Editorials

Illinois lawmakers keep leash on their sexual harassment watchdog

Illinois Sen. James Clayborne, D-East St. Louis, and Sen. Ira I. Silverstein, D-Chicago. Clayborne is leaving the Senate after getting state jobs for his lady friends. Silverstein is not leaving, even after he became the poster boy for sexual harassment at the Illinois capital. He lost his leadership spot and the $20K stipend that went with it, but he’s still in office and seeking re-election against a field of primary opponents with little hope the party will back him.
Illinois Sen. James Clayborne, D-East St. Louis, and Sen. Ira I. Silverstein, D-Chicago. Clayborne is leaving the Senate after getting state jobs for his lady friends. Silverstein is not leaving, even after he became the poster boy for sexual harassment at the Illinois capital. He lost his leadership spot and the $20K stipend that went with it, but he’s still in office and seeking re-election against a field of primary opponents with little hope the party will back him. AP

The Republican woman who wants to be the next Illinois Attorney General was campaigning in the area recently, and she had some interesting things to say about government corruption, sexual harassment and the office’s potential for helping change the statehouse culture.

It was an interesting juxtaposition, as news emerged that our state lawmakers allow themselves veto power on sexual harassment investigations of their peers.

Erika Harold was both sexually and racially harassed when she was a young teen. She wants to use the bully pulpit of the AG’s office to lead on the issue and lend its legal power to groups of Illinoisans when needed.

She overcame the bullying, with a vengeance. She was Phi Beta Kappa at U of I, is a Harvard Law graduate and was Miss America 2003.

But she said others don’t always overcome. Some don’t survive, period.

Which brings us to Illinois lawmakers who ignored sexual harassment until #MeToo exploded. It took the public shaming of an open letter initially signed by 160 people for them to move on getting an investigator to look at 27 sexual harassment complaints that languished for three years.

The former inspector general smacked around Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan for his meddling in hiring at Chicago’s public transit system. As the inspector left, he gave lawmakers a laundry list of reforms. They responded by leaving the job vacant for three years and the sexual harassment complaints piled up.

They just named former Assistant U.S. Attorney Julie B. Porter as the new inspector general. She was known as a corruption fighter, including tackling part of the Rod Blagojevich prosecution.

But the state lawmakers on the Legislative Ethics Commission must first let their new watchdog off the leash. She is the only inspector general in state government who first must ask permission to do her job. No investigations start without a vote of the commission.

You cannot clean corruption when under the control of the potentially corrupt or those protecting their self-interest or power.

Otherwise, Illinois would have a truly independent inspector general. And term limits. And independent legislative district mapping. And campaign finance limits. And a balanced budget. And fully-funded pensions.

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