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EDITORIAL: State Rep. Kelly Cassidy falls into a classic political conflict of interest

Lawmakers should avoid any actions that could be interpreted as an exchange of favors, and a cannabis company’s decision to hire Cassidy’s spouse looks exactly like that

State Rep. Kelly Cassidy says the members of the General Assembly who pushed to legalize marijuana have a new nickname for themselves.
State Rep. Kelly Cassidy
Rich Hein/Sun-Times

It’s disappointing to see state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, wave off concerns about her spouse taking a key job in the cannabis industry just after Cassidy led the effort to make recreational pot legal in Illinois.

We have always considered Cassidy to be one of Illinois’ more thoughtful and ethical lawmakers, and she did a commendable job of holding public hearings around the state as part of the process of writing a bill to legalize pot. She was the bill’s chief sponsor in the House.

But that’s all the more reason to think Cassidy should have known better now. When we heard the news that a cannabis company, Revolution Enterprises, recently hired Kelly’s spouse, Candace Gingrich, as vice president and head of business development for Revolution’s expanding Florida operations, it felt like the same old insider’s game. Revolution undoubtedly will profit from Illinois’ new law.

Cassidy said Gingrich, a sibling of former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, was hired only after the marijuana legislation passed in May. That might be good enough to satisfy the General Assembly’s formal ethics requirements, as Cassidy says, but it’s not good enough in the real world of Illinois politics, with its long history of politicians leveraging their influence in just this way.

We have frequently objected to lawmakers at any level casting a vote benefiting a particular industry and then turning around and taking a job in that industry, creating an impression — even if not always a reality — of a quid pro quo.

That this case involves a spouse, not a lawmaker, provides a degree of separation, but not a big enough one.

No private company with a ban on nepotism would let this one pass.

Cassidy was a credible advocate for the legalization of marijuana in Illinois. But no more. She should remove herself entirely from legislating on the issue.

If her constituents are feeling let down, so are we.

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