Illinois lawmakers meet for decisions on special election, impeachment

| 12/15/2008

The Illinois General Assembly is scheduled to meet in special session this week to decide whether to support a special election to fill the vacant U.S. Senate seat of President-elect Barack Obama. Legislators also are expected to discuss impeaching Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

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 U.S. Senate seat. Blagojevich is also 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.

In the wake of his indictment on federal corruption charges, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan asked the state’s highest court Friday, Dec. 12, to strip Blagojevich of any gubernatorial powers.

The attorney general asked the state Supreme Court for a temporary restraining order or an injunction that prevents Blagojevich from carrying out his duties as governor. A statement from her office, dated Dec. 9, claimed it was “absolutely clear” that the governor was “incapable of governing.”

On Friday, Madigan asked the court to allow the lieutenant governor, Pat Quinn, to assume the powers of the governor’s office.

Madigan’s decision to pursue action through the court is intended to quicken his removal from office. Impeachment proceedings could take several weeks.

Hopeful of avoiding a drawn-out process, leading lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in Illinois are calling for Blagojevich to step down. They cite the embarrassment he has brought to the office and his inability to lead further.

“This is perhaps the most embarrassing moment in the history of Illinois government, and a stain that will not be easily removed,” State Comptroller Dan Hynes said in a written statement.

Illinois House members were expected to gather Monday, Dec. 15, to introduce legislation to strip the governor of his privilege to pick a successor for Obama. Lawmakers in both chambers of the statehouse say they want to let voters decide.

“There is no way that an appointment process can be free from the stench of this corrupt administration,” Senate Republican Leader-Elect Christine Radogno said in a written statement.

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 the bill is vetoed, the legislature will need to override Blagojevich’s decision to carry out the special election.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor