Just in time for the Holidaze, another Illinois governor is soon going off to the federal pen. On Wednesday, U.S. District judge James Zagel sentenced former governor Rod Blagojevich to 14 years in prison for attempting to sell the U.S. Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama.
Blagojevich doesn't have to turn himself in to federal authorities until February 16 and it is not yet clear where he will serve his lengthy sentence. Perhaps he'll get to be bunk mates with his predecessor, former Illinois Governor George Ryan.
Blagojevich is now the 4th Illinois governor to be convicted of corruption. This prompted Judge Zagel to give a lecture to the courtroom along with his delivery of the ex-governor's sentence. Declaring that "the fabric of Illinois is torn," Zagel made it clear that his harsh sentence was meant to send a message to other state politicians. Corruption in any way, shape, or form will no longer be tolerated.
Zagel then went on to criticize Illinois voters, saying, "the American people usually get the government they deserve." Without voter support, he suggested, corruption like that engaged in by Blagojevich would not have been possible. Our acceptance, he implied, fueled the man's audacity.
Whether Zagel's lecture to the courtroom will be heeded by Illinois voters remains to be seen. Nearly every generation has lamented the corruption in this state and particularly in Chicago from which most of it seems to emerge. Yet despite these laments little seems to change. Different faces. Same old story. So it goes.
But before we throw up our hands in despair, it's worth noting one of the ways that politicians like Blagojevich come into power and stay there: Voting the party line.
Most voters in the United States are (to be polite) quite uninformed about who and what they are voting for. In Chicago, Ward Bosses long took advantage of this ignorance to mobilize armies of voters for "their guy." Typically that guy was a Democrat.
Even though the Ward Bosses are mostly gone, replaced by white collar boardroom movers and shakers in the Loop, voters still tend to vote party rather than person or platform. Case in point, Jose Berrios. The man openly admitted during the campaign for Cook County Assessor that he was corrupt. Did this prevent him from being elected? No. Why? Because he's a Democrat.
What happened next makes me want to laugh and then cry. Voters complained not long after he took office that (wait for it) Berrios was corrupt. Holy Christmas Batman!!! What a surprise.
If you don't want a repeat of Blagojevich in the near future, it would pay to vote with the same degree of care that you would take shopping for a new electronic gadget or gizmo. Those who run your local, state, and federal government are at least as important as the Apps on your phone.
Would you play Angry Birds if it cost you $500 to download? I think not. Yet this is the same thing voters do every year when an election comes around. Keep this in mind next time you stand in line to vote.