3 Lawmakers Facing Charges in New Illinois Legislature; That Only Adds to the State's Less-Than-Stellar Reputation, Although Only One of the Cases Involves Political Corruption
Tareen, Sophia, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
SPRINGFIELD, ILL. * As members of Illinois' newest Legislature took the oath of office Wednesday, the state that's still struggling to rebuild its image after two consecutive governors have gone to prison set yet another precedent of sorts: It has 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 although the charges differ, the accumulation and timing are 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 political scientist at the University of Illinois at Springfield. "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."
The three legislators Rep. Derrick Smith, Rep. La Shawn Ford and Sen. Donne Trotter are Democrats from Chicago who were all sworn into office Wednesday in Springfield. But that's where the similarities end.
Unlike Blagojevich and former Gov. George Ryan, who were accused of abusing their powers, only one of the cases involves political corruption.
Smith, who was appointed, was arrested on bribery charges and expelled from office in August, the first such expulsion in more than a century. …