Pritzker urges ethics reform in State of the State address: ‘We must root out the purveyors of greed and corruption’

The governor said it’s time for Illinois to enact a revolving-door policy: “Elected officials shouldn’t be allowed to retire and immediately start lobbying their former colleagues. ... It’s wrong, and it’s got to stop.”

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker delivers his State of the State speech

Gov. J.B. Pritzker delivers his State of the State speech before a joint session of the Illinois House and Senate at the State Capitol in Springfield Wednesday.

E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune/Pool

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Wednesday took an aggressive stance against public corruption in his State of the State address, vowing it’s time to enact a revolving-door policy to end the tradition of elected officials who “immediately start lobbying their former colleagues.”

Pritzker said he wants to stop legislators from serving as paid lobbyists — a push that has grown stronger in light of federal investigations that have so far reeled in a state senator and a state representative.

The speech prompted Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan to declare in a statement, “the game is over and every step will be taken to prosecute” any “bad actors” trying to game the system and break the law.

The irony, of course, is that the feds appear to be circling around some of Madigan’s inner circle.

In his address, the governor touted his first year legislative wins and said “anything is possible.” But he also spoke at length about what’s dominated the headlines: public corruption. Lawmakers were on their feet to applaud the governor’s push for ethics reforms.

Pritzker’s speech comes a day after former state Sen. Martin Sandoval pleaded guilty to bribery and tax charges.

“Elected officials shouldn’t be allowed to retire and immediately start lobbying their former colleagues,” Pritzker said. “It’s wrong, and it’s got to stop.”

Gov. JB Pritzker enters the House chamber for his 2020 State of the State Address Wednesday.

Gov. JB Pritzker enters the House chamber for his 2020 State of the State Address Wednesday.

Jerry Nowicki/Capitol News Illinois

The governor said the Legislature must pass “real, lasting ethics reform” this session.

“Now we have to work together to confront a scourge that has been plaguing our political system for far too long,” Pritzker said. “We must root out the purveyors of greed and corruption — in both parties — whose presence infects the bloodstream of government.”

Foreshadowing the spring session, Pritzker said he wants an end to the cash bail system and an adoption of new clean energy bill to reduce carbon pollution. He also said he wants the state to tackle its property tax crisis by consolidating or eliminating some of the more than 7,000 units of government.

And he had a message for utility companies embroiled in federal investigations: “It’s time to put consumers and climate first. I’m not going to sign an energy bill written by the utility companies.”

The address sparked some of the toughest language yet on corruption from Madigan: “We have also seen the good work of the many honest members of this Legislature be overshadowed too often by the wrongdoing of individuals who have sought to put themselves first.”

“It’s clear that we must take significant steps within the coming weeks to restore confidence in state government,” Madigan said. “But let’s be clear: bad actors will always try to game the system and break the law. We must commit to sending the clearest sign the game is over and every step will be taken to prosecute.”

Newly elevated Illinois Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, offered his support for Pritzker’s ethics fixes, saying “you shouldn’t be a lawmaker one day and a lobbyist the next.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker delivers his State of the State speech before a joint session of the Illinois House and Senate on Wednesday. Behind Pritzker is House Speaker Michael Madigan and new Senate President Don Harmon, right.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker delivers his State of the State speech before a joint session of the Illinois House and Senate at the State Capitol in Springfield, Wednesday. Behind Pritzker is House Speaker Michael Madigan and new Senate President Don Harmon, right.

E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune/Pool

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, praised Pritzker’s bipartisan approach to balancing the budget and infrastructure spending, agreeing the state is better off now than it was a year ago.

“There was a true collaboration — first time in a long time — between the Democrat leaders and Republican leaders and a Democratic governor,” Durkin said.

For Durkin, the main impediment to ethics reform is not Pritzker, but Madigan.

“I don’t have the authority to be able to call an ethics bill,” Durkin said. “I’m leaving it up to the speaker to see whether or not he’s going to be cooperating with myself and the governor to begin this process of changing this culture in Illinois.”

Durkin said he was disappointed Pritzker did not mention redistricting reform, saying the governor previously said he supports a non-partisan map for the state’s legislative districts, but so far has not done anything to back up his pledge.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin talks to reporters on Wednesday.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin talks to reporters on Wednesday.

Neal Earley/Chicago Sun-Times

With the state mired in debt, Durkin called the state’s unfunded pension liabilities the “800-pound gorilla,”in Illinois.

Illinois Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, too, said Pritzker should have focused more on a fair redistricting process and should take the lead in helping Democrats “change how we map things.”

“That will root out ultimate corruption in Illinois,” Brady said on the public television program “Illinois Lawmakers.”

Members of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus hold a news conference Wednesday.

Members of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus hold a news conference following Gov. JB Pritzker’s State of the State address on Wednesday.

Peter Hancock/Capitol News Illinois

In its response, the Legislative Black Caucus also pushed for ethics reforms, more money for infrastructure and education, and criminal justice reform.

“The governor talked about corruption, but the greatest corruption in the state of Illinois is the communities where black people live,” said state Rep. La Shawn Ford, D-Chicago. “They’re deteriorating, schools are falling apart, roads are crumbling, bridges are crumbling and homeowners are struggling.”

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