Despite assurances from Gov. Rod Blagojevich that business in the state’s government will carry on as usual following his indictment on federal corruption charges, state lawmakers are planning to meet in special session next week to take some of his power away.
The FBI arrested the Democratic governor early Tuesday, Dec. 9, on charges that included solicitation and bribes. His chief of staff, John Harris, also was taken into custody.
According to the criminal complaint, charges include soliciting payments from potential candidates to fill the vacant U.S. Senate seat of President-elect Barack Obama. Blagojevich also is charged with offering political favors to The Chicago Tribune if it would agree to fire certain editors responsible for publishing articles critical of the governor.
Blagojevich was released the same day on $4,500 bail. He returned to work on Wednesday, Dec. 10.
The General Assembly is expected to gather Monday, Dec. 15, to introduce legislation to strip the governor of his privilege to pick a successor for Obama. Lawmakers say they want to let voters decide.
The measure to fill the U.S. Senate seat could clear the statehouse as early as midweek. It would then advance to Blagojevich’s desk. If he remains in office, he would have three options: Sign the bill; veto the bill; or let it become law without his signature – after 60 days.
If vetoed, the legislature would need to override Blagojevich’s decision to carry out the special election.
Hopeful of avoiding a drawn out process, several leading lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are preparing to discuss the possibility of impeachment if Blagojevich doesn’t resign in the coming days.
Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, a fellow Democrat, has called on the governor to “step aside.” Others in the party have been harsher in their remarks about the governor. State Comptroller Dan Hynes is among them.
“This is perhaps the most embarrassing moment in the history of Illinois government, and a stain that will not be easily removed,” Hynes said in a written statement.
Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White agreed that the governor should resign, calling it the “honorable thing.”
The top House Republican has also called for Blagojevich to resign. House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego, said he asked the governor to step down in an effort “to restore confidence and trust in Illinois state government.”
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan turned up the heat on Blagojevich by threatening to go to the state Supreme Court to have him declared unfit to hold office if he refuses to resign soon.
Blagojevich’s attorneys insist he is innocent, and stressed that he has important work to do for the people of Illinois.
– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor