Gov. J.B. Pritzker added his voice last Wednesday to calls for an Illinois state senator with influence over how billions of tax dollars are spent to step down as chair of the Senate Transportation Committee.
A week later, we're still waiting for a response to that request from Sen. Martin Sandoval. The Chicago Democrat has not spoken publicly since he became the subject of an FBI investigation into possible corruption and bribery involving public contracts.
Wisely, then, the Democratic governor also directed his comments at Senate President John Cullerton, the Democratic leader at whose pleasure Sandoval and other Senate committee chairs serve.
If Sandoval "doesn’t step aside," the governor said bluntly, "he should be removed.”
Yes, he should, immediately. Unfortunately, the response from Cullerton's office seven days later continues to be that the Chicago Democratic leader "wants to make informed decisions."
As we've noted before, we would normally embrace Cullerton's careful approach and even demand strict adherence to the bedrock judicial principle that everyone is innocent unless proven guilty. So if what was being advocated was Sandoval's removal from the Senate without a thorough investigation and trial, we would be in the front row of Cullerton's cheering section.
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But chairmanships are not elected posts, they are political ones. And leaders can remove the members who serve at their direction from those posts for any reason. Cullerton did so recently when he stripped Sen. Tom Cullerton of the Senate Labor Committee chairmanship after a federal investigation resulted in an indictment.
In the Sandoval case, there is too much at stake to wait until the investigation concludes. Given the power the transportation committee chair continues to wield over Illinoisans' lives and their pocketbooks, Cullerton cannot afford to tolerate even the appearance of impropriety.
Neither can Illinois' already tattered reputation, which is why we're disappointed that there doesn't appear to have been a more concerted public effort by his rank-and-file members to persuade Cullerton to act.
Further delays only feed the public perception that Illinois tax dollars too often are spent in service to politicians, not the public. Public works committees are fertile ground for public corruption since they have the power to make winners and losers of communities and companies fighting for billions of dollars earmarked for highways, bridges, and other public projects.
Pritzker's call for Sandoval's removal was not unexpected. Nor is the fact that he is worried about the impact the ongoing investigation will have on the public trust. Remember, Sandoval was among the co-chairs of the group that crafted Pritzker's signature $45 billion Rebuild Illinois public works program. "We must assure the public that this work (the capital plan) is on the up and up," Pritzker told reporters last week. "Corruption and self-dealing will not be tolerated.”
Actions, of course, speak louder than words. As the drumbeat of troubling news about this investigation continues to provide fresh cause for concern, we once again urge the Senate president to act without further delay.