The Illinois House voted Thursday along party lines to approve retired federal judge Michael McCuskey to be new Legislative Inspector General.
Majority Democrats approved McCuskey’s appointment despite McCuskey lacking approval by the bipartisan Legislative Ethics Commission responsible for recommending candidates for the position. Yesterday, House Republicans voted either no or present to approve the appointment despite McCuskey being a popular choice.
Representative C.D. Davidsmeyer says it doesn’t matter who the General Assembly appoints to the position, the title holder doesn’t have any actual teeth to do their job: “Until we get serious in this body about ethics reform, it doesn’t matter if we appoint Mother Teresa to that position. It doesn’t matter if we appoint Jesus Christ himself to that position, because this body has taken the power away from that position. This body has just recently under the guise of ethics reform.”
Davidsmeyer is referring to SB 539 passed in the Summer 2021 by both chambers of the General Assembly. Republicans argued the bill stripped the powers of the LIG. Democrats and some Republican voted in favor of the bill, but did admit more work needed to be done on ethics reform. Under the bill, Republicans argued the LIG would be prohibited from beginning an investigation into a lawmaker’s conduct unless someone first filed a complaint with the office and also limit the jurisdiction to matters arising out of government service and conduct. The bill also left out the LIG’s independence to issue subpoenas for investigations or the ability to publish reports that implicate or vindicate lawmakers without prior approval from the General Assembly’s ethics commission.
Davidsmeyer also echoed other GOP concerns that Democrats bypassed the process laid out in Illinois statute when it comes to the appointment of the position: “Would you assume that if we create a committee, that the individual should go through that committee, or do we just create it just for the heck of it? So my point here is we need to fill this position, but we need to get serious about ethics reform in this place, right? I’m sure you are tired of people walking around saying ‘You’re just a politician…one of those dirty politicians’ because we are not serious about holding ourselves and our colleagues accountable. Until we get there, it doesn’t matter who we put in this position.”
McCuskey’s appointment was approved by the House 77-16, with 19 members voting present and 6 members not voting.
McCuskey was nominated to become a federal judge by former President Bill Clinton in 1998 after presiding over cases for the Tenth Judicial Circuit Court and Third District Appellate Court. He served on the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois from 1998 to 2014. McCuskey returned as a judge for the Tenth Judicial Circuit Court from 2014 to 2020. He also served 15 years on the Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism. McCuskey told The Illinoize yesterday that neither Senate President Don Harmon or House Speaker Chris Welch contacted him until after the vote was cast to tell him he had been selected for the position. In questions about his politics, McCuskey said: ” Judges don’t talk about partisan politics. We’re talking about what we do as judges. Justice Rehnquist picked me for a national committee. Justice Roberts appointed me for another committee. They don’t pick people on politics. I didn’t get here without having a lot of Republican friends. I was elected circuit judge twice in a county that doesn’t have any Democrats. I’m down the middle, I’ve always been.”
McCuskey replaces Carol Pope who left the job on January 6th. Pope noted in her July 2021 resignation letter that lawmakers did nothing to help her with investigations during the 2020 legislative session. Pope called the office “a paper tiger” in the letter, saying that the most recent round of ethics reforms did little to nothing to empower the position to investigate any legislator accused of wrongdoing while in office.