Steve Chapman

An open letter to the people of Iowa, from the people of Illinois:

Dear Neighbors:

Being proud citizens of the Hawkeye State, you are all probably still basking in the glory of helping our own Barack Obama's quest for the presidency by giving him a victory in the Iowa caucuses. As fellow Midwesterners, let us say: Nice work. In four years, Washington may be changed beyond recognition. But knowing the depth of public spirit in Iowa, let us also say: Your work is not finished.

As you may have noticed if you ever get the news on WGN, Obama was not quite able to transform our state during his time in the legislature. It's as ethically imperfect as ever, if not more so. How bad? Put it this way: If an Illinois politician moved into a pigsty, the pigs would leave in disgust.

Anyone watching from another state must be amazed by the amount of graft that is regularly on view here. It's enough to shock even people in Louisiana -- where after Hurricane Katrina, one Bayou wag said half the state was under water and the other half was under indictment.

This year has had a full quota of seamy developments. Our former governor, George Ryan, remains in prison after failing to win a presidential pardon. A onetime top aide to Chicago Mayor Richard Daley is about to go on trial for his alleged role in a fraudulent city hiring scheme. A former Chicago alderman got sentenced to four years in prison for demanding bribes from local developers.

Our new U.S. senator, Roland Burris, faces a Senate ethics investigation after repeatedly changing his story about how he got appointed to the seat by Gov. Rod Blagojevich. That's the same governor who was recently impeached and removed from office for allegedly trying to sell that Senate seat for his own benefit.

We would like to say this is unusual, but it's really about as unusual as a cold day in February. Since 1970, according to a report done at the University of Illinois at Chicago, 1,000 people have been convicted of public corruption -- including three governors, 19 Cook County (Chicago) judges and 30 members of the Chicago City Council.

It may surprise you to learn that Illinois does not rank as the least honest state in the country. According to an analysis of federal data on the 35 most populous states by the Corporate Crime Reporter, we come in 6th in public corruption convictions per capita. But after the Blagojevich scandal broke, editor Russell Mokhiber said he was reconsidering. "If there was a BCS for corruption," he admitted, "I think right now you'd have to put Illinois in the title game."

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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