Between the brutal winters and the endless corruption, Illinois residents aren’t feeling much love for the Land of Lincoln these days.
In a recent Gallup poll, only 28 percent said they trust our state government — by far the worst no-confidence vote in the country.
And half would like to leave Illinois, more than any other state.
Watchdogs like the Better Government Association can’t improve the climate, but we can fight corruption by shining a light on our public officials and holding them accountable.
That was our goal in a recent investigation with FOX 32 of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s record on public corruption.
We cited her “declaration of war” on corrupt politicians in her first victory speech 12 years ago. She called it a top priority and suggested she’d go after anyone and everyone, even if the trail led to her own father, House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Now, a dozen years later, one Republican lawmaker says it’s been mostly “radio silence.”
That’s too harsh — in her first term she helped Illinois gaming officials keep a mobbed-up casino out of suburban Rosemont, and briefly investigated the corrupt Blagojevich administration before the feds took over.
She’s also reeled in a couple of dozen small minnows from little corruption ponds, mostly Downstate.
But when it comes to bigger political fish in Chicago, Cook County and Springfield, she’s been standing on the pier watching the feds land them.
Why? Madigan declined interview requests from FOX and the BGA, but her aides claim their biggest obstacle is a lack of authority to convene grand juries to pursue public-corruption cases unless local state’s attorneys invite them in.
She said the same thing in ’09 to the Illinois Reform Commission created by Gov. Pat Quinn in the wake of the Blagojevich scandal, and the commission supported her push for grand jury power, but the General Assembly never seriously considered it.
And who controls the General Assembly?
In the House that would be dad.
Speaker Madigan’s spokesman says family ties don’t matter here — AGs have been making the same request for years, only to be shot down by lawmakers who don’t think we need another prosecutor with broad powers.
They’re wrong. Corruption is so deeply ingrained in Illinois politics we need every law enforcement official on the case, including an AG with enough tools to have an impact.
In states like New York and Pennsylvania, the attorney general has an array of corruption-busting weapons, so why not Illinois?
“Her dad has a super majority in the Illinois House,” says former Illinois GOP chairman Pat Brady, “and she’s saying she can’t get help with this stuff? That’s nonsense.”
Lisa Madigan’s aides view the father-daughter “conspiracy theory” as a hackneyed GOP talking point, and it may be. But there’s no indication she’s continued to lobby aggressively for wider authority, and that’s disappointing.
She is clearly smart, strategic and capable of getting things done when she wants to.
So there’s still time to join the corruption fight she promised to lead a dozen years ago, especially if she wins a fourth term in November.
As recent polls indicate, Illinois residents are desperate for state officials they can count on.
And many still believe in her.
So better late than never, Attorney General Madigan.
If you have the will we’re confident you can find a way.
Andy Shaw is President & CEO of the Better Government Association.