The jury in the corruption trial of former Republican governor George Ryan today returned a verdict of guilty on all counts of the indictment. That verdict came as quite a surprise to most Illinoisans (including your 'umble blogger). The prosecution's case was primarily circumstantial, and neither Ryan nor his co-defendant Larry Warner testified or admitted to any wrongdoing. I think most of us expected that Ryan would walk, or would get slapped on the wrist for a couple of minor infractions.
A couple of weeks ago, we all thought there was going to be a mistrial declared when, after a week of deliberations, two jurors had to be dismissed from the case and were replaced with alternates. The judge then reinstructed the jury and told them to start deliberations all over again. There was some question at the time whether that would be problematic down the road, and it appears that Ryan's attorneys are going to use the jury situations as the basis for an appeal.
It is tempting, and some commentators have already succumbed to the temptation, to tie Ryan's conviction to the Republican culture of corruption. I'd say it's more likely to result from Illinois' tortured and torturous politics--and those politics know no political parties. Yes, Ryan is a Republican. But the last governor of Illinois to be indicted, Dan Walker, was a Democrat. (Though he was not accused of any official corruption; it was a couple of failed savings and loans that brought him down.) It seems plausible that the next governor of Illinois to be indicted will also be a Democrat: the incumbent, Rod Blagojevich.
It's not yet clear just what kind of an impact this conviction is going to have on Illinois--or on Illinois politics. The incumbent governor is under the cloud of several suspicions, any one or all of which might lead to indictments, or which might turn out to be idle speculation or backbiting from disgruntled supporters or detractors with axes to grind. His Republican opponent in this November's election, Judy Baar Topinka, worked closely with George Ryan when he was governor and she was state treasurer and subsequently chair of the state's Republican Party. Some pundits are suggesting that Topinka will encounter some electoral heat because of her association with Ryan, but I'm not so sure. By all accounts, Topinka is as clean as a whistle: there's not even a breath of scandal associated with her personally, and while she was definitely an associate of the convicted former governor, she's not been charged with (or even, to the best of my knowledge, investigated for) any crimes. If anything is going to be a drag on Topinka's momentum toward the governor's mansion, I suspect it may be her running mate, the slimy Joe Birkett. Why that man is still able to practice law in this state (much less walk around a free man) is a mystery to me, after having thrice tried the wrong man for the brutal rape and murder of a Naperville girl--and nearly getting said innocent man executed. Twice.
I do think, though, that Ryan's conviction is going to depress the political fortunes of his fellow Republicans--and those fortunes haven't been looking all that stellar in the wake of the Alan Keyes fiasco in 2004. It would help them considerably if the sitting Democratic governor were also indicted, but if U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has anything to do with that (and it's his office that is investigating allegations about the governor), he's going to take his sweet time nailing down his case--if there is a case to nail down--and will file when he's good and ready, whether or not that is politically convenient or expedient for the Illinois GOP. It may have been a Republican senator (the last one that Illinois had, Peter no-relation-to-Patrick Fitzgerald) who recommended his appointment, but Patrick Fitzgerald has shown no tendency to play partisan politics.
Absent such an indictment, I think the meme in local politics for the next little while is going to be that the Republicans in Illinois are either corrupt or stupid--or both. You can get away with one or the other in this state, at least for a while. But not both, and not both at the same time.