Guest Column: Politics is business as usual in Springfield

By John Russell Ghrist

Some time ago, I wrote about not voting in the last election (“Guest Column: Why I didn’t vote in the last election,” July 9-15, 2014, issue of The Rock River Times). Wow! Did I hear it from people who thought I should retake my grade-school civics class and about my failure to exercise my freedom to elect our officials. Years ago, when I reached the age of 21 and got to vote, I was excited to participate. I did not have a car and called for a ride to the polls and got inside a vehicle that was plastered with campaign stickers. It was my first taste of the business of corrupt and misleading politicians.

In my article, I never said I would never vote again. I was just disgusted with the choices on the ballot in the last general election. Choices were limited to the usual crooks, who get in despite my one vote of disapproval, and the long lines at the polling place are another deterrent. While the poll workers do their best to accurately move people along, the real problem is getting rid of the bad guys on the ballot. These are the ones in power who helped defeat term limit legislation that will keep them in power forever. When one of them dies or retires, they will find some relative or staff crony to take their place, hence nothing ever changes. It’s job protection with all of its perks, and they hold all the cards. Power does corrupt, and it also limits any opposition to new or better ideas. I wish they all could be voted out, but these career politicians have rigged the system. They offset the votes of honest people.

In recent weeks, there have been more examples of bad politics in government. The courts ruled that it is considered “freedom of speech” when a large company gives millions of dollars to elect a candidate they like. This comes at a price that the office holder must then help pass legislation favorable to the firm that keeps them in office. He or she was probably already doing this anyway. How fair is that? The corporations have millions of dollars to influence an election, and I have only one vote.

It is a known fact that politicians can be bought and are usually on the take for some cause or business issue. Freedom of speech is a good thing that protects our rights to disagree with issues we oppose. But in this day and age, certain people or companies can fix elections with their huge resources. Others also feel they can hide behind this provision when they want to annoy others with loud car stereos, making noise in a library, or display dirty forms of art. This type of “freedom” was not the intention of our forefathers.

Locally, I still remember one election morning when one candidate’s workers plastered all the mailboxes in my neighborhood with campaign stickers. Then, there are those annoying political ads and phone calls. One minute someone calls and says he or she is the best candidate. A few minutes later, someone else calls and says the previous caller is no good. There are times during the day I just turn off the phone and refuse to allow it to become someone’s sales tool. If they want to do that, then they should pay my phone bill to listen to them. The newspapers are also filled with letters to the editor around election time urging readers to vote for this or that candidate. They are probably planted by political cronies. Honest people are sick of it all, and many no longer participate in the elections.

But what really strikes home is the yearly confusion in Springfield. I worked for the Illinois Department of Transportation for 19 years, one year short of full medical benefits. When Rod Blagojevich ran for governor, he told everyone he was a reformer. He was going to get rid of George Ryan’s people and policies. Through the years, Illinois has had a series of corrupt governors who went to jail, and Blago was probably the worst one — and he still belongs there. The people in power back then also did not fund the state’s pensions, which created that mess today. I have a penchant for my pension and worked hard for it and deserve it, just as anyone else does who puts in their time. They took my job, and I had no alternative than to retire and take it.

I had moved up from a tow-truck dispatcher, construction and land acquisition clerk to the position that I always wanted in public relations. I went back to college and finished my communications degree. During my last years with IDOT, I wrote news releases about road construction projects, took photographs, updated websites and did all the voice-overs for public meeting presentations. It was a job that required some technical training and skills. My salary was in the $30,000s, and the taxpayers got their money’s worth every day.

My experience came from many years from working in broadcasting, newspapers and writing books about local history. It didn’t take a Democrat or a Republican to do my job. I just did it and never voted in primary elections. In the prime of my state career, I was replaced by a political crony who had no experience and who got paid lots more than I did. I ended up out of work, lost my house, and because of my age, no one around here would give me a similar opportunity. I found the Workforce Connection people to be totally useless and pounded the pavement looking for work on my own behalf. The cronies also blocked all my attempts to regain my position and probably gave me bad references.

When Blago took over, good and seasoned workers were kicked out, and patronage people were brought in. They had empty in-boxes, phones and desks, but they seldom used them. They made big bucks, lots more than legitimate state workers earned, and did nothing all day. These doorbell ringers were given high-paying jobs and directed things like turning on traffic signals at busy intersections and other duties that they knew nothing about. Another crony was put in charge of media relations and sounded like a babbling uneducated fool on the air.

Blago hired worthless expensive liaisons who held private meetings. They told me I had to get his name in the newspapers 10 times a week, which I refused. Everything they touched turned into one big mess. Most of them could not even hold down a public-sector job and then turned to politics because they knew someone on the inside or were on a political hiring list. What kind of job qualifications are those? These people undid lots of working programs. Some even got into trouble in which Blago then had to quietly move them out. It’s the same thing with every administration. The taxpayers are soaked by a small group of people who want to play government with your money.

And so it goes today under present Gov. Pat Quinn (D), who hired some 300 staff assistants at IDOT who get paid well for just getting in the way and increasing the cost of government. Every party who gets in does this, but this time, Quinn’s group made their patronage jobs permanent. This protection then forced the unions to fight to maintain these positions and to keep these people off unemployment. Quinn’s Republican opponent for governor, Bruce Rauner, sees all of this as political fodder — and what do we know about him? Can we believe his TV ads? Does Quinn really cut his grass with a hand mower? Can we believe any of the candidates? If the money they spend on their campaigns were donated to various charities and causes, we could solve lots of problems in this country.

So, tell me again why I should have voted in the last election? I probably should have out of principle to oppose this continued corruption in our government by inept leaders. It is a common fact that certain candidates don’t want you to vote, as good turnouts might hurt them. These are the same crooks who hope for bad weather on Election Day, or who have helped change ethnic district voting boundaries in their favor. Some want motor voter laws that allow unregistered people to vote.

In Chicago, where it’s a common practice “to vote, and vote often,” elections can be literally stolen by fraud. The same politicians also pull maneuvers to keep small one-issue parties off the ballot, which might drain votes away from their candidates. I have also seen elections where a party will urge someone with a similar name as an incumbent to run for office just to confuse the voters. We also have to deal with all the clutter of name recognition only campaign signs on our landscapes that become litter after the elections. At least, the candidates and their people are kept from bothering us in front of the polls. After all these years, I have seen most of the tricks politicians use to try to sway the elections.

There needs to be a united front to clean house and put honest people in office and restore our faith in government. I should not be thinking that my vote does not count, but it should be a measure to ensure that my wishes are expressed at the polls, just like any other voter who has no political backing or financial influences.

This is how our election process was first designed to work. Unfortunately, the table has been tilted and bent down to favor those who have manipulated how we elect our leaders who run the government. Yes, voting is indeed a privilege in his country, and I will vote in the next election. It is the only system we currently have that sadly reeks of continued political corruption.

John Russell Ghrist is a Rockford resident.

From the Oct. 15-21, 2014, issue

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