The Illinois General Assembly is a master of approving phony reform bills.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker this week continued his usual practice of signing whatever legislation the General Assembly puts in front of him.
This time, he put his stamp on what purports to be legislation establishing stricter ethics standards for members of the Illinois General Assembly. Having it both ways, Pritzker acknowledged the legislators’ handiwork “didn’t go far enough” but suggested it represents an improvement.
In rejecting suggestions from good government types, including Change Illinois, that he veto the bill, Pritzker said “you can’t go by the theory that the perfect should be the enemy of the good.”
The governor is right about that. No piece of legislation can be perfect because it is inevitably the product of a compromise-driven process.
But by invoking that cliche, Pritzker means to put an end to the discussion. That would, in fact, be reasonable if the legislation really met Pritzker’s characterization as “good.” It doesn’t.
Although adorned in gaudy wrapping paper progress, the legislation is an empty shell devoid of substantive, positive changes.
In passing this legislation, super-majority Democrats employed a familiar magic trick — creating an illusion of reform rather than real reform.
Change Illinois had hoped the legislature would ban lawmakers from lobbying local government, establish a two-year ban on former legislators lobbying their former colleagues, strengthening conflict of interest standards and giving real authority to the legislative inspector general.
After reviewing the bill, the reform group said the final version of the purported ethics bill fell “well short” of those goals.
The revolving door ban on former legislators lobbying their old colleagues is a loophole-ridden joke. Legislative inspector general Carol Pope was so disgusted by the bill’s failure to strengthen the authority of her office that she submitted her resignation.
The status quo under the new bill isn’t all that different from the inadequate status quo under the old law.
Obviously, lawmakers of this scandal-ridden state have shown they want nothing to do with changes that would undermine their ability to profit — one way or another — from their legislative duties.
Of course, if Illinois was a state where public officials had a reputation as always acting above board, it would be one thing. (As hard as it is to believe, some states have well-deserved reputations for honest government.) But Illinois always has been, is now and probably always will be up to its neck in corruption.
Our culture of corruption even has a name — “the Illinois/Chicago Way.”
One feature of that sickening approach to public duty is that legislators — for the most part — don’t care what the public thinks. If no one can force them to pass substantive ethics rules, they simply won’t do so.
There’s no price to pay for thumbing their nose at the voters.
Our elected officials may be craven in many respects, but give them credit for one thing. With their fingers in the air checking the political winds, they know what they can and can’t get away with.
Illinoisans may be disgusted with the political climate, but they’re resigned to it.
So the legislature passes a phony ethics bill. The governor signs the phony ethics bill. And that is that.
It’ a heck of a way to run a state. But this is, after all, business as usual in Illinois.