SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The official portrait of Pat Quinn, the former governor of Illinois, was unveiled this week at the state capitol in Springfield. There was little more attention to the ritual this time because Pat Quinn is the first governor of Illinois in a while who hasn't left office and gone to prison. Four of the state's last nine governors have been sent to prison. Illinois' unofficial motto may be a state so great, the governor makes your license plate.
Rod Blagojevich, who preceded Governor Quinn, is serving a 14-year sentence for soliciting bribes for political appointments, including Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat. His predecessor, George Ryan, spent more than five years in jail for bribes. Dan Walker served 18 months for bank fraud and perjury. Otto Kerner served time for mail fraud. But three of that quartet of guilty govs (ph) still have official portraits in the state capitol; Rod Blagojevich does not because he was impeached before he was convicted.
Speaking as a son of Illinois, I'd like to see a portrait of Rod Blagojevich somewhere in the state capitol. He certainly has time to pose for it. But I wouldn't want to see a portrait of Blagojevich as governor or when he was briefly a contestant on "Celebrity Apprentice," fired by Donald Trump. I'd like to see the Rod Blagojevich who's now white-haired and in prison blues - inmate 40892-424 - but hailed as Gov (ph) by fellow prisoners. He's reportedly formed a band called the Jailhouse Rockers, he teaches history classes to inmates about the Civil War, FDR, Abe Lincoln and Martin Luther King and tutors prisoners who are about to be released on how to present themselves in job interviews.
Rod Blagojevich appealed for his sentence to be reduced last year. A judge refused, saying his long sentence is deserved, but Blagojevich's lawyer attached letters from a hundred other prisoners who spoke of his kindness and spirit. He was at the top level, wrote a man who identified himself as a convicted drug dealer, and now he is in prison with so many true felons and he accepts that as fate with his head held high, no ego, no arrogance and, most importantly, with humble humility.
A portrait of Rod Blagojevich in ornate, official hallways could remind governors who follow why citizens can be cynical about politicians. It might remind politicians not to think that getting elected endows them with honesty, wisdom or character. And, yes, it might give a disgraced politician a little recognition for finding a way to make his life useful to others.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JAILHOUSE ROCK")
ELVIS PRESLEY: (Singing) The warden threw a party in the county jail. The prison band was there, and they began to wail. The band was jumpin' and the joint began to swing.
SIMON: The King. You're listening to NPR News.
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