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Gov. Rod Blagojevich impeached by Illinois House

The Illinois House voted Friday to impeach disgraced Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich and send him to trial in the Senate with the aim of removing the two-term Democrat from state public office forever.

The governor’s Dec. 9 arrest on corruption charges was the trigger, but lawmakers unloaded six years of grievances in a swift 114-1 vote. Their action made the state’s 40th governor the first in state history to be impeached.

Representatives cast aside Blagojevich’s declarations of innocence, saying there was no place in government for a man who ran roughshod over the Legislature, wasted millions of dollars in state money and sought to sell state contracts and the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama.

“It’s our duty to clean up the mess and to stop the freak show which has become Illinois government,” said Democratic state Rep. Jack Franks, a longtime Blagojevich critic.

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Blagojevich, who has resisted calls for his resignation from state and national leaders, including Obama, was jogging near his Chicago home when lawmakers voted.

He later held a news conference, where he sounded the populist theme that has been his hallmark since he was elected in 2002. He predicted he would be exonerated and blamed lobbyists and special interests who want him tossed out because he expanded healthcare and other programs.

“I am not at all surprised by it,” said Blagojevich, flanked by supporters who, he said, had been helped by his programs. He said he merely found “creative ways” to use his power to “get real things done for people who rely on us.”

“And in many cases, the things we did for people have literally saved lives,” he said. “I don’t believe those are impeachable offenses. So we are going to move forward, and I am going to continue to fight every step of the way.” Blagojevich further inflamed Illinois’ political scene last week by naming former state Atty. Gen. Roland Burris as Obama’s successor -- an appointment that remains a matter of dispute. The action was cited by House members as expediting their two-week investigation by an impeachment committee.

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The lone “no” vote and one “present” vote were cast by Democrats who are not returning to the Legislature.

The House is scheduled to revote its impeachment of Blagojevich on Wednesday as a technical matter when the new General Assembly is sworn in, to reflect the results of the Nov. 4 election. That sets the stage for the first impeachment trial in the state Senate in more than 175 years.

The trial is expected to begin Jan. 26, said incoming Senate President John Cullerton, a Democrat.

It would take 40 votes in the 59-member state Senate to convict Blagojevich and remove him from office. If they convict, senators could impose a requirement that the same 40 votes could prevent him from holding future state office. The House vote called for all three penalties: conviction, removal and disqualification from future state office.

The impeachment marked an extraordinary chapter for a state already encumbered with an infamous lineup of politicians accused of corruption, convicted of crimes and shipped to prison, including Blagojevich’s predecessor, Republican George Ryan, who is in a federal penitentiary.

The impeachment resolution cited abuses of power that included political hiring; using a clout-laden firm that was supposed to save the state money but ended up mishandling it; refusing public access to documents; and authorizing the purchase of foreign flu vaccines that could not legally be imported.

It included the criminal charges against Blagojevich, which involved allegations that he sought to squeeze campaign contributions in exchange for official acts, such as signing a bill or providing reimbursement to a children’s hospital. The federal charges contend that he based the size of a tollway project on how much money he could wring from a highway construction firm; and that he tried to tie an offer of assistance to Tribune Co. for the sale of Wrigley Field to the firing of Chicago Tribune editorial writers. (Tribune owns that paper as well as the Los Angeles Times and others.)

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Tribune reporter Ashley Rueff contributed to this report.

rlong@tribune.com

rpearson@tribune.com


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