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Governor Blagojevich, resign
"I should say if anybody wants to tape my conversations, go right ahead, feel free to do it. ... [W]hatever I say is always lawful ... I don't believe there's any cloud that hangs over me, I think there's nothing but sunshine hanging over me."
-- Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Dec. 8, 2008
"It's a very sad day for Illinois government. Gov. Blagojevich has taken us to a truly new low. Gov. Blagojevich has been arrested in the middle of what we can only describe as a political corruption crime spree.
-- U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald, Dec. 9. 2008
The people of Illinois have known for more than a year that Gov. Rod Blagojevich is, despite his title, not capable of governing. As we said in an October 2007 editorial, he is "an intentionally divisive governor and a profoundly unhelpful influence." He has tried to circumvent the authority of the legislature and spend money this state doesn't have. He has been plagued -- this sorry state has been plagued -- by metastasizing investigations of cronyism and corruption on his watch.
And now U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald of Chicago has laid out a devastating set of criminal charges against Blagojevich and his chief of staff. This complaint is astonishing, even in a state known for its culture of political sleaze, a state whose last governor is serving a richly deserved prison sentence for multiple counts of public corruption.
Prosecutors allege that Blagojevich tried to sell an appointment to the U.S. Senate. He tried to barter the powers of his office. He tried to make a deal to get the corporate owner of this newspaper to remove members of the editorial board because this board has been critical of him.
Even as the probe was closing in on him, the pace of the governor's money-making schemes sped up. Prosecutors said the governor was working "feverishly" to monetize his clout, his ability to confer favors.
Most appalling: When Barack Obama was elected president, Blagojevich saw opportunity in the vacancy created in the U.S. Senate. "I've got this thing and it's [expletive] golden, and uh, uh, I'm just not giving it up for [expletive] nothing," he allegedly said.
The governor must resign immediately. If he doesn't, the Illinois House should begin proceedings to impeach him, and to ask the Senate to try him.
That's not just our judgment. Many of the state's leading politicians, Democrats and Republicans, have called on the governor to step down. In the words of Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan: "Our worst fears have been realized."
Unfortunately for the citizens of this state, that statement could have been uttered too many times in recent decades.
Otto Kerner, the Democratic governor from 1961 to 1968, went to prison after being convicted in 1973 on bribery, tax evasion and other counts.
In 1987, after he left office, former Democratic Gov. Dan Walker pleaded guilty to charges of bank fraud, misapplication of funds and perjury.
In 2006, Republican Gov. George Ryan was convicted of widespread corruption and is now serving a 6 1/2-year term with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.
Prosecutors said Tuesday that they had hoped the conviction of Ryan sent a message to all future governors. Much as we'd like to think Illinois public officials are educable on that point, the intended message allegedly didn't get through to Blagojevich. Like Ryan and the others, Blagojevich will get every opportunity to defend himself in court against the criminal charges.
That doesn't, though, mean Illinois should have to put up with him in office for one more day. The allegations against him haven't been proven. They are, however, credible, and they render him unable not just to lead, but unable to serve.
Until he resigns, however, Blagojevich is still the governor. Theoretically he could, even in his last moments, appoint someone to fill Obama's vacant seat for two years.
But that person would be irredeemably tainted by the governor's alleged attempts to sell or barter the seat. Blagojevich needs to step aside and let Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn take over. Quinn has a rare reputation in Illinois politics: He's honest. If he replaces Blagojevich as governor, he can make the Senate appointment.
This moment, though, shouldn't be all about politicians and laws. This moment should be about the serially cheated citizens of Illinois, people who pay their taxes and expect honest governance in return. They have to choose better officials. They have to demand more. They deserve more.
Right now, though, the state faces a financial crisis, a $2 billion budget shortfall and an abundance of difficult choices of what to fund and what to cut. Illinois needs a governor who can lead through this crisis. Rod Blagojevich is, more than before, the governor who cannot govern.