SPRINGFIELD -- Former Gov. Dan Walker, who says he stood tall on ethics while governor despite legal problems years later, laments that corruption is still in evidence in state and city of Chicago government 30 years after he left the Executive Mansion.




SPRINGFIELD -- Former Gov. Dan Walker, who says he stood tall on ethics while governor despite legal problems years later, laments that corruption is still in evidence in state and city of Chicago government 30 years after he left the Executive Mansion.


“Bob Dylan … got it wrong,” Walker said in a visit to Springfield Monday. “The times, they’re not a changin’, at least in Illinois.”


 A famous song by Dylan is “The Times They Are A-Changin’.”


Walker, 84, who defeated the political apparatus of then-Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley to win election to his one term as governor in 1972, said a stream of corruption-related indictments in recent years show that the system is not yet fixed.


“Money is entirely too much a part of the system,” he said, and he acted in government to try to change that.


Walker spoke with reporters at the Statehouse as part of a trip to promote his new autobiography. He appeared in a ceremony at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library later Monday, turning over campaign and personal memorabilia — including the boots and a bandana he wore during his 1,197-mile, four-month walk across the state that built momentum for his campaign. There is also a big yellow sign that was placed near the candidate during those walks, telling passers-by: “Dan Walker Walking Ahead; Honk and Wave.”


A transcript of the daily journal he dictated during the walk, as well as copies of speeches and other documents, are included as well.


Walker said Monday he might have done more in office to get along with the media, though he thinks a “buddy-buddy” relationship would have been wrong, and “there should be a hostile relationship between the elected official and the media.” But he has no regrets about his continual battles with Daley — the father of Chicago’s current mayor — whose forces in the state Senate refused to approve some of Walker’s early Cabinet appointments.


“I think if you’re confronted with a rotten system — and all dispassionate observers agree that in Illinois, it’s a rotten governmental system and political system — I don’t believe that you can lay down and let that system run over you,” he said.


Once in office in 1973, he said, he took quick action.


“With a series of tough executive orders, I tried to and did stand tall on ethics in government,” he told reporters at the Statehouse.


However, Walker, who has residences in the San Diego area and in nearby Mexico, overstated his case, vis-à-vis other governors.


One executive order, he said, banned his employees from raising political contributions. He said Monday, and states in the book, that no later governor followed his lead. But Gov. George Ryan — himself now appealing his conviction on federal corruption charges — issued an executive order on Feb. 1, 1999, banning state employees under his control from soliciting contributions for his political fund and ordering that all future contributions from state employees be returned.


Gov. Rod Blagojevich also has a policy of not accepting contributions from his employees, though he has allowed some employees to ask non-employees for donations.


Walker, who was accompanied in Springfield by family members, including two of his seven children, a granddaughter and two great-grandchildren, said it made his day when a man in an elevator told him, “Dan, we need you back here.”

“Needless to say, it was heartwarming,” he said.


He enjoyed seeing the statue of Abraham Lincoln on the east edge of the Statehouse grounds. A picture in the book shows Walker, during his trek across the state, sitting on steps by that statue with sons Dan and Charlie. Charlie, now a venture capitalist in San Francisco, was with him Monday.


Walker also said he heard it said in Springfield that Blagojevich “did turn his back on downstate” after his 2002 election. Asked if he had any advice for Blagojevich — the first Democrat to hold the office since Walker left it in 1977 — Walker said, “Well, he might start by living in the Executive Mansion.”


“Sure it’s a little thing,” Walker said. “But I want to tell you, the people of downstate Illinois don’t look upon it as a little thing. … That’s the people’s house. … And they don’t want their governor living in Chicago.”


Walker said he doesn’t know much about the state budget now, but believes a better way to raise revenue is needed because he knows more casino gambling is being considered by the legislature, and he thinks that is a bad way to fund education.  He said the two toughest measures he signed into law were to create the state lottery and reinstate the death penalty.

"They deeply troubled me, both of those,” he said. But he added that both bills were popular, and he thought his job was to “heed the will of the people” on such issues.

Walker in 1987 pleaded guilty to charges of bank fraud, perjury and misapplication of bank funds — problems that arose mostly when a savings and loan he ran became insolvent. He has said no depositors lost money, and he calls the prosecution “selective, if not political.” His second wife divorced him while he was in prison; he has since remarried.


He said he knows some people will take those convictions to mean he shouldn’t talk about ethics, but he tapped on the Statehouse podium for emphasis when he said he was ethical in office, and “I hope it (the prison time) will not totally obscure what I stood for, what I fought for, when I was governor.”


Charlie Walker, 52, said it has been “fantastic” that he and his father have been able to spend hours reminiscing as they travel to promote the book.


“When anybody goes into public service, or, frankly, the entertainment business, they almost always develop an addiction to that kind of attention,” he said. “And when they don’t have it, there’s a long withdrawal process. … My father’s getting re-energized by the attention, the ability to speak about some matters of import, but also times to reminisce.”


Walker said that while not taking sides in the 2008 presidential race, he thinks U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., is energizing young people to get involved in politics.


“He’s going to bring, if he keeps it up, some luster to the Land of Lincoln that is badly needed,” Walker said.


Walker is also starting to write a column about the presidential election for The Baja Times, an English-language newspaper for the area of Mexico in which he has a home.


“I’m going to cover the presidential election for the gringos (Americans) in Baja and tell them what’s really going on out there,” he said, adding that at his age, getting his first column published Saturday will be “a big event.”


Bernard Schoenburg can be reached at (217) 788-1540 or bernard.schoenburg@sj-r.com.


Former Gov. Dan Walker will be autographing books today from 9 to 10 a.m. at Barnes & Noble Booksellers, 3111 S. Veterans Parkway. His 338-page autobiography, “The Maverick and the Machine: Governor Dan Walker Tells His Story,” is published by Southern Illinois University Press and sells for $29.95.