Q: The recent resignation of Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens made us wonder — how many Illinois governors have resigned in the history of Illinois?
A: Do you think Missouri politics are bad? Not all Illinois governors have been straight shooters. Four former Illinois governors have spent time behind bars for charges ranging from corruption to bribery and fraud.
However, not all of the former Illinois governors accused of crimes served time for it. Others were convicted and sentenced after they left office.
Illinois has had four governors resign from office and one impeached and removed from office. The resignations were not because of highly-publicized court cases or accusations of wrongdoing; most of the men resigned to serve in government elsewhere.
From war veterans to bankers to career politicians, Illinois governors have come from all walks of life to serve in the highest position in state government.
The first Illinois governor to resign, John Reynolds, served from 1830 to 1834. He left the governorship to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. Among his accomplishments, Reynolds practiced law in Cahokia, served in the War of 1812 and was a justice on the Illinois Supreme Court.
If you want to pay your respects to the fourth governor of Illinois, you don't have to travel far. Reynolds is buried in Belleville's Walnut Hill Cemetery.
The second resignation was Richard J. Oglesby, who served as Illinois governor multiple times, from 1865 to 1869; 1873; and 1885 to 1889. Oglesby resigned during his second term to serve in the U.S. Senate.
Oglesby served in both the Mexican War and Civil War. He was the first Illinois governor to be elected to three terms.
Shelby Moore Cullom, Illinois governor from 1877 to 1883, resigned during his second term to serve in the U.S. Senate. Prior to this, Cullom was speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives.
His Illinois legacy included allocating state money to pay for the military to suppress riots and establishing the Illinois Board of Fish Commissioners, which was dissolved in 1913.
Illinois Governor Otto Kerner served from 1961 to 1968. He was a World War II veteran and helped create consumer credit legislation and an updated criminal code.
Kerner resigned to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals. Six years later, he resigned from his position in the court because he had to serve time in prison for bribery, conspiracy, income tax evasion, mail fraud and perjury.
He never confessed to his crimes, which involved the Arlington Park racetrack.
At his sentencing hearing, Kerner said, “I shall always be satisfied that my conscience and my record of loyal and dedicated service as governor of this state were never tarnished or my integrity bought."
Crime and some punishment
Speaking of "integrity bought," it's time to talk about the only Illinois governor to be impeached and removed from office during his term — Rod Blagojevich.
He is accused of, among other things, soliciting bribes for Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat and demanding campaign money from the Children’s Memorial Hospital in exchange for state funds so the hospital could hire a specialist. Blagojevich was impeached and removed from office in 2009 and began serving his 14-year prison sentence in 2012.
On Thursday, news broke that President Trump was considering pardoning Blagojevich, along with celebrity cook Martha Stewart.
To be fair to Blagojevich, other governors misbehaved while in office but they weren't called out on it until later. Here's some of the other not-so-faithful public servants who served as Illinois governor.
▪ Joel Aldrich Matteson, the tenth Illinois governor and who served from 1853 to 1857, redeemed IOUs from a building project and traded it for state bonds that he deposited into banks that he owned. Matteson started this and other financial shenanigans in 1856, while he was still in office.
Though a grand jury voted twice to indict him for the crime in 1859, the jury, which he had been accused of tampering with, reversed itself in a final vote and Matteson walked away a free man.
The Illinois State legislature voted to hold Matteson responsible for the lost funds anyway and his debt to the state was over $250,000. Matteson sold his home in Springfield to help pay it.
▪ Dan Walker, Illinois governor from 1973 to 1977, famously walked the length of Illinois while campaigning for governor. Walker pleaded guilty in 1987 to bank fraud and perjury related to improper loans from one of his business interests, the First American Savings and Loan Association.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Walker told reporters, "I have broken the law and I have pleaded guilty. I have deep regrets, and I offer no excuses." He was sentenced to seven years in prison but only served about 18 months because a judge reduced his sentence.
▪ George Ryan, who served as Illinois governor from 1999 to 2003, also earlier served as speaker in the Illinois House, lieutenant governor and secretary of state.
Accused of fraud and racketeering as governor and Secretary of State, he was convicted of federal public corruption charges in 2006. His prison sentence was five and a half years.
Prior to his time behind bars, Ryan was praised by the international community for imposing a moratorium on all executions in Illinois in 2000 and commuting more than 160 death row inmates' sentences. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize multiple times for his actions.
Ryan was not awarded the honor.
▪ Lennington Small, the Illinois governor best known for improving the roads from 1921 to 1929, allegedly used the new pavement to reward his friends with extra roads and leave those who weren't his pals with rocky by-ways. But he didn't go to trial for that.
Early in his governorship, he was summoned to court to answer charges of corruption stemming from when he acted as Illinois treasurer. Some of the jurors who found Small to be not-guilty fortuitously received state jobs later.
After the civil trial for the same charges, Small was fined $650,000 to pay back, with interest, the money he took from Illinois taxpayers. He disagreed with this sentence.
In a plea to the people of Illinois to not lose faith in him, Small said, "I know, and the evidence proves, that I paid into the state treasury every dollar I received while state treasurer as interest on state funds."
Small declared, "A great mistake has been made." Maybe the mistake was made by Illinois voters.
Dan Walker penned a memoir in 2007 titled "The Maverick and the Machine: Governor Dan Walker Tells His Story." I haven't read it myself, but, according to its Goodreads page, the Illinois State Historical Society gave it a Certificate of Excellence in 2008. The certificate is given in "recognition of work of exemplary quality showing considerable creativity, serious scholarship, and/or an efficient utilization of resources."