Instead of the Bermuda triangle, let's just call it the Illinois triangle. Clout, campaign contributions and jobs all come together in one neat little geometric form that often drives Illinois politics, while also pushing cynicism about government to the high water mark among Illinois citizens.
Like this recent example: Gov. Pat Quinn sweeps a toll-hike naysayer off the Illinois tollway board and brings on the leader of a powerful union, James Sweeney, president of International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150. That's the first leg of the triangle.
Contact information ( * required )
Leg two: Quinn grabs onto transportation as one of his premier pre-election giveaways to voters, standing up at ribbon cuttings for new interchanges that please locals -- and send lots of jobs to members of Local 150, who run heavy equipment.
The triangle is complete when Local 150 gives Quinn boatloads of campaign cash: $450,000 since the 2010 election, including a $250,000 check in January, as Daily Herald transportation writer Marni Pyke uncovered in a column Monday. Another PAC chaired by Sweeney contributed $150,000 to Quinn's campaign in 2010 and 2011.
Just like its Atlantic Ocean counterpart, the Illinois triangle is pretty fishy. It's not illegal, but it should be. Everyone who's part of the triangle reaps some direct benefit. Everyone who's not part of the triangle is regarded as a side issue. That group would include the toll-paying public (plus former tollway Director Bill Morris of Grayslake, who voted against a toll hike to fuel the 15-year, $12 billion tollway building program known as Move Illinois and got moved off the board in 2011, when Sweeney and four others were appointed.)
Susan Garrett, chair of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, has one suggestion we endorse to dismantle the triangle. She proposes industry representatives, including union leaders, be banned from public boards whose actions directly affect that industry's financial interests.
Going a step further, it's worth looking at borrowing an idea from the Northeastern Illinois Public Transit Task Force, which was convened by Quinn to react to another scandal involving appointed board directors, this time at Metra. The task force's proposal, now waiting action by lawmakers and the governor, suggests having prospective board appointees vetted by an independent panel.
Expertise is important on public boards, but we're confident that can be found without involving candidates who stand to enrich their associates as well as the campaign coffers of the politician making the appointment.
The destructive forces of the Illinois triangle crop up all too often. It's time to do away with it and create a new geometry with the public interest front and center.