Take Responsibility, Voters - NBC Chicago

Take Responsibility, Voters

Patrick Collins: "It's not the politicians. It's our fault."



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    Former federal prosecutor turned reform champion Patrick Collins said Monday it is high time the people of Illinois took responsibility for what he called the "parade of problems" which have plagued government in Illinois for decades.

    "If we don't do it, it's our fault," Collins declared. "It's not the politicians. It's our fault."

    Collins writes in a new book, Challenging the Culture of Corruption, about how he had hoped for game-changing reform in Illinois following the arrest and ouster of former governor Rod Blagojevich, only to see those hopes dashed by lawmakers who made all too clear that they were in no mood for reforms which applied to them.

    Shortly after Blagojevich was removed from office, Collins was named chairman of the Illinois Reform Commission, tasked with the responsibility of making recommendations on how the political process could be streamlined to lessen the chances of such blatant corruption in the future.

    "You didn't really see anybody stepping up with us," Collins said. "I thought that folks would finally get it and just say, 'Enough!'"

    Instead, Collins said his Illinois Reform Commission was greeted with open hostility by lawmakers in Springfield, including some who had long portrayed themselves as champions of reform. But while he says he was disappointed with lawmakers, he remains baffled by the attitude of the general electorate.

    "There is something that I don't quite understand about the Illinois voting class, why this stuff doesn't bother people more," Collins said, suggesting that most voters simply believe that the state's corruption, while embarrassing, doesn't directly affect them.

    "If it's only people like me, and others, ranting about it, it's not going to get done, and it hasn't gotten done. It's got to bubble up from folks who really see the connection about how this costs them."

    The Reform Commission's proposals were largely ignored by lawmakers, many of whom had publicly decried corruption and made speeches on the floor of the Capitol during the impeachment proceedings against Blagojevich last January.

    In the end, legislators did pass limits on campaign donations, but Collins noted the four legislative leaders were given loopholes which allowed them to extend contributions to favored candidates. He said lawmakers owed the citizens a "better bill."

    "This is not crazy stuff,"  he said.  "Everything in our report has been adopted in other states."

    Still, he said, legislators fought the commission "on everything."

    "I know they didn't want to give us credit. Fine! Go back to the bill someone else put in several years ago, give them the credit, but just adopt it. Because it's the right thing!"

    Collins said he believes the public is battered with what he calls "fraud fatigue." But at the same time, he finds it ironic that those same voters continue making the decisions they make at the polls.

    "It's not like these people get themselves in," he said. "I mean, we vote for them. We elected Blagojevich. We elected all of these guys. And we have to take responsibility for that!"

    Collins is actively pursuing a plan to reform the way the state draws its crazy quilt of legislative districts, a process which he says virtually guarantees the candidates will choose their voters, rather than the other way around.

    Backers are attempting to get 300,000 signatures on petitions by May 2, to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot which would reform the way in which districts are drawn.

    He notes Iowa uses computers to draw districts in virtually perfect rectangles, which are not subject to the gerrymandering which has characterized Illinois for decades. But he says any effort to reform the Illinois process must be done by the voters, not left up to the General Assembly.

    "And we can do it. And they can't stop us!"