June 25, 2008


To use a metaphor, the 2010 Illinois governor's race is all about who will be the ultimate "tumor remover."

A recent memorandum concerning the possible impeachment of Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich, prepared by the legislative staff of Illinois House Democratic Speaker Mike Madigan, stated that "criminal activity" in the Blagojevich Administration has been "proven" and is now a "tumor" on the state's body politic.

Madigan's memo further argued that impeachment is feasible, for three reasons:

First, that the federal investigation into alleged bribes for jobs involving Blagojevich, his wife and his campaign committee has "impaired" his ability to govern. The recent plea of Ali Ata, who gave Blagojevich $125,000 in campaign contributions and got a $127,000-a-year state job, "directly implicates" the governor, the memo said, adding that "(Blagojevich) is not an innocent victim of circumstances."

Second, that Blagojevich has "violated his oath of office" by "operating outside the law and the Illinois Constitution." The memo cites the governor's role in the General Assembly's appropriation process, which is restricted to vetoes or line item vetoes. Instead, the governor, by executive order, expanded funding for Family Care and "swept" legislatively earmarked funds and spent them. Also, he failed to comply with subpoenas.

And, third, that Blagojevich has "withdrawn" from the legislative process and is "hunkered down" and "hiding" from the public.

Are these impeachable offenses?

"We have no proof yet that the governor committed a criminal offense," said state Senator Ira Silverstein (D-8). "He won't be impeached. It's simply a threat (by Madigan) to get his way."

The U.S. Constitution, in Article II, Section 4, specifies that federal officials may be impeached for "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors." The Illinois Constitution, however, is vague. Under Article IV, Section 14, the Illinois House is accorded the sole power to "conduct an investigation to determine the existence of cause for impeachment." Impeachable offenses are not stipulated.

The only guidance, should Blagojevich be investigated, is found in Article V, Section 8, which states that the governor shall "have supreme executive power" and "shall be responsible for the faithful execution of the laws."

Hence, if an Illinois House investigative committee finds that Blagojevich has failed to faithfully execute the laws and cites specific statutes, then impeachment is a possibility. It would require a majority vote of the House, where Democrats hold a 67-51 majority, and then a trial, presided over by Republican Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Bob Thomas, in the Illinois Senate, where Democrats have a 37-22 majority. The votes of two-thirds of the 59 senators, or 39, would be needed for impeachment -- which would require all 22 Republicans and 17 of 37 Democrats. "As of now that won't happen," Silverstein said.

In the House, with 118 members, it would take a simple majority, or 60 votes, to impeach the governor. The 67 Democrats, many derisively referred to as "Madigan Monkeys," could supply the votes for impeachment, or the 51 Republicans plus nine Democrats could provide the votes. Why would any state representative want to go on record as opposing the removal of a governor who had a 54 percent disapproval rating, according to an April Ipsos Public Affairs poll, and a 64 percent disapproval rating, according to a May Glengariff poll?

Yet state Representative Jack Franks (D-63) of McHenry, a Madigan ally and a fierce critic of Blagojevich, whom he calls a "congenital liar," said that he expects House Republicans, led by Tom Cross, to "do their utmost" to block or delay impeachment. Franks, who is pondering a run for governor in 2010, stopped short of calling Cross a Blagojevich apologist or a covert ally, but he noted that Cross is working with the governor and Illinois Senate President Emil Jones, a Blagojevich ally, to pass a $34 billion capital plan (which Madigan opposes) and that in 2007 the governor vetoed all the spending, called "member initiatives," in the districts of the 67 Democratic representatives but not in the districts of the 51 Republicans.

Added Franks: "He (Cross), like Blagojevich, is concerned about the origin of the memo, not the content."

"That's just absurd," said David Dring, the press spokesman for Cross and the House minority. "If they want to do it, they have to votes to do it. It is our position that we are willing to participate in the process, and we will analyze the evidence." As to the memo, Dring said that it "encouraged" Democratic House members "to lie" -- to say that impeachment was the "right thing to do," to state that impeachment was their idea, not the speaker's, and to "ignore" Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the speaker's daughter and a likely candidate for governor in 2010.

According to Franks, a bill of impeachment could be introduced by any member at any time, and it would be referred to the committee of the speaker's choice, such as the Judiciary Committee or, more likely, the State Government Administration Committee, which is chaired by Franks. Once the committee conducts an investigation and passes a bill, Madigan would call a special session of the House to vote on the measure.

Dring disagrees, citing a 1997 precedent, when the Illinois House passed House Bill 89 to establish a special investigative committee to consider the impeachment of Supreme Court Justice James Heiple, who had been charged with drunken driving and who allegedly tried to use his position to intimidate the arresting officer. The bill created a committee of 10, with five each appointed by and including the speaker and the minority leader, who were co-chairs; the committee had full subpoena power and was empowered to adopt rules and to send a report and a recommendation to the full House. The 1997 committee never made a recommendation on Heiple, who retired in 2000.

Dring said that the House Republicans would insist on a Heiple-like committee for an impeachment of the governor.

In reality, the legislative players are being disingenuous, and the posturing about procedure is a subterfuge. Nobody really wants to impeach Blagojevich.

From the perspective of the Democrats -- or of Mike Madigan -- a bill of impeachment is a splendid way to inoculate Democratic representatives from a voter backlash against pervasive state corruption. By supporting impeachment, they can claim that they voted for "tumor removal." Madigan's goal is to get his majority through 2008 intact, and hopefully to increase it.

Unless Blagojevich is indicted, and maybe even not then, the Senate will not vote to convict him.

That satisfies the speaker's second goal, namely, a clear path for Lisa Madigan's nomination in 2010. If Blagojevich is impeached in 2008 or 2009, or if he is convicted, removed or resigns prior to the March 2010 Democratic primary, Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn would assume his job. As an incumbent, ardent reformer Quinn would be much tougher for Lisa Madigan to beat. If Blagojevich is still governor in 2010 and is running for renomination, Madigan can run as the anti-Blagojevich candidate. She could make the primary a referendum on the governor, with herself as the alternative, marginalizing Quinn.

If Quinn is governor, or it's a one-on-one Quinn-Madigan primary, she would have to find another theme, and Quinn would persuasively blast the father-daughter team as concentrating too much power in one family.

The Madigans want the "tumor" to remain alive, growing and malignant until 2010.

Republicans, likewise, want to see Blagojevich twist in the wind for a while. Having been discredited because their own governor (George Ryan) was indicted and convicted, Republicans want to see a bit of slime and shame attach to the Democrats. Unlike the Democrats, however, Republicans don't have a throw-him-under-the-bus mentality. They refused to consider impeaching Ryan back in 2001, when it would have distanced their party from the governor. Even now, with George Bush's widespread unpopularity, Republicans timidly refuse to utter criticism.

The Republicans' best-case scenario would be a 2009 indictment of the governor, a Nixonian "I am not a crook" posture by Blagojevich, a trial some time after the primary in 2010, and a re-election campaign by the obdurate incumbent. That would mean a nasty and expensive three-way Democratic primary between Blagojevich, Madigan and Quinn, in which the latter two would furiously compete for the "reform" mantle and excoriate the governor. If Quinn won, the speaker would sulk. If Madigan won, the Republicans would parrot Quinn's attacks on dad and daughter.

And if Blagojevich were convicted some time in 2010, after a long and well publicized trial, it could create a perfect storm, enabling any credible Republican to win the governorship. But this is certain: Impeachment is a perfectly good idea, but a perfectly bad option for everybody except Quinn, who wants to be governor. It won't happen.