Rochelle News-Leader | Should we honor politicians with statues?

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Politicians are special creatures.

They name parks, highways, airports and pretty much everything we pay for.

And if a politician climbs high enough, a statue will be erected in his honor.

Statues are designed to be permanent. But the reputation of politicians is much more fluid.

Six years ago, then-Illinois Speaker Michael Madigan lobbied to erect a statue on the Illinois Capitol grounds of former U.S. House Speaker Denny Hastert.

Hastert said, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Unexpected modesty on the part of a retired pol? Nope. By the time Hastert refused the honor, he knew he was under investigation by the federal government for sexually abusing students while he was a high school coach and paid money. secret money to one of them to keep the allegations silent.

He eventually pleaded guilty to a financial crime and was sentenced to 15 months in prison.

In fairness to Madigan, he had no idea of ​​any issues when he recommended the honor. But if you think this political mistake will discourage other Illinois lawmakers from recommending politicians for statues, think again.

Today there is a proposal pending to place a statue of Ronald Reagan on the grounds of the Illinois Capitol. Is he worthy? Well, more worthy than some, but less than others.

In 1984, I voted for Reagan. But I don’t want a dime of taxpayer dollars going to him or any other politician. Isn’t having been elected to a public office enough? The statues have little to do with history and a lot to do with glorification.

The heroes of yesterday may be the scoundrels of tomorrow.

For example, 103 years ago a statue of Stephen Douglas was erected on the lawn of the Illinois Capitol. He was an American senator and the great rival of Abraham Lincoln. More recently, critics have pointed out that he was a slave owner and a political obstacle to emancipation. So, last year his statue was removed.

We’ve had so many issues with statues of state houses, one can’t help but wonder if the Land of Lincoln has a complex of buildings?

The political class exists for its own benefit, and they like to worship each other.

Interestingly enough, personal dishonesty or political corruption was never a sufficient cause for the image of a politician to be removed from the Illinois Capitol.

On the second floor of the State House, you’ll find portraits of Otto Kerner, Dan Walker, and George Ryan. All served as governors and all ended up in prison.

After impeaching Governor Rod Blagojevich, lawmakers passed a law prohibiting public funding of portraits of governors removed from office. They really hated this Blago. This is the only time I can think of such an action.

In fact, when lawmakers passed this resolution, there was so much vitriol during the debate that I couldn’t help but think of a scene from Cecil B. DeMille’s “Ten Commandments” when Pharaoh spoke. said, “Let the name of Moses be struck out of every book and tablet. Struck from all the pylons and obelisks in Egypt. May the name of Moses not be heard or spoken, erased from man’s memory, forever. ”

But obviously they haven’t learned their lesson as there are many other paintings and statues honoring political scoundrels in this building.

One of my favorites was a painting by former Illinois Secretary of State and Speaker of the House, Paul Powell. Powell’s motto was meant to be, “There is only one thing worse than a vanquished politician, and that is a broke man.”

When Powell died in 1970, more than $ 800,000 was found stuffed in shoe boxes in the closet of his hotel room in Springfield. That would be roughly $ 5.6 million in today’s money.

And Paul Powell has never been paid more than $ 30,000.

Powell’s portrait hung in the visitor’s gallery at Illinois House. Every time I walked by, I liked to nudge the photo frame. Like so many Illinois politicians, he deserves to be remembered as he was – twisted.

Scott Reeder is a seasoned Springfield-area reporter and can be reached at: [email protected].


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