On December 8th, Rod Blagojevich became the fifth of the last eight elected Illinois governors to be charged with a crime; if he is convicted, he will be the fourth to serve time. The Illinois House voted to impeach him on January 16th. Blagojevich is charged with attempting to sell President-elect Barack Obama’s vacant senate seat, charges which have caused the citizens of Illinois to collectively moan as another local politician was hauled away in cuffs. As the saga unfolds, many are beginning to ponder the state’s history of political corruption.
The New York Times reports: "’Since 1971, said Dick Simpson, head of the political science department at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a former Chicago alderman, ‘1,000 Illinois public servants have been convicted of corruption, and in Chicago, 30 aldermen have gone to jail.’"
A recent tally released from the Department of Justice reveals that Illinois is only ranked 7th with Florida in the lead for guilty political convictions. But this revelation does little to quiet qualms about the way politics are run in the state. Many in Illinois were outraged upon learning the allegations. The Wall Street Journal wrote: "’It was as if Chicago politics had turned a corner and this was a new day,’ said Sean Kennedy, former president of a student Democrat organization at Loyola University. ‘All of a sudden, we get pulled back into reality, and realize nothing in Chicago has changed that much.’"
For his part, Blagojevich has repeatedly maintained his innocence, and some are rushing to his defense. Blogger Paul Levinson writes, "If a duly elected governor is obliged to resign because he is accused, not because he is found guilty, what does that say about our laws?" The fairness of this statement cannot be disputed; some however still feel cheapened by the governor’s actions.
Regardless of whether Blagojevich is guilty or innocent, most will agree that Illinois has perfected the art of political theatrics. Complete with rain drenched press conferences, shifting alliances, and impromptu appearances of public officials, Blagojevich’s appointment of Roland Burris is the thing of daytime drama. In making the appointment, Blagojevich has preformed a Houdini act of sorts by shifting the attention away from his corruption charges and focusing the lens on political bickering.
Where do you stand on Blagojevich’s innocence or guilt? Are the charges against the governor warranted? Is the governor’s appointment of Burris a legitimate act? Does this most recent scandal taint Barack Obama’s historic win? Is corruption in Illinois more extreme than what may take place in other states? What reforms or changes could be enacted to help weed out corruption by elected officials? What would you like to see happen in the future of Illinois politics?
- In Illinois, a Virtual Expectation of Corruption
- What Chicagoans think about Rod Blagojevich
- In Chicago, Political Celebration Gives Way to Political Shame
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