Gov. Pat Quinn summed up the last seven weeks – some would say the last six years — in a single sentence Thursday, shortly after being sworn in to replace Rod Blagojevich as Illinois’ 41st chief executive. “The ordeal is over,” Quinn said.
Gov. Pat Quinn summed up the last seven weeks – some would say the last six years—in a single sentence Thursday, shortly after being sworn in to replace Rod Blagojevich as Illinois’ 41st chief executive.
“The ordeal is over,” Quinn said.
The Illinois Senate allowed Blagojevich to make an impassioned last-minute appeal to remain governor and then disregarded it, voting unanimously Thursday afternoon to toss Blagojevich out of office.
Blagojevich, who has been accused by federal authorities of trying to sell Barack Obama’s vacant U.S. Senate seat, among other crimes, became the first governor in the history of Illinois to be ousted by impeachment. He was also the first governor in the country to be removed by impeachment in more than two decades.
“Being governor is not a right, it is a privilege, and he has forfeited that,” said David Ellis, the House’s appointed impeachment prosecutor. “I think the people of this state have had enough.”
The Senate certainly had had enough. Senators voted 59-0 to convict Blagojevich of abusing the power of his office. Forty votes would have been enough to convict the governor.
After removing him from office, the Senate also voted, again unanimously, to prohibit Blagojevich from holding any other public office in Illinois.
Outside his home in Chicago Thursday evening, Blagojevich lashed out one more time at the Senate, saying he was the victim of a “fixed deal.” One reason he was targeted, Blagojevich said, is because Illinois politicians want to raise income and sales taxes and they knew he would have vetoed any such increases.
The only drama Thursday swirled around what Blagojevich would say when he finally addressed the impeachment issue.
Until Thursday, Blagojevich and his lawyers had refused to participate in the Senate trial. Instead, Blagojevich appeared on national TV talk shows, contending lawmakers were unhappy that he had circumvented them to expand health care programs and do other good deeds for the public.
Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, convinced Blagojevich to make an appearance as the trial wound up Thursday. Blagojevich’s tactic of making only a closing statement shielded him from having to answer questions.
“I have done absolutely nothing wrong,” Blagojevich said in a speech that lasted slightly more than 45 minutes. “I’m here to talk to you and appeal to your fundamental sense of fairness.”
The federal allegations of criminal conduct are only that, allegations, he said. Although federal authorities arrested Blagojevich Dec. 9, no formal charges have been filed against him. Prosecutors have until April to do that.
“How can you throw a governor out of office when you haven’t proven any criminal activity?” Blagojevich said.
Blagojevich also said some of the other things he’s been criticized for – like trying to import drugs – did not rise to the level of impeachable offenses.
“I know there’s a certain sentiment that it would be good if I were not here,” Blagojevich said. “The ends don’t justify the means. You’re not supposed to throw the will of the people out unless you prove there is wrongdoing.”
He ended with a plea to “give me a chance to stay here so we can continue to do good things for people.”
When he finished, Blagojevich immediately slipped out of the Capitol and took a state airplane back to Chicago.
The Senate, however, was in no mood to give Blagojevich more time on the job. The “deliberation” phase of the trial consisted of senators offering their opinions — up to five minutes worth each – on Blagojevich and what should be done. More than 30 lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans alike, made speeches denouncing Blagojevich and stating why he should be removed from office.
Quinn was sworn in as Illinois’ 41st governor minutes after Blagojevich was removed from power, taking the oath of office from Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke on the House floor. Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Quinn friends and family members and several lawmakers, mostly Republican senators, were present.
Although they were elected as a team in 2002 and re-elected in 2006, Quinn and Blagojevich had little in common outside of party affiliation. Quinn began to separate himself from Blagojevich almost as soon as they first took office.
In a news conference after taking his oath as governor, Quinn promised stronger ethics legislation and to work on reopening state parks and historic sites closed by Blagojevich for budget reasons. Quinn also said that, unlike Blagojevich, he intends to live in the Executive Mansion in Springfield.
Quinn, 60, is a former state treasurer who came to statewide prominence by leading the successful effort in 1980 to cut the size of the Illinois House.
Blagojevich’s future is cloudy. His state salary ended Thursday with his impeachment. Blagojevich’s wife, Patti, was fired recently from the non-profit company where she worked. And federal prosecutors are continuing their investigation into Blagojevich’s activities as governor.
By Thursday night, Blagojevich’s name and picture had disappeared from the home page of the state of Illinois Web site, Illinois.gov. Instead, the page was dominated by a five-page news release announcing Quinn’s swearing-in and Blagojevich’s removal.
In the top right corner was an unobtrusive note: “Pat Quinn, Governor.”
Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
A closer look at the just-completed impeachment of Gov. Rod Blagojevich:
THE START - Blagojevich is arrested Dec. 9 at his home in Chicago, with federal authorities alleging multiple crimes tied to using his position and power to benefit personally and financially. He refuses to resign, so six days later lawmakers start impeachment proceedings.
THE HOUSE - House Speaker Michael Madigan forms an investigative committee to study whether impeachment is warranted. By early January, that committee unanimously recommends impeaching the governor, arguing a "totality of evidence" shows abuses of power that call for his removal. The House then votes twice over the next week - once 114-1 in the old General Assembly, once 117-1 in the new one - to impeach him.
THE SENATE - The Senate trial starts this past Monday, initially intending to run nine days. But Blagojevich refuses to defend himself, only making a closing argument Thursday. Not long after his plea to remain in office, the Senate votes 59-0 to oust him from office Thursday and then 59-0 to bar him from holding public office in Illinois again. Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn is sworn in as governor minutes later.
State Capitol Bureau