Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and his chief of staff, John Harris, were arrested on corruption charges at their homes Tuesday., December 9. Governor Blagojevich was also accused of effectively putting President-Elect Obama’s recently vacated senatorial seat up for sale. The 51-year-old governor and his chief of staff were charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and solicitation of bribery.
Depending on his response to the charges, the Democratic governor would still have the power to appoint Obama’s successor, and, according to political analysts, potentially torpedo his choice’s political future by association. It is believed that many of the Democratic frontrunners will now distance themselves from the appointment and make their senatorial bids in 2010, when the seat officially becomes available. Senator – now President-Elect Obama had distanced himself from Governor Blagojevich months before when Blagojevich was being investigated.
However, if Rod Blagojevich refuses to resign, it becomes his job to fill the senatorial seat. Many believe that, since many of the Democrats who had wanted the position will now shy away, Blagojevich will appoint someone who will not run in 2010. According to Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post , the most probable safe appointee would be Jesse White, the current Illinois Secretary of State.
If Governor Blagojevich resigns, the point becomes moot, and it will fall to his successor, Lt. Governor Pat Quinn.
Said U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, “The breadth of corruption laid out in these charges is staggering.”
The charges of corruption levied against the governor and his chief of staff lead many to make comparisons with the Chicago political machinery of the past. Among the many will be those running against people close to the Governor who now hold positions in the current Illinois government structure and in the Illinois House of Representatives (which Blagojevich was a member of for six years prior to becoming governor). In fact, to make matters seem like a continuance of an old theme, Blagojevich’s immediate predecessor, Governor George Ryan, is serving a prison sentence for a federal corruption conviction.
Robert D. Grant, FBI Special Agent in Charge of the Chicago Office, said in a statement, “Clearly, the charges announced today reveal that the office of the governor has become nothing more than a vehicle for self-enrichment, unrestricted by party affiliation and taking Illinois politics to a new low.”
The statement may be a bit of a reach, considering Chicago’s and Illinois’ storied corrupt past with regard to political machines and the atmosphere of condoned illicit activity. But the point remains clear. Corruption in Illinois is ongoing.
It is difficult to tell whether or not Illinois Republicans will be able to take advantage of the situation, although there is no doubt they will attempt to do so. But there will be no few Democratic contenders for Obama’s senatorial seat in 2010. Illinois representative Jesse Jackson, Jr. and unsuccessful 2008 Congressional candidate Tammy Duckworth were two of the frontrunners for the interim position, but will more than likely now wait until 2010 so as not to have the shadow of Governor Blagojevich mar their chances. Other hopefuls are current Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Comptroller Dan Hynes, and Treasurer Alexi Giannoulas.