Blagojevich Ousted, Now What?

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Rod Blagojevich is no longer governor of Illinois. The disgraced leader was removed from office yesterday after the Illinois state senate unanimously impeached him. Last year, Blagojevich was accused attempting to sell the senate seat once occupied by President Barack Obama. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports from the Springfield, Ill., the state capitol.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. Coming up, President Obama says he wants everybody talking, including the religious conservatives who were a pillar of his predecessor's support. But is there an appetite for that kind of dialogue? We talk about that next in Faith Matters. But first, Illinois has a new governor today. The state senate voted unanimously to oust Rod Blagojevich from office yesterday, despite his impassioned plea to keep his post.

(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.

MARTIN: Joining us with the latest is NPR's Cheryl Corley from Springfield, Illinois. She's been following the story. Welcome back, Cheryl. Thanks for talking to us.

CHERYL CORLEY: Oh, absolutely.

MARTIN: It really went down to the bitter end for Blagojevich. After initially boycotting the impeachment proceedings, he then decided to give this impassioned plea. Any idea why?

CORLEY: Well, you know, Michel, this is probably dramatic Blagojevich style, and the clip you just played, when he said, you know, he wanted to appeal to the sense of fairness of these state lawmakers, that's what it came down to, an appeal he did. He essentially was on the state house floor, begging not to be booted out of office, continuing to deny - that he had done nothing wrong, a really last-ditch effort to save his job. He had said that this trial was rigged, that he had - but he finally came to the impeachment trial after conducting a really massive media blitz earlier this week and tried to save his job, but apparently wasn't able do so.

MARTIN: His argument was that this - that there really was no evidence, and that at least he should be allowed to stay in office until he had - the facts were proven. And did he persuade no one? I mean, the vote would suggest that he didn't. But did you see any signs that anybody found any of his arguments at least worthy of consideration?

CORLEY: No, not at all. And I guess I should point out, too, that, you know, Blagojevich is - faces two things: first this impeachment trial, and a criminal trial to come. And this impeachment trial doesn't have the same sort of restrictions or constricts of a criminal trial. So, the state senators could say, you know, what we are concerned about is these things, and they didn't have the same level of burden of proof that a criminal trial might have.

MARTIN: So, tell us about new Governor Pat Quinn, who was the lieutenant governor. They had a very rocky relationship - with Rod Blagojevich. As we understand it, they weren't even speaking for months. What are his challenges as he takes this post? He was sworn in immediately, as I understand it.

CORLEY: He was sworn in immediately. He faces a very big challenge. He says his first one is to restore the integrity of the state. Probably couldn't have a better guy by reputation to do that. He has a populist reputation, once led a group called the Coalition for Political Honesty. His biggest challenge, though, is going to be trying to find a way to handle a really significant state budget deficit, which could be as large as $4 or even $5 billion. The governor says over the next few weeks, that's what he'll be trying to do before he presents a budget address in March. Michel, as you said, the governor and the former governor didn't really have a cordial relationship. So, he doesn't really know what financial shape the state is really in, and he'll be digging in to try to find out what it really is.

MARTIN: And what's next for Mr. Blagojevich?

CORLEY: He's a private citizen. Impeachment trial is over. He faces a federal criminal trial. We don't have a date for that yet, arrested last month on charges, many charges, but of selling, of course, the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by President Barack Obama.

MARTIN: NPR's Cheryl Corley joined us by phone from Springfield, Illinois. Thanks again, Cheryl.

CORLEY: You're welcome.

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