Thursday, November 08, 2007

Big Jim, Bad Rep?

Has former governor Jim Thompson been “disgraced” by his standing by George Ryan? Eric Zorn thinks so.
Ryan was one of Thompson’s former lieutenant governors, and when Ryan was indicted on corruption charges in late 2003, Thompson, then chairman of the Winston & Strawn law firm, arranged for Ryan to have a free defense worth an
estimated $20 million.

Thompson kept a low profile during Ryan’s trial, but after Ryan was convicted in April 2006, Thompson became the main spokesman for the appeal effort, arguing in written motions and to reporters that Ryan didn’t get a fair trial and underscoring the view that the conviction was a “travesty.”

On Wednesday, then, Thompson and his wife accompanied Ryan, his wife and other family members on Ryan’s ride to the federal prison camp near Oxford, Wis., where he began serving a 6 1/2 -year sentence.

Yes, Thompson was one of Ryan’s lawyers, and lawyers should act and speak forcefully on behalf of their clients. There’s no shame in that.

And yes, Thompson is a friend and former close professional and political associate of Ryan’s, and friends should provide support in times of trouble and need. There’s no shame in that, either.

But Thompson is not an ordinary lawyer, nor is he an ordinary friend.

He’s an elder statesman. The dignity and respect of the office of governor of Illinois are both his burden and his advantage in life, no matter what positions he goes on to hold.
I guess I never thought Thompson’s defense of Ryan, both legally and as a friend, somehow denigrated the office of governor. Nor do I think it’s hurt Thompson’s reputation. In fact, since he’s been out of office for nearly 17 years, I’m not sure he has much of a reputation as a former governor. By that I mean he wasn’t all that memorable as a governor to begin with and after nearly two decades a lot of people don’t remember much about his governorship if they are even old enough to remember him at all.

My memories of the Thompson years are ones of a fairly calm period in state government. In my senior year in high school, I worked at White Oaks Mall and would occasionally see him come into the bookstore in which I worked. He seemed to go through repeated cycles of claiming state government was in great financial shape at election time and then would suddenly discover things weren’t so rosy once he was reelected (again and again). Then there was the Gary Dotson case (that was fun hearing the governor talk about seaman stains). And I covered a few local visits by the governor when I was in radio news. But that’s about the extent of my impressions of Thompson as governor and I was probably paying more attention than most at the time. He seemed competent enough and not particularly controversial or politically aggressive. In other words, nothing to write home about either way. So I don’t see where he has much reputation to lose.

But what say ye? Is Thompson’s reputation in ruins due to his association with Ryan?

1 comment:

rickmonday said...

I dont have a problem at all with what Thompson did in the Ryan case. They were good friends for years. I actually respect Thompson for standing by Ryan during his tough time. Of course, I am glad that Ryan was found guilty, as corruption by politicians really ticks me off.

I dont know too many politicians who would stick up for their friend like Thompson did. For this I respect him.