The Governor, Listlessly

The Blagojevich administration has taken an unusual approach to their jobs scandal. When the first story broke two weeks ago, the governor’s spokespeople admitted to tracking applications by sponsor, but denied that they used this system to fill non-political positions. Then, when a copy of the list appeared on Rich Miller’s blog, they changed their tune, instead insisting that the list wasn’t theirs.

Then it turned out there’s another list out there. Only AP seems to have this one, and they haven’t released the whole thing, but this list apparently includes career service positions that are supposed to be shielded from political influence, the names of applicants, and the signatures of high-level administration officials who approved the hire.

Maybe the administration thought the first story was based on these lists. Maybe there are other lists that haven’t made their way to the press yet. But the problem that the governor faces now is one of credibility. For the first three years in office, he routinely insisted that he was changing the way business was done. Reform and renewal were in nearly every speech and every press quip. These lists suggest his actions were not up to his speechifying.

As new scandals have broken, the governor has responded by dialing back his reform rhetoric. He hasn’t read from the old script in about a year now. When he speaks of reform, it’s usually in the past tense, as in, he worked on the 2003 Ethics Act, or he proposed campaign finance reform. He has stopped outlining his vision for changing the culture of Illinois politics.

There is still time. The governor should come clean about how his administration has filled positions, allowing staff to talk about the process by which they got jobs and releasing any documentation they have to support the process they instituted. Certainly it makes sense for the governor’s policy advisors to share his political philosophy, and showing that political influence was limited to these positions would be a fine thing to do. If, however, there is a gulf between what they said they were doing and what they actually did, they should own up to their failings and discuss how they think they have since changed the process for the better.

On the other hand, if the gulf is more of an ocean, then battening down the hatches may make sense. Or, if he’s worried about federal investigations, as today’s Ray Coleman story suggests, then maybe he should be extra careful. But if this governor has really taken steps he can be proud of to reform state hiring, now is the time to discuss those in public.