I always feel bad for the spouses.

When politicians get charged with a crime, the political powers that be go after the accused’s mates, too.

Early this month, Gov. J.B. Pritzker booted Shirley Madigan from her position as chair of the Illinois Arts Council. It’s a position that she served well and ably for 37 years. When she took that job, Ronald Reagan was president; J.B. Pritzker was in high school; and House Speaker Chris Welch was in third grade.

In the decades I covered state government, I’ve never heard a bad word about her—ever.

She has done remarkable work on behalf of the people of Illinois in bringing art programs to residents throughout the Land of Lincoln. For example, last month my oldest daughter competed in a poetry recital sponsored by the Illinois Arts Council.

And, Madigan has developed partnerships with public television to educate viewers about Illinois artists. The job is voluntary. She has never received a dime for her work, but she has contributed mightily.

However, this month Pritzker said he wants to take the council in a new direction and fired Madigan. No one believes the governor. He gave the woman the boot because her husband, former Speaker Mike Madigan, is in trouble, and Pritzker wants to distance himself.

So, hours before Mike Madigan was indicted on corruption charges, Pritzker picked up the phone and called him to let him know that his wife was fired. Oh, they dressed it up a bit and let her submit her resignation. You get the idea.

The implications of the conversation were clear: a powerful man was talking to a once-powerful man and letting him know his wife’s fate. She wasn’t part of the conversation. She was treated as an appendage, not someone contributing in her own right, not even worthy of being spoken to directly when being let go.

The situation smacks of sexism.

Now, I’ll be the first to say that the governor has every right to put whoever he wants into that job. And, no one owns a job forever. However, one has to ask if this is a gracious way to cut someone loose. Her only transgression would appear to be that she is married to the wrong fellow.

No doubt, some will say she almost certainly wouldn’t have received the position if it wasn’t for her husband. I won’t argue that. But, I’ll also point out that anyone who gets elected to high office in Illinois or serves in a prestigious post like heading the Illinois Arts Council is there because she or he has the backing of powerful, influential people.

A few years ago, I heard similar sentiments expressed against Illinois Chief Justice Anne Burke.

“Illinois voters should be appalled that Justice Burke has been named chief justice in the wake of her husband being under federal investigation. It’s scandalous that we would have a couple like that, the wife of an indicted alderman, sitting as the chief justice of our Supreme Court,” said former state Rep. Jeanne Ives to the DuPage Policy Journal. “In Illinois, you just can’t make it up.”

Burke’s husband, Ed Burke, is Chicago’s longest-serving alderman. He now faces 14 federal corruption charges.

And let me emphasize that both Burke and Madigan are merely accused of breaking the law. They have not stood trial or been convicted of a crime. In the United States of America, a person is innocent until proven guilty.

Regular readers of this column know my strong libertarian sentiments. I’m skeptical of government. I’m not a fan of either Mike Madigan or Ed Burke’s political philosophies.

That’s OK. In a democracy, we want diverse points of view in the public forum. While I admire the work and intellect of Anne Burke and Shirley Madigan, I haven’t always agreed with their positions. But, this isn’t a defense or an endorsement of either person’s policy positions.

It’s merely an observation that, in the American legal system, relatives of those accused of crimes are not punished simply for their kinship. And, the American sense of fair play would seem to command that should be the case for public life as well.

Even after her husband, former Gov. George Ryan, went to prison, Lura Lynn Ryan continued to serve on the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission. She was instrumental in helping make the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum a reality.

President Barack Obama sought out Mrs. Ryan when he spoke in Springfield to honor Lincoln, our 16th president.

That was a kindness that spoke well of Obama. He gained nothing by talking to the wife of a convicted politician. However, that didn’t stop him from according her the dignity and respect that she deserved.

It set an example of graciousness worthy of emulation.

Editor’s note: Scott Reeder, a staff writer for Illinois Times, can be contacted at sreeder@illinoistimes.com.