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So Now What?

By Scott Smith in News on Sep 7, 2006 4:02PM

In some respects, the sentencing of former Illinois governor George Ryan 2006_09_ryan.jpgcould be described as a series of half-steps.

Neither U.S. District Judge Pallmeyer nor Ryan took full responsibility yesterday. Ryan was sentenced to 6 ½ years in prison, which was 3 ½ years short of the ten sought by prosecutors. We’re at a loss here since we always thought the ringleader of a crime spree should get a harsher sentence than his accomplice. In court, Ryan quasi-apologized for not being “more vigilant,” which is a lot like Paris Hilton apologizing for not being “more vigilant” about keeping drunk drivers off the road.

Much as it might make us feel better to demonize corrupt politicians, Ryan is not some real-life Simon Bar Sinister, bent on acquiring all the money and power he can manage. Lest we forget, state education funding rose and Illinois highway and technology infrastructure dramatically improved during his time as governor. He was also a catalyst for death penalty reform when he cleared Illinois’ Death Row.

None of the above excuses the crimes for which he is directly (and some would say indirectly) responsible. It’s clear that once Ryan got a taste of the high life, he didn’t look back. But we might be better served by examining what makes it so easy for a “pharmacist from Kankakee” with a previously distinguished public record to run roughshod over the people of Illinois.

Despite promises of reform, Illinois politics still reeks of cronyism (Hi, Rod!). Ryan’s conviction doesn’t suddenly make the state a paragon of virtue.

But perhaps we’re a half-step closer.