Editorial: Blagojevich is free. That doesn’t mean he should ever be on a ballot again. Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich holds a news conference outside a federal courthouse in Chicago on Monday. He is suing his home state for stripping him of the right to run for elective office in Illinois. (Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune
Editorial: Blagojevich is free. That doesn’t mean he should ever be on a ballot again.
Next to the word “corruption” in the dictionary should be a photo of Rod Blagojevich. The former Illinois governor will go down in history for his brazen attempt to sell off a U.S. Senate seat like it was personal property, but that’s not as shocking as some of the other misdeeds that landed him in prison. Blagojevich is now suing to regain the right to run for political office in Illinois, which state legislators wisely took from him after his impeachment. If reform means anything in these politically troubled times, the courts will throw Blagojevich’s suit out immediately.
Blagojevich, a Democrat and a product of Chicago machine politics, took office in 2003 with a promise to reform Illinois government. He was convicted in 2011 on 17 federal charges, including wire fraud, attempted extortion, soliciting bribes and conspiracy. That he managed to get his 14-year prison sentence for corruption cut short in 2020 by a commutation from then-President Donald Trump, to whom Blagojevich regularly genuflects, is just one of the many examples of this man’s bottomless reservoir of self-serving hypocrisy.
The most sensational allegation was that, after the 2008 presidential election, Blagojevich plotted to receive something of value in exchange for his power to fill the vacant U.S. Senate seat of the new president-elect, Barack Obama. “I’ve got this thing and it’s [expletive] golden,” Blagojevich said, as federal investigators secretly listened in. “I’m not just giving it up for [expletive] nothing.” What a perfect encapsulation of this man’s view of public service.
Even more shocking was Blagojevich’s attempt to shake down the chief executive of a children’s hospital for political donations, with a threat to cut off state funding to sick kids if he didn’t get what he wanted.
The Illinois Legislature — controlled then as now by Blagojevich’s fellow Democrats — impeached him in early 2009, before his two federal trials had played out. This was legitimate, as the evidentiary standards for impeachment are far lighter than those for criminal conviction. The state Senate, after voting to remove Blagojevich, also voted to bar him from holding future political office in Illinois. This, too, was legitimate. States are allowed to set standards for officeholders within their borders, and what more reasonable standard could there be than not having demonstrably betrayed the trust of the voters already?
Trump’s commutation was based on the rationale that, though Blagojevich clearly plotted to violate the law in multiple ways, he mostly wasn’t able to carry out his schemes — a rationale that conflates incompetence with innocence. Conspiracy to commit a crime is, itself, a crime, and Blagojevich’s guilt was (and is) beyond debate. No one now can do anything about the fact that he walks a free man years before he should. But the ballot should be forever off-limits to him.
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