Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Is it proper to pardon the “criminal” amongst our political people?

Back when I covered the General Assembly on a full-time basis, there was a member of the Illinois House of Representatives named Coy Pugh.

PUGH: No better, or worse, than colleagues
He served about a decade representing assorted West Side neighborhoods in the Legislature, and probably wouldn’t have stood out in my mind at all except for one fact.

PUGH HAS A criminal record. He served stints in both federal and state prisons, and also knows what the inside of the Cook County Jail is like. But in his early 30s, he “found religion” and managed to clean up his act, getting himself an education and getting off the drugs that had led him into many improper acts.

Now I’m not trying to offer up any apologies for Pugh – whom I haven’t seen since the day that then-Gov. George Ryan commuted all those death row sentences and Pugh happened to be in attendance for the announcement at Northwestern University.

But the memories I have of Pugh as a legislator are that he wasn’t any more, or less, competent than anyone else who served in the General Assembly at the time.

There were those who had hang-ups about his presence at the Statehouse. But it always seemed motivated more by partisan politics and ideological concerns than anything legitimate.

PERHAPS IT IS because of this factor that I don’t get as worked up over a set of stories that have cropped up in recent weeks concerning people with criminal records who have managed to get themselves elected to office. I wouldn’t want a Legislature or City Council full of felons (insert your tacky joke here about the politicos being felons-in-training).

But there may be a few who have learned from their experience and are capable of serving in the representative bodies of government. Particularly if the voters in their respective districts are willing to put them there.

QUINN: Complaints about pardons
Just on Monday, the Chicago Sun-Times published a recent study by the Better Government Association concerning Juan Elias. He works for 1st Ward Alderman Proco “Joe” Moreno, had criminal convictions and was less-than-upfront about them when he first applied for a city payroll job.

There are those who’d like to see him fired just for that factor. But Gov. Pat Quinn threw a wrench into those works when he approved a pardon for Elias. Which means his criminal convictions aren’t supposed to be held against him any longer.

THIS ISN’T EVEN a new move.

For in suburban Harvey, there is District 152 school board President Janet Rogers with a pair of felony convictions – which has the Illinois attorney general’s office trying to figure out how she can be removed from office. But Quinn gave her a pardon as well.

In her case, one of her convictions related to her providing false information about her finances when her son tried to get a financial aid package to go to college.

But she was able to get into political office (school boards are as political an animal as any other) first through appointment, then through election. Part of what allowed her to slip through is that her conviction was done under her maiden name.

SO SOMEWHERE ALONG the line, people didn’t realize at first that she had a record. Although considering that she keeps getting re-elected, they don’t seem to care (although it should be acknowledged that in many suburban boards, there are barely enough candidates to fill them. People often run un-opposed).

At the time of the pardon for Rogers, Quinn aides did not offer specific explanations for her case – preferring to talk in generalities about the pardon process.

ROGERS: Keeping her school board post
It may well be that Quinn believes in a second chance, or saw that these officials weren’t any less inept than the non-felons who got elected to office. Or that it is questionable to dump someone from office whom the voters put there – which is Rogers’ case. Or in the case of Elias, not forcing someone out just because the critics might be offended at his superior (Moreno is the alderman who previously got into the public spat with the Chick-fil-A people when they wanted to locate in his ward over his objections).

Or maybe he just saw how ridiculously absurd the pardon and clemency process had become in Illinois.

BECAUSE QUINN HAS a backlog of cases from the days of Rod Blagojevich – who appeared to want to NOT grant pardons, but also wasn’t terribly interested in rejecting them either.

Which will make any future apathy with regards to his own legal appeals or pardon requests all the more ironic.

He preferred to ignore the cases. I’ll credit Quinn for at least having the nerve to address the issue. Or for realizing that dumping these people from office just because of decades-old criminal cases would seem like a technicality that goes against the will of the people.

Get the courts to dump them, on account of the fact that they couldn’t be beat at the ballot box.


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