Illinois state senators defy law to pick their watchdog

Illinois state senators defy law to pick their watchdog

Illinois state senators approved a new legislative inspector general over complaints by the Legislative Ethics Commission chair that the process and vetting were ignored for the new watchdog. House members vote next.

The Illinois Senate approved a new legislative inspector general Feb. 16 over strong objections from the bipartisan committee chair in charge of vetting candidates for the job of monitoring state lawmakers’ behaviors.

Senators voted 37 to 17 to appoint former federal judge Michael McCuskey as the head ethics watchdog at the Statehouse. The resolution is now moving to the House.

Majority Democrats in the Senate sanctioned McCusky’s appointment despite concerns he was not approved by the bipartisan Legislative Ethics Commission responsible for recommending candidates. They justified the decision as a matter of urgency.

“The position of legislative inspector general is too important to stay vacant for as long as it has,” Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park. said. “An impasse is not an option, so we are taking decisive action to move forward with an excellent candidate.”

The senators defended McCusky’s appointment, saying he was a virtuous jurist with a proven history. Republican Sen. Jil Tracy, who chairs the recently deadlocked Legislative Ethics Commission, said her objection to McCusky was not about candidate credentials, but about bypassing the process.

“Judge McCuskey is a fine individual and has a great career as a jurist,” Tracy said. “We don’t want to stall the process, we just want it done correctly.”

Tracy said the legislative inspector general’s office remained vacant for four years prior to Julie Porter’s appointment in 2017.

“What purpose is it that we put the search committee in the statute if it’s not to be the one to make the recommendation?” she said.

Porter said she’d never have taken the position had she realized how ineffective the office was. Then Pope resigned in January after calling the office a “paper tiger,” even after state lawmakers made some reforms to strengthen the office.

While the new law allows the inspector general to investigate complaints against lawmakers related to their public office without approval from the Legislative Ethics Commission, Pope said the inspector general should likewise have authority to issue subpoenas and publish summary reports without the commission’s approval. Pope criticized the bill as having “no real teeth” without these and other provisions that would increase the authority and independence of the office.

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