A Liberal Dose of Truth about Our 'Buddy' George Ryan
Byline: Burt Constable
Like the blind man in the Hindu parable who felt only the trunk before deciding an elephant resembled a snake, those who know George Ryan only for his anti-death penalty stance bemoan Monday's corruption conviction of our former governor as a dark day for liberals.
Ryan, after all, was hailed as a hero by the liberal nun who wrote "Dead Man Walking." The liberal actor who played B.J. Hunnicut on "M*A*S*H" testified about Ryan's "honesty and integrity." And heavy-hitting liberal human rights activists from around the world nominated Ryan for the same Nobel Peace Prize won by Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Jimmy Carter.
Ryan might be a liberal darling to the international press. But news that the good-old-boy Republican with a penchant for doling out perks to his cronies and sticking it to his enemies got nailed on all counts isn't a blow to Illinois liberals.
"That's for sure," says Babbs Heatherly, a longtime liberal from Glen Ellyn who knew Ryan long before he became an overnight liberal poster boy for commuting those sentenced to death row. "I have not been a fan of his for a long time."
Ryan's last-second swing to the left on the death penalty doesn't come close to erasing the wrong from the right side of his resume.
"That doesn't exonerate him from killing the ERA in an almost gleefully mean manner," says Gayle Guthrie, president of ERA Illinois. The Equal Rights Amendment - versions of which we've made part of constitutions in Afghanistan and Iraq - reads, "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex."
Moments after hearing news of Ryan's conviction on 18 counts - from racketeering to mail fraud to tax violations - Guthrie thought of "all of the women whose lives might be changed if Illinois had passed ERA," she says. "I think of how many lawsuits would not have had to be filed."
"That was a blow we have not forgotten," Heatherly adds. She also remembers how Ryan replaced his predecessor Jim Edgar's state library people with political buddies. But neither she nor Guthrie gloat.
"It's sad," Heatherly says. "I'm glad they (Ryan and co- convictee Larry Warner) didn't get away with it, but when these things happen, you feel for the people."
That lack of vindictiveness wasn't evident when Ryan was on the winning side.
"I've got the picture of him stepping over the young women at a sit-down protest," adds Karen Boehning, treasurer of ERA Now. …