04/20/2006 Culture of Corruption Lands Governor in Prison

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Increasing Democracy

IL: Culture of Corruption Nets Former Gov 10-20

Republican Former Illinois Governor George Ryan was convicted this week on eighteen counts, including racketeering, mail fraud, false statements, and tax violations. His crime? Selling out the public for profit gain. While the Governor awaits sentencing -- his crimes may earn him as much as ten-twenty years in federal prison -- his case offers lessons for all of us.

As the Governor's corruption problems became more apparent, he became nationally known for imposing a moratorium on the death penalty in Illinois, at a time when concern over false convictions became a concern nationwide. The action earned him a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. But many observers now wonder if it was much more than a public relations move by a politician in trouble.

Perhaps no case better exemplifies the potential harm of Ryan-style corruption as much as that of the Willis family of Wisconsin. In 1994, six of the nine children in the Willis family were killed by an accident involving a truck driver who illegally purchased his driver's license from George Ryan's office when he was serving as Secretary of State. As the Chicago Tribune reports, "The Willis crash launched a federal investigation of bribes paid in exchange for drivers licenses after the family's attorney highlighted the issue."

What is most amazing is that, even given the extent of Ryan's apparent transgressions, his name would be nowhere near the top of the list of politicians identified publicly with a culture of corruption. It is a culture, as Illinois observers have noted, that extends all too far. The Department of Justice deserves credit for their hard work to expose the corruption in this case. But the case highlights more than ever, the need to fight corruption in the states.

Next month, with an array of coalition partners, we are hosting the "Cleaning Up Our Statehouses" Conference in Concord, NH. The topics of conversation will range from reforming how elections are financed to effective limitations on pay-to-play contracting. Registration is now open. Space is limited. Lunch is free. We hope to see you there.

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AZ: Posturing on Immigration; Failing on Wages

For the right wing in the Arizona state legislature, their only response to sweatshop employers using low-wage undocumented immigrants has been to try to make criminals of the undocumented workers themselves, even as they've opposed raising minimum wage standards to eliminate the sweatshops which financially benefit from exploited immigrants in the first place.

Yesterday, Gov. Napolitano vetoed a bill that would have created a new criminal charge of trespassing in the state for any undocumented immigrant picked up by local law enforcement officials. Law enforcment officials ranging from the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association to the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police had opposed the measure as an unfunded mandate on local authorities that would have detracted from other needs.

But remarkably, while Arizona legislative leaders promote divisive immigration proposals, they still maintain their soft spot for exploititive employers driving demand for undocumented workers and have repeatedly refused to raise the minimum wage in Arizona from its $5.15 per hour federal rate. This is despite the fact that raising the minimum wage and enforcing basic labor law is a far superior way to ensure that American workers' wages are protected.

Instead, advocates have had to go to the ballot with an initiative to raise the minimum wage. But you have to ask the anti-immigrant legislators-- If you worry about the effects of immigration on pushing down wages, why not just raise wages for workers directly through raising the minimum wage?

And since they don't, you have to suspect that this wave of anti-immigrant legislation is about bumper sticker politics, not real concerns for working Americans.

Fortunately, most state legislators are not so remiss. At the Spring Meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures, a resolution backed by the National Labor Caucus to endorse an increase in the federal minimum wage was adopted. A second resolution to endorse the Employee Free Choice Act, a federal proposal to protect workers' organizing rights, received broad support, but lacked enough votes to get the supermajority it needed for passage.

Protecting workers is a faster way to protect workers than beating up on immigrants. Perhaps if the majority in Arizona realized that, we'd be closer to some real solutions. In the mean time, though, there's little but politics emanating from that state's legislature.

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Smart Growth and Affordable Housing

There's a piece of rhetoric out there that smart growth policies increase housing costs, therefore driving working families out of urban areas to the exurban fringe. Daniel Goldberg of Smart Growth America responds with this post emphasizing that the real problem is that the principles of smart growth -- ensuring that "development makes efficient use of land and the roads, sewers, schools and other infrastructure we all pay for" -- have still only had minimal impact on suburban sprawl.

One chief culprit for the fringe exurban flight is that the immediate suburbs around the urban core often require "large lot sizes, big houses, design controls and other regulations that drive up the price of housing (these are emphatically in opposition to smart-growth principles.)" So "vast swaths of existing suburbs continue to resist changes that would offer a wider range of housing choices, and instead impose those barriers that drive up the cost."

Goldberg highlights the broad failure of policymakers to develop a real approach to affordable housing for our nation and his frustration that smart growth advocates are asked to solve this with some kind of silver bullet is justified. Although that frustration should be seen as an opportunity for smart growth advocates-- since it means there's is a large political space sitting there for a strong alliance of affordable housing advocates with smart growth advocates tied to changing the status quo of expensive suburban sprawl.

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NJ: Legislators Consider Mimicking Mass's Health Care Move

Does it take two to tangle? Two New Jersey legislators are embarking on a six-month project to evaluate whether New Jersey can copy Massachusetts' recently adopted plan. Before they start hustling around the state, they ought to take a look at whether the Massachusetts plan is even going to work in Massachusetts and also think hard about whether it should be the starting point for negotiations.

As discussed previously here and on our website, the final version of the Massachusetts bill went too far with an individual mandate: forcing individuals to choose between low-quality (but still unaffordable) coverage or paying large fines to the government. Meanwhile, irresponsible large employers who continue to rely on public programs for employee health insurance would continue to get a virtual pass. One of the problems with such legislation is that it is unclear whether it is affordable for the government.

The version of the legislation passed by Massachusetts' House of Representatives was far superior legislation that included strict employer mandates for large employers -- companies big enough that they should have a benefits system worked out.

New Jersey is, of course, free to act on its own, but they should think twice about adopting a plan that is drawing skepticism from a multitude of independent analysts and economists -- especially when better options exist.

In New York, the legislature is considering a strong fair share health care bill. The legislation already has many cosponsors and is drawing support from a coalition of political organizations and responsible business leaders.

While the Massachusetts bill punishes individuals who can't afford health insurance, the New York bill holds responsible businesses that can afford coverage for employees but prefer to rely on public assistance programs, costing taxpayers millions. The contrast is simple.

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More Resources

IL: Culture of Corruption Nets Former Gov 10-20

Cleaning Up Our Statehouses Conference
Common Cause

AZ: Posturing on Immigration; Failing on Wages

Drum Major Institute: "Principles for an Immigration Policy to Strengthen and Expand the Middle Class"
Raising Wages: Arizona

Smart Growth and Affordable Housing

Smart Growth America

NJ: Legislators Consider Mimicking Mass's Health Care Move

Progressive States: LegAlert -- State Health Care Models
AFL-CIO: Fair Share Health Care Campaign
Massachusetts Health Care for All
Physicians for a National Health Care Program


In Today's Dispatch:


Smart Growth and Affordable Housing



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Eye on the Right

Dick DeVos, the son of Amway founder Richard DeVos, and his wife Betsy donated millions of dollars to their own foundation in recent years according to the Associated Press. The largest recipient of the foundation's gifts? The Education Freedom Fund, an organization that promotes private school scholarships as a way of advancing the voucher movement. Now, it might just be that Dick and Betsy are dedicated to a strong American workforce, but given that he made his money by outsourcing and that Betsy thought the problem with Michigan's economy is that workers are too well paid, we find that hard to believe. In other words, the next time someone says vouchers are the path to success, keep in mind that their advocates think you're overpaid and your job should go to China.

Upcoming Events

April 24 | Helena, MT
Reframing the Health Care Debate: A Progressive Health Care Narrative

Join Progressive States, the Center for American Progress, and Working for Equality and Economic Liberation (WEEL), for a conversation about how to frame the progressive message on health care. Registration Required.

May 8 | NYC, NY
Holding Corporations Accountable for Their Fair Share of Employee Health Care Costs

New York's Drum Major Institute for Public Policy hosts Maryland Senator Gloria Gary Lawlah, author of the Fair Share Health Care bill. Join her for breakfast and a discussion of health care reform. RSVP Required.

May 10 | NYC, NY
Campaign '06: The Year of the Hostile Takeover

Author and Progressive States Co-chair David Sirota, a veteran political strategist and Capitol Hill operative, has released a new book called Hostile Takeover showing how political corruption is creating policies that are intensifying America's middle-class squeeze. Co-sponsored by Progressive States and the Drum Major Institute. More details to follow.

May 12 | Concord, NH
Cleaning Up Our Statehouses

Join Progressive States and co-hosts for lunch and a conversation on state legislative strategies for government reform. Registration Required.


Progressive States' policy department is looking for interns for Summer 2006. We're looking for students interested in public service with experience in policy advocacy or community organizing. For details, visit the Jobs & Internships Page.


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Matt Singer
Editor, Stateside Dispatch