Politics

Ill. House Votes To Impeach Blagojevich

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The Illinois House has voted 114-1 to impeach Gov. Rod Blagojevich. The action sets up a state Senate trial to decide whether Blagojevich, the first Illinois governor to be impeached, should be thrown out of office for abuse of power.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This is All Things Considered from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block. In Illinois today, lawmakers impeached the Governor Rod Blagojevich. The historic vote was nearly unanimous. The Democratic governor was arrested last month on political corruption charges, including allegations that he tried to auction off the state's vacant U.S. Senate seat for personal gain. The governor will now be tried by the Illinois State Senate; if convicted, he will be removed from office. Again, this afternoon, Blagojevich insisted he has done nothing wrong. NPR's David Schaper reports from the state capital, Springfield.

DAVID SCHAPER: In a state notorious for its political corruption, with one former governor currently sitting in federal prison, this is the first time in Illinois history state lawmakers voted to impeach a sitting governor.

State Representative MICHAEL MADIGAN (Democrat, Chicago, Illinois; Speaker of the State House): On this question there are 114 people voting yes, one person voting no. The House does adopt House Resolution 1671, and Governor Blagojevich is hereby impeached.

SCHAPER: Before the vote announced by House Speaker Michael Madigan, lawmakers said Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich has betrayed the public trust and violated his oath of office. The article of impeachment approved by the House isn't limited to the federal criminal charges that alleged Blagojevich try to sell or trade official duties of his office. Chicago Democrat Barbara Flynn Currie, who chaired a special committee to make the case for impeachment, says Blagojevich is not fit to govern.

State Representative BARBARA FLYNN CURRIE (Democrat, Chicago, Illinois; State House Majority Leader): The evidence we gathered makes it clear that this governor tramples on the legislative prerogative. He breaks state and federal laws. In his own words, he expresses a willingness to barter state official acts and state taxpayer money for personal and political gain.

SCHAPER: While many legislators rose to declare this a sad day for Illinois, Republican Minority Leader Tom Cross told his colleagues they shouldn't just be disappointed.

State Representative TOM CROSS (Republican, Plainfield, Illinois): When we become the laughing stock of the country, and in fact the world, and people joke about the state of Illinois on "Saturday Night Live" or on late-night TV, I'm not sad; I'm not disappointed. I'm mad; I'm angry. This is an embarrassment.

SCHAPER: And Democrat Jack Franks calls his vote to impeach Blagojevich his proudest moment as a legislator, because he says lawmakers are finally standing up to greed and graft in Illinois politics.

State Representative JACK FRANKS (Democrat, Woodstock, Illinois): It's our duty to clean up the mess and to stop the freak show which has become the Illinois government.

SCHAPER: But as angry as state lawmakers are with the governor, Blagojevich appears just as angry with them, and he tried to turn the tables in an afternoon news conference in Chicago. He surrounded himself with some of the families the governor says he is trying to serve with the programs House lawmakers accused him of creating illegally.

(Soundbite of press conference)

Governor ROD BLAGOJEVICH (Democrat, Illinois): I took actions with the advice of lawyers and experts to find ways, creative ways, to use the executive authority of a governor to get real things done for people who rely on us, and in many cases, the things we did for people have literally saved lives. I don't believe those are impeachable offenses.

SCHAPER: Blagojevich reasserted his innocence, saying he's confident he will be exonerated both in the impeachment trial that will take place in the Illinois Senate possibly later this month and in the criminal case that has made headlines around the world. On another front, the Illinois Supreme Court today ruled there is no law that requires Illinois Secretary of State Jessie White to certify Blagojevich's appointment of Roland Burris to the U.S. Senate and that that appointment is legal. Burris says the ruling means he has now met all of the Senate's conditions, and he expects to be seated soon. David Schaper, NPR News in Springfield, Illinois.

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Illinois House Votes To Impeach Governor

Speaker Michael Madigan presides over the Illinois House of Representatives. i

Speaker Michael Madigan presides over the Illinois House of Representatives as lawmakers discuss a resolution to impeach Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Scott Olson/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Scott Olson/Getty Images
Speaker Michael Madigan presides over the Illinois House of Representatives.

Speaker Michael Madigan presides over the Illinois House of Representatives as lawmakers discuss a resolution to impeach Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

The Illinois House voted Friday to impeach Gov. Rod Blagojevich, making him the first chief executive in the state's history to face the ignominy of a trial before the state Senate.

Blagojevich, who is looking at criminal corruption charges for allegedly using his office in a scheme that included trying to sell President-elect Barack Obama's U.S. Senate seat to the highest bidder, was impeached by a 114-1 vote. The decision came exactly one month after federal prosecutors unveiled corruption charges against the governor.

Blagojevich has denied the criminal charges. He criticized the House impeachment process as biased and said a Senate trial would produce a different result.

At a brief appearance before reporters Friday, Blagojevich characterized the impeachment as a political vendetta executed against him by the House.

"The House's action today and the causes of the impeachment are because I've done things to fight for families that are with me here today," said Blagojevich, flanked by people he said represented the issues facing Illinois. He did not take questions from reporters.

The governor said he would be "properly exonerated."

Democratic Rep. Jack Franks was one of many who urged his colleagues to vote in favor of impeachment. Franks called his role in the process his proudest moment as a legislator.

"It's our duty to clean up the mess and to stop the freak show that has become Illinois government," he said.

Blagojevich was arrested Dec. 9 on federal charges that he schemed to profit from his position as governor. The criminal complaint included an FBI agent's sworn affidavit describing wiretaps that caught Blagojevich allegedly talking about what he could get in exchange for appointing someone to Obama's seat.

A House committee on Thursday had unanimously recommended impeachment. The vote was based in part on the criminal charges but also other allegations as well — that Blagojevich expanded a health care program without proper authority, that he circumvented hiring laws to give jobs to political allies and that he spent millions of dollars on foreign flu vaccine that he knew wasn't needed and couldn't be brought into the country.

Democratic Rep. Suzanna Mendoza said Blagojevich's legacy would be "cloaked in shame and darkness."

"It's been an ugly and shameful spectacle," she said.

The committee's report said citizens of Illinois "must have confidence that their governor will faithfully serve the people and put their interests before his own. It is with profound regret that the committee finds that our current governor has not done so."

Blagojevich chose not to testify before the House panel that recommended his impeachment. "His silence in this great matter is deafening," said House Democratic Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie.

From NPR staff and wire reports

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