After the cheering dies out, and that won’t take long, Oak Park will be left to proclaim that once again the president of the Illinois state Senate is a son of the village. Following the path of Phil Rock, his neighbor and mentor, Sen. Don Harmon won that battle Sunday after a contentious day in Springfield. Harmon won the important post over Sen. Kimberly Lightford, a Maywoodian who represents Oak Park south of the Ike.
Both good people, smart leaders. Remarkable that the race for what is usually a once-in-a-generation opportunity came down to two very local people.
But our bragging rights for Harmon won’t be worth much unless the senator genuinely recognizes and aggressively embraces the need to excise the profound corruption that permeates political life in Illinois. The brand is rotten at the core. The culture of Springfield is a cancer of self-interest and self-dealing. This is the reality of the decades that is only beaten back a bit by perpetual federal investigations, which toss a new generation into the clink.
We are in another moment right now with investigations and resignations and, almost certainly indictments and trials. It is a small comfort to know that some of the corrupt pols will pay a price.
Forget about pensions overwhelming taxpayers. Forget about the property tax burden funding an inequitable education system. Forget about declining population and the coming census. At root, Illinoisans are ashamed of their political system. Too many out-and-out crooks actively game a greased system.
In a press conference after his victory Sunday, Harmon said restoring public trust was one of his two top goals as Senate president. Restoring that trust won’t come from tinkering around the edges of ethics reforms. It must start with a frank admission that the political system our politicians have foisted on us is built for them, not for us.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker gets high marks from us, so far at least, for a determined intolerance of corruption, of anything that implies self-dealing. Don Harmon has a limited window and a tremendous opportunity to follow that lead and to call out every single instance of stink. Harmon and Pritzker can team up for what is right. And then we will wait impatiently for Mike Madigan to fall.
It is a credit to Senator Harmon that he has risen to a post he has long sought. Now that he has this power, there is no room for allowances, for excuses, for favors or second chances. Root out corruption. All good flows from that start.