Byline: Associated Press
As members of Illinois' newest General Assembly took the oath of office Wednesday, the state still struggling to rebuild its image after two consecutive governors went to prison set yet another precedent of sorts -- three sitting lawmakers facing criminal charges.
Illinois is no stranger to dramatic headlines about the nexus of politics and crime in its highest offices -- most recently former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's conviction for attempting to sell Barack Obama's former U.S. Senate seat. But experts and capitol veterans can't recall a comparable circumstance for state legislators since the early 1970s, when several were rounded up in a bribery trial involving cement trucks.
The allegations against the three officials vary widely: bribery, bank fraud and trying to bring a gun onto a plane. But experts say that while the charges differ, the accumulation and timing is damaging to Illinois as it struggles to address some of the most serious financial problems in its history.
"All this does is confirm those negative, cynical opinions that are out there," said Kent Redfield, a University of Illinois at Springfield political scientist. "Part of that reputation is well deserved ... but if you're trying to get citizens of Illinois to accept the legitimacy of the process you need as much credibility and trust as you can muster. That's in pretty low supply in state government currently. …