Horse trading sounds fun, but political horse trading is exactly what former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich committed to receive 14 years in jail. He was charged with 17 counts of corruption pertaining to his willingness to trade political favors and donations for facilitating public funds to certain projects, including children’s hospitals, race tracks and President Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat.
Some people objected to his conviction, saying that he never received a bribe and never actually gave the senate seat away. This is a good point: Walking into a Walgreens with the intention to steal Cheetos—and being too stupid to steal a bag—is certainly not a crime. But the severity of Blagojevich’s crime was worse than stealing Cheetos. Blago was corrupt, just like most Chicago politicians. His actions were but one small part of the culture of corruption that stains Illinois and lessens the legitimacy of its politics.
Blagojevich’s trial would be more surprising if there wasn’t so much precedent for Illinois governors being thrown in jail. Former Gov. Otto Kerner was charged with 17 counts ranging from bribery to tax fraud. Former Gov. Dan Walker was convicted for the bad loans involved with Frist American Savings & Loan Association. Former Gov. George Ryan helped give away bad truckers licenses which led to the deaths of six children in an accident. And yet those are only the people who got caught. U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill, was often cited as being involved in Blagojevich’s trading of the senate seat, but was never formally brought up on charges. I can’t stress this enough—Illinois politicians, especially those from Chicago, are corrupt.
But was Blagojevich’s 14-year sentence deserved? Many people say that answer really depends on if the harsh sentencing will actually prevent future corruption. Part of the sentence is about deterrence—teaching people they will not be let off easy if they betray the public trust. This is a hope people shouldn’t hold onto, because corruption is certainly still prevalent.
However, deterrence is only part of the validity of Blagojevich’s jailing. The main concern, at least for me, is finally punishing somebody for the rampant crimes our so-called public servants committ yearly.
Taxes in Illinois are certainly high. They were increased in an end-of-session vote last year that I happened to watch on TV at 2 A.M., which gives a sense of the chicanery that exemplifies the Illinois government. But perhaps the costliest tax in Illinois is the corruption tax.
“For the Good of Illinois,” a PAC in Chicago, argues that the cost of corruption trials, internal extortion and invalid government contracts should be thought of as a tax on the population of Illinois. Taxpayer dollars fund corruption trials, of which there has been 1,500 in the last 40 years. Some estimates have put the cost of this tax at $500 million a year.
So yes, Blagojevich’s sentence is deserved. His sentence sends a message that the state government is finally starting to treat politicians under the rule-of-law.
But punishing one guy certainly doesn’t solve the problem. There are still many corrupt Illinoisans, and many of them are in position of power. Jesse Jackson Jr., for instance, should be investigated for his involvement in the attempted senate seat debacle. The citizens of Illinois deserve better, and politicians around the United States need to know that someone is watching them (let’s not forget that many U.S. congressmen and congresswomen from both parties are being looked into for possible insider trading).
Blagojevich’s sentence is an ending to one of the most disgusting, yet oddly entertaining, episodes in Illinois history. He was caught and punished appropriately. But there is more corruption out there, and his sentence is hardly satisfactory. At least I can take solace that politicians are finally seeing that their actions can have consequences on themselves, and not just the people they supposedly represent.
Matt Beaty is a junior majoring in computer science and co-editor of the editorial page. He was born and raised in Illinois. Please send all feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.