Blagojevich talks politics with students

April 2, 2011 4:25:53 PM PDT
Chicago area high school students got a real-life lesson in politics courtesy of former governor Rod Blagojevich.

He delivered the keynote address Saturday at the Junior State of America Convention held in Oak Brook, Ill., telling the young people they need to stay interested in politics for the future of the country.

The impeached governor also took the chance to defend himself, again, ahead of his upcoming corruption retrial.

It was billed as a civics lesson, aimed at young, impressionable minds, but this was no feel-good lecture about the joys of public service.

"You want to go to a cesspool of cynicism? Go to Springfield, and deal with those two leaders down there: Mike Madigan and John Cullerton," Blagojevich said.

With his retrial on corruption charges set to begin in less than three weeks, Blagojevich professed his innocence.

"If they're successful in doing to me what they're trying to do, you should think about what the consequences of what this means to the American political system," Blagojevich said.

The impeached former governor was invited to speak to the Spring Convention of the Junior State of America program, a national civics organization for high school students.

Students say the goal was to draw lessons from a former political insider.

"While I wouldn't say he's a role model, I think his view on things is still important for everyone to hear," said student Sara Tamizuddin.

"I think that his experiences, and the way that the American political system handles his experiences, demonstrates that even though America has one of the oldest, actually the oldest constitution in the world, we're still able to adapt," said student Anastasia Golovashkina.

Blagojevich, who was not paid for his appearance, took questions from the students, though some complained he didn't really answer them -- a political lesson in itself.

Afterward, he participated in a "Jeopardy"-style game to raise money for victims of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami.

He also posed for more than a few snapshots.

"Young people can make a difference, and part of the message is that it was young people who elected the first African-American president. It isn't enough to just do it one time, but you've got to stay involved in the process because President Obama and those who are trying to change things for the better need their help," Blagojevich said.

It was President Barack Obama's former senate seat that Blagojevich is accused of selling. His retrial is set to begin April 20.

The students wanted a unique perspective, and that's what they got.