No, that’s not the final score of last Sunday’s Super Bowl game – it was the vote tally handed down last Thursday by the Illinois State Senate to remove former governor Rod Blagojevich from office.
He’s the first governor in the state’s 190-year history to be thrown out of office. Now that the Blagojevich saga is over, as far as its hold over Illinois politics since his arrest Dec. 9, on corruption charges, state lawmakers are weighing in on the month-long controversy.
“I’m not surprised by the verdict,” said Austin State Rep. LaShawn Ford (8th), who was among the 114 members in the Illinois House that voted on Jan. 8 to impeach Blagojevich.
The Senate trial to remove him from office began on Jan. 26. Along with ousting Blagojevich, senators also voted 59-0 to ban him from ever holding another elected office in the state.
“I think that each of the lawmakers sensed that this governor needed to be removed before we can move forward as a state,” said Ford concerning the unanimous Senate vote last week.
Ford added that with Blagojevich’s troubles while in office, the state was unable to conduct its business. “This goes back to the idea that these allegations would make him unable to do his job effectively if he stayed in office,” said Ford.
Blagojevich did not attend the trial but showed up before the final vote to make a closing argument. During the trial, senators listened to federal wire taps of Blagojevich, who, before last Thursday, had claimed the trial was unfair and stuck to that point in his closing statement. While the trial was going on, he appeared on several national talk shows during a media campaign blitz. After last Thursday’s vote, State Sen. Kimberly Lightford (4th) told Austin Weekly News that the hearing was completely fair to the ex-governor.
“He had every opportunity to mount a defense for himself but he chose to speak to the media instead of the Senate,” she said. “None of those talk-shows will save your political career. When he did arrive at the hearing he basically just delivered a campaign speech to beg for his job. The fact that he did not take the oath prior to his testimony just made him seem all the more disingenuous. He sealed his own fate.”
Lightford added that the former governor might have had a chance, albeit very slight, to save his job by mounting a serious defense and addressing the Senate with more humility.
“I did not feel as though the case against Rod was just ‘open and shut.’ There were supposedly six tapes, yet we only heard four. They were presented in broken, edited three-minute portions. It could have added credence to Rod’s claim that the recordings may not be what they seemed,” Lightford said. “However, by choosing not to submit any witness statements or even show up for the hearing until its final day, Blagojevich seemed resigned to, but defiant towards, his fate.”
Among the explosive charges against the former governor in the Dec. 9, criminal complaint was his alleged attempt to sell President Obama’s former U. S. Senate seat. After Blagojevich’s removal, Patrick Quinn, the state’s former lieutenant governor, was sworn in as governor. Blagojevich still faces a possible criminal trial on federal corruption charges.
U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (7th) maintained there would have been a leadership void in the state had Blagojevich not been removed.
“He still may be found ‘not guilty’ of criminal wrongdoing in the criminal trial and I hope he is found not guilty in that case, but from a political prospective, he was in a no-win situation,” Davis said.
“I think Mr. Blagojevich knew the end was near and was attempting to gain a bit of sympathy before the criminal trial,” Davis added. “To me, that was what those talk-show appearances and his Senate floor statement were really about. He must eat crow while still holding his head up, which I expect him to do.”
Davis, who rejected Blagojevich’s offer to name him as Obama’s replacement in the U.S. Senate before choosing for Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris, said the former gov’s political career is pretty much over. Blagojevich, though, is still lawyer, Davis noted, and may decide to practice law again, teach or do television.
“I could see him in any of those roles,” Davis said.
Terry Dean contributed to this article.