Friday, December 12, 2008

Blagojevich II: No, Seriously, Timing Is Everything

If you're not from Illinois, you might not have noticed the last giant political scandal to hit before "Blago" became a household name in households that can't pronounce "Blagojevich."
(That's bluh-GO-yeh-vitch, folks.)

The last big furball came up when the state's last Governor, George Ryan, began a campaign to get a favor from George W. Bush before the President leaves office. They're both Republicans, so that might not seem so odd, except that the favor Ryan needs is to have his sentence commuted. See, Ryan, in the grand tradition of Illinois Governors, is currently sitting in a prison cell. It turns out that if you force your workers to raise campaign funds or lose their jobs, and let them know that accepting bribes is a good way to raise the cash, they'll let some things slide. Things like giving commercial drivers' licenses to people who don't speak English, much less know how to drive trucks. Accidents could happen, and nice families could die in sickening ways on Illinois highways. When that happens, people will get made enough not to care that you're a powerful politician anymore.

Anyhoo, George Ryan was sentenced to 6.5 years and it looks like he's going to serve it. His wife appealed for mercy, and Dick Durbin (yes, the guy on the leadership team for the Senate Democrats) sent a letter to George Bush on Ryan's behalf. This puzzled people who don't understand Illinois "combine" politics. But to a Combine politician, it makes perfect sense. Ryan was powerful. He still has powerful friends. His lawyer, Jim Thompson, was the Governor of Illinois for a long time himself (but Big Jim won't be going to jail, thank you very much.) Ain't it grand to be connected? And if you're connected in the Combine, it doesn't matter which party you belong to. You join whichever party offers the best chance to advance in your geographic area; thus, if you're from Chicago, you're a Democrat, but if you believe exactly the same things in some of the Chicago suburbs, you're a Republican. If you're a guy who needs connections to make his millions, like our old friend Bill Cellini, then you do business with both parties and that's all there is to it.

Today, George Ryan offered, through his former-Governor lawyer Thompson, a "public apology" for his crimes. Well, technically, he apologized for doing "less than his best." But that's kind of like apologizing for running a racket out of the Secretary of State's office and getting people killed, only not, so let's not dwell on it. No, what gets me is the timing of it all. It's only been three days since the Governor of Illinois was arrested for a much more audacious version of the same kind of corruption that landed George Ryan in Cell Block 23 in the first place. Can you think of a worse time to offer this fake apology? He might be better off on the inside. He's probably in there among a bunch of accountants and embezzlers, after all, and people out here are starting to lose their tempers.

Ryan doesn't have much choice, though. He has to try now or never, because once Bush is out of office, he knows Obama's not going to do him any favors. Obama is beyond Illinois now and needs no favors in return, even if Ryan still had the power to do any. Even Bush is a long shot, because he's going to have to take a reputation hit if he pardons Ryan. Personally, I thought Ryan was facing long odds before the Blagojevich arrest. Now I don't see how anyone can get away with commuting his sentence.


Vinny said...

The great thing about being the outgoing president is that you can pardon anyone you want without paying any political price. Bush doesn't even have to worry about the fact that his wife might have to explain his pardons some day.

On the other hand, Ryan so thoroughly destroyed the Republican party in Illinois that Blago could get away with calling himself a reformer. As a result, I don't see that there are any Illinois Republicans that have any clout with Bush.

I can't imagine any reason why Bush would pardon Ryan, but then I can't figure out why he has done a lot of the things he has done.

Anonymous said...