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EDITORIAL: Step down, Gov. Blagojevich
Chalk it up to another notorious case of Illinois corruption.
The indictment and arrest yesterday of Gov. Rod Blagojevich by the FBI came as a shock to many. For the people of Illinois, it is a blow to what seems routine in a state whose former governor is in prison on corruption charges. But now their junior senator is poised to become the nation's 44th president. Indeed. It is President-elect Barack Obama's name - though he is not connected with the wrongdoing - that is at the center of it all. Mr. Blagojevich must step aside.
Charges against Mr. Blagojevich stem from the process to fill Mr. Obama's now-vacant Senate seat. According to the FBI and reminiscent of old-style Chicago politics, the governor's attempt to "sell" Mr. Obama's Senate seat led to the two-count indictment on soliciting bribes and soliciting campaign funds. U.S. Attorney for the District of Illinois Patrick Fitzgerald said the scheme has "taken us to a truly new low."
Mr. Blagojevich was apparently aware that he had been under investigation for his role in several pay-to-play schemes - demanding cash and appointments for government favors. With this knowledge one would assume that he would play it safe, especially with such a high-profile seat in his trust. Just the opposite occurred. He apparently "sped up" his actions in an attempt to ram as much as he could through - including appointments for his wife - by the end of the year. His recklessness led authorities to speed up their investigation in an effort to "prevent a corrupt appointment."
Mr. Blagojevich's actions were flagrant and arrogant. Allegations include making threats to the Tribune Co., which publishes the Chicago Tribune, if it didn't fire editorial board members who had called for the governor's impeachment. "I've got this thing [the power to appoint] and it's golden. I'm not going to give it up for nothing," Mr. Blagojevich was reportedly recorded as saying. According to authorities, he even considered appointing himself not to enrich the people of Illinois - but "to avoid impeachment." This is the man who, just a day before, looked every bit the hero when he boldly stood before the national media to take on Bank of America - telling the banking giant that its business contract with the state was over until it uses some of its bailout money to help laid-off union workers.
The appointment power rests with the governor. The process is now tainted, and there is but one way Mr. Blagojevich can restore integrity.
Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin has called on Congress to enact a law issuing a special election. That is one course of action. The state legislature could impeach Mr. Blagojevich. Both courses of action would be legal and just. But here again, only Mr. Blagojevich has the power to fully restore the highest level of integrity to the Senate nominating process - and that is by resigning.
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