CHICAGO – On Aug. 17, Chicago buried one of the most powerful congressmen to have served in Washington. Chicago’s Dan Rostenkowski was a public servant for 32 years before being convicted of fraud. He served 18 months in a federal prison, ending his outstanding career as a convicted felon. The very next day, former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich became a convicted felon when he was convicted on one of 24 counts of lying to the FBI.
It saddens me to watch these two men join the long list of corrupt Illinois representatives. Having been raised in Chicago, I am familiar with The Rostenkowski name as well as many of the other officials who have left office in disgrace. In Chicago if you are in politics long enough, you’ll get caught doing something illegal. Being corrupt is almost like a badge of honor. Here are some interesting statistics.
From 1972 to 2006, at least 79 current or former Illinois, Chicago or Cook County representatives have been found guilty of a crime. The list of tarnished officials include: two governors, two state officials, 27 aldermen, 15 state legislators, one mayor, two congressmen, another three city officials, 19 Cook County judges, and seven other Cook County officials. That is 79 representatives in a short span of thirty-four years.
What are the voters of our great state and the third largest city in the United States doing wrong? Have we become complacent? Are we guilty of checking a box to vote the party line, without doing our homework? Do we vote with a wink and a nod and say, “You can’t fight city hall.” Our founding fathers never intended for representatives to become career politicians. Their intention was to have an interested community member serve a term, and then the next guy would be elected and so on. Career politicians forget who they represent and become too cozy with special interest groups. As voters, we need to reverse this trend.
How can we do that? We need to track how our representatives vote on issues and let them know when we are unhappy; a simple email will accomplish this. When they continue to ignore majority mandates, vote them out of office, it’s that simple. If this means breaking with “the party,” then that is what we do. I am sure this will get the representatives attention as well as the party. This isn’t about Republicans or Democrats, it’s about ethics, honesty and serving the constituents.
How can voters track their representatives and candidates running for office? Votesmart.org has gathered all the information we need in one place. Here is some of the basic information they collect on all sitting officials and anyone running for office in the United States: Biographical information, voting record, position on issues, special interest group information, public statements, and campaign finances. This website is run by bi-partisan volunteers.
Visit this website and bookmark it. Once there, you will be asked your state and then what representative (local, state or federal) you want information on. As voters, it is important for us to understand as much as we can about candidates running for, as well as, those who are already in office. We have many important issues facing us in the next ten years. We need to know what our representatives think and do beyond Election Day. We are not responsible for what our representatives do once they are in office, but we are complicit if we ignore their behavior, don’t let them know our dissatisfaction, and keep re-electing them.