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Political implications of Gov.'s arrest

December 9, 2008 11:53:53 AM PST
Federal authorities have been looking at Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich for some time. In fact, an investigation called Operation Board Games has been ongoing for five years. It has targeted corruption within state government.

"I would remind them that it kind of smells like Nixon and Watergate. But I don't care whether you tape me privately or publicly, I can tell you whatever I say is always lawful," Blagojevich said.

The governor's cavalier attitude Monday about having his conversations recorded is replaced by the sober reality of Tuesday's federal charge that he tried to sell or trade the appointment of a new senator to replace President-elect Barack Obama in exchange for a high-paying job for himself at a non-profit foundation or a labor union, a spot on a corporate board for his wife Patti worth up to $150,000, promises of campaign funds, including cash up front and a cabinet post or ambassadorship for himself with the new Obama administration.

"I want to make money," Blagojevich allegedly said in one conversation, "between $250,000 and 300,000 a year."

"What's more surprising is the governor, knowing he's under investigation, continues to have the type of conversations reported to be front page of the newspaper," said Richard Kling, Kent College of Law.

The governor's alleged accomplice in the corrupt scheme is his chief of staff John Harris, who was Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's budget director and a high-ranking police department official before joining the Blagojevich administration four years ago.

The federal charges also include pay-to-play allegations that go back at least six years and include defendants Tony Rezko, Stuart Levine, Ali Ata and others in schemes to enrich Blagojevich and his family personally and politically in exchange for state contracts and appointments to state boards and agencies.

But most of the allegations focus on a flurry of recent activity involving the Senate seat and the governor's alleged attempt to raise $2.5 million in campaign cash before January, when a new law takes effect limiting contributions from state contractors.

Those conversations allegedly include the governor's close friend and one-time congressional chief of staff John Wyma, who is now a mega-lobbyist and a major Blagojevich fundraiser.

The feds are also accusing Blagojevich and Harris of trying to pressure Chicago Tribune executives to fire editorial board members critical of the governor in exchange for state assistance on the sale of the Cubs and Wrigley Field.

News of the governor's arrest Tuesday morning took many by surprise, including Chicago Congressman Danny Davis. He's one of several candidates in line to take Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat. Davis says he had not talked to the governor about the investigation.

The question politically is the effect it will have on the governor's power to replace Barack Obama. Blagojevich is still the governor until proven guilty. Otherwise, the Illinois House would have to first move to impeach Blagojevich, in which case Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn gets a had head start toward running for governor in 2010. That might not be something House Speaker Mike Madigan would want to see, if he is looking at his daughter, Ill. Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan, to run.

The other question will be whether the governor is going to resign? That is unlikely immediately as public officials like to keep earning their salaries while facing charges. Later, when they face the prospect of a long and costly trial, things can change.


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