Driven by anger and politics, the Illinois House voted overwhelmingly Friday to impeach Gov. Rod Blagojevich, an unprecedented action that sets the stage for a Senate trial on whether he should be thrown out of office for corruption and abuse of power.
Impeachment required just 60 votes. The final result was 114-1.
During the House's 90-minute debate, no one spoke up to defend the governor. But Rep. Milton Patterson, D-Chicago, voted against impeachment. Rep. Elga Jefferies, D-Chicago, voted "present," essentially saying she was there but not making a call either way. Two representatives were absent.
Patterson, who represents part of Chicago's South Side, recently had a stroke and did not take part in many legislative sessions last year, but showed up to cast his vote Friday.
[Story: Blago's Only Friend in the House]
Patterson said he wasn't defending anyone, but that he read the impeachment committee's report and wasn't comfortable voting against the governor.
"I have no firsthand knowledge of any of the evidence," he said.
"I went by my own gut feeling, it's as simple as that," he said. "I read the report. If the government is going to indict him, let them go ahead and do that. That's their job and I'm doing my job."
Legislators accused the second-term governor of letting down the people of Illinois by letting ego and ambition drive his decisions.
"It's our duty to clean up the mess and stop the freak show that's become Illinois government," said Rep. Jack Franks, D-Woodstock.
The nearly unanimous vote reflects Blagojevich's rocky relationship with lawmakers, the political reality that supporting him now is likely to be unpopular and a genuine fury over his conduct.
Blagojevich was out jogging in his Chicago neighborhood when the vote came down. When he returned to his home, he compared his situation to a short story about a petty criminal called "The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner." [Read More...]
"And that's what this (impeachment) is, by the way, a long-distance run," Blagojevich said, promising to say more at an afternoon news conference.
The unprecedented action sets the stage for a Senate trial on whether he should be thrown out of office for corruption and abuse of power. That trial may not start until Jan. 26.
Reaction to the impeachment hearing has been, by and large, supportive, as state lawmakers repeat their requests of the governor to step down. [Read More...]
Blagojevich was arrested Dec. 9 on federal charges that include allegations he schemed to profit from his power to name President-elect Barack Obama's replacement in the Senate. The criminal complaint included an FBI agent's sworn affidavit describing wiretaps that caught Blagojevich allegedly talking about what he could get for the seat, how to pressure people into making campaign contributions and more.
That arrest triggered impeachment hearings by a special House committee.
A House committee had been studying the possibility of impeachment since shortly after Blagojevich's Dec. 9 arrest. The 21-member committee on Thursday unanimously recommended impeachment based on the criminal charges but other allegations as well -- that Blagojevich expanded a health care program without proper authority, that he circumvented hiring laws to give jobs to political allies, that he spent millions of dollars on foreign flu vaccine that he knew wasn't needed and couldn't be brought into the country. [Read More...]
Blagojevich has denied the criminal charges. He criticized the House impeachment process as biased and said a Senate trial would produce a different result.
But he didn't testify before the House impeachment committee and hasn't offered an explanation for the federal charges.
"His silence in this grave matter is deafening," said House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago.
Republicans have been hammering the Democratic Party over the Blagojevich scandal -- noting, for instance, that House Speaker Michael Madigan, the chairman of the state Democratic Party, co-chaired Blagojevich's 2006 re-election campaign.
But Republicans, at times, have worked with Blagojevich while Madigan stood in opposition to the governor, a situation that muddies the question of who shares political blame.
Blagojevich is the first governor impeached in Illinois' long and sordid political history and joins a small club of impeached governors nationally.
Blagojevich is the first governor in the nation to be impeached since 1988, when Arizona Gov. Evan Mecham was removed from office. The closest to come to impeachment since then was Connecticut Gov. John Rowland, who resigned in 2004 in the midst of impeachment hearings.
Impeachments of governors are exceedingly rare. According to The Council of State Governments, the last governor to be impeached before Mecham was Tennessee Gov. Henry Horton in 1931. And the last governor to be impeached and successfully removed before Mecham was Henry Johnson of Oklahoma in 1929.
Blagojevich hasn't been convicted of any crime, but House members said that doesn't stop them from acting on the evidence they have, particularly since some of the impeachment charges don't involve criminal matters.
The Illinois Constitution lays out no standard of proof to be met for removal of an impeached governor, other than that senators must "do justice according to law." The chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court will preside over the proceedings.
Even in a state that is used to political scandal, the one swirling around Blagojevich was stunning, prompting U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald to say that the governor's actions "would make Lincoln roll over in his grave."
Blagojevich is the latest Illinois governor to be embroiled in scandal. But while three men who served as Illinois governors since the late 1960s went to prison after they left office, including Blagojevich's immediate predecessor, George Ryan, who is now behind bars, Blagojevich is the first to be impeached.
"My Illinois is not the Illinois of George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich. Our Illinois is the Illinois of Abraham Lincoln and Paul Simon and Barack Obama," Rep. John Fritchey, D-Chicago, said.