By Jamey Dunn
Senators on both sides of the aisle expressed disappointment with then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich before unanimously voting — 59 to 0 — to remove him from office Thursday. They also voted to prevent him from holding any future public office in Illinois.
Before the vote, all senators were allowed five minutes to speak during public deliberation, an exercise that spanned two and a half hours.
The governor was called everything from an “unusually good liar” by Sen. Matt Murphy, a Palatine Republican, to a “devious, cynical, crass and corrupt politician” by Sen. Dale Righter, a Mattoon Republican.
Sen. James Meeks, a Chicago Democrat, was enthusiastic about calling for impeachment. “This is not a sad day for me. This is a great day. We have this thing called impeachment, and it’s bleeping golden, and we’ve used it the right way.”
The fact that the governor presented no defense and only came to Springfield on the last day of the trial to make a closing argument did not seem to help his case with any of the senators. “The silence that spoke the loudest was the absence of the governor,” said newly elected Sen. Toi Hutchinson, a Democrat from Chicago.
Some senators made a connection between impeaching a governor on pay-to-play politics and a need for campaign finance reform in Illinois. “He became obsessed with assuming more and more power and monetary awards for himself and his future aspirations,” said Sen. Susan Garrett, a Democrat from Lake Forest.
Political scientist Kent Redfield of the University of Illinois at Springfield said the general public would tend to agree. “I think people will really make the connection between unlimited [campaign] contributions and the corruption.”
Many said they felt frustrated with the negative attention cast upon Illinois. Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat, compared the impeachment to an infamous page in Illinois darker history, the 1968 Democratic National Convention. “The whole world is watching Illinois again today. And you know what? I'm sick and tired of it.”
A sobering moment came when former Senate Minority Leader Frank Watson of Greenville gave a tearful apology. Recovering from a stroke that forced him to give up his leadership position, he said that partisan atmosphere in the Senate had partially been his fault and urged the new leaders not to make the same mistake. Watson spoke directly to Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont and Senate President John Cullerton of Chicago: “The way you two have started this session working together in cooperation is a good sign for the future.”