Illinois House votes to impeach Blagojevich

| 1/9/2009

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich received another blow Friday, Jan. 9, when the state’s House voted to impeach him from office because of allegations that he abused his powers.

House lawmakers voted 114-1 to impeach the governor, the first such action in state history. The result triggers a trial in the Senate that is expected to start later this month, with senators acting as jurors.

The embattled governor spoke to the media Friday afternoon and reiterated that he will continue to fight the charges. “I’m confident that at the end of the day I’ll be properly exonerated,” Blagojevich said.

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

The House vote followed the unanimous recommendation for impeachment Thursday, Jan. 8, from an investigative committee created to look into any criminal wrongdoing by the governor following his arrest on federal corruption charges to fill the vacant U.S. Senate seat of President-elect Barack Obama.

The FBI arrested Blagojevich Dec. 9, 2008, on charges that included solicitation and bribes.

According to the criminal complaint, charges include soliciting payments from potential candidates to fill the vacant 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.

Illinois House lawmakers based their vote on a 78-page report from the investigative committee detailing the governor’s alleged abuses of power and mismanagement of the state. The report concludes that “the totality of the evidence warrants the impeachment of the Governor for cause.”

The mood on the House floor was somber as several representatives took turns speaking on the issue. One of the more impassioned speeches was given by Rep. Careen Gordon, D-Coal City. She said that the governor is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, “however, the court of law and the court of public trust are two very different things.

“(In the statehouse) we are in the court of public trust ... Trust is sacred to elected officials. And the governor has broken that sacred trust.”

Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, chair of the special investigative committee, told lawmakers that Blagojevich’s legacy will be one that is “cloaked in shame and in darkness.”

“The evidence we gathered makes it clear that this governor tramples on the legislative prerogative. He breaks state and federal laws,” Currie, D-Chicago, said.

The matter now advances to the Illinois Senate where a two-thirds margin would be needed to remove him from office. The trial will be presided over by the chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court.

Roland Burris, Blagojevich’s appointee to the U.S. Senate, met with the committee Thursday after filing an affidavit with them earlier in the week. The affidavit said Burris was approached by one of the governor’s lawyers in late December 2008 about taking the Senate seat. Burris accepted two days later in a phone conversation with the governor.

Burris, a former Democratic state attorney general, traveled to Washington, DC, on Tuesday, Jan. 6, in hopes of being seated in the U.S. Senate. Burris was denied entry when the chamber’s secretary rejected his credentials for the seat.

Rep. Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, said that while he was surprised that Burris accepted the appointment, the Senate seat is rightfully his.

“Barring anything we’re not aware of, I think the U.S. Senate is eventually going to have to seat him,” Durkin told Land Line. “They can fight it but he does qualify for the seat under the United States Constitution. That is basically the only criteria the court needs to determine. They can fight it and drag it along as much as they want. But ultimately it will be defeated.”

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor