Category Archives: era

>REACT: Latter day Ryan earned prison

>It appears after years of delaying tactics, former Illinois Governor George Ryan is heading to the hoosegow. It is a long sad story.

During most of my adult life, I have been aware of George Ryan – sometimes dealing with him personally.

There are really two George Ryans. The first was the up and coming legislator. That George Ryan was an idealist, conservative and guy as good as his word. He reached conservative hero status when he engineered the defeat of the so-called Equal Right Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In denying the ERA Illinois’ ratification vote, Ryan gave the coup d’gras to the feminists’ effort to tweak the Constitution.

The early Ryan was a man of principle.

When and why the latter day Ryan emerged is not at all clear. There was no reported seminal event. Rather a gradual, often imperceptible, erosion. The latter day Ryan is a cynical man, lead by power and greed over principle. He abandoned conservative positions and personal ethics simultaneously – some say an inevitable pairing. Many early friends and supporters either separated in disappointment or were brutally cast aside as irrelevant to his lust for power and money. Those who stood in the way suffered even more.

His big sins were well laid out along the evidential trail by the federal prosecutors. Like the tip of the iceberg, however, the larger mass of his misdeeds never surfaced. Virtually all of us in the political arena around Ryan have personal stories of his political brutality.

One of my own experiences came through my friendship and working relationship with Bill and Carol Dart, among Springfield’s most prominent players. He was chief lobbyist for the then powerful Illinois Manufacturer’s Association. She was among the most respected and effective independent lobbyists in the state capital.

Ryan owed his early success in large measure to Bill, who had single-handedly engineered the deal that put the Kankakee Republican in the Senate presidency. Year’s later, Ryan would engineer Bill’s ouster from the IMA as part of a Ryan insider take over.

Around that same time, Carol and I were working for the same client on a piece of legislation. One day the client called me to ask what to do about Carol – and if I would take over the relationship alone, if necessary. My contact said they were astonished when Ryan called them in to tell them they would get nowhere unless they “fired that cunt” and hire a lobbyist he recommended. They assured me that the c-word was an exact quote. Having seen the latter day Ryan, I was NOT astonished. This was who he became.

To the credit of the client, they decided to defy the Governor, and keep Carol as the principle lobbyist. In the spirit that good things happen to good people, our client came out okay when Senate President Pate Philip defied the Governor on the legislation.

Because we knew the latter day Ryan extremely well, from this and many other incidences, Bill, Carol and I broke life-long traditions of supporting Republican governors and endorsed and openly supported Ryan’s Democrat opponent, Glenn Poshard. We knew then what the public would only discover years later. The latter day George was a crook.

Glenn called Ryan out on his corruption, but the protective press denied Poshard the credibility his charges deserved. It was only after Ryan’s election, and the dedicated work of a truly independent prosecutor, that the public was finally able to see the real George Ryan, of the latter day. With Ryan’s election, the atmosphere in Springfield became so hostile that the Darts left the state. I remained to occasionally suffer the sling and arrows or Ryan’s revenge. He cost me a few clients along the way.

Many wondered if the cadre of political thugs that formed his inner circle had unduly influenced the once respected public official, or if they merely were an extension of his own metamorphous from the well intention Dr. Jekyll to the evil Mr. Hyde. There are those who believed Ryan’s power and money crazed actions we committed by his aides, and that he was mostly unaware of them. Some of that excuse was found in his trial defense – and ultimately repudiated by the weight of evidence. The buck stopped at the Ryan’s desk – every buck he could get his hands on, in fact.

Some say his release of the death row reprobates was and act of conscience, others say a crass exploitation to create public sympathy going into his trial. I cannot say if it was about pre-trial sympathy, but I am pretty damn sure it was not about conscience. Not many, friend or foe, ever saw much of a conscience in the latter day George Ryan.

Perhaps the most tragically eloquent example of the cost of corruption was the 1994 deaths of the six Willis children, caused by an unqualified truck driver who obtained a license through bribes to Ryan’s campaign fund when he was Illinois Secretary of State.

The latter day Ryan is old, but has not lost any of his survival skills. He has not repented. He fights prison with all the cunning and guile he exhibited throughout his carrier. It is sad, to be sure. But, do not pity George Ryan, he has gotten no more than he deserves – and maybe not even as much.

Advertisements