Ill. House Votes To Impeach Blagojevich
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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