As I walked into one of my classes on Monday, I noticed a student reading aloud the guilty verdict of former Illinois Governor George Ryan. It was not what she was reading that got to me but the fact that she was laughing hysterically. I am no legal scholar, nor am I a lawyer, but I do feel correct in stating that this case is not one that should excite and delight. This case is no longer a matter of guilt or innocence (although the Ryan defense will appeal, and on fairly substantial grounds given the dilemmas that developed during the jury deliberations), but it is a part of history. The feelings that now surround this trial are not those of joy, or of a David slaying Goliath, but more accurately, those of sadness and pity for the former governor.
We have a 73-year-old man, one who had devoted over 40 years of his life to public service, who is possibly going to jail for what is most likely going to be the rest of his life. U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald may be the crusader for political morality and righteousness, but he must sleep at night knowing that his work has put a harmless old man behind bars, and for what? Ryan never hurt anybody or made the State of Illinois a worse place because of his actions. Just imagine what could be done if we had the same tenacity present in attacking Osama Bin Laden as we had in attacking George Ryan. In a world where over 2,000 American soldiers have died in Iraq and violence runs rampant on our streets, our federal prosecutors decide to harp on measly vacations and campaign contributions. While homelessness, inadequate schools, and a lack of appropriate constituent services plague our nation, issues such as those with Ryan should not be our federal governments primary concern.
The history books will mark Ryan as a crook and felon, but that is not accurate. We must also recognize the great work he did do for the State of Illinois. This was the governor who initiated the Illinois FIRST (Fund for Infrastructure, Road, School, and Transit) program, putting aside $6.3 billion for such projects. In addition to these monies, 51 percent of all new funds that came into state coffers went into education during his tenure. By making technological infrastructure a priority, Ryan made Illinois, and especially the I-88 Corridor, one of the nations premiere locations for research and development.
Ryan did more for the Illinois economy than any other governor in recent memory. When Ford was planning to move its far South-Side plant to Mexico, Ryan and Mayor Richard M. Daley ignored party lines to fly to Detroit and lobby Ford on behalf of the thousands of workers who would have lost their jobs. The plant was recently reopened after a massive reinvestment by Ford. Ryan was the one who sat in front of a congressional hearing stating that the expansion of OHare Airport was vital not only to the City of Chicago but to the entire State of Illinois, and therefore it deserved federal support. The OHare Modernization Program is currently moving forward. It was Ryan who went to Cuba, against the advice of the State Department, only to not extend American goodwill but to lay the groundwork for possible trade relationships and develop partnerships for the exchange of medical knowledge.
If it had not been for the current state of affairs, Ryan would have been most remembered for the act which twice gained him a Nobel Peace Prize nomination, his moratorium on the death penalty in 2003. After the Gregg v. Georgia decision, Ryan had initially supported an Illinois death penalty. It was 2000 when Ryan altered his position on the issue due to gross errors by the states justice department. After establishing a commission to investigate those cases already on death row, the Governors commission discovered further flaws within the system. With only three days left in his term, Ryan pardoned four death-row inmates and commuted the sentences of Illinois remaining 167 condemned inmates. Praised by some and cursed by others, Ryan had taken an action that few could have mustered the strength for.
It is true that the jury should not have let these good deeds sway their judgment in the case, but it should affect our own judgments of Ryans character. Such a case was designed to judge what he had done wrong and not to focus upon what he had done right. No matter what individuals may say, or how much other students may laugh, the fact remains that Ryan devoted his life to Illinois. It is with this in mind that we must note, regardless of any mistakes he may have made in the past, that Ryan is a man that deserves our respect, and if anything is truly just, he should be viewed with our pity as well.