Everyone — even members of the Legislature — is entitled to fair and dispassionate treatment when they get in trouble with the law.
Given Illinois’ slimy political history, it’s no surprise that the public reacts with instinctive animosity when another in a long line of corrupt public officials is charged with criminal conduct.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker spoke for many people earlier this week when he reacted to this week’s arrest on bribery charges of Chicago Democratic state Rep. Louis Arroyo.
“I’m glad, frankly, that people are being caught and sent away. It is time,” Pritzker said.
That was only a part of the governor’s denunciation of public corruption, which is the subject of another series of criminal investigations being conducted by federal prosecutors in the Northern District of Illinois.
“I’m angry, frankly, and I’m disgusted by these people who take advantage of the public, who take public office and think that this is OK. That stealing, that lying, that doing business that’s taking away from the public trough. The taxpayers and voters put elected officials in office to safeguard them, to safeguard your resources to make sure that we’re doing the right things so that you have an opportunity to succeed.
“And so these people who are taking advantage as if this is all about them and not all about the people that they’re elected by. We are going to make changes in the state of Illinois. We are going to make changes in our ethics laws. We are going to root these people out,” Pritzker said.
Three cheers for the sentiment he expressed, but with a caveat — all in good time.
People are in the process of being investigated and charged. So far, no one linked to these current investigations has been convicted of anything.
If and when they are convicted, give them the works. Until then, it’s important not to get carried away with desire for punishment.
Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan has announced his intention to expel Arroyo, a member of the Madigan leadership team, from the House if Arroyo does not resign. That’s premature.
Remove Arroyo from leadership and cancel any important committee assignments. But expulsion can — and should — wait for Arroyo’s conviction.
Two members of the Illinois Senate also are in trouble — state Sens. Tom Cullerton and Martin Sandoval. Cullerton has been charged in connection with a no-show Teamsters Union job while Sandoval, not charged, has been the target of FBI search warrants in connection with a payoff scheme.
Both men have been removed from important committee chairmanships, Cullerton from labor and Sandoval from transportation. They need to be removed from any other important legislative roles they hold until their situations are resolved.
It’s easy to understand why legislators want to move quickly on their compromised colleagues.
These investigations make all House and Senate members look bad, raising questions in the public mind about every legislators’ honesty. No wonder they want to be able to tell their constituents about how they cast the bad actors out.
But a rush to judgment is rarely wise. At the very least, it sets a bad precedent.
Time will tell about the proper course to take regarding expelling corrupt legislators. Let the legal process play out before embarking on a political one.