Illinois governor refuses to step aside

| 12/19/2008

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich said Friday, Dec. 19, that he is not guilty of any criminal wrongdoing, and he will not step down as governor.

Blagojevich gave the remarks at an afternoon press conference in Chicago in his first substantial public comments since his arrest a week ago on federal corruption charges.

The embattled governor is most notable to truckers for his stance on uniform speed limits. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has long been critical of the governor’s continued refusal to sign legislation that would eliminate dangerous split speed limits in Illinois.

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 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.

The Democratic governor said, “I am not guilty of any criminal wrongdoing.” He also  said that he intends to stay on the job.

The governor’s statement follows three days of meetings where a select group of Illinois House lawmakers are discussing whether to impeach Blagojevich. The panel of 12 Democrats and nine Republicans are reviewing the claims against 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 by 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, Blagojevich said Friday, “I will fight. I will fight. I will fight until I take my last breath. I have done nothing wrong."

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor