Letters Home
by John R. Stiles

It's really a shame that Illinois Governor George Ryan didn't pay better attention in school when his teacher told him to read that history assignment regarding Abraham Lincoln, a favorite for that state's classrooms when I was growing up. I'm certain the Kankakee native, former Secretary of State now governor, must have been absent the day they discussed the words of Lincoln regarding the penchant of some political types to try and ''fool'' the general population, most notably voters. You'd think we could expect a little better, especially for someone who is now such a prominent member of the very political party (Republican) Abe had a hand in starting.

Just for the record, even though it may be a tad late to help Gov. Ryan, what Mr. Lincoln is supposed to have had to say about politicians who bend or break the truth was: ''If you once forfeit the confidence of your fellow citizens, you can never regain their respect and esteem. It is true that you may fool all of the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all of the time; but you can't fool all of the people all of the time.''

But, as we've discovered those words of wisdom seem to have done the current Governor of Illinois little service. Because, while federal prosecutors were busy delivering indictments to one of the governor's oldest and closest political cronies for covering up corruption on Ryan's watch down at the Secretary of State's office, George was trying to retake that glaring spotlight -- no doubt in an attempt to turn it away from himself -- by suddenly finding a concern for those who languish on the state's ever-growing death row. My, how handy.

It seems that Gov. Ryan suddenly discovered a twinge of conscience he neither had nor would confess to back when he was running for his current job. Now, what are the chances that Gov. Ryan is really all that concerned about the lethal hand of government in Illinois? I'd say, just about as good as the chances of those who really believe they can, as ''Honest Abe'' used to put it, ''fool all of the people all of the time'' -- slim and none.

Next thing you know, we'll be asked to accept the premise that Secretary of State Ryan's chief corruption investigator, one Dean Bauer, came across tens of thousands of dollars in under-the table payoffs for driver's licenses and said nothing to his boss, who just happens to have benefitted to the tune of $170,000-plus in campaign contributions from the ill-gotten gains. Now if you believe that, I've got a bridge in Brooklyn I'll sell ya'.

We are asked to now accept Gov. Ryan's story that he was unaware of all the unseemly goings on. Since every slimy truck driver and trucking firm from here to the East Coast knew that licenses were for sale in Illinois, it's very hard to believe. From the sounds of it, these sneak thieves didn't even have the common decency to sell their wares under the table. Ryan's employees were selling the dirty licenses right over the counter.

One might add that this latest morality skit on Illinois politics just continues a decades-old tradition in the state's hallowed halls of government. And just maybe now Gov. Ryan learned a thing or two from one of his predecessors in the secretary of state's office, one Paul Powell, he of the hotel closet full of cash-stuffed shoe boxes. Perhaps his honor the governor learned not to leave the money lying around in Springfield hotel suites.

It's much better to simply let your ''scandal detector'' -- Bauer -- gather up the mounds of loose money in advance of a raid, stash it in a briefcase and simply lose track of it somewhere down the line. And if the hammer eventually falls on Ryan, as it just might with the feds snooping awfully close to the state mansion, it won't be the first time we've had a taint on the office.

Many may remember former governors Otto Kerner and Dan Walker. Then there was the brief brush with the scandal of the last Illinois chief executive, Jim Edgar, who many believe won a close race getting out of town just in front of prosecutors looking into a computer company's multi million-dollar state contract and the then governor's connections with the firm. Guess what office former Gov. Edgar occupied before being elevated to the chief executive's chair? You guessed it, he too was an Illinois Secretary of State.

And now it seems that about the only forums where Gov. Ryan can garner a warm reception these days is the state legislature, where everybody seems to be holding their collective breath waiting for the other shoe to fall.

Oh yeah, and national network news shows interested in hearing his sudden concern for those condemned to death by the state. Seems somebody just figured out that more wrongfully convicted inmates (13) had walked away from death row than had exited feet-first strapped to the ''long journey gurney'' (12).

But then what did the governor expect, when one of his fellow state-wide office holders and party member, Attorney General Jim Ryan (no relation), was responsible for putting two of those mistakes behind bars himself. But we needn't worry any. Gov. Ryan assures us he's still in favor of the death penalty. He just wants to make sure he isn't making any mistakes when they hook up the needle.

It now seems too bad he didn't have the same concern for the operations of the Secretary of State's office when he was in charge down there. Evidently he didn't have the same aversion to mistakes a little farther down the food chain.

And now somebody thinks to ask if there's something wrong with the system we use to put people to death in Illinois? I'm betting that absent the driver's license-for-cash scandal, they'd still be stacked up waiting for a spot on the ''dead bed.''

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online March 29, 2000

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