NEWS

Editorial: More than ever, state needs a strong leader

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

If the country wasn’t in the midst of an economic meltdown and there wasn’t a close presidential election involving Barack Obama, the state’s attention would probably be turned to news about the apparent federal investigation of Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Those who have read and watched the news reports out of Chicago this month have been pondering whether Blagojevich, who maintains his innocence, faces a fate similar to three of the past five Illinois governors.

Chicago media have reported that U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald’s investigation is closing in on Blagojevich. Partly fueling such reports is the possible cooperation of Tony Rezko, the governor’s former chief fundraiser, who was convicted earlier this year of fraud, money laundering and aiding and abetting bribery.

Rezko’s lengthy trial contained numerous allegations of pay-to-play politics, including a witness who testified that the governor told him that those who donated to his campaign stood to make a lot of money. Coupled with mass distrust by all but a few legislators in both parties, that trial further weakened Blagojevich’s ability to govern.

No one outside the U.S. attorney’s office can know for sure where the probe, if it is taking place, will go. Regardless, the latest set of events does not bode well for Blagojevich. It’s hard to see how he suddenly becomes an effective chief executive flush with political capital to burn.

This situation is more than fodder for a bull session among political junkies. At a time of economic peril, Illinois needs strong leadership.

In that respect, a political opportunity has presented itself in the election of a new Senate president in January. That person must be ready to work with House Speaker Michael Madigan and the two Republican minority leaders and stabilize state government as much as possible.

While Blagojevich will still wield the significant executive authority accorded to him by the state constitution, legislators can place limits. State Sen. Larry Bomke, R-Springfield, made a sensible suggestion to us last week, urging the General Assembly to take away the governor’s ability to transfer funds within the budget passed by legislators.

And while this year’s election isn’t finished, it’s going to be vital that those gearing up to run for governor be prepared to start early and deliver specific solutions to all of the state’s challenges. The jockeying has already started among Blagojevich’s fellow Democrats, several of whom have already sought U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin’s counsel. In particular, they will need to expound in detail on how to address Illinois’ systemic financial crisis.

In the coming years, this state will face big problems. They cannot be solved by the small politics that have characterized the last six.

State Journal-Register