Editorial | Green pastures for Lou Lang

Editorial | Green pastures for Lou Lang

The longtime state representative has stepped down and taken a likely lucrative lobbying job.

The decision by longtime state Rep. Lou Lang to resign his Illinois House seat says a lot about state government in Illinois, none of it good.

A 69-year-old Democrat from Skokie who first took office in 1987, Lang fell into disrepute last year after he became the target of what ultimately proved to be an unfounded accusation of sexual harassment. As a consequence, Lang was forced to give up positions of influence in the House, including his role as an assistant leader to Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan.

That sort of business is extremely distasteful. So it would have been no surprise if Lang decided he had enough of politics.

But, surprisingly, Lang said the accusations had nothing to do with his decision to leave.

"Not at all," he said.

That's too bad, and here's why.

If not prompted by the ugly charges, Lang must have been thinking about stepping down long before his announcement this week that he had resigned his seat as of Jan. 2.

That means he ran for his 17th term in the November election while knowing he had no intention of fulfilling his commitment to voters. It also means that Lang and his fellow partisans will play the crucial role of selecting his successor, not the voters.

If there was such a thing as a dirty pool in Illinois politics — nothing is too dirty for politics in the Land of Lincoln — this would be Exhibit A for that proposition.

That, unfortunately, is not all.

Making matters ever more transparently self-serving, Lang is leaving the Legislature to become a lobbyist.

For that, his timing is excellent, likely to be highly rewarding in a financial sense.

With Democrats soon to again control all three branches of state government — executive, legislative and the Illinois Supreme Court — powerful financial interests can use a man like Lang. After all, key people in the Legislature and executive branch will take calls from the well-known Lang.

Perhaps even proponents of gambling and legalized marijuana, whose causes Lang has championed in the Legislature, will retain him to lobby his former colleagues on those measures and others. Suffice it to say, he'll have no shortage of influence to peddle.

Lang, of course, is not the first legislator — Democrat or Republican — to trade what passes for public service for self-service. In fact, he's just the latest in a long string of them.

In a familiar display of bipartisanship, Lang is joining a lobbying firm headed by a former top assistant to the late Republican state treasurer and comptroller Judy Baar Topinka. Who says Republicans and Democrats in Illinois can't work together, particularly when their financial interests are aligned?

So Lang's future appears rock solid.

But that's not all. If his new lobbying venture doesn't work out, he can rely on an excessively generous legislative pension that should dramatically exceed the salary he was paid as a state legislator.

Years ago, former Democratic Senate President Emil Jones passed legislation that provides expanded pensions. Under the changes, pensions that based on 20 years as a legislator are now increased for the time legislators hold office beyond 20 years.

Being a longtime member of the General Assembly is a gift that keeps on giving, demonstrating once again that our legislators do a great job looking out for themselves. If only they performed so well on behalf of taxpayers.

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