Ill. House votes to launch impeachment process

December 15, 2008 8:32:34 PM PST
The Illinois House has approved the first step toward impeaching Governor Rod Blagojevich, who was arrested last week on federal corruption charges. The House voted 113-0 to establish a committee to review allegations against Blagojevich. The panel would then recommend whether the full House should approve impeachment.

All members of the House were named as co-sponsors of the resolution, though Republicans are angry about the way the matter was handled.

They object to considering a resolution introduced Monday by Democrats instead of an earlier Republican resolution.

They also say the impeachment committee should have an even partisan split instead of favoring Democrats 12-9.

Special session

State lawmakers gathered in Springfield for a special session to specifically deal with the scandal surrounding Ill. Governor Rod Blagojevich.

Late Monday afternoon, the Republicans and Democrats were out of the House chamber and behind closed doors caucusing to talk about strategy.

If the House does eventually vote in favor of articles of impeachment, it would move over to the Illinois senate for a trial to be presided over by the Chief Justice Thomas Fitzgerald of the Illinois Supreme Court.

It would be an unprecedented impeachment process against the governor. But Madigan says they will move quickly and they will be fair.

"We are going to move with all deliberate speed, but we're not going to trample anybody's constitutional rights in the process," said House speaker Michael Madigan.

On Tuesday morning in the Hearing Room at the state capitol, five Democrats and nine Republicans, led by the Democratic speaker Michael Madigan, could begin meeting to consider the impeachment of governor for a litany of alleged misdeeds, including pay to play schemes included in the federal charges against the governor, highlighted by secret tape recordings of alleged discussions about selling President-Elect Barack Obama's Senate seat to the highest bidder.

The House minority leader, Tom Cross, is disappointed that Democrats have three more seats on the committee than Republicans, but he supports the rest of the Madigan plan. "There's probably a feeling in the state that people would like it to happen yesterday. And I think many members of the general seaboard will have to do that. But general assembly will have to do that. But I would caution, if you're going to do it, you do it right," said Cross.

Art Turner, one of Madigan's top lieutenants, is also proposing a vote of no confidence against Blagojevich that would put the lieutenant governor, Pat Quinn, in charge of the state temporarily, which is similar to a motion by the attorney general, Lisa Madigan, that was filed with the Illinois Supreme Court last Friday.

"That might be a much more sensible approach. Each one that says, look, let's just move you to the side and let's let the other officers step up to the plate and let's perform the services needed. This is in-state government," said Turner.

But it is unknown at this point whether they'll deal with that vote of no confidence. And also up in the air very much right now is the question of a special election to fill Barack Obama's Senate seat. There was talk that there would be some sort of a vote setting the dates of a special election, but that could be put on hold. And if it happens, Republicans will be very angry. They want a special election so they have a shot at winning that Senate seat. They don't want any Democrat to get an appointment to that seat, whether it's Rod Blagojevich or Pat Quinn. The process may take a few weeks or a couple of months.

Blagojevich will be allowed to mount a defense if he chooses, but the House committee that starts Tuesday will be meeting every single weekday in Springfield, except for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.

Governor Blagojevich says it's no big surprise and that they've been talking impeachment for a year.

Governor back at work on Monday

The governor was in Chicago Monday, back at work at the Thompson Center.

Governor Blagojevich left his Northwest Side home Monday morning and headed for his office in the Loop.

He was also seen putting a suitcase in the family minivan. His wife, Patti, and their children left in the van.

The governor's spokesperson says that Blagojevich is considering signing a bill that would set up a special election to fill Barack Obama's Senate seat. It's the first sign that the governor may be willing to give up his power to appoint a senator. But no bill exists yet. That could change as lawmakers meet in special session in Springfield.

As the stalemate between Blagojevich and just about everybody else continues, legislators are meeting, trying to figure out a way to get the governor to step aside. There are reports of a pending mass exodus of the governor's staff members. Meanwhile, Blagojevich appears to have found some high-powered legal help.

"I think that the case that I've seen so far is significantly exaggerated. It's just not what people think it is. We'll have time to talk about it," said criminal defense attorney Ed Genson.

On Monday, Blagojevich said he's working on a bill to aid the movie industry.

Lawmakers in Springfield also may consider impeachment.

Monday could be the day that Jesse Jackson Jr. meets with federal investigators. He was identified as Senate Candidate #5 in the complaint against Governor Blagojevich last week. The governor allegedly was caught on tape saying an emissary for Jackson would raise as much as $1 million if Jackson was chosen to fill the seat.

Jackson has denied making any deal to buy his way into the Senate.

The legislative meetings are later Monday afternoon, and no action is expected until Tuesday. But beforehand, the powerful speaker of the Illinois House, Michael Madigan, will provide some kind of a road map about how he sees the house and the senate proceeding first with the question of a special election, and what the house ought to do about the impeachment of Blagojevich.

Madigan is getting very clear marching orders from his own lawmakers in Springfield from both parties. There was a poll over the weekend that gave him some clear indication of the direction he should go and that poll appeared in Springfield's local newspaper, the Journal Register. In total, 87 percent of lawmakers support Rod Blagojevich's immediate resignation. Eighty percent support impeachment proceedings beginning shortly, and 65 percent support a special election to fill the Obama seat.

The Illinois Republican Party has launched a Friends of Blago Web site. They're pushing very hard for an election to fill the seat rather than appointment. They don't want anyone to be able to pick Obama's replacement.

"Rod Blagojevich embarrassed Illinois. He tried to sell our Senate seat, and now Blagojevich's lieutenant governor, Pat Quinn, wants to hand-pick our senator, going back on his word. The people of Illinois deserve better than another political power grab," a GOP ad says.

That ad is intended to pressure Democratic law makers to follow through on the commitment to a special election. That, of course, would give Republicans a chance to win the seat. An appointment made by Blagojevich or Quinn will obviously go to a Democrat.

"The General Assembly must move to impeach Rod Blagojevich immediately," said DuPage County State's Attorney Joe Birkett, a potential Republican candidate for governor in 2010.

"We should have started yesterday," agreed Rep. Jack Franks, a Democrat.

Legislators were to meet Monday afternoon for the first time since Blagojevich was arrested last week on charges he shook down businesses seeking state deals and tried to profit from his power to choose a replacement for President-elect Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat.

Blagojevich spokesman Lucio Guerrero said the governor "has no plans on resigning Monday."

Guerrero didn't respond directly to whether the governor could or would do anything to slow down the Legislature's move toward impeachment.

"The governor has indicated in the past there is more to this story that he's wanting to tell at an appropriate time," he said.

The calls for impeachment put the spotlight on House Speaker Michael Madigan, who ultimately will decide the timing of any impeachment effort.

Madigan, a Democrat representing Chicago, hasn't taken any public position beyond saying Sunday that he will talk to the House Republican leader about the issue Monday.

David Dring, spokesman for House Minority Leader Tom Cross, said Republicans will step up the pressure on Democrats to remove Blagojevich, perhaps raising the issue on the House floor.

"If they won't work with us, you'll probably see some good theater," Dring said.

The GOP also plans to run television ads pressuring Democrats to approve a special election to replace Obama. Blagojevich still holds the power to appoint a new senator, and if he resigned, that power would go to Democratic Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn.

Illinois Republican Party chairman Andy McKenna told reporters the ads will "make the point that this is the people's seat, and the people deserve a special election."

Madigan often has clashed with the Democratic governor, and his office produced a memo this year outlining all the arguments legislative candidates could make in favor of impeachment.

But spokesman Steve Brown wouldn't say Sunday whether Madigan was even considering impeachment proceedings. Brown said Madigan wants to "maintain some neutrality" in case he winds up presiding over an impeachment.

Madigan's daughter, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, has asked the state Supreme Court to remove Blagojevich from office, claiming he is unfit to serve. Madigan said Sunday she expects word on whether the court will hear her request "probably just in a few days."

Lisa Madigan is considered one of the top Democratic candidates for governor in 2010.

The state constitution gives lawmakers broad authority to impeach a governor for any reason they consider sufficient. The House would decide whether to file charges against the governor, and the Senate would ultimately rule on them.

Democrats first made the call for a special election, but some are now having second thoughts.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, for instance, was an early supporter, but is now calling for Blagojevich to resign so that the lieutenant governor could appoint a senator.

Opponents of a special election cite the time and expense. It would cost tens of millions of dollars and not produce a new senator until April.

Republicans claim Democrats are wavering because they don't want to risk a GOP candidate winning the special election.

At the Greater St. John Bible Church in Chicago, the Rev. Ira Acree, who met with Blagojevich at his home Friday morning, made only a passing reference to the governor in his sermon Sunday but told his congregation that he had prayed with the governor and that everyone deserves pastoral counsel.

"Pray for our state," Acree said. "No matter what your political position is, pray for our state."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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