Senate President John Cullerton repeatedly said that he wanted to make an "informed" decision about state Sen. Martin Sandoval's leadership role before Sandoval resigned as chairman of the Illinois Senate Transportation Committee.
Sandoval resigned Friday as chairman of the committee amid a federal probe into his dealings with ComEd, Exelon, a video gambling company, a red-light camera company, an asphalt contractor and state and municipal officials, among others, according to an unredacted copy of the search warrant agents obtained to search Sandoval's Capitol office on Sept. 24.
Cullerton had a lot more information than most Illinoisans, but declined to publicly sanction Sandoval in any way. In fact, Cullerton and Senate Democrats went to some length to keep information about the search warrant hidden. Senate Democrats initially released a redacted copy of the warrant. Later, after WBEZ filed a lawsuit to obtain the full warrant, Senate Democrats released the unredacted copy. It was only after that search warrant was released on Oct. 11 that Sandoval submitted a letter of resignation as chairman.
Put another way, Cullerton had a lot of information about what federal agents were looking for and did nothing. After the federal raid on Sept. 24, Cullerton played dumb. A spokesman said Cullerton was concerned. However, the Senate President didn't do anything, even as the concerns of those around him mounted.
It was a week after the Capitol raid when a spokesman for Cullerton said the Senate president wanted to make an "informed" decision about Sandoval.
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“Obviously recent developments are concerning,” Cullerton spokesman John Patterson said on Sept. 30. “When the Senate President makes decisions, he likes for them to be informed decisions. Right now, we don’t have a lot of information. Like everyone else, the Senate President wants to know more about what this is all about.”
But Cullerton wasn't like everyone else. He knew a lot more than just about everyone else. He must have been acutely aware of the depth and breadth of the federal investigation into Sandoval because he knew what was in that search warrant.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker called for Sandoval to step down as chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee on Oct. 2. At that time, the governor said Cullerton was aware of his sentiments regarding Sandoval.
Cullerton didn't budge, at least not publicly. By this point, one Republican lawmaker had sent a letter to the FBI seeking more details about the raids, noting that Sandoval had played a role in passing the state's $45 billion Rebuild Illinois construction plan, being paid for by a doubling of the state's gas tax, increased vehicle registration fees, and other new taxes.
On Oct. 9, another Republican lawmaker said he would push to repeal the gas tax hike.
It's still far too early to draw any conclusions about Sandoval's conduct. He has not been charged with a crime. But things don't look good.
In a state that has been plagued by corruption at the highest levels of state government for decades, the Senate President appears to lack the sound judgment needed to run the upper legislative chamber.
At the very least, Cullerton owes the public a clear explanation for his role in shielding the search warrant from public view and his failure to take swift action to reassure taxpayers that their money wasn't going to be misspent.
Brett Rowland is Illinois editor of The Center Square, a project of the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity, a non-profit media company dedicated to the principles of transparency, accountability and fiscal responsibility. His columns include his own opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinion or editorial position of The Southern. Contact Brett at email@example.com.