Blagojevich Trial Ends With A New Illinois Governor
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The state of Illinois has a new governor this morning. Patrick Quinn took the oath of office moments after the Illinois Senate voted unanimously to convict Rod Blagojevich at his impeachment trial and remove him from the post late yesterday. More about Governor Quinn in a moment. Now to an historic and turbulent day in the Illinois State Capitol, where Blagojevich made a last- minute attempt to save his job. NPR's David Schaper reports.
(Soundbite of Illinois General Assembly vote, January 29, 2009)
Unidentified Man: Althoff?
State Senator PAMELA J. ALTHOFF (Republican, Crystal Lake, Illinois): Yes.
Unidentified Woman: Bivins?
State Senator TIM BIVINS (Republican, Dixon, Illinois): Yes.
DAVID SCHAPER: One by one, the 59 members of the Illinois Senate cast a vote like none they had ever cast before, and all said yes to convicting the governor.
Justice THOMAS FITZGERALD (Illinois Supreme Court): The article of impeachment, having been sustained by the required constitutional majority, I now pronounce the judgment of conviction against Rod R. Blagojevich, thereby removing him from the office of governor effective immediately.
SCHAPER: Illinois Supreme Court Justice Thomas Fitzgerald presided over the four-day long impeachment trial. After boycotting for three days, Blagojevich retained his flair for the dramatic until the very end, showing up in the Illinois Senate chamber for a last-ditch effort to save what little remained of his once-promising political career.
(Soundbite of Illinois General Assembly hearing, January 29, 2009)
Former Governor ROD BLAGOJEVICH (Democrat, Illinois): I'm here to appeal to you, to your sense of fairness, your sense of responsibility, and to the truth, and to the truth. I'm asking you to acquit me and give me a chance to show my innocence.
SCHAPER: Blagojevich argued the special prosecutor failed to prove any one of the 13 charges in the article of impeachment against him.
Gov. BLAGOJEVICH: And you haven't been able to show wrongdoing in this trial. And you've denied me the right to be able to bring in a whole bunch of witnesses who will show you I didn't do anything wrong, and I've done most things right.
SCHAPER: Illinois state senators weren't buying.
State Senator MATT MURPHY (Republican, Palatine, Illinois): He is an unusually good liar.
SCHAPER: Republican Matt Murphy.
Sen. MURPHY: He came down here without impunity, and lied to every member of this chamber.
State Senator JOHN M. SULLIVAN (Democrat, Quincy, Illinois): His appearance today was - to say the least - too little too late.
SCHAPER: Democrat John Sullivan said Blagojevich is no longer fit to govern. During the impeachment trial, senators heard testimony about schemes in which they found Blagojevich abused his authority, bypassed the legislature, mismanaged and misspent taxpayer funds, and traded the official duties of his office for campaign contributions. Democrat James Meeks used the governor's own infamous words when allegedly scheming to cash in on the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Obama, in explaining his vote.
State Senator JAMES T. MEEKS (Democrat, Calumet City, Illinois): I say, we have this thing called impeachment, and it's bleeping golden, and we've used it the right way.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SCHAPER: Outside the Senate chamber, many of the Illinois residents who came to watch the trial say they're glad to see Rod Blagojevich go. Anita Pence(ph) of Litchfield works in the Illinois secretary of state's office and came over on her lunch break to hear Blagojevich speak for the last time as governor.
Ms. ANITA PENCE: He doesn't really care what the people of Illinois think. He keeps talking on and on about all the things he's done. I - you know, I'm beginning to think he thinks he's Mother Teresa reincarnated or something.
SCHAPER: Pence says morale among state workers has plummeted during the Blagojevich scandal. She says she's looking forward to the day Illinois is no longer the butt of the nation's jokes. For his part, Blagojevich immediately flew home to Chicago, using his state plane one last time before the Senate voted him out of office. He says he's disappointed but not surprised, and he vows to fight on - next in the criminal courts. David Schaper, NPR News, in Springfield, Illinois.
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