Same old, same old
Voters someday may get a bellyful of Illinois' unique approach to politics, but don't hold your breath.
Politics in Illinois ain't pretty. Indeed, it's so ugly many people choose not to think about.
That's why it's necessary to remind taxpayers what goes on in their names and with their money. A recent inspector general's report into misconduct at the Illinois Department of Transportation tells a sickening story about the confluence of government and politics, one where politics trumps all other priorities.
It involves former U.S. Rep. David Phelps, who represented deep southern Illinois. A former county officeholder and state representative, Phelps is the quintessential politician.
His political life was good until 2002, when he got a raw deal. In the face of losing one congressional seat in the state, Phelps' colleagues in the Illinois delegation got together without him and decided to sacrifice Phelps' seat instead of one of their own. Forced to run in a new district where he was destined to lose, Phelps ran and lost.
But he didn't make too big a stink about the betrayal, so his fellow Democrats rewarded him with a six-figure job as the No. 2 man in the Illinois Department of Transportation. Obviously, it was not a merit hire — it was a perfectly legal payoff to a loyal party man.
Hired under the corrupt Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Phelps remained in his job at IDOT under self-styled reformer Gov. Pat Quinn.
But his sojourn came to a sudden end in February 2011 when, caught up in an in-house investigation, Phelps suddenly retired.
Investigators were looking into reports of improper behavior involving Phelps and others. More than two years after Phelps retired, the report was made public.
It concluded that Phelps had a sweet job. His former boss, Gary Hannig, told investigators that Phelps was not part of his management team. One might ask why Hannig's No. 2 man was not part of IDOT's management team, but the answer is obvious. Phelps was, with Hannig's evident permission, just taking up space and drawing a check.
The investigators' report, which Phelps vehemently denies, concluded that Phelps did "little work" with the exception of trying to oversee the hiring of his political friends and politically connected businesses. The report described Phelps as engaging in "misconduct and abuse" of his lofty position and recommended his dismissal.
He beat them to the punch by quitting his $128,000 job. But the Phelps family is still represented in Illinois government. His nephew, Brandon Phelps, is filling David Phelps' old state House seat — business as usual in Illinois politics. (Editor's note: An earlier version of this editorial incorrectly identified Brandon Phelps' relationship to David Phelps.)