A select group of lawmakers in the Illinois House began meeting Tuesday, Dec. 16, to decide whether to impeach Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
House lawmakers voted Monday, Dec. 15, to unanimously endorse the formation of the panel – 12 Democrats and nine Republicans – to review the claims against the Democratic governor. Meeting in special session, legislators also are expected to introduce legislation to strip the governor of his privilege to fill the vacant U.S. Senate seat of President-elect Barack Obama. Lawmakers in both chambers of the statehouse say they want to let voters decide.
The FBI arrested Blagojevich 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 Senate seat. 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.
The special panel will make a recommendation to the full House on whether to impeach Blagojevich. The chamber would then decide whether to file charges against the governor. Finally, Senate lawmakers would hold hearings and make a final ruling.
According to a statement released from House Speaker Michael Madigan, the panel process could take at least a few 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.
Despite calls for his resignation, a spokesman for Blagojevich said there are no plans for the governor to step aside.
– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor