Legislators from suburbs offer mixed reactions to new ethics watchdog in Springfield
Suburban legislators offered mixed reactions after the General Assembly's approval of a new ethics watchdog last week, and they sometimes extended beyond partisan arguments.
When the Senate approved former judge Michael McCuskey to fill a long-vacant position of legislative inspector general early last week, many Republicans bristled at what they described as "a power move" by Democrats, who had bypassed the Legislative Ethics Commission to fill the position over two top candidates it had identified.
The legislative inspector general is charged with investigating claims of ethical violations against elected officials and staff members.
"Bypassing the citizen oversight process set in state law is contrary to even Judge McCuskey's stated desires and interpretation of the law," Senate Minority Leader Dan McConchie of Hawthorn Woods, a Republican, said in a statement after the Senate vote. "This is not only uncalled for but feeds into the mistrust that many Illinoisans rightfully have of their state government."
Sen. Cristina Castro, an Elgin Democrat and member of the Legislative Ethics Commission, said the panel had reached a stalemate because the four Democrats on the panel wanted one candidate, the four Republicans wanted another and neither side would budge. She and other Democrats said that justified Senate President Don Harmon's bringing forward McCuskey.
The previous inspector general, Carol Pope, announced her resignation in July 2021, complaining that the position lacked the authority it needed, and served her last day on Jan. 6.
"We've waited too long to fill the legislative inspector general position, and I am glad to see it finally happening," Castro said in a prepared statement last week.
In the House, McCuskey did receive bipartisan support. Republican suburban Reps. Seth Lewis of Bartlett, Keith Wheeler of Oswego and Chris Bos from Lake Zurich were among those supporting his appointment.
"The process was flawed," Wheeler said, "but I believe we need a strong person for the role, with impeccable credentials and integrity, and I feel that McCuskey is that person."
Lewis had similar reasoning.
"When I listened to everyone in the chamber on both sides of the aisle, there was not a bad word to be said for McCuskey," he said, "And though I did not like the process, I felt that it was my duty, my obligation to do the best for the residents of Illinois to vote for a qualified person to improve our ethics, our transparency, and help the people believe in their government."
Some others were not persuaded.
House Republican Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs, Amy Grant of Wheaton, Deanne Mazzochi of Elmhurst, Martin McLaughlin of Barrington Hills, Steven Reick of Woodstock and Dan Ugaste of Geneva voted "present." Republican Tom Morrison of Palatine had an excused absence on the day of the vote.
"I cast my vote the way that I did," Mazzochi said, "because I have nothing but respect for the judge, but I could not in good conscience vote yes knowing that the Democrats ignored the statutory requirement for candidate selection in a way that set the precedent for the process to be abused in the future."
State Sen. Ann Gillespie, an Arlington Heights Democrat, commended the House for appointing McCuskey in a bipartisan manner. She said that with at least one ethics case investigation open, it was important that the role be filled.
"Sometimes you have to do the right thing and try to work out the process later," Gillespie said.