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Wednesday, May 7, 2008 09:35 am

The game continues

Jones may have killed recall, but can he stop impeachment?

Untitled Document The oldest axiom in government is that it’s always easier to kill something than it is to pass something. That was proved true yet again last week when Senate President Emil Jones and Gov. Rod Blagojevich teamed up to kill off the proposed constitutional amendment for recall of elected officials. Jones gave marching orders to his leadership team to get in line and recruit as many no votes as possible before the proposal came up for a vote. Blagojevich’s team was apparently busy wheeling and doling out state money and jobs, releasing grants, and moving one state facility while promising not to close another. Only two of the no votes among Senate Democrats have Republican opponents this fall: Sens. Terry Link and Mike Jacobs. But neither of those Republicans is considered a top-tier type yet. Jacobs covered himself a bit by calling on the governor to resign before he is impeached. Link, who has had some problems locally with his own nominating petitions and with some of his candidates’ campaigns, will undoubtedly be moved up the target list, but his district is so Democratic that it will be tough to dislodge him. Even so, expect a lot more money to be spent there — if, that is, the Senate Republicans can raise it. Jones is philosophically opposed to recall, and he also sent a very clear message last week: Enough with the Blagojevich-bashing — but the heat is not off the governor, not by a long shot.
Ali Ata’s devastating plea bargain and testimony at Tony Rezko’s federal corruption trial has reinforced the view among many Statehouse types that Blagojevich probably won’t survive this investigation. Ata talked about delivering a campaign check to the governor in Rezko’s office, after which the two talked about a state job. He also claimed that he gave Rezko — a top Blagojevich insider — $25,000 to help pay off contractors working on Blagojevich’s house. It seems even clearer now than it was before (and it was pretty clear then) that the governor is the ultimate target of U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald’s investigation. Jones’ actions with recall show the length he will go to protect Blagojevich’s back. Those considering the idea of impeaching the governor in the House have to be wondering what Jones will do if the House takes that drastic step against the governor. The Illinois Constitution directs the Senate to hold a trial and designates the chief justice of the Supreme Court to preside, but nobody knows who is in charge of actually convening the proceedings. A call last week to the Supreme Court came up empty. They don’t appear to know, either. Because no definitive timeline is set forth in the Constitution, Jones could postpone convening a trial almost indefinitely.
The longer the legislative session drags on, the more that comes out of the Rezko trial, the lower the governor’s poll numbers drop, and the closer the election becomes will all contribute to the momentum building in the House right now to do something — anything — about this governor. The passage of recall might have “lanced the boil,” but its failure in the Senate means that there is almost no other alternative except waiting until January 2011 for a new governor to take office. Impeachment might instead be used as a threatened weapon to get things done at the Statehouse. The theory goes that Madigan could use the threat to push Blagojevich to wrap up the spring session in a timely manner rather than allow it to drag on into the winter, which is what happened with last year’s session. The Senate’s vote to kill recall was partially a move to prevent Madigan from doing just that. But even if the Senate never puts Blagojevich on trial or votes to remove him from office, no Illinois governor has ever been impeached by the House. Getting tagged with that ignominious badge of dishonor throughout the rest of history can’t be something that Blagojevich would relish, particularly when he is fighting off a relentless federal prosecutor. This game is far from playing itself out.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily
political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.
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