While the state and much of the country was focused on Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s arrest Tuesday morning on federal corruption charges relating to the alleged sale of Barack Obama’s old senate seat for political kickbacks, among other charges, focus was also on the man who might soon be sitting in Blagojevich’s governor’s chair.
Lt. Governor Patrick Quinn is in line to become acting governor should Blagojevich be unable to function as the state’s top elected office holder. Unlike Blagojevich, Quinn, a former state treasurer, is known as a politically squeaky clean, good-government type official.
Quinn’s Coalition for Political Honesty, launched in 1974, was for many years housed in Oak Park, where he formerly lived. The lieutenant governor becomes acting governor when he or she is unable to discharge the duties of the office. Blagojevich, elected in 2002 from the U.S. House, becomes the fifth Illinois governor indicted in the state’s history either during or after his time in office.
Both the governor and lieutenant governor run on a joint ticket. Quinn was also elected in ’02. Paul Zimbrakos, a retired Chicago journalist, said he respects Quinn as a down-to-earth guy, who always acts in the public’s best interest.
“Pat was always a straight-shooter,” Zimbrakos said. “When you called him, he’d answer his own phone.”
Quinn’s brother, John, who is a history teacher and head coach of the boy’s basketball team at Fenwick High School in Oak Park, spent early Tuesday morning fielding calls from friends and neighbors. John Quinn noted that his brother had traveled alone last week to New Mexico for the National Lieutenant Governors Association Conference. Such solitary travel has been a long practice, but perhaps not for much longer.
“I don’t think he’ll be by himself much anymore,” John Quinn said.
Blagojevich was arrested early Tuesday by federal agents on a 76-page indictment charging corruption. Federal prosecutors contend Blagojevich was recorded on a wire tap saying he was approached by an associate of “Candidate 5” with an offer of $500,000 in exchange for the Senate seat.
While Illinois statutes are clear about the order of succession, it’s unclear exactly what triggers a governor’s absence from office. The state constitution holds that an acting governor be appointed in the event of the governor’s “temporary disability or failure to qualify.”
Former Senate President Phil Rock, an Oak Park resident, said the indictment puts the possibility of Blagojevich’s impeachment back on the table in both the Illinois House and possibly the Senate.
The process would not be quick, Rock added. As with the federal indictment, there is a presumption of innocence until being proven guilty. Rock said he believes Blagojevich is under no requirement to step aside. While Rock doesn’t believe Blagojevich can be effective as governor, he doesn’t expect him to resign.
“No. He’s perfectly within his rights to ride this out,” Rock said.
Terry Dean contributed to this story
Lennington Small (Republican)
(served) 1921 to 1929
Indicted while governor for embezzlement and money-laundering. He was later acquitted, but suspicions of jury tampering were later raised after four jurors received state jobs.
Otto Kerner, Jr. (Democrat)
1961 to 1968
Indicted and later convicted after serving as governor on bribery and conspiracy charges. Future governor Jim Thomson prosecuted the case.
George Ryan (Republican)
Declined to run for a second term in ’02. Indicted in 2003 on charges including bribery, racketeering and tax fraud. Succeeded by Democrat Rod Blagojevich, who was indicted Dec. 9, 2008 on corruption charges.
Daniel Walker (Democrat)
1973 to 1977
Indicted and convicted during the 1980s in a savings and loan scandal while working in the private sector. At 86, he currently lives in California.