George Ryan returned to his Kankakee home hours after he was released from prison in Indiana and checked into a halfway house in Chicago. Jim Thompson talks to the media as Ryan's family looks on. At one point, Ryan peeks out the front door. (Published Wednesday, Jan 30, 2013)
Six years after he went to prison for corruption, former Gov. George Ryan went home to Kankakee. Ryan is 78 years old. While he was in prison, his wife died. Attorney General Lisa Madigan stripped him of his pension for decades of service as a state representative, Speaker of the House, lieutenant governor, secretary of state and governor.
Ryan was one of the most successful politicians in Illinois history. He won three of the state’s six constitutional offices and oversaw two of its three branches of government. But now his name is ruined. What’s he going to do?
Ryan should spend the rest of his life mentoring Illinois governors, to make sure they don’t get in the same kind of trouble he did. Clearly, governors are an at-risk population. Four of our last nine governors have ended up in prison. Can you think of any other demographic with a 44 percent incarceration rate? I can’t.
If Ryan hadn’t been in prison in 2008, he might have been available to counsel Rod Blagojevich not to attempt a deal for Barack Obama’s Senate seat.
“Rod,” he might have said, “I know that’s the way we’ve always done things in Illinois, but this is a new era. Times have changed. The feds aren’t going to stand for it.”
Once his home confinement is over, Ryan should drive to Springfield and meet with Gov. Pat Quinn.
“Pat,” he might say, “I know you think you’re a clean, honest, upstanding guy, but I used to think I was a clean, honest, upstanding guy. Otherwise, how could I have become governor. But there are a lot of temptations in this office. The Illinois governorship can corrupt even the most well-meaning politician. So, I’m going to give you my number. My home phone and my cell phone. I never had one before I went to prison, but a lot has changed in those six years. I got an iPhone 5. If you’re ever tempted to appoint someone to an office in exchange for a campaign contribution, or accept a kickback in exchange for a state contract, I want you to call me. Any time, day or night. I’m here to help you stay on the straight and narrow.”
As part of the terms of his release, Ryan is required to get a job. I can’t think of anything he’s more qualified to do.