Columnist: Blagojeveich's 'Hubris' Surprising

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Laura Washington says people are surprised by Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's "hubris." She says accusations that he solicited bribes to fill Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat might make that position less desirable.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Some analysis now of the Blagojevich case from Laura Washington, who is a columnist for the Chicago Sun Times, and who's vacationing today in Florida. Welcome to the program, Laura Washington.

Ms. LAURA WASHINGTON (Columnist, Chicago Sun Times): Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: First, I know that Chicago journalists are accustomed to corruption stories, but many of the remarks attributed to the governor and evidently recorded are just breathtaking in their cynicism and their corruption. If I followed Chicago politics the way you do, would I be less astonished by all of these?

Ms. WASHINGTON: Just slightly less astonished. I think the thing that is taking everyone by surprise is the hubris. Even for Rob Blagojevich, who's been known to have - to be a pretty nervy politician, to think that, at this point, when you're under investigation for as many months as he has - to think that you can say anything even in the least bit unseemly even in a closed room is a huge mistake, and I think people are really shocked by, frankly, the stupidity of it.

SIEGEL: You wrote about the competition for who would get the vacant Senate seat, the vacancy created by Barack Obama's election. Was there any inkling that people are being shaken down or at least - they're at least - they're alleged to have been shaken down for a shot of the job?

Ms. WASHINGTON: Well, no inkling. I think now, everyone else is going to be running in the opposite direction because no one wants to have the taint of a - certainly of an indicted government and also to have this cloud hanging over him that this guy - a woman who gets the shot might have gotten the deal.

But I think, if you know Blagojevich, and you know the way he operates, it doesn't surprise you at all. I've written that Blagojevich is looking out for himself always and any time. There were some speculation that he might appoint himself to the Senate seat, which he would be freely legal to do.

SIEGEL: Illinois now has the unfortunate distinction of having had several recent governors who were convicted and now Governor Blagojevich, at least faces the strong risk of that happening. How do you understand that? Is there something about Illinois politics that lends itself to corruption in ways that the politics of other states don't quite do?

Ms. WASHINGTON: It's a very free-wheeling state when it comes to money and politics. Our campaign finance laws are extremely weak. You can get just about any amount of money to any candidate. You can spend it in any way you want as long as you report on your taxes, as long as you report it as income and as a campaign contribution.

So there's a huge incentive for contractors to give money to candidates so that they can get favors. It happens at every level of government. I think part of it is that there's just sort of this malaise when it comes to (unintelligible) politics. Everyone sort of expects it. Even in a situation like today, I suspect a lot of people aren't really surprised.

SIEGEL: I want you to tell us a little bit about what relationship - if any there was between Governor Blagojevich and President-elect Obama. There's a critical moment in the criminal information where Blagojevich is quoted at least to saying, the Obama team wants person number one to get the Senate seat, but all they'll give me is appreciation. And then he says, well, bleep them for that. So clearly, they're not helping him at all in this alleged scheme. But more generally than that, were they cool to one another? Were they political allies? How do you describe that relationship?

Ms. WASHINGTON: They had a very - I would think cordial relationship. After all, Blagojevich is the governor of Illinois. Barack Obama until the last two, three years was seen as a young upstart politician.

But Barack Obama made a very definite decision when he decided to run for president to distance himself from Blagojevich. Blagojevich was not happy with that, and I think that, in fact, it would have been unlikely that Blagojevich would have chosen someone that Barack Obama liked because there was no love lost there.

SIEGEL: Laura Washington, thanks a lot for talking with us today.

Ms. WASHINGTON: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: That's Laura Washington, a columnist with the Chicago Sun Times.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And this afternoon, President-elect Barack Obama said he was saddened by the allegations. Mr. Obama added that he's had no contact with Governor Blagojevich about his open Senate seat. According to state law, the governor holds the sole power to choose a new senator. But the president of the Illinois Senate says he will soon bring a measure to the floor to change that.

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