois government. Quinn launched the commission in hopes it will produce a program to combat the wave of corruption that has made Illinois a national joke — a program he can push once Gov. Rod Blagojevich is removed from office and Quinn himself is the governor. Blagojevich, facing federal fraud conspiracy and bribery charges, already has been impeached by the Illinois House. The trial expected to lead to his removal from the governor’s office is scheduled to get under way Monday in the Illinois Senate. "We want you to call it as you see it and let the chips fall where they may," Quinn told the commission in getting its first session under way. "Don’t worry about political consequences and ramifications." Witnesses and commission members alike warned that the state’s lack of campaign contribution limits, government secrecy and power concentrated in the hands of a few legislative leaders have all contributed to some of the nation’s worst corruption. Blagojevich is the second Illinois governor in a row to face federal charges. His predecessor, George Ryan, is serving a 6%uFFFD-year racketeering and fraud sentence. So far the legislature — none of whose leaders were on hand Thursday — has been willing to follow most other states in putting limits on campaign contributions. "The public is fed up with tinkering and excuses," state Comptroller Dan Hynes told the commission. He also warned the commissioners that "your job is going to be difficult — Springfield is a tough nut to crack." But the complexity of the situation surfaced when the Rev. Scott Willis, a member of the commission, told Hynes he was concerned about power being concentrated in the hands of a few families — "the Daleys, the Madigans, the Hyneses." "If you’re asking whether I think I should be disqualified from office because my father had an office, then I disagree," Hynes said. His father is a former state senator and Cook County assessor. Willis became the central figure in a major scandal that revolved around bribes paid by unqualified truckers for drivers licenses when Ryan was Illinois secretary of state. An accident involving a trucker who apparently bought his license killed six children in the Willis family. Another touchy moment came when former state Sen. Steve Rauschenberger, R-Elgin, said "the level of corruption in Illinois is unprecedented and unmatched" and asked "why Illinois’ 100 state’s attorneys are not more engaged in uncovering it and prosecuting it." Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, a commission member, sat expressionless as he spoke. Collins, who as a federal prosecutor sent Ryan to prison, said the commission needs to add some downstate members. But some, such as Sheila Simon, daughter of the late Sen. Paul Simon, are already aboard. "People across the state are ready for action," Simon said.
______ Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.