Three candidates are being considered to replace the state’s top legislative watchdog amid complaints from Republicans that delays caused by Democrats could leave the post vacant before a new inspector general takes office. The General Assembly adjourned for the year last month without naming a replacement for Legislative Inspector General Carol Pope, whose resignation is
Three candidates are being considered to replace the state’s top legislative watchdog amid complaints from Republicans that delays caused by Democrats could leave the post vacant before a new inspector general takes office.
The General Assembly adjourned for the year last month without naming a replacement for Legislative Inspector General Carol Pope, whose resignation is effective Dec. 15. In announcing her decision to quit this summer, Pope blasted what many considered a watered-down ethics package passed earlier this year, saying lawmakers had “demonstrated true ethics reform is not a priority.”
The Democratic-controlled legislature’s failure to act on a replacement while in session was criticized by the chair of the Legislative Ethics Commission, Quincy Republican state Sen. Jil Tracy, who said legislators “had ample opportunity to make a selection”
“Now, we are in a situation where in just six weeks, we could have complaints coming into the commission and not have a legislative inspector general in place to address them,” Tracy said. “Allowing this position to go unfilled is a major disservice to the people of Illinois who deserve an accountable and transparent government.”
The three candidates for the post are being interviewed and vetted by the eight-member Legislative Ethics Commission, which met Oct. 28, the final day of the legislature’s fall session. Democratic members left the meeting before a candidate was chosen, Tracy said in a statement last week.
State Rep. Kelly Burke, an Evergreen Park Democrat who sits on the ethics commission and sponsored the ethics proposal that prompted Pope’s resignation, said this week that there’s little risk of the office being left vacant.
“It’s our intention that it gets filled in a timely fashion,” said Burke. “But there’s a process to making sure we have the best available person to do this. That’s why we’re taking the time to do our due diligence.”
Burke said this week that a search committee provided the panel with the three names for consideration. She declined to reveal the candidates but said they were chosen from among about 20 names.
“It’s a deliberative process,” she also said. “We want to make sure we do it right.”
Pope and her two predecessors have long pushed for more independence for the office. Pope said she will not extend her tenure even if a replacement has not been named, noting that she gave the ethics commission five months to choose a successor.
If no replacement is chosen by then, Burke said, the commission could choose an interim watchdog before the nominee is considered for confirmation by the full legislature when it reconvenes in January.
The GOP concerns about leaving the office vacant are rooted in recent history.
After the state’s first legislative inspector general resigned in 2014, the position went unfilled until the vacancy was thrust into the spotlight when a victims’ rights advocate testified at a legislative hearing in October 2017 that her complaint alleging she’d been sexually harassed by a state senator went unanswered for more than a year.
The blowback led to the temporary appointment of former federal prosecutor Julie Porter, who held the position until Pope, a former state prosecutor and appellate judge, took over in March 2019.
In September, Democrats who control the House used a do-over vote to approve an ethics plan in a 74-41 vote after Gov. J.B. Pritzker proposed a tweak to the measure. The Senate approved the change in a 58-0 vote in late August.
The measure, which takes effect Jan. 1, requires additional disclosures from officials on personal financial interests, aims to prevent lawmakers from lobbying their former colleagues immediately after they leave office, and allows the legislative inspector general to initiate investigations of alleged wrongdoing without the blessing of the ethics commission, among other changes.
But it limits the office’s jurisdiction to matters related directly to a lawmaker’s public office. Critics say it has other glaring weaknesses, including a six-month cooling-off period before lawmakers who leave office can become lobbyists, far shorter than in many neighboring states.