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Republican ethics leader criticizes Democrats on Legislative Inspector General's last day on the job

Jil Tracy
State Sen. Jil Tracy, a Republican from Quincy.

A Senate Republican criticized Democrats on Thursday for their handling of a key ethics post as the Legislative Inspector General stepped down from the job.

The Legislative Inspector General acts as a peacemaker and investigator when complaints are filed against members of the General Assembly. The current Legislative Inspector General, Carol Pope, announced last summer that she would be leaving the post, and her successor has yet to be named. Pope’s last official day is Thursday.

Without an appointment made as Pope’s replacement, the position could be vacant for up to 45 days before an acting Inspector General can be installed. Legislators will still be able to file complaints, but there will be no one in place to take action on them.

After Pope announced her resignation in July, the position was posted and a search committee was formed. Two candidates were recommended, but the Legislative Ethics Commission made up of four Democrats and four Republicans couldn’t come to a decision.

Tracy blamed the delay on Democrats.

“It's clear that legislative ethics is not a priority of the Democrat majority powers. It is to us, the Senate Republicans,” Tracy said at a press conference Thursday.

In a statement, Democratic state Rep. Kelly Burke strongly refuted Tracy's description of events. A Democratic senator on the ethics commission also said Tracy was mischaracterizing the situation.

"Senator Tracy’s claims today are wildly mischaracterizing the situation. Democrats have sought to advance two candidates for final selection, both of whom have been deemed qualified by the search committee and the (Legislative Ethics Commission). Republicans have blocked that effort, insisting on only advancing their preferred candidate -- even though both candidates have worked for former Governor Rauner and have demonstrated nonpartisan, professional expertise. In fact, both are also former federal prosecutors.”

Later Thursday, Democratic state Sen. Cristina Castro of Elgin also responded to Tracy's remarks.

“I’m disappointed that Senator Tracy continues to politicize a process that was intentionally set up to try to keep politics out," said Castro, also an Ethics Commission member. "The fact is the Ethics Commission has been prepared to send names to the General Assembly but Senator Tracy and other Republicans blocked those votes. If not for those actions, we could have had a new inspector general in place.”

Tracy, the chair of the Legislative Ethics Commission, says that this lack of oversight from a Legislative Inspector General could be particularly dangerous, especially in an election year. She cited past complaints filed over legislators doing campaign work during session, or even leaving session to prioritize the campaign trail. Session is already slated to end early to accommodate legislators’ preparation for the primary election in June, but without an Inspector General, it is possible that campaign work could go unchecked during legislative hours.

Tracy is working with past Inspectors General to address concerns in the office and is filing Senate Bill 3030 as a remedy. This bill aims to increase transparency and widen the scope of the Legislative Inspector General’s office. The bill includes such provisions as publishing minutes of commission meetings and giving the Inspector General subpoena powers during an investigation.

Capitol News Illinois contributed to this report.

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Updated: January 7, 2022 at 3:38 PM CST
This story has been updated from its original version, including additional responses from Democratic lawmakers in response to Sen. Tracy's claims.
Maggie Strahan is a graduate student in the Public Affairs Reporting program at the University of Illinois.