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Sen. Barickman sounds off on ethics, prisons and immigration

Jason Barickman
Seth Perlman
State Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington.

Bloomington state Sen. Jason Barickman says the recent indictment of another senator shows current ethics laws do a poor job of holding lawmakers accountable to the people they serve.

State Sen. Emil Jones III, D-Chicago, is accused of being a part of a red-light camera kickback scheme. Barickman said despite the news, it's likely Jones will win re-election in November.

"And voters will scratch their heads and say what can we do about that? Under current law there is nothing they can do. I think that should change. I think voters should be given a recall tool that would allow them to take a situation like this and remedy it themselves," said Barickman, a Republican.

Barickman, speaking on WGLT's Sound Ideas, would like to see more power given to the legislative inspector general to investigate mischief.

"I think the legislative inspector general has long had their hands tied in their ability to root out corruption. That's something we have seen some progress on, but certainly have not gone far enough," he said.

So many lawmakers have faced ethical and legal troubles over the decades, Barickman said the public is becoming immune to outrage, adding lawmakers should be held to a higher standard of behavior.

To get a recall on the ballot under a proposal Barickman modeled on laws in other state, voters would have to get signatures based on a ratio from the number of voters counted in the previous election. Barickman said a recall ballot should not be a political tool.

“It can't be a couple of us in a coffee house who say, 'Oh, that person ought to go and you start a recall.' It's an expensive and mechanical procedure. You want to make sure the bars to entry to start that process are significant enough to deter routine political kind of angst that always exists, and actually get to the heart of getting rid of bad actors,” said Barickman.

With a percentage as a standard, it may actually be easier to get a recall on the ballot for local races because municipal elections typically have lower turnouts than statewide contests. Barickman said he doesn't think it will work that way.

“We tried to incorporate some best practices from various states. But this is why an issue like this deserves a legislative hearing," he said. "I would love to hear from leaders, the Municipal League and others around the state. The way to do that is to get the Democratic leaders to allow this idea to be heard at a committee level so we can put those ideas on the table and then negotiate something that would seemingly work.”

Barickman also discounted the potential that in a legislative district where one party has a huge advantage, an unethical lawmaker would not consider a recall to be a threat because the party base would stand by him or her.

“I think the recall would give minority and independent voters a tool that doesn't actually exist today… If someone is corrupt, even some members of their own (party) aren't so partisan as to not want to remedy the situation and at least remove the bad actor. If it's a highly partisan district, it's likely going to result in someone that's a strong member of the majority party in that district. But at least it won't be the bad actor anymore,” said Barickman.

Pontiac prison

On another topic, Barickman said months after the state closed a wing of the Pontiac Correctional Center early this year, he's still waiting for answers about the long-term plans the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) has for the prison in Livingston County.

Barickman said he had a very unsatisfactory exchange recently with the corrections director before the legislative audit commission.

"He accused me and my line of questions as being politically driven. He called me a Republican several times as if that was meaningful to something," said Barickman.

Barickman said it's not politics, it's simple constituent service and the recognition the prison is a major economic engine and community anchor that drive his questions.

Barickman said even Democrats on the panel pushed back on the allegation of partisanship. Barickman said he wants to know about state plans for the prison because it's crucial to the Livingston County community.

"Even the Democratic chair of the commission pushed back on the director in reminding him that as representatives, we're going to have questions and the department should come forward and be transparent and answer those," he said.

Immigration and busing

The City of Chicago recently asked for help from downstate communities to take some of the more than 1,000 migrants bused north from Texas. Barickman said the state emergency management agency has a role in meeting those needs, but he’s not sure lawmakers need to create any new programs to address the issue.

He acknowledged his position may not be the common line for the party, but thinks the focus should be on dealing with the people who have come to Illinois — not the politics of immigration.

“These are human beings. And I focus on them," said Barickman. "They are going through probably one of the most traumatic experiences in their life. And rather than thinking about how we ought to position this politically, I think the real issue is, how do we ... as a state, problem solve on the fact that we have 1,000 new people here, who face very significant challenges?”

He said the tactic used by Texas Gov. Greg Abbot to make the point there is an immigration problem that federal lawmakers should solve is not the best way to make it.

“Suggestions that these people are part of a political chess game are, I don't think appropriate,” said Barickman. “I don't think that shipping people from one state to another…it certainly comes off as being not in tune to the human element of the situation.”

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
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