Impeachable in Illinois

Now that a committee of the Illinois House has recommended the full House take up the impeachment of Gov. Rod Blagojevich, the House could take up the issue in the next few days.

The Illinois lawmakers ought to act quickly if they have any thoughts of reversing the state’s reputation as one of the most politically corrupt in the country.

A tabulation done by the Chicago Sun-Times in 2006 found at least 79 current and former elected officials, holding state or Chicago-area offices, had been found guilty of crimes since 1972. The list includes three former governors imprisoned since then.

Blagojevich naturally maintains his innocence regarding a variety of FBI complaints, including allegations that he tried to sell the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Barack Obama.

That last charge may be the most difficult to sustain. Although FBI phone taps caught him talking about what sort of money or jobs he might obtain in return for the Senate appointment, there’s little evidence in the federal affidavit released last month that Blagojevich personally acted on those statements. Defense attorneys may try to paint the governor as a blowhard who made numerous unseemly comments about trading the Senate seat for personal gain, but didn’t actually do anything criminal in that regard.

However, based on witness statements and other phone conversations detailed in the affidavit,
Blagojevich and his aides shook down various individuals and businesses for campaign contributions in exchange for contracts with the state.

Also, the impeachment report released by the House committee Thursday lists a number of complaints against Blagojevich, including expanding health care without legislative approval, spending state money on useless flu vaccines, refusing to release federal subpoenas and other information to the public, as well as hiring abuses and pay-to-play activities for state contracts.

Based on those two documents, there is ample reason to impeach Blagojevich. The Illinois House should do just that, then send his case to the state Senate for trial.

Adding Blagojevich’s name to the dreary list of corrupt Illinois officials won’t restore the state’s reputation by itself, of course. But a failure to act by the Legislature will be worse. It will show the nation that the kinds of crimes Blagojevich allegedly committed are still tolerated in a state whose “Land of Lincoln” motto refers to a president venerated for his personal and political integrity.


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