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Editorial: Time to act more responsibly, Rod Blagojevich

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January 29, 2009 - I guess the deafening silence when he left the chamber was a pretty good indicator of things to come.  He was voted out 59 - 0.  Nobody wanted to go on the record in his defense, despite all that he claimed to have done, and how unfairly he said he was being treated.

If anybody has reason to fear what Blagojevich might tell Fitzgerald about how politics in Chicago has worked during his career, he's likely to be motivated to bring down others too.  Will he do it quietly as a plea deal, or try to create a public scandal with whatever he knows?  Does he still actually believe that he did nothing wrong, and will be vindicated in federal court?  We shall see.

What will Fitzgerald do not?  Whatever it is, it will likely be done quietly out of the political spotlight over the months ahead.

At least now the Illinois government can get back to the real business at hand, including a budget disaster which has been brewing for several years now.

January 29, 2009 - Congratulation to Judge Andrew Napolitano, Fox News analyst, for once again hitting the nail precisely on the head immediately after the impassioned plea before the Illinois Senate today by Governor Rod Blagojevich about his innocence and the inappropriateness of impeaching him.

As he observed, Blagojevich wasn't really speaking to the Senate, which is nothing new.  He was using this media event to reach the potential jury pool in Chicago, and to tell his side of the story without having to take the oath, and without any cross-examination as would occur by the federal prosecutor in a court trial.  He was free to tell any anecdotes he wanted about Illinois citizens, his family history, getting coffee for US Senator Warner, and to muddy the waters by saying that some of the things he advocated were suggested by Rahm Emmanuel and supported by governors of other states.  As usual, he was fairly eloquent in his arguments that he is somehow an unfairly treated victim in all this, who was just trying to do good for ordinary people in Illinois like himself.

The silence was deafening as he left the chamber.  I didn't hear anyone applaud his performance.  Will this ever become a jury trial?  Probably not.  He was just buying himself a little insurance in case that happens, as with his national media PR blitz this week.  He was talking to the jury pool.  Assuming that he is eventually indicted, don't expect him to testify in court on his own behalf.  He is more likely to try to negotiate a plea deal, and then quietly help Fitzgerald to bring down others.

In any case, Blagojevich is still fighting.  He didn't accept that it is time to resign.  That would defeat his purpose of trying to persuade the real criminal jury pool in advance of his innocence.

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January 12, 2009 update - The 114-1 impeachment vote last week was quickly followed by a decision in the Illinois Senate to punt this problem until after the inauguration ceremonies so that it won't continue to be an embarrassing distraction for Obama.  Similarly, the US Senate accepted the Burris appointment, which will limit ongoing national media interest in this story. Watch for a rapid impeachment process in the Illinois Senate.  Nobody is going to want to give Blagojevich a soapbox for more bizarre media gamesmanship.  Enough English poetry already.
January 6, 2009 update - The appointment of Roland Burris to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama has become an awkward political circus in Chicago, Springfield, and Washington DC, as was clearly intended when Blagojevich made this controversial move recently.

It is a sad reflection on Burris, after a long political career, that he chose to accept such an offer.  The fact that Blagojevich hasn't been impeached, indicted, or convicted yet does not alter the fact that Burris has now disgraced himself by quickly accepting such an appointment.

Even though he wasn't sworn in today as Senator, he will likely be accepted at some point, and thus the state will soon have a weak and ineffective Senator with no respect in Washington.  He may be seated, but he will be a pariah in DC for the next two years, and unlikely to be elected.  In effect, this problem will just be punted to 2011 while Illinois voters wind up with a very weak Senator in addition to a corrupt governor who is just clinging to power for his own benefit.  This is just another example of politicians putting personal interests ahead of ethics in public service.

Illinois already had a Senator who spent the last few years campaigning for his next office after promising not to do so when he was elected.  At least Burris should know up front that he has no political future in Illinois after this disgracefully unethical move to help Blagojevich divert attention from his own problems.  After all, he already lost several elections without even being disgraced.

Don't believe the myth that there was fear of a special election to fill Obama's seat because of the risk that a Republican might actually win.  There was no serious Republican candidate in Illinois who could beat the Chicago machine in such a special election.  It might happen by 2010, but not in any quick election now.

The awkward dilemma for the Democrats is that a white Democrat might win - and thus Blagojevich played the race card by picking Burris even though he had never been seriously considered for the job.

This move blocked Lt. Gov. Quinn from appointing somebody soon from among Blagojevich's many critics, regardless of race, as impeachment moves forward.  Payback to embarrass Madigan?

December 19, 2008 - Governor Rod Blagojevich has reached a new low today in his statement to the press about the recent criminal complaint against him.  It is time for him to acknowledge that his continued service as Governor of Illinois is not in the interest of the people of the state, even though it may be in his personal interest to stay in office as he tries to fight these charges.

He could have acknowledged his breach of trust and the higher standards for personal ethics which should be expected of him as an elected official, as Gov. Spitzer did in New York recently.  He could have put the interests of Illinois ahead of his own personal interests.

Instead, he was as defiant as a criminal who thinks that his lawyer may yet find some way to win his acquittal, without really addressing the question of whether the allegations against him were true or not.  He has offered nothing at all to substantiate the assertion of his innocence.  No alibi to explain his actions.  Not even the slightest apology for outrageous things he allegedly said.

"I will fight. I will fight. I will fight until I take my last breath. I have done nothing wrong."

"I'm not going to quit a job the people hired me to do because of false accusations and a political lynch mob."

No, he is going to force the Illinois legislature and the US Attorney General to do all of the hard work at great expense over the months ahead to throw him out of office.  Hopefully they will not only succeed, but will also put him into jail for a very long time.  Presumably he thinks that this strategy will leave him in a stronger bargaining position to cut a deal of some sort.

Hopefully there will be no plea deal for him after such conduct today.  If he wants to fight this to  the bitter end, then let him spend a very long time in prison to think about the higher standards which elected officials should uphold, even in Illinois.  If he wants to go to the mattresses in this fight, then send him to prison for as long as possible as an example for others in public service.

If he wants any leniency, then show some responsibility.  Resign now, without any plea deal.  Otherwise, one can only hope that Patrick Fitzgerald will win this fight and that the judge will show no mercy in sentencing.  There should be no deal.  On the contrary, he should be formally indicted as soon as possible, and the impeachment process should move forward quickly too

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Disclosure: this private business does no business with the state of Illinois or the city of Chicago and is not a political organization or donor to any.

The views expressed are those of an independent conservative voter in Illinois who has always voted against Rod Blagojevich and now feels more confident than ever of that judgment.

His comment about his "enemies" was eerily reminiscent of President Nixon at the time of the Watergate scandal, which seems to have been on Blagojevich's mind recently.  He talked about it on the day before the criminal complaint was announced.

At that time, Blagojevich insisted that he had no problem with anybody taping his conversations, as they would just find them boring, and that he had done nothing wrong and had nothing to hide.  The very next day, Patrick Fitzgerald produced some rather sensational quotes from wiretaps which let the voters of Illinois see a side of the governor which was even shocking to those who have come to regard political corruption in Chicago and Springfield as so routine that it isn't even newsworthy.

Now, he will evidently fight to challenge the legal authorization for those wiretaps in order to block their use as evidence against him, or to at least complicate the pending impeachment process.

The thanks he expressed today to his continued supporters seemed delusional.  Does he really believe that there is some sort of "silent majority" of Illinois voters out there who still support and trust him?  He presumably still has a few loyal friends, but they have been remarkably loathe to speak out in public on his behalf recently.  Who will go "on the record" to defend him now?
The lowest staff member in any state government office owes a duty to the people of the state to not violate the trust which has been placed in that person to do an honorable and effective job for the good of the people of the state, rather than to act for personal power or financial gain.  A governor should be expected to live up to a much higher standard of conduct in office.
The standard of conduct which is expected of any public official, no matter how junior, is not simply to carefully avoid doing anything for which one could be indicted and convicted.  It is not a criminal process in which any conduct which can't be proven to be illegal is deemed to be OK.  One is expected to adhere to higher standards of conduct than convicted criminals.

Yes, the burden of proof is on the prosecutor to show that the accused is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt through the force of very solid evidence of wrongdoing.  If that were the only standard for ethical conduct by elected officials, however, then the mere avoidance of any solid trail of evidence would excuse any conduct, and many wrongful acts would be excused as OK simply because they could not be successfully prosecuted.

 We expect higher standards of our public officials than the mere ability to avoid prosecution and stay out of jail while serving in office.  Their legitimacy flows from our faith in their responsible conduct as our representatives.  It may be hard to impeach or prosecute Blagojevich, but it is not hard at all to conclude that he has clearly breached the faith which Illinois voters placed in him - especially as a governor who alleged that he would reform corruption rather than lead it.

This is not about parsing words and fighting over how strong the legal evidence of corruption may be in this case.   This is about whether a public official should have the decency to resign when he acts in a way which dishonors the office to which he has been elected, and dishonors the people who entrusted him with that office.  He is not entitled to stay and fight and try to vindicate himself at our expense just because it may be hard to impeach him or to prosecute him.  If we are to pay the bill for this fight, including not only the direct costs but also the shame and economic harm which it brings on the entire state of Illinois, then we should be rewarded by his very long tenure in jail.

Think about this for a moment.  How much work to promote Illinois as a place for businesses to invest and grow and create good jobs has just been destroyed by making Illinois a national and global disgrace?  What is the present value of the investment and jobs which Illinois will lose because business leaders will not want to risk doing business in such a political environment?

Perhaps the International Olympic Committee won't be particularly bothered about the alleged corruption in Chicago, given the history of their location choices, but business leaders have many good choices available as investment alternatives to Illinois.  This scandal could be very costly.

This is still government of the people, by the people, and for the people - not for the political patronage and power ambitions of individuals.  Rod Blagojevich has not upheld the standards which should be expected of the most junior staff member, much less a governor.  How many parents in Illinois or elsewhere are ashamed to even let their children watch the news about him?

He should do the honorable thing and resign - quickly.  Even President Nixon soon figured that out, as did Spitzer after just a few days.  If Blagojevich chooses to continue to fight this as an impeachment and legal battle for many months, then one can only hope that he will enjoy many long years in prison in which to reconsider his continued poor judgment in office.

 

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