WJBC Voices: They still don’t get it

By David Stanczak

One of the questions posed in “Blowin’ in the Wind” is “how many times can a man look away and pretend that he just doesn’t see?”. If the man in question is a member or better yet a leader of the Illinois General Assembly, the answer is “quite a few” as in “until hell freezes over” (“until the Cubs win a World Series” having been retired as a symbol of eternity). A case in point is what is being pitched as the Harvey Weinsteinization of our legislature.

Last year, the bandwagon to be on was #MeToo.  Outing sexual harassers became so in, it became positively chic. Rock after rock was overturned, and the number and variety of things that slithered out from under them was breathtaking.

The rocks started turning last October when hearings on sexual harassment in Springfield were conducted and several legislators published an open letter describing a culture of sexual harassment in Springfield.  The General Assembly couldn’t act fast enough.  They were a collective William J. Le Petomane shouting “We’ve got to save our phony baloney jobs; we’ve got to do something, do something, do something! Harrumph, harrumph, harrumph!”  The first thing they did was appoint an interim Inspector General to a post which had been allowed to remain vacant since 2014. Speaker Madigan claimed this inaction wasn’t a big deal since the Legislative Ethics Commission “continues to function.” But that commission can only act upon complaints sent to it by the Inspector General, so it functions about as well as any car with the ignition switch off. Incidentally, several members of the commission are members of the General Assembly, hardly a body designed to take strong action against a legislator.

In addition, the General Assembly fast tracked legislation to amend the legislative ethics law to include sexual harassment as prohibited conduct (it’s only been illegal for decades) and require annual education on the subject.

Speaker Madigan last month finally got around to firing a key employee of his, Kevin Quinn.  He says he heard about Quinn’s conduct last November and referred the matter to his attorney who, according to the victim, did little about the matter. Quinn was fired only after it was learned that the victim was talking to the Tribune, which was getting ready to run a story on it.  Madigan has also come out with only a partial list of complaints to his office.

Meanwhile over in the Senate, Denise Rotheimer, whose allegations against Sen. Ira Silverstein helped spark the sudden legislative action, had her complaint investigated by the newly appointed interim Inspector General, who concluded that, while Silverstein’s conduct was “unbecoming a legislator,” it didn’t rise to the level of sexual harassment. So, he wasn’t subject to the $5,000 fine that could have been levied on a harasser.  Several top Democrats have called for Silverstein, who is running for re-election this year against three primary opponents, to step down. He isn’t; he’s still running. Enter Senate President John Cullerton.  On Nov. 1 (complimenting himself on the new legislation), he said “These corrective actions are a first step to changing an unacceptable culture that has existed for too long.” Cullerton was so outraged by Silverstein’s misconduct that he gave Silverstein’s campaign at least $115,400 in money and $6,430 in campaign ads, so far.

So much for ending the unacceptable culture that has existed for too long.

David Stanczak, a WJBC commentator since 1995, came to Bloomington in 1971. He served as the City of Bloomington’s first full-time legal counsel for over 18 years, before entering private practice. He is currently employed by the Snyder Companies and continues to reside in Bloomington with his family.

The opinions expressed within WJBC’s Voices are solely those of the Voices’ author, and are not necessarily those of WJBC or Cumulus Media, Inc.