Brett Rowland | Time for AG's office to take on corruption in Illinois

Brett Rowland | Time for AG's office to take on corruption in Illinois

By BRETT ROWLAND

It's nearly impossible to work up enthusiasm for the Illinois gubernatorial race, which features two rich men who have proven they know how to spend a lot of money on attack ads but appear unable to fix the state's financial problems.

Gov. Bruce Rauner has made it clear he can't get much done in Springfield. J.B. Pritzker's "interest in holding public office is, you know, always large."

At least that's what the hotel chain heir told former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich in a phone call in 2008 that was recorded by FBI wiretap. Pritzker and Blagojevich also talked about campaign donations in tapped phone calls.

Blagojevich is serving a prison sentence after being convicted of corruption.

Corruption remains a major problem in Illinois, which is the reason that the race for the state's attorney general's office should be getting more attention than it has been so far.

The stakes are high. In May, a University of Illinois at Chicago report found that Illinois was the third most corrupt state in the nation, behind only the District of Columbia and Louisiana.

"In Illinois and in Chicago, corruption thrived under both Democratic and Republican political machines. They took turns. Corruption is nonpartisan here," the authors wrote in the report.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the stepdaughter of House Speaker Michael J. Madigan, has failed to deliver on her promise to investigate corrupt-ion in Illinois over the past 16 years.

"She is compromised. She is incomplete. She cannot maximize the role of attorney general, as others have across the country, because she, her family, her supporters and her brand are interwoven with the fabric of clout that envelops this state," the Chicago Tribune's Editorial Board wrote in 2017. "There is no way, or no willingness on her part, to pluck apart the fibers."

The race to replace Lisa Madigan at the head of what should be a corruption-busting agency pits Republican candidate Erika Harold, a political newcomer, against state Sen. Kwame Raoul, a Democrat.

Harold, a Harvard Law School graduate and 2003 Miss America, has already been painted as beholden to Rauner.

After all, Rauner recruited the Republican nominee and has put $1 million into her campaign. Worse, Rauner suggested Harold would prosecute his political nemesis, Michael Madigan, for unnamed crimes that the governor hopes the House speaker has committed.

Raoul, who has served in the Senate since 2004, was criticized in the Democratic primary for taking campaign donations from special interest groups.

Harold has been critical of how Lisa Madigan has run the attorney general's office. Raoul has been more of a defender of Lisa Madigan and would be more of the status quo.

What Illinois needs is a leader who will tackle corruption at every level in the state.

Corruption is far too damaging to be left alone. It can't be ignored in favor of consumer protection or because of conflicts of interest. The office must be the state's most aggressive watchdog.

Brett Rowland is news editor of Illinois News Network and the digital hub ILNews.org. He welcomes your comments. Contact him at browland@ilnews.org.

Sections (2):Columns, Opinion