Stories from intrepid reporters attending the Illinois Press Foundation Journalism Workshop at Eastern Illinois University
By: Olivia Homel, Olivia Lamberti, Joshua Perry, and Alizah Qadri
It’s a day like any other in the State Capitol building in Springfield, IL. A tour is being held by David Joens, the Director of the Illinois State Archives. He talks at length about the history of the capitol building as he strolls through its halls, but his accounts aren’t dry: they are flavored with inside accounts of Springfield’s past.
“My tour of this is going to be less about the architecture and…more about the people and stories of Illinois,” Joens said.
In one story, Joens recounts the construction of the current capitol building in 1868. A contest was held to determine which architect would design the structure, and Joens said that foul play occurred.
“The wrong way to do it would be to bribe the jury, the panel, the judges,” Joens said. “The Illinois way to do it would be—you know that 3,000 dollars you’re gonna win? That’s what you use to bribe the jury.”
Illinois has long had a reputation of dubious activity, under-the-table dealings, and rampant corruption—all of which seem to have left an imprint in the minds of state civilians. Joens summarized these succinctly with the conclusion to his story.
“This building was built in scandal,” he said.
Joens inadvertently expressed a sentiment shared by many of Illinois’ residents: that the capitol is rife with corruption, deceit, and graft.
Judy Anderson, 77, disliked how corruption affects state government.
“I think it’s very sad, and I think it’s contributed to the state of the house,” Anderson said referring to the budget stalemate in the legislature. “It’s embarrassing, it’s sad.”
Anderson also said that things could become simpler if joinings of unnecessary extensions of government occurred, making it easier for the public to keep a close eye on things.
“It takes too much time to monitor, to follow what they’re doing,” Anderson said. “Maybe if we had fewer [government agencies], people would be more involved.”
Bob Anderson, 79, an activist for consolidated government, agreed with his wife, but didn’t want to speak much about it.
“I do know we have a corrupt state,” Bob Anderson said. “It’s not a nice opinion to have of our state, but it’s very well-known. I don’t want to say a whole lot about it.”
Bob Anderson’s work is about simplifying the Illinois government. In his opinion, the less agencies and governmental organizations we have, the clearer governmental proceedings will be.
A journalist working with the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, Andrew Maloney, has been at the capitol for five years. He agreed that bureaucracy can be used to obfuscate the truth when it comes to government’s internal workings.
“It’s interesting to see how the process can be used to confuse people,” Maloney said. “You realize how easy it is to slip something through the cracks.”
Tom Mannard, a lobbyist who is advocating funding for higher education, gun control, and more, held a different opinion. He believes that circumstances have changed due to the current budget impasse situation.
“I don’t think that there’s probably a lot of corruption at a time where there’s no dollars to be spent,” Mannard said. “I think when there was a greater amount of money that was around, maybe there was a temptation for that. I actually think that the people who serve now are, by and large, good quality people.”
However, Joens still believes that the old standards of Illinois government apply.
“I don’t want to besmirch the state, but sometimes it’s who you know,” he said.