Williams: Welcome to Top News Tonight! I’m Thomas Williams, here with an update on Speaker Tomblin’s bribery scandal, which some Illinoisans have termed ‘BriberyGate’. For those who are unaware, AMNC previously discovered and reported that Illinois Speaker of the House Henry Tomblin, a Democrat, has taken numerous substantial bribes throughout his tenure as Speaker in exchange for legislative favors. One of these bribes was even over $100,000, and that is just one.
Well, folks, Speaker Tomblin has finally responded. In a statement provided to the press, Tomblin said,"I intend to remain as an advocate for the people of Illinois and will fight these inaccurate and slanderous accusations with the strength and determination that makes the great people of Illinois the best in the country. I will not bow to pressures from Washington to abandon my constituents." So, at least in his mind, he isn’t going anywhere. In fact, he just dismissed the claims, even though they are in fact legitimate. Personally, I find it troubling that he thinks he can get away with this without any problems from the IL Democratic Party, and I bet he has good reason to believe that. Luckily, he is facing pushback, though from a more curious place. Colorado Senator Robert Powell, a fellow Democrat, has called on him to resign among other things. He agreed to come on this show to speak with us about his efforts and about Speaker Tomblin. Thank you for coming, Senator.
Powell: Thank you for having me, Thomas.
Williams: A pleasure to have you. Let’s start with what you think of Tomblin’s corruption. What do you have to say about it?
Powell: Well I think it’s disgusting. I think he should be ashamed and man enough to admit it. I also know he should no longer be welcome 1, in the Illinois legislature and 2, in the Democratic Party. That’s why I have called on him to both resign and have started a vote to expel him from the party.
W: Can the National Democratic Party expel him, though? Do they have the power to do that?
P: We can say he’s no longer welcome in the party. Then once that motion passes, I hope the Illinois house will expel him from there.
W: But would he still be a Democrat because he is a state official?
P: That’s for the state party to decide. Though I really hope they officially expel them from there. But know this, the National Democratic Party thinks that he should no longer be allowed in the party.
W: Alright, so its a more "on principle" and symbolic push to the Illinois Democratic Party to expel him. Any word on how this motion is going through the DNC?
P: Well, the voting is still ongoing but I can tell you this, so far every single member of the Democratic National Committee has voted to expel including myself. It looks like this will be a unanimous condemnation of corruption by our party.
W: Good to hear. I do find it troubling that Speaker Tomblin seems to feel as if he has enough support behind him to stay seated within the Democratic Party and the Illinois House of Representatives. Do you know why other prominent Democrats haven't condemned Tomblin, especially ones that are closer to home? I mean, you're a Colorado Senator, which is probably why Speaker Tomblin neglects to take you seriously. I haven't heard condemnations or calls to resign from, well, anyone else in the national Democratic caucus, which is alarming considering y'all have Midwestern Senators, including Mr. O'Malley who announced a Presidential campaign. Do you know why everyone else is so silent?
P: Well I am the Minority leader and as I said in my press release I spoke on behalf of all senate democrats. And as I’ve said, so far the vote in unanimous in the DNC.
W: Right, but I mean public statements from other Democrats. A private vote in the DNC doesn't really mean all that much to Illinois or Midwestern politicians or voters, especially if they can turn around and ignore it. I find the silence from the others, even if we just get a Tweet, a little underwhelming.
P: Like I said, I spoke on behalf of the entire Democratic Senate caucus. And I know others are in the process of finalizing their own PRs now.
W: Well, it's not like one Tweet or some public statement takes that long to complete. All I'm saying is it would mean more to Speaker Tomblin if he felt pressure from more Democratic Senators. Moving on, though, do you feel like Illinois voters can still trust the Democratic Party, either on the federal or state level?
P: Yes, they can. Speaker Tomblin does not represent ANY part of the Democratic Party. The response from our party to his crimes has been swift and fittingly harsh. Our party has also fought for anti-corruption measures both at state and federal level. We’ve fought for fairer elections and fought to get dark money out of politics. So, yes, I think they can trust us still.
W: When a party claims to be against, as you put it, "dark money" but has one of its statewide leaders take numerous gigantic bribes from corporations, it definitely does undermine the message. Speaker Tomblin seems to think he can survive an expulsion vote from either the Illinois Democratic Party or the House. I know you aren't an Illinois Democrat, but if you were, what would you tell voters come November about why they can trust the Democrats with control of the Illinois legislature? Why can't they just trust campaign financing issues to ballot initiatives or moderate Republicans or even Independents?
P: Because Tomblin is no longer welcome in the party. He simply isn’t. He isn’t a true Democrat and since he’s done this heinous crime, he never has been a true Democrat.
W: Voters are going to worry about similar corruption in the Democratic caucus in Illinois due to Tomblin's confidence. In your opinion, though, the Democratic Party is still the best to tackle campaign financing and corruption?
P: Well, yes. We’re the ones fighting for electoral reform. We tried to get rid of gerrymandering, something 76% of Americans approve of, and republicans voted against it unanimously. We’re the only party with the platform of getting dark money out of politics, getting rid of gerrymandering, expanding access to voting, and passing an amendment to overturn citizens united. Republicans have none of that.
W: Well, I'm talking about purely on the state level. The Illinois General Assembly draws the maps, and it has been controlled by the Democratic Party in both chambers since the early 2000s. I think if gerrymandering was a big issue statewide, they would have changed how they voted. I wonder if voters are more concerned on statewide governance than what the platform just says. If the platform says less dark money but the top officials remain corrupt, as they have for years, one has to wonder if voters really can trust the Illinois Party.
Well, we are almost out of time, but I have one last question for you: has there been any communication, besides the vote, between the Illinois Democratic Party and its Chair and the DNC?
P: We have not been able to reach out yet.
W: Well, that is unfortunate. We can only hope they listen to reason and common decency. Thank you for coming on today, Senator.
P: Thank you for having me. I hope to do this again sometime.
W: I hope so too. Coming up, manufacturing bills make their way through the federal government: will Obama sign them? And we discuss the Constitutional Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act. I am Thomas Williams, and this is Top News Tonight!
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