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Editorial: Yes, bring on the fireworks 

Moline-Rock Island Dispatch-Argus
July 7, 2011

We know what kind of vehicles Sheila Simon owns, and how much they're worth. We know how much money the lieutenant governor and her husband, community college teacher Perry Knop, made last year, and what stocks they hold. We know her net worth, $586,709, which comes primarily from properties. We know what and where they are. We also know that she made $500 from playing the banjo last year and that her income dropped considerably while she ran for office.

We know all this because the former Southern Illinois University law professor has freely opened her family's financial ledger to the voters who elected her -- and to those who didn't.

That level of disclosure is both extraordinary and welcome. But she took it even further. In April, just as ex-governor Rod Blagojevich readied for his retrial on federal corruption charges, she released financial information about her senior staff on disclosure forms she hopes will one day be required everywhere in Illinois government. The forms were adapted from those used by federal executive officers and their top- ranking employees. They offer far more detail than Illinois now requires, when it requires disclosure at all.

Why did she do it? Why did she choose to follow in the footsteps of her late father, U.S. Sen. Paul Simon, in releasing such detailed accounts of her personal finances? "When government is more open and straightforward, it's a lot easier for everyone to work with the government," she said back in January.

She's right of course and you'd be hard-pressed to find a voter out there to disagree. But those aren't the folks who need convincing. Elsewhere in Viewpoints today, the lieutenant governor tries to re-ignite interest in fixing what's broken in Illinois politics. Her new plea comes as Illinoisans await Rod Blagojevich's sentencing on 17 separate political corruption charges. The Carbondale Democrat knows a little something about what needs to be done to fix this ethical mess. She was a member of the Illinois Reform Commission, the panel created by Gov. Pat Quinn following former Gov. Blagojevich's arrest and impeachment.

Remember that commission, headed by Patrick Collins, the man who successfully prosecuted and sent to jail another former Illinois governor, George Ryan? If not, that's because its excellent recommendations were quickly buried by legislative leaders who convened their own "reform" panel, not to promote reform but to bury it. Indeed, the smoke created by the Legislature's Joint Committee on Government Reform served primarily to make the tough Collins' committee proposals all but disappear behind politically acceptable measures that fell far short of what was really needed. Meanwhile lawmakers largely ignored the work of the independent commission, which provided a strong place from which to begin the process of cleaning up a state whose political leaders have made us a national laughingstock: "Illinois: Where our governor' make the license plates." "Illinois: For sale to the highest bidder." Tired of it yet? We are.

Is it too much to hope that the spectacle of two former Illinois governors in federal prisons will re-ignite the spark for real, meaningful reform that will turn the old system on its ear and change Illinois' culture of corruption forever.

Not unless angry, engaged voters demand it.