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Our View: Rod Blagojevich guilty verdict provides no joy for Illinois 

 
Rockford Register Star
June 27, 2011
By Editorial Board

There’s no reason to celebrate Rod Blagojevich’s conviction on 17 of 20 counts in his federal corruption trial. We should lament what could have been.

Blagojevich campaigned on a promise of ending business as usual, then did the same kind of shady business that got six of his predecessors in legal trouble. He promised to clean up government, but wound up making it even dirtier. He promised to improve life for the hardworking people of Illinois, but instead he increased the state’s deficits, failed to create enough jobs and watched as the state’s roads crumbled.

He had six years as Illinois governor with all the power in his party’s hands. He could have positioned Illinois for a new era of prosperity, or at least helped the state weather the national economic storm better than its neighbors.

It didn’t happen because he was more interested in himself than the people of Illinois. His narcissistic streak was not only evident at his trial, but in the huge media blitz he put on before each of his trials.

He appeared on “Celebrity Apprentice,” “The View” and just about every television or radio show that would have him. If he had put as much effort into being governor as he did into being an entertainer, Illinois might look a lot different today.

People in Illinois work hard and deserve better from their elected officials. Blagojevich was just the latest in the hall of shame for Illinois governors. It started with Joel Matteson in 1853 and included Blagojevich’s predecessor, George Ryan.

Experience certainly has shown that there is no reliable litmus test for honesty, integrity, and honor when electing public officials. If there were, Illinois would not have elected corrupt governors.

The party doesn’t matter: Four Democrats and three Republicans have been in legal trouble, a record of bipartisanship we’d rather not have.

However, Blagojevich, the only Illinois governor ever impeached and kicked out of office, may have taken political scandal to a new level.

“If it isn’t the most corrupt state in the United States, it’s certainly one hell of a competitor,” said Robert Grant, FBI special agent in charge of the Chicago office said after Blagojevich’s arrest. “Even the most cynical agents in our office were shocked.”

Blagojevich got lucky in his first trial when he was convicted of only one of the 24 counts against him. He probably would have been convicted on all counts, and faced a maximum of 415 years in prison, except that one juror was not swayed.

Prosecutors did a better job simplifying the case in the second trial as the numerous convictions show.

Also, Blagojevich testified in the second trial – for seven days – and his own words may have led to his conviction.

“After all is said and done it came down to his testimony. Did you believe him or didn’t you believe him? They didn’t believe him,” Paul Green, a political scientist at Roosevelt University in Chicago, told The Associated Press.
The Editorial Board was familiar with Blagojevich’s hyperactive, unfocused and self-promoting rants. He was charming the first time or two, but wore thin as the state’s problems mounted. Apparently his act wore thin with jurors, too.

Blagojevich’s arrest and impeachment in 2008 inspired calls for ethics reform in Illinois and his conviction Monday probably will renew calls for those reforms to go even further.

Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon said as much in a statement today: “Illinoisans deserve better. We must move forward with a renewed focus on ethics reform. It is time to beat back the Illinois culture of corruption, restore integrity to the Land of Lincoln and make sure these crimes never happen again.”

We would like to see Simon’s vision realized. If the Blagojevich trial can end the state’s century-old pay-to-play political culture, then the verdict would be worth celebrating.