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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Obama sidesteps reform in Illinois

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

For those of you who still cling to the fantasy that Barack Obama is "about change," you should note how he, or his minions, want nothing to do with reforming politics in Illinois, perhaps the most corrupt state in the Union.

"Throughout his political career, Barack Obama has fought for open and honest government," proclaims his campaign Web site. Apparently, no longer. When the Democratic presidential candidate—now his party's industrial-strength voice for our deliverance from political corruption everywhere—was asked by a reformer if he would help get his political mentor back home to get off the dime and move the most minimal of state ethics legislation toward passage, the Obama campaign sent word back that amounted to a "no."

State Sen. Emil Jones (D-Chicago) is the Chicago machine politician who might have been most instrumental in jump-starting Obama's political career. Now, as Illinois Senate president, Jones is the one sitting on the reform legislation, refusing to call it for an expected favorable vote before it officially dies of neglect.

Jones is the pal of Gov. Rod Blagojevich, no friend of reform, who used his amendatory veto power to change the legislation after it passed both houses so that Jones would get another chance to kill it.

If all that's confusing, welcome to Illinois politics, where intricacy is the best camouflage for chicanery. Suffice to say, neither Blagojevich nor Jones is working for reform.

So, along comes Cindi Canary, director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, thinking that now might be a good time for Obama to parlay his friendship with Jones to do a good deed: Won't you intervene with Jones and try to get him to call the Senate back into session to get this law passed? "[T]his is a place [Obama] could come in and quickly clean up some of the damage and serve his state," she told the Chicago Sun-Times. After all, her group and Obama worked together during those halcyon days when he actually supported reform in Illinois, so maybe he'll be receptive to a plea to intervene on behalf of Illinois folks who have been getting gouged for years by the likes of Jones. "A 30-second phone call to the Illinois Senate president could yield huge dividends to this state," she said.

In response, Obama's campaign issued an oozy statement reaffirming Obama's alleged commitment to reform, while getting no more specific than urging everyone to get together and love one another right now. What Canary was asking Obama for wasn't all that much. Maybe a 30-second phone call to back up his usual pap of, "Look, ah, I've, ah, always been for, ah, reform." For most people, the reform that we're talking about is so basic that they might ask, "You mean it's not illegal already?"

The legislation would make illegal the widespread abuse called pay-to-play politics, by which companies doing business with the state contribute to the state official in charge of ladling out contracts. The new law wouldn't let you do it if you have more than $50,000 in state contracts, which, even at that, leaves open a nice loophole. In Illinois, this is a huge leap forward from how things are done. Blagojevich, who has reaped bundles of cash from state contractors, could be one of the pols most jolted by the prohibition. That explains why he rewrote the legislation in a way that would make it ineffective and why the House overwhelmingly rejected his changes.

Jones now is the only one standing in the way of the reform, with Obama abetting.

Here's another example of how Obama has revealed himself to be a creature of the Chicago machine. Who can forget his silence when he could have affirmed his reformer credentials by endorsing Democrat Forrest Claypool over machine creature Todd Stroger as Cook County Board president? When things got too hot, Obama severed his ties from his racially inflammatory pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. That's not too hard; you can always find another pastor.

But betraying your political godfather(s) in Chicago and Illinois is an entirely different matter. Especially if you lose the presidential election and return to being just another senator from Illinois. Cutting his ties with the corrupt Chicago machine is one bridge you will not see Obama burn. Not now, not ever.

Agent of change, my foot.

For reader response, check out the Chicago Tribune discussion

Also posted on, where there are more reader comments.


Anonymous said...

Now I know where John Kass is. He's ghosting your column.

Anonymous said...

you have got to be joking.
essentially what i just read was, "he's no agent of change because he won't make a 30 second phone call."
your column is weak.

Justin said...

"...the Obama campaign sent word back that amounted to a "no.""
I'm curious as to what they actually said. Could you post the whole quote rather than what it amounted to?

Anonymous said...

Thought this was a great article. Was undecided until I read this. Anyone who back Todd Stroger is NOT for change.

Dennis Byrne... said...

From the Sept. 12 Chicago Sun-Times:

"Obama's campaign refused to tell the Sun-Times whether the senator supports either version. And a spokesman ducked questions on whether Obama would speak with Jones, as Canary suggested.

"'In Illinois and in Washington, Sen. Obama took on members of both parties to pass ethics reforms that decreased the influence of lobbyists over the legislative process, and he has set a standard this campaign by declining to accept contributions from PACS or Washington lobbyists,' Obama campaign spokesman Justin DeJong said in a written statement.

"'He encourages the Illinois General Assembly and Gov. Blagojevich to further those reforms by passing strong ethics legislation this session that limits the influence of money in the political process,' DeJong said.

"DeJong declined to clarify which 'reforms' Obama would like to see carried out in Springfield: the original bill his former good-government ally wants or Blagojevich's more sweeping approach that some critics believe was designed to kill the whole package entirely."

Stephen Schade said...

Mr. Byrne:

US senators do not typically meddle in state and local politics. Dick Durbin follows the same principle. Why no bash him too?

Marcus Darnley said...

Yo hey Mr. Byrnes... "Not now, not ever," huh? News flash- Obama called Emil Jones today, urged him to expedite the ethics bill, and Jones agreed to do so. Remind me not to trust your predictions on the stock market, the World Series, or who's going to win this election. We'll be awaiting your next Xerox of Republican talking points.