We all live here so we've become somewhat immune to our circumstances. The fact that practically every evening's network newscast begins with an Illinois story is routine. Our local newscasts -- from WSIL in Southern Illinois to WLS in Chicago -- can get five or six minutes into the news before something other than political scandal becomes a topic.
Thanks for bad weather. Last night's and this morning's blizzard conditions in the northern half of the state provided some relief, but not what we really want or need. The names of Rod Blagojevich and Roland Burris, and a handful of other supporting actors, are still on the news readers lips before the first commercial break.
This past weekend, I discovered how bad it really is.
At two separate out-of-state events, almost every other comment (after "Hi, good to see you,") was something like, "What in hell is going on in Illinois?" or "Your state is even worse than we thought it was."
From Wednesday through early Friday, the forum was a conference of the American Justice Partnership, a national organization that focuses on civil justice reform -- tort reform -- and is becoming a valuable and effective source of good solid research and ideas on reform. Among the participants were former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former McLaughlin Group panelist Tony Blankley. Former Mississippi State Senator Charlie Ross, who is credited with much of the successful reform movement in Mississippi, also participated.
But for the handful of us from Illinois, there was rarely a conversation that didn't get to the "what's happening" question. As it turned out, Thursday was the day the Illinois House Impeachment Committee voted to impeach, and on Friday, the full House followed suit.
So our colleagues in the reform movement wanted to know "what's next" and "will the Senate convict" and "what about Burris."
It was almost a relief not to have to discuss Illinois' status as home of one of the "judicial hellholes" (that's Cook County) but our "hellhole" distinction really underscored the other problems our state has and puts on public display for the world.
After the AJP Conference (which was held in Atlanta), it was on to Norfolk for the commissioning of the USS GHW Bush, a magnificent Nimitz-category aircraft carrier named for the 41st President of the United States.
It was a time of celebration and reminiscing -- and also answering the question: "What's happening in Illinois?"
(Note: George H.W. Bush carried Illinois when he was elected President in 1988 -- so he has fond memories of our state -- or at least he did 20 years ago.)
Someone at the Friday night pre-commissioning reception -- I can't recall who -- made the unequivocal statement:
"Illinois is the most corrupt state in the nation."
Are we? It's hard to disprove right now, especially with the magnifying eye of the national news media focused on us as the home of the next President of the United States, as well as the home of the next governor likely to go to jail -- where he could share a cell with the last Illinois governor.
We can't climb out of that hellhole -- or cesspool -- or whatever it is -- overnight.
But there is no doubt that the eyes of the world will be on us -- and on our legislative and political leaders. They better get their act together as they move forward with an impeachment trial.
And our almost-certain soon-to-be next governor Pat Quinn better make sure that he does nothing to embarrass the 13 million residents of Illinois. And our legislative leaders -- in both parties -- better learn how to practice some statesmanship when the trial is over and they better not cave in to the special interests on either side of issues, but primarily those on the left, including the trial lawyers, who are drooling at the potential of the 2009 session of the Illinois General Assembly.
It could be argued that this would be a good legislative session for nothing to happen. Because every time something happens in Illinois -- at least with the current leadership and temperament in the General Assembly -- it harms and embarrasses nearly 13 million people.
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Governor Pat Quinn
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