Cleaning House in Illinois Will Take a lot of Elbow Grease

lego-cleaning_.jpgIn my first term as state representative, we have seen some success in cleaning up Illinois government, with the passage of several major reform bills, including ensuring public meetings are truly “open” to the public, making end-of-career pension spiking more difficult and transparent, and reforming the way severance packages are doled out for government employees. These are just a few ideas that made it to Governor Rauner’s desk in bill form. Of course, there’s still much to be done!

One of the key reform measures that I believe would be a huge help is the referendum to take politics out of the way we draw district boundary lines for state representatives and senators. This important initiative, called “Independent Maps,” received well more than enough valid signatures to be placed on the November General Election ballot, but House Speaker Michael Madigan’s lawyer stepped in with a legal challenge. The future of this referendum now hangs in the balance, after a recent decision by a Cook County Circuit Court judge to strike the measure off our November 8 General Election ballot. The Independent Maps group has some very fine lawyers, and they have said they’ll mount a vigorous appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court, which will likely take the case on an expedited basis.

Why would anyone oppose a good government measure like fair and independent maps? Politics, of course: Speaker Madigan is working against the measure to protect his supermajority in the Illinois House. He draws the district lines, keeping his preferred representatives in office for a very long time, which gives him the power to block good ideas and to push forward really bad ones (like a budget that’s $7 billion out of balance!). It’s the same thing for our state’s unprecedented budget stalemate—Madigan believes that the politics of a stalemate will tilt in his direction. And avoiding serious votes keeps his vulnerable legislators away from possible electoral danger.

The other part of Illinois government that needs a deep cleaning is the office of the Auditor General. Frank Mautino was appointed to that position in October of 2015 for a 10-year term. As Auditor General, Mautino has the responsibility of watching how the State of Illinois spends its money. Of any official in state government, the Auditor General has to be squeaky clean. Mautino was one of Madigan’s chief lieutenants in the House as state representative and is currently under investigation by both state and federal investigators. They are looking into some unusual spending from his now-closed campaign account. For example, Mautino spent $200,000 on gas and car repairs over 10 years, at a gas station owned by a local alderman. That’s a lot of repairs! He could have purchased ten new vehicles for all that money. He also made $94,000 in repayments to a local bank for a $26,000 loan—where the excess funds actually went is what investigators want to know.

I have been calling for Mautino to come clean for months, and he has refused. At this point, having given him every benefit of the doubt, I’ve cosponsored a resolution to remove him from office. Unfortunately, Speaker Mike Madigan is the one who controls whether the House will consider and vote on the resolution! The right thing to do would be for him to step down, but if not, we need him out immediately.

It took us decades to get into this mess, so reform is going to take a while, often in fits and starts. But there’s light at the end of the tunnel and movement—albeit too slow—toward a new and better future for our state. Sunlight is said to be the best disinfectant, and together, we can keep shining it on the corrupt and dark corners of our government.