NEWS THAT Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich allegedly tried to sell a Senate seat - making Illinois, just because so many of its governors end up in prison, possibly the most politically corrupt state in America - has me down.
I get journalistic joy covering Pennsylvania politics precisely because it seems to me that we hold, with no small thanks to Philly, a corner (if not a keystone) on that distinction.
I'm further depressed reading the New York Times accounts of U.S. Justice Department rankings and a survey of journalists who cover state government because, well, Pennsylvania comes across as a land of the less-crooked-than-I-thought.
Sure, we're fourth (behind Florida, New York and Texas) in public officials convicted in federal corruption cases (with 555) from 1998 through 2007 - not bad for the sixth-largest state. But we're a disappointing 17th in convictions per capita and only 13th worst in the survey of journalists. We can do better.
(South Philly state Sen. Vince Fumo is being tried on corruption charges and, if he goes, maybe
he'll take some others with him.)
For starters, Justice counts only federal cases and we have great state cases, not least of which is the ongoing probe of all four caucuses of our Legislature.
Only a dozen folks so far have been charged for misuse of taxpayers' money for political gain, but more charges are promised. Before it's over we can move up the ladder, I just know it. Also, our history gets short shrift by looking at records that go back only to 1998.
What about the fun-filled run of Gov. Milton Shapp? During his two terms in the 1970s, 57 state officials got indicted.
How about state House Speaker Herb Fineman going down? Or South Philly state Sen. Buddy Cianfrani? How about former Philly Mayor Bill Green calling City Council "the worst legislative body in the free world?" (I don't think he spent enough time in Harrisburg.)
I figure our ranking includes convictions from Philly's 2003 pay-to-play scandal, but how about Abscam in the 1980s? Philly lost City Councilmen George Schwartz and Harry Jannotti, and U.S. Reps. Raymond Lederer and Ozzie Myers.
There was Councilman Leland Beloff, convicted of conspiracy to extort $1 million from a waterfront developer. And what about the impeachment of state Supreme Court Justice Rolf Larsen, or that each statewide row office in Pennsylvania was corrupted in the '80s and early '90s?
Treasurer Budd Dwyer, at the heart of a bribery scandal, killed himself during a news conference; Auditor General Al Benedict was jailed for racketeering; and Attorney General Ernie Preate was jailed for mail fraud.
We also have small-time action outside Harrisburg and Philly. For example, there's a Lawrence County treasurer charged in 2005 with stealing $47,000 in taxpayer funds; a Somerset County corrections officer charged in 2006 with smuggling heroin into his jail; a Lancaster County coroner charged in 2007 with conspiracy to leak confidential information to reporters (though, honestly, I'd probably cut him some slack). Point is, if you look back and at more than just federal charges, we're still in the running.
(I'm not the only one pitching; bloggers are arguing. One writes to Talking Points Memo saying that Nevada's governor was just under an FBI investigation, is in the middle of a nasty divorce and faces a lawsuit for pushing a woman in a parking garage. Another says he'll send a file on Louisiana but warns "it will be thick.")