The Illinois House has one fewer member.
Is it better to jump or be pushed?
Neither, of course, is a great choice. It’s more a matter of picking the least worst of two terrible options. That’s why Rep. Luis Arroyo of Chicago last week opted to resign his Illinois House seat rather than be tossed out on his ear by a committee formed by Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan.
The resignation/expulsion plan organized by Madigan is designed to reassure the public that the people’s representatives in the House are as honest as the day is long and will not tolerate anyone who is not.
That’s a tough sell, particularly in an environment where public officials in Chicago, Cook County and the General Assembly are the targets of ongoing multiple federal criminal investigations.
Indeed, Arroyo’s arrest for bribing a member of the Illinois Senate to sponsor and pass legislation favorable to a lobbying client of Arroyo is merely the latest in a series of events that have revealed ongoing public corruption investigations.
Arroyo’s departure from the House is no great loss. But that does not detract from the fact that he’s being punished based on accusations, not convictions for criminal wrongdoing.
FBI tape-recorded conversations between Arroyo and a cooperating witness don’t appear to leave Arroyo solid ground on which to assert his innocence. Still, even though Arroyo was effectively thrown out of the Legislature and not into jail, it’s never a good day when accusation is tantamount to guilt.
That regrettable stance was enthusiastically embraced by Madigan, who said “the allegations contained in this criminal complaint go beyond anything that could be considered a lapse of judgment or minor indiscretion.”
Indeed, Madigan presents himself as being shocked — “these allegations are beyond extraordinary” — by the idea that one politician would offer another politician cash to influence legislative action.
Accusations of bribery are disturbing and disappointing but hardly shocking in Illinois. The money machine, usually in the form of campaign contributions, is what drives this state’s politics.
People understand that instinctively and have grown used to the state’s rancid brand of politics. But there are limits to what voters will endure, and that’s why Madigan, shocked to discover corruption right under his nose, now says every effort must be taken “to restore the public’s trust.”
“I look forward to working with the governor and other legislative leaders to look for ways in which we can continue to improve the safeguards we have today,” he said in a statement that followed Arroyo’s resignation.
Madigan certainly is not alone in trying to appeal to public opinion. Republicans are trying to make political hay by demanding the resignations of compromised members of the Senate.
State Rep. Tom Demmer, a Dixon Republican, applauded Arroyo’s resignation while contending that state Sen. Terry Link “step down immediately from his position on the Legislative Ethics Commission while this widespread federal investigation continues.”
Demmer targeted Link, a Waukegan Democrat, because he has been identified as the unidentified witness working with the FBI who took the alleged Arroyo bribe. The FBI has said that the cooperating witness is assisting them because he faces prosecution for income tax evasion.
Two other senators — the indicted Tom Cullerton and the so-far-unindicted Martin Sandoval — also have been targeted for resignation demands. So far, they’ve shown no signs of going anywhere, and Senate President John Cullerton hasn’t called for them to go.
It’s another Illinois-style political mess, multiple criminal investigations complicated by the political posturing that goes with them.