Special session or no, lawmakers must take serious, prompt action on reform
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
If matters proceed according to precedent, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and other Illinois leaders will continue the famous "business as usual" and pay no heed either to calls for Madigan's resignation or for Gov. J.B. Pritzker to convene a special session of the legislature to deal with ethics reform - both of which would be welcome developments. Even under normal circumstances, Illinois leaders have a way of simply pretending that inconvenient or embarrassing scandals simply don't exist -- or can be put off for another day. The COVID-19 pandemic gives them a built-in excuse to hem and haw until the passions of the moment fade, and it would be nothing less than a welcome shock if they didn't take advantage of it.
So, we can't expect action immediately, but we must keep up the pressure to ensure that the moment lawmakers get back to Springfield, they take up the corruption question they've deftly sidestepped for years.
This year, they await the conclusions of a blue-ribbon Joint Commission on Ethics and Lobbying Reform established by Pritzker and charged with producing legislative proposals to deal with the types of problems that led to corruption cases against Democrats Rep. Luis Arroyo, of Chicago, Sen. Martin Sandoval, of Cicero, and Sen. Tom Cullerton, of Villa Park. A spokesman for the state Democrats told our Marni Pyke last week that the panel "was making progress prior to the pandemic and we look forward to finding ways to get back on track."
We do, too. The sooner the better.
Senate President Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat, said in Pyke's report that he's "continuing to watch and gather more information from this unfolding federal investigation."
Sen. Cristina Castro, an Elgin Democrat and a member of Pritzker's panel, worried that "before all 177 of us rush back to Springfield to tackle this complex issue during a pandemic, I think it's important we have some consensus on what we're doing …"
"Get back on track … watch and gather more information … tackle this complex issue ... get consensus first."
These are not reassuring phrases for a state weary of public corruption controversies. It may be that the pandemic makes it impractical to immediately convene the legislature, nor does anyone want to see hasty legislation that suggests the veneer of reform without the reality. But the pandemic is no excuse for lawmakers to keep passing this issue along from election to election.
In his February State of the State speech, Gov. Pritzker made forceful promises to take on corruption in state government. He has shown through the state's pandemic response that he can be an effective and forceful leader. Those qualities are just as critical now regarding ethics reform, and whether he reconvenes lawmakers expressly for that purpose or not, we're expecting him to make it clear to them that he will press the cause aggressively and -- like the people of Illinois -- will not stand for inaction and foot dragging.