Blago Takes Poetic License

Governor quotes "Ulysses"

Gov. Rod Blagojevich did not want to talk about impeachment Friday during a press conference.

Instead, in a rambling speech, Blagojevich went through a long list of measures he's fought for while serving as governor.

"The House action was not a surprise," he said. "They've been talking about doing it the last couple of years."

With a group of Illinois voters standing behind him, Blagojevich talked about how he has helped bring heathcare to residents.

"Is that an impeachable offense?" he asked the room full of reporters. "I am not guilty of any criminal wrongdoing."

He ended the news conference by quoting a poem from "Ulysses" by Lord Alfred Tennyson, ending with "To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."

One month to the day after Blagojevich was arrested on International Anti-Corruption Day, the Illinois House voted overwhelmingly to impeach the governor, an unprecedented action that sets the stage for a Senate trial on whether he should be thrown out of office for corruption and abuse of power. 

"Here we are on Richard Nixon's birthday, and the truth is, the governor sounds in many ways like Richard Nixon. Nixon said, 'When the president does it, it's not illegal.' That's Rod Blagojevich," House Democrat Lou Lang said.

Impeachment required just 60 votes. The final tally was 114-1. 

Legislators accused the Democratic governor of betraying the public trust by letting ego and ambition drive his decisions.

"It's our duty to clean up the mess and stop the freak show that's become Illinois government," said Rep. Jack Franks, D-Woodstock.

Earlier in the day, Blagojevich went jogging in his Chicago neighborhood when the vote came down. When he returned to his home, he compared his situation to a short story about a petty criminal called "The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner."

"And that's what this (impeachment) is, by the way, a long-distance run," Blagojevich said, promising to say more at an afternoon news conference.

Reaction to the impeachment hearing has been, by and large, supportive, as state lawmakers repeat their requests of the governor to step down. [Read More on Reaction to Impeachment]

Blagojevich was arrested Dec. 9 on federal charges that include allegations he schemed to profit from his power to name President-elect Barack Obama's replacement in the Senate. The criminal complaint included an FBI agent's sworn affidavit describing wiretaps that caught Blagojevich allegedly talking about what he could get for the seat, how to pressure people into making campaign contributions and more. [Read More on Blagojevich's Arrest]

That arrest triggered impeachment hearings by a special House committee.

The committee on Thursday unanimously recommended impeachment based on the criminal charges but other allegations as well -- that Blagojevich expanded a health care program without proper authority, that he circumvented hiring laws to give jobs to political allies, that he spent millions of dollars on foreign flu vaccine that he knew wasn't needed and couldn't be brought into the country.  [Read More on Impeachment Recommendation]

Blagojevich has denied the criminal charges. He criticized the House impeachment process as biased and said a Senate trial would produce a different result.

But he didn't testify before the House impeachment committee and hasn't offered an explanation for the federal charges.

"His silence in this great matter is deafening," said House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago.

During the House's 90-minute debate, no one spoke up to defend the governor. But Rep. Milton Patterson, D-Chicago, voted against impeachment. Rep. Elga Jefferies, D-Chicago, voted "present."

Patterson said he wasn't defending anyone, but that he read the impeachment committee's report and wasn't comfortable voting against the governor.

"I went by my own gut feeling, it's as simple as that," he said. "I read the report. If the government is going to indict him, let them go ahead and do that. That's their job and I'm doing my job."

[Story: Blago's Only Friend in the House]

The nearly unanimous vote reflects Blagojevich's rocky relationship with lawmakers, the political reality that supporting him now is likely to be unpopular and a genuine fury over his conduct.

Rep. Susana Mendoza, D-Chicago, noted the federal allegation that Blagojevich threatened to withhold state funds for children's health care unless he got a campaign donation from a hospital executive.

"Repugnant is too kind a word to describe that action," she said.

Republicans have been hammering the Democratic Party over the Blagojevich scandal -- noting, for instance, that House Speaker Michael Madigan, the chairman of the state Democratic Party, co-chaired Blagojevich's 2006 re-election campaign.

But Republicans, at times, have worked with Blagojevich while Madigan stood in opposition to the governor, a situation that muddies the question of who shares political blame.

Blagojevich is the first governor impeached in Illinois' long and sordid political history and joins a small club of impeached governors nationally. The last governor removed from office was Arizona's Evan Mecham in 1988, ousted for attempting to thwart an investigation into a death threat allegedly made by an aide.

Blagojevich hasn't been convicted of any crime, but House members said that doesn't stop them from acting on the evidence they have, particularly since some of the impeachment charges don't involve criminal matters.

The Illinois Constitution lays out no standard of proof to be met for impeachment, other than that senators must "do justice according to law." The chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court will preside over the proceedings.

The Illinois Senate is working to draft rules for a trial, which could begin as early as next week.

Even in a state that is used to political scandal, the one swirling around Blagojevich was stunning, prompting U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald to say that the governor's actions "would make Lincoln roll over in his grave."

Blagojevich is the latest Illinois governor to be embroiled in scandal. But while three men who served as Illinois governors since the late 1960s went to prison after they left office, including Blagojevich's immediate predecessor, George Ryan, who is now behind bars, Blagojevich is the first to be impeached.

"My Illinois is not the Illinois of George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich. Our Illinois is the Illinois of Abraham Lincoln and Paul Simon and Barack Obama," Rep. John Fritchey, D-Chicago, said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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