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Kentucky politicians ought not feel too smug about all the bad ink the Illinois state government is getting following the arrest of its Gov. Rod Blagojevich on federal allegations that he tried to make money by filling the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama.
A year-old analysis of the U.S. Justice Department Public Integrity Section’s 2006 report to Congress ranked Kentucky behind only Louisiana and Mississippi for federally prosecuted public corruption. Illinois, which has watched governor after governor be accused, indicted and/or jailed, ranked 6th. The analysis was released in October 2007 by Corporate Crime Reporter, a weekly legal newsletter based in Washington. The analysis was published by Common Dreams NewsCenter, billed as a non-profit news service for the Progressive Community.
Russell Mokhiber, editor of Corporate Crime Reporter, calculated the ratings according to the number of federal public corruption convictions per 100,000 population from 1997 to 2006 for the 35 most populous states, 2 million or more population. The result:
To be sure, those are only public corruption convictions prosecuted by the federal government. Over the decade, there were 183 cases in Eastern Kentucky, 35 in the western part of the state. If state prosecutions were included, the political patronage scandal that led to indictment of former Kentucky Ernie Fletcher, subsequently dismissed by a judge, as well as those he pardoned, some in advance of being accused, surely would have boosted Kentucky's corruption standings.
Most recently in Kentucky a federal grand jury has indicted former Transportation Cabinet Secretary Bill Nighbert, a contractor and employee, for irregularities in bidding for state projects. Nighbert and the other two men have pleaded not guilty. The FBI has been investigating Fletcher administration records in the transportation department, now headed by Hardin County Democrat Joe Prather.
It is interesting to note how Illinois' Blagojevich tried to silence his critics by intimidation, primarily by trying to get two editorial writers fired from the Chicago Tribune. He failed, but the tactic is not uncommon, it's always an attempt to deflect public attention by attacking the source of negative information, demeaning the media instead of addressing the allegations.
Gov. Steve Beshear, who rode into office on the wave of the Fletcher administration patronage scandal, has pledged to run an open, clean administration, and has put Prather in charge of the most corruption-prone agency of state government. As for openness, this week's telephone press conference to provide small-town media who can't cover Frankfort an opportunity to question him was a sincere step forward for the governor in fulfilling his pledge to make his administration transparent.
No goal is more important than cleaning up this image of Kentucky politics, whether false or real, and the stigma it presents in the eyes of businesses looking for new locations, also to researchers, academics, and skilled workers in the market for new opportunities to employ their expertise in mental and physical labor.
- This editorial represents the consensus of The News-Enterprise editorial board.