Hey, new Illinois General Assembly! Could you please do our state a favor and try not to pile anything else onto our mountain of embarrassment?
We’d really prefer that our state wasn’t the butt of so many jokes and didn’t hold so many records in the political hall of shame. Our well-earned reputation for graft and political funny business is bad enough.
Having not just one but two former governors convicted of corruption and simultaneously serving federal prison sentences is even worse.
Add to all that the state’s inability to balance its budget, pay its bills and do something about the pensions crisis, and it’s enough to make any Illinoisan blush and search desperately for the nearest rock to crawl under when people from other states ask, “So, where are you from?”
But apparently Illinois’ reputation hadn’t been tarnished enough. Rushing to rescue us from that danger are three state legislators, Rep. Derrick Smith, Rep. La Shawn Ford and Sen. Donne Trotter.
Their claim to fame — or infamy, rather — is that all three currently face criminal charges.
Hooray for us.
Smith has been charged with bribery, while Ford faces bank fraud charges and Trotter was arrested when airport security workers found a gun in his bag. They all deny wrongdoing, or at least intentional wrongdoing.
But guilty or not guilty, the spectacle of three sitting lawmakers being sworn into office this week while facing criminal charges really isn’t the kind of public relations that the state of Illinois needs right now.
Smith’s case is particularly aggravating, since his fellow legislators had already taken the extraordinary step of expelling him from the General Assembly in August.
Then in November the voters sent him right back to Springfield.
Under state law, Smith cannot be expelled again for the same reason, so unless he is convicted, he will keep his seat for the next two years.
We think this might be an area of state election law that needs some reform. Perhaps the General Assembly could pass a law that would prevent a disgraced, expelled lawmaker from immediately running for re-election — maybe delaying his eligibility to be a candidate for the next term, something like landing on the “Lose A Turn” space on a board game.
On the other hand, if, as we have previously advocated, the state constitution were amended to institute term limits on elected state offices, that could effectively prevent, or at least contain, the effects of scandals like Smith’s by keeping state representatives from serving more than a couple of terms.
But maybe it isn’t our election law that needs reforming. Maybe we just need better informed voters, or at least voters with a sense of decency, who would never dream of embarrassing their districts or their state by electing and re-electing buffoons and blackguards to office.
Illinois likes to boast that it’s the Land of Lincoln. It sure would be nice if our elected representatives were all “Honest Abes.”