A Well-Deserved Impeachment

Blagojevich got what he deserved


In 1776, the authors of the Declaration of Independence noted that "governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves." But Illinoisans know, as those patriots did, that at some point you just can't take it anymore.

For most, that point came after Gov. Rod Blagojevich got himself arrested in December on charges of soliciting bribes. It took less than a month for the House to vote to impeach him. The real mystery is not that people became completely disgusted with the governor so suddenly, but that the process took so long.

His conduct over six years in office suggests that his only goal was to see how far he could push his luck before it ran out. Or else to prove journalist H.L. Mencken's claim that "government is a broker in pillage, and every election is sort of an advance auction sale of stolen goods."

The House vote set the stage for the Senate trial to decide on his removal. As it happens, neither the House nor the Senate needs any reason to act. The U.S. Constitution provides for impeachment and removal in cases of "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors." The Illinois Constitution, by contrast, provides for it in any instance where the General Assembly feels the urge. Legislators could eject Blagojevich because they detest his hair, and who could blame them?

But to their credit, lawmakers have never been disposed to resort to impeachment just to get rid of someone whose personality or policies they find obnoxious. They treat it as a last resort, to be used only for the most intolerable behavior.

In the case of Blagojevich, that gave them plenty to choose from. From wiretapped conversations, federal law enforcement agents concluded he schemed to trade a U.S. Senate appointment for lucrative favors, tried to coerce the owner of The Chicago Tribune to fire his editorial board, and demanded a campaign contribution from an executive at a children's hospital that was hoping to get state reimbursement for pediatric care.

Amid all these revelations, you could almost forget that Blagojevich had been practically begging to be evicted for years. During the bribery trial of Chicago developer Tony Rezko, there was testimony he traded state contracts for campaign cash. He tried to import flu vaccines and prescription drugs in defiance of federal law. He expanded a state health care plan without any legal basis. And along the way, he did just about everything possible to make a buffoon of himself.

But his earlier sins were only proof of how hard it is to get oneself removed from office. In all of the republic's political history, only seven governors have ever been impeached and convicted. Americans are often disappointed with the performance of those they elect. But as a rule, citizens seem to think that if they were foolish enough to install a clown or a crook, they deserve to suffer the consequences.

In this case, the voters of 2002 could be excused for assuming any Democrat would be an improvement on Republican incumbent George Ryan, whose own envelopment in scandal dissuaded him from running again. Blagojevich—I am not making this up—got elected on promises of reform. As a Chicago Tribune story put it during his first gubernatorial campaign, his main theme was "a promise to overhaul the scandalous culture of Springfield and install new leadership imbued with hope, idealism and, of course, opportunity." Ha. Ha. Ha.

By 2006, people didn't expect that from Blagojevich anymore than they expected palm trees to sprout on Michigan Avenue. But thanks to great piles of campaign cash, weak opponents, and widespread despair at ever achieving good government in this state, he was able to win re-election. Like many a politician, the governor benefited from his talent for fostering cynicism.

The victory, however, seems to have fed his own worst instincts. After being forced to resign as governor of Connecticut in 2004 and serving time in prison, John Rowland reflected that what brought him down was a "sense of entitlement" and the "arrogance of power." He's not the last politician to display those flaws—or to learn that the public's patience is almost unlimited, but not quite.


NEXT: Ashes to Ashes

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. First Post.

    Good morning Reason!

  2. “In defiance of federal law” shouldn’t be listed as a reason for the impeachment of a state governor. Ever.

  3. Jozef,

    Are you saying that governors should be subject to some laws but not the rest of them that we are subject to?

    A State has every right to remove a governor for this, especially since the federal government can not (jailing him does not remove him from office) and the State does have the option of ignoring it if they find no merit.

  4. Perhaps some clairification is needed. My employer has every right to remove me from my job fo just about any reason they like. Some States and courts have limited that right (incorrectly IMHO, but apparently legally) and a State should have every right to remove a governor for whatever reason they like too.

    In the case of a State it is typically the legislature that has the power to “fire” the governor and other State officials.

  5. Governors are, first and foremost, public servants to the inhabitants of their state. They are not agents of the federal government. As such, governors should act in the best interests of their electorate, even if that means violating a federal law. I don’t know what the situation with importing medical drugs from Canada was, but at most Blago should be criticized for going against the wishes of his voters (if that was the case), but not for violating a federal law.

  6. Jozef, since I actually live in the corrupt state of Illinois, let me enlighten you. Blagojavich has been a shitty governor doing shady things for *years*. They’ve wanted to impeach him for a very long time. However, it is politically impossible to impeach an executive officer unless he is convicted of a crime. Federal charges provide a convenient means to get the ball rolling on impeachment.

    In a just world he would have been impeached a very long time ago, probably in his first term.

    That’s Chicago politics for you.

  7. An amorphous allegation that the gov. “violated federal law” is hardly a basis upon which to argue that he should be impeached.

  8. Horrors of Horrors! A violation of federal law! So, the principal, a chief executive officer of a state, has violated, allegedly, a law of his servant, the federal gvt.

  9. Guy-

    BTW, off topic, I see that you think that a guy who is second all time in 4th quarter comebacks “sucks”. Hey tough guy, how about 269 consecutive starts? The quarterback closest to him? Peyton Manning at 176.

    Yeah, a guy who who throws for greater than 3,000 yards for 17 consecutive seasons must really “suck”! How many other QBs have done that? The late Minister of Defense, Sir Reggie White, said that he went to Green Bay, in large measure, because of the quarterback’s toughness and leadership. He pointed to a game in 1992, the quarterbakc’s first season in Green Bay, in which he was knocked out of the game in the first half against the Eagles, only to come back in the second half to rally the Pack to victory over the Eagles.

    I am sure that you remember the 1995 season when the guy you assert “sucks” sustained a partially separated shoulder against the Vikings only to come back the next week and throw 5 touchdown passes against the Bears. How many QBs in NFL history have suffered separated shoulders in one game and the very next week not only play, but throw 5 TDs?

    Of course, I could cite the Monday night game of December 22, 2003 against the Raiders. You remember that, don’t you? The day after losing his father, the quarterback who you claim “sucks”, just happened to throw for 5 TDs and have one of the best games a qb ever had.

    I could also cite 3 MVPs. Do I have to mention the obvious: most td passes all-time; most passing yards all-time; most passes completed all-time; most 3,000 yard seasons all-time; 2nd most 4,000 yard seasons, all-time.

    How about MOST WINS, all time?

    Perhaps the thing that “sucks” is your assessment.

  10. He tried to import flu vaccines and prescription drugs in defiance of federal law. He expanded a state health care plan without any legal basis.

    And this alienated the vast hordes of voters?

    Seven-Eleven is hiring, Chapman.

  11. I’m just upset that Favre didn’t retire last season with grace and dignity, but instead chose to prolong his career. He wasn’t bad with the Jets, but he really botched what could’ve been a smooth transition into the history books.

    Blagojevich, will not get a smooth retirement from public life either, good riddance.

  12. Favre is another victim of the Capitalist system. When his owners were done using him he was sent out to pasture.

  13. Shrug. It’s Chicago. No one was surprised.

  14. Actually, I think it was the gross receipts tax that really shocked people. Businesses were in such a panic over the idea that they started relocating as soon as it was prposed, and people started to realize this guy could actually destroy the IL economy, such as it is.

  15. I’m halfway hoping that Blagojevich beats the rap. He’s a corrupt buffoonish party hack , but entertaining as hell to watch.

  16. Extra! Extra!-Steve Chapman says Blagojevich ought to be impeached!
    Also!- Steve Chapman revealed as secret identity of Captain Obvious.

  17. phalkor-

    Agreed. I just can’t stand stupid, irrational reasoning-even when it comes to sports. Example: If one says that Peyton Manning is great to a New England fan, invariably, the fan will respond, “Oh, and Tom Brady sucks?”

  18. Is there any violation of federal law by Blago that isn’t also a violation of Illinois law?

    Isn’t the real problem here that the cancer runs so deep in Illinois that the legislature and the state prosecutors one and all are as corrupted in their way as Blago?

    Leading naturally to the question: Isn’t the impeachment and removal of Blago little more than giant PR exercise designed, in part, to conceal the much more massive dysfunction of Illinois politics?

  19. And this [the Canadian prescription drug thing] alienated the vast hordes of voters?

    Yes, because his mouth was writing checks to the people that his administration could not cash. He blew a lot of hot air, jerked a lot of people around.

  20. “Is there any violation of federal law by Blago that isn’t also a violation of Illinois law?”

    THANK YOU! RC Dean gets it correct. It took a federal law to bring this man down. It didn’t matter how many local or state laws he was breaking. It also didn’t matter how many things he did to destroy the Illinois economy–and I don’t even mean this in the generic libertarian sense in that government slows the economy–every single revenue increasing measure he proposed freaked out businesses and resulted in decreased revenue. He would also routinely flaunt his legal powers, basically legislating without the legislature. There are also all the politically connected business deals he made at taxpayer expense, and selling political positions for cash–Like Louis XIV selling off titles of royalty and positions of power. “I am the state”!

    He’s the very model of a populist tyrant. Just look at his speech after he was impeached–it’s all about how he saved teh childrun. Defiant to the last.

  21. When a private business gets caught in fraud (Enron, etc.) the massive public outcry is for more regulations to prevent a similar. Yet when politicians get caught in fraud there is no outcry. The most a pollyanna can expect from this debacle is a padded ethics committee, but even that is unlikely.

    To quote something I heard last week, “if your system relies on having the right people in charge, you have a broken system”.

  22. During the bribery trial of Chicago developer Tony Rezko, there was testimony he traded state contracts for campaign cash. He tried to import flu vaccines and prescription drugs in defiance of federal law. He expanded a state health care plan without any legal basis.

    Seeing sentences like those put next to each other is a welcome corrective when I find myself forgetting that this is the looney bin.

  23. Do you mean the insertion of “import flu vaccines and prescription drugs” between the other two? Don’t get cha, sorry.

  24. That’s Chicago politics for you.

    Shrug. It’s Chicago. No one was surprised.

    Ok, for those of you that don’t live in Illinois:

    1) Chicago is not the capital of Illinois, Springfield is.
    2) Springfield is where the governor works.
    3) Chicago is corrupt, but this is not a case of “Chicago-politics”, it’s a case of “Illinois-politics” or possibly “Springfield-politics”.
    4) Yes, there is a difference between Chicago specifically and Illinois generally.

  25. Marcvs,

    You forgot 5) Barack Obama is from Chicago, so any effort to rope him into a scandal that involves the guilty party ranting and cursing about Obama’s frustrating honesty is going to require a large helping of guilt-by-association.

    Hence, “Chicago politics” instead of “Illinois politics.”

  26. “But to their credit, lawmakers have never been disposed to resort to impeachment just to get rid of someone whose personality or policies they find obnoxious.”

    Well, there was just that one time.


  27. What is wrong with some horse trading? Fitzgerald says he stopped a crime spree yet a month later the Big TV Talking Prosecutor needs 90 more days. So no indictment. Yet Chapman says he got what he deserved. I cannot wait to here how Emanuel, Reid and others dealt with this sacred choice on the “wiretaps” that make this a great country.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.