Thursday, January 29, 2009

Turn out the lights, the party's over-- Blagojevich is history.

Updated at 6:10 pm on January 29, 2009: Rod Blagojevich was removed from the office of Illinois Governor shortly after 5:00 pm this afternoon and that act automatically elevated Lt. Gov.Pat Quinn to Illinois Governor. The swearing in of Quinn was purely ceremonial.

The vote was 59-0 to remove Blago. He was also barred from holding any Illinois government office in the future by the same vote tally. However, as Senate President Cullerton pointed out, Blagovejevich may run for President of the United States in 2016, as he once contemplated doing and as is indicated on the FBI wiretaps.

Best line of the afternoon goes to State Senator Matt Murphy (R-Palatine)[did he steal it?), when he described then Governor Blagojevich as "An unusually good liar." Of course, it was former U. S. Senator Bob Kerrey who used that line more than a decade ago to describe Bill Clinton. Perhaps Senator Murphy came up with that line independently, as he did not credit it to Kerrey.

Best one word statement of the afternoon goes to Rev. and State Senator James Meeks (D-Chicago), who when voting to bar Blago from holding future Illinois office, didn't simply say yes, as did the other senators, but emphatically responded, "Absolutely." Meeks was double crossed a time or two by Blago and the good Rev. seemed to enjoy sticking in the shiv and twisting it a few times, as he did.

Best post-game comment goes to Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass, who patiently explained to the WGN news anchors that nothing much would change in Illinois politics until the Illinois Combine, composed of the Illinois/Chicago Democratic Machine (run largely by Speaker Madigan and Mayor Daley) and certain so called Republicans, e.g., Bill Cellini (Boss of Asphalt), is broken up or faces a significant counterforce.

The Illinois Combine, of course, is defined as
the Democrats and Republicans who work closely together to abuse the government process for personal political and monetary gain. The Illinois Combine used to be known as the Daley-Ryan Combine until former Gov. George Ryan was sent off to prison a few years ago. Somewhat ironically, the 73 year old Cellini, a Republican power broker of the same vintage as George Ryan, will be tried in federal court on extortion charges that resulted from the same federal investigation, Operation Board Games, that started with the 52 year old Blagojevich. What goes around comes around.
There was virtually no chance that Governor Rod Blagojevich (D-IL) could say anything this morning to the Illinois Senate in his defense that would save him. However, with Blago, you never know. He has demonstrated time and again, over the years, the flair for the unpredictable.

Blago plays it safe

But, this time, Blago played it safe. For most of the forty or so minutes that he spoke, his eye was on his upcoming criminal trial. More tampering with the jury pool. Blagojevich spoke about his Horatio Alger bio and his fighting for the people. He did allude to politicians all doing the same thing [without saying explicitly he meant push hard for campaign contributions from those who benefit from Legislative or Executive acts]. And, Rod ran through his usual litany of fighting for poor people for health care, etc.

He could pass a lie detector test

Blago did say he had done nothing wrong or illegal. And, like Bill Clinton’s statement, “I did not have sex with that woman,” Blago believed what he said so much he could pass a lie detector test on his statement--“I did nothing wrong.” With some pols, fiction becomes reality when they say it enough.

Blago’s harshest critics would say he is a pathological liar or even a sociopath. That might be going too far. But, pundit Charles Krauthammer, a licensed psychiatrist, has said Blago is “batty.” That sounds about right- Batty Blago. Whether that is an impeachable offense, I don’t know. Of course, spending much, if not most, of his tenure as Governor trying to shake down corporate, not-for-profit or labor officials for campaign contributions in exchange for government "favors,", is probably an impeachable offense, especially if he crossed the line and made the shakedown into a quid pro quo. The standard for impeachment in the Illinois Legislature is simply “doing justice,” or “following your conscience.” That assumes pols have one.

Avoiding the FBI tapes

Gov. Blagojevitch didn’t touch the FBI audio tapes the jurors had heard again this morning about Blago allegedly scheming to get contributions from race track officials for his support and signing of a bill to divert gaming revenue to the tracks. Nor did he touch the FBI transcripts of his words that the Senate nomination was “bleeping valuable,” and he wasn’t going to give it away for “bleeping nothing.” No, he didn’t want to touch that at all. He just hoped that most of the people he was trying to reach hadn’t heard that or been swayed by it.

One last effort to tamper with the criminal jury pool and pitch a TV show

Blagojevitch knew he would be removed as Governor in a few hours. This was one last attempt to use the limelight to pick up one juror in his future criminal trial who said to himself or herself, “I like this guy. I just can’t vote to send him to prison.”

And, as with the media blitz, he was showing to the networks his flair for TV. Perhaps “The Rod Blagojevich show,” will be coming soon to a TV near you, and that will finance the best legal defense money can buy. Indeed, if convicted in the criminal trial, former Governor Blagojevitch could probably do the TV show from prison. The ultimate in reality shows.

The final act

The prosecution has concluded with a short, fifteen minute rebuttal, and it has now rested. Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) took a one hour recess for the 37 Democratic Senators to caucus to collect their thoughts. Cullerton didn’t say it but one would imagine the 22 Republican senators will do likewise. The thirty-seven Dems want dearly to protect their brand and get Blago out of there. They need only two Republicans to join them to remove Rod. Needless to say, they will get the two and most likely all twenty-two.

It appears that the State Senators will reconvene at 2:15 pm this afternoon and vote shortly after that. Will each senator have to get his two minutes of fame to explain his or her vote? If so, that would get it done nicely in time for the local 5:00 pm (CST) news and the national 5:30 pm (CST) news. It is rumored that each senator might be given up to five minutes, which would mean we might not have a final vote until after 7:00 pm. This journalist is betting on the former. The Dems are controlling this show and they are usually pretty media savvy.

And, now, over to you Katie, Brian, Charlie and Jim. And, of course, to Bret, Chris and Anderson.