Prison time: Grandfather or not, former governor George Ryan earned his 6-year-plus sentence.
Former Illinois Gov. George Ryan is scheduled to report to a federal penitentiary on Nov. 7. It will be almost 13 years to the day after a freakish, fiery vehicle accident killed six children and marked the beginning of the end for him; nine years after one of the most far-reaching criminal investigations of political corruption in Illinois started; 18 months after he was convicted of racketeering and fraud; nearly 14 months after he was sentenced.
It is about time.
Barring an unlikely intervention by the U.S. Supreme Court, Ryan soon will begin spending 6½ years behind bars in Duluth, Minn., where he will have plenty of time to ponder whether selling his soul to become governor was worth it.
His attorney, Jim Thompson, will do everything in his power to prevent that, arguing that Ryan should remain free pending a Supreme Court decision on his appeal — whenever that might come — because "he is a 73-year-old grandfather whose life revolves around his 17 grandchildren." That may be so, but it's not persuasive, as many a felon has a family. Besides, there's always some excuse to keep people in high places from paying the consequences for their crimes, to allow people who help make the law to be above the law. Ryan has gotten more than his fair share of slack.
Perhaps Ryan should have thought about the grandkids when he was putting Illinois up for sale to the highest bidder, when manipulating state contracts to enrich his pals and himself, when using state tax dollars and resources to run his campaigns, when doing his best to cover up the scandal that brought him and 74 others down. The Rev. Scott and Janet Willis — who survived the van explosion that killed their six youngest children on a Wisconsin interstate on Nov. 8, 1994 and started this whole licenses-for-bribes snowball rolling — might have been enjoying a few extra grandkids themselves by now.
And perhaps Thompson — himself a former occupant of the Executive Mansion in Springfield — should think about his own history, which found him far less forgiving when he was a politically climbing U.S. attorney prosecuting another former governor, Otto Kerner, 34 years ago.
We won't be on the sidelines clapping as Ryan is led away to jail. It represents a sad moment in his life and in Illinois history. He has paid a price already in ruined reputation, in loss of financial security. But political corruption in this state — and there is an embarrassing amount of it — will never diminish if it can flourish without the risk of imprisonment.
Indeed, no sooner had Ryan's fate been virtually sealed than the Chicago Tribune published an editorial seeking reader input on whether the current governor — Rod Blagojevich — should be removed from office before his term is up, while adding its two cents that he should. Besides poor performance, Blagojevich is tainted by some ethical question marks of his own.
It's remarkable that it has come to this in an Illinois that has witnessed the convictions of three former governors in little more than three decades.
That's why — as grandfatherly as George Ryan may be — the clock of justice must begin ticking.