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Voice of The Southern: Changing the culture in Springfield just got more difficult
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Voice of The Southern: Changing the culture in Springfield just got more difficult

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These days, it’s hard to get Republicans and Democrats to agree on something.

But, this past week, President Donald Trump did just that when he commuted the prison sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

In all reality, it was no surprise the president gave Blagojevich a get-out-of-jail-free card — the move was talked about for months. But it still sent shock waves through Springfield and the rest of the state.

Our own U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, has been in Trump’s ear about it as far back as last summer. “I disagreed with him as much as I could on the tarmac while sitting beside people in an airplane,” Bost said. “His concern, he kept saying, that one, he’s separated from his family. My statement on that was, that ‘Mr. President, there’s a lot of people out there separated from their family because they made poor choices and they violated the law.’”

Frankly, we agree. Commuting the former governor’s sentence sends a terrible message and is a bad idea. And just because Blagojevich was away from his family doesn’t mean he gets to go home. That idea is ridiculous.

One of the hot-button issues in Springfield is ethics reform. And for good reason: There are plenty of current and former state lawmakers under investigation for various crimes in Illinois.

“Currently we have a massive federal investigation into corruption in the state of Illinois, and this action distracts and also dilutes what I think is the proper role of the Department of Justice to root out corruption,” said Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, who called the decision “disappointing.”

Again, and we cannot stress this enough, commuting Blagojevich’s sentence sends the wrong message.

Blagojevich began serving a 14-year federal prison sentence in 2012 after he was convicted on 11 criminal counts related to his effort to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama when he became president. Blagojevich was also convicted on six counts related to campaign contribution shakedowns, including one count that said he essentially tried to trade $8 million in added state funding to pediatric specialists for a $25,000 campaign donation from a hospital CEO. In 2015, five of those counts were thrown out in appellate courts, although his 14-year sentence was re-imposed months later.

Those are some serious charges and convictions. Serious convictions call for serious prison time, and we believe that 14 years fits the crime. He deserved to serve all 14 years of his sentence.

Shortening the sentence just gives the next lawmaker who wants to sell a seat or take a bribe from a traffic-light company more leash to do so. In other words, there’s no fear of punishment left. It sets a terrible precedent.

“Illinoisans have endured far too much corruption, and we must send a message to politicians that corrupt practices will no longer be tolerated,” current Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, said in a statement. “President Trump has abused his pardon power in inexplicable ways to reward his friends and condone corruption, and I deeply believe this pardon sends the wrong message at the wrong time. I’m committed to continuing to take clear and decisive steps this spring to prevent politicians from using their offices for personal gain, and I will continue to approach this work with that firm conviction.”

The state of Illinois has a serious ethics issue. Heck, Blagojevich isn’t the first governor who has served time in prison.

Our current lawmakers have a job to do now. They must use this as fuel to get ethics reform at the forefront in Springfield. New laws must be passed so that this doesn’t continue to happen.

Changing the culture in Springfield is going to be difficult. It’s even more difficult when our president commutes a convicted governor’s sentence.

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