Resignation Watch: Will Blagojevich Step Down?

Federal authorities say Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich tried to benefit from his ability to appoint someone to fill the Senate seat left vacant by President-elect Barack Obama. After Blagojevich's arrest Tuesday, there were calls for the governor to step down. Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn says the governor should do what's right for the people of Illinois and either resign or step aside.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning. Just two years ago, a former governor of Illinois was convicted on corruption charges. Now some of the same investigators have charged the sitting governor. Federal authorities say Governor Rod Blagojevich wanted to seize the chance to fill a U.S. Senate seat. It's the seat left vacant by President-elect Barack Obama. The governor allegedly put that Senate seat up for sale. Blagojevich has denied any wrongdoing, which did not stop people from calling for the governor's resignation. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports from Chicago.

CHERYL CORLEY: Governor Blagojevich is a free man today, continuing to hold the office he captured in 2003. He promised reforms. But his administration has been under investigation for a number of years for so-called pay-to-play politics with the government looking into allegations of contracts and state jobs going for campaign contributions and kickbacks. Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn says now that the governor has been charged, it will be difficult for him to take care of state business.

Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn (Democrat, Illinois): I think the governor knows what he should do, and that is either resign or step aside.

CORLEY: Governor Blagojevich turns 52 today. Yesterday was an odd pre-birthday present - federal agents at his door in the early morning to arrest him. U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald says the governor and his chief of staff, John Harris, have been involved in a political corruption crime spree with Governor Blagojevich talking about selling off the state's vacant U.S. Senate seat to the highest bidder like he was a sports agent. The governor, says Fitzgerald, was allegedly angling for a Cabinet position, campaign contributions, and other jobs for both himself and his wife.

Mr. PATRICK FITZGERALD (U.S. Attorney, Northern District of Illinois): There's an appalling statement about what's been happening in Illinois government with Governor Blagojevich and his chief of staff.

CORLEY: So the call for the governor to resign is now a common refrain among state lawmakers who say they are ready to meet next week. Illinois Representative Jack Franks says if Blagojevich doesn't step down, he's already asked the speaker of the Illinois House to set up a committee to investigate impeaching the governor.

Representative JACK FRANKS (Democrat, Illinois) We cannot allow this to fester. We cannot allow this to continue. I would ask the speaker to go forward in impeachment proceedings.

CORLEY: The governor's arrest comes a little more than two years after the governor who proceeded him, George Ryan, was sentenced to six and a half years in prison on federal corruption charges. Standing inside a state office building, Rosalyn Dean(ph) wasn't surprised by this latest arrest.

Ms. ROSALYN DEAN: If he's guilty, they'll decipher things. It's just disgusting. We got to clean this - clean up the government and different things - people taking their jobs, you know, for granted and doing all kind of underhanded things. We might as well open up the jailhouse and let the crooks run the government.

CORLEY: Ryan Warner(ph) said he wasn't surprised either. But he's not calling for the governor to step down.

Mr. RYAN WARNER: I think that's up to him and his people. I wouldn't say whether he should resign or wait, you know. I'm a strong believer that he's really innocent until proven guilty. So until that time comes, I think if he wants to fight it out and prove his innocence, good for him. If he's unsuccessful, no shocker.

CORLEY: The big question now, though, is what happens to the U.S. Senate seat. The state's sole U.S. senator, Dick Durbin, says under current circumstances, no appointment by Governor Blagojevich would be credible. He's urging Illinois lawmakers to pass a bill that would set up a special election with enough votes to withstand any veto by the governor.

Senator DICK DURBIN (Democrat, Illinois): The governor's situation could drag on for a long period of time. He may face some removal effort by the Illinois General Assembly, which could take months. And ultimately we would be without a replacement for Senator Obama during a critical period in American history when important issues are going to be decided. Special election is costly, I know. But the alternative of a vacant seat or a tainted appointment, those alternatives are not acceptable.

CORLEY: Since the 1950s, four other Illinois governors have faced legal problems after serving their terms. Three of those former governors went to prison. Former Illinois Governor Jim Edgar was not among that group, and he says having a special election to fill the Senate vacancy would be the wrong thing to do.

Mr. JIM EDGAR (Former Republican Governor of Illinois): The state government's facing a whole list of horrendous policy issues. I mean, the state is so deep in debt. We've got all kinds of problems. Then you add on top of this. It's not a time that we need a big partisan battle in Illinois. And if you've got a special U.S. Senate race it would be an all-out - I mean, both parties would come in with everything they have to try to win that seat.

CORLEY: For now, though, until and if state lawmakers strip the governor of his power to name a successor, it's still up to Governor Blagojevich to fill the vacancy. However, the U.S. Senate could refuse to seat a person appointed by him. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.

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