My name is Chris Magee, and I'm your new moderator. I'm the night editor at the paper, and I've been with the Sun and lived in Naperville for 2 1/2 years. This is the first post of a new feature I'd like to introduce. From time to time, I'd like to go to more of a traditional blog format, where I'll post my opinion on an issue, and you can comment and give your own opinion. We'll still be doing the usual format most of the time, but when the right issue comes along I'll try this. I can't promise to respond to all responses, but I'll make the effort if I think a response is necessary. To be clear, this is my opinion and not that of the Sun as a whole. And now for today's main feature:
Despite criticism from just about everyone except the former governor's friends and family, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin on Monday asked President George Bush to commute George Ryan's sentence on corruption charges.
Durbin should have listened to those critics.
Illinois is a state that has always been known for shady politics, and our elections are a national joke. Most state residents assume that at least some of their government officials are crooked, but usually there's no way to prove it, or no one willing to prosecute. Occasionally a lower- or mid-level official will go to prison, but the chiefs tend to get off untouched.
That's why so many voters of both parties were happy to see Ryan tried, convicted and sentenced to some actual prison time for his misdeeds. Finally, one of the bigwigs got what he deserved.
But now along comes Durbin, who wants to let Ryan off after he's only served one year of a 6 1/2 year sentence. Durbin uses Ryan's age and his ailing wife as an excuse, but Ryan is far from the only 74-year-old person in prison, nor is he the only one with a sick wife. Perhaps while I was in civics class I missed the part of the law that said if you reach a certain age, you should no longer be punished for your misdeeds. Are we going to release every prisoner over 74, or who has family who misses him? If we don't, then we're just setting a double standard again.
This isn't a partisan issue, either. State Republican chairman Andy McKenna opposes a pardon, saying, "The issue is not one of party but of bringing real change to Illinois by the way we conduct business."
Republicans have no reason to feel any special sentiment toward Ryan. He almost single-handedly destroyed the party in the state. He was elected in an era when his party controlled most of the state offices, and now they can't even find a credible candidate to run for most of them.
We shouldn't belittle his crime, either. Under his watch, licenses were given by the secretary of state's office to people who didn't deserve them, and people died because of the accidents these drivers caused.
Ryan says he feels "deep shame" for his actions. That's great, and he should. But remorse is not a get out of jail free card.
I remember reading a story around the time of Ryan's conviction, when an official was quoted as saying something like, "only three Illinois governors have gone to prison." ONLY three? Is that how high our standards are in this state? Maybe we should put up a sign when you cross the state border that says "Welcome to Illinois. XXX days since the last governor's conviction."
After Ryan had lost his re-election bid and was a lame duck with no mandate, he unilaterally commuted the death sentences of everyone on Death Row. I thought at the time it was a self-serving move blatantly seeking to create some sort of legacy. If Bush pardons Ryan, it will be a similar travesty.
Ryan did the crime, now he has to do the time.