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Don't Blame Blagojevich, Blame Yourself

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Don't Blame Blagojevich, Blame Yourself
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The U.S. Attorney’s office is giving us even more seamy details of Rod Blagojevich’s alleged avarice in office.

That he met with Tony Rezko to plot ways to “make money from their control over the State of Illinois government.” That his wife received a $40,000 kickback from a real estate deal.

Now that we know all this, it’s time to place the blame for Blagojevich’s greedhead where it belongs: on the people of Illinois.

In Rod Blagojevich, we got the governor we deserved. When four out of eight governors end up in handcuffs, you have to start wondering whether the office itself is as much a problem as the men who occupy it.

When Blagojevich was in office, Illinois was one of five states with no limits on campaign contributions. In that freewheeling political culture, grabbing as much money as you could was a matter of survival. Blagojevich spent $17 million to win his last election — three times as much as his Republican opponent.

Not only did our governors have the motive to sell offices, they had the opportunity. The Illinois Constitution provides for a strong governorship, with the power to appoint boards that spend tax money. Not surprisingly, these appointments often go to big political donors or their friends.

“One reason that he was able to raise enough money to crush his opposition was that he had so much to sell,” James L. Merriner, author of a book on Blagojevich's predecessor, the equally shady George Ryan, once said. “There are so many commissions and pension boards and toll-way authorities and all these administrative agencies that are usually out of public view.”

For too long, we tolerated a system that allowed our politicians to collect bottomless buckets of cash. Blagojevich was the most extreme example of the corruption that system invited, but he was also its logical outcome. Illinois politics reforms itself as often as a mountain man bathes: only when the stench becomes unbearable. In 2009, the legislature finally passed Illinois’ first-ever limits on campaign contributions -- 191 years after we became a state.

Rod Blagojevich’s legacy may be that he did more to clean up Illinois government than any of the honest governors who came before him.

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