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Wednesday, Dec. 24, 2008 11:59 pm

Ghosts of unpopular decisions past come back to haunt Blagojevich

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Impeachment committee chairwoman Barbara Flynn Currie, a Chicago Democrat, takes reporters’ questions at the capitol.
PHOTO BY R.L. NAVE

For the past six years, Gov. Rod Blagojevich has rarely missed an opportunity to make an enemy, many of whom have been regulars in Room 114 of the Capitol since the Illinois House’s special investigative committee met for the first time on December 16.

Aside from considering the charges contained in the federal criminal complaint against Gov. Rod Blagojevich and his chief of staff, John Harris, the bipartisan committee on impeachment of the governor, is providing a forum to everyone who’s ever had a beef with Blagojevich to air their grievances.

So from the looks of things, it will be a while before the 21-person bipartisan committee is anywhere close to finishing its work.

Before even tackling the alleged crimes leading up to Blagojevich’s arrest on Dec. 9 — conspiracy to accept bribes, scheming to sell Barack Obama’s Senate seat, attempting to have Chicago Tribune journalists fired in exchange for freeing up state assistance to the paper’s cash-strapped parent Tribune Co. — the panel is revisiting a number of unpopular decisions made by Blagojevich.

During week one, the committee established rules, which included giving subpoena power to Madigan and committee chairwoman, Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago. With the exception of Christmas and New Year’s Day, the committee was directed to meet every day until its work is complete. The meetings are open to the public — you just need to show ID — but live video and audio is also available Illinois General Assembly’s Web site at www.ilga.gov.

Department of Healthcare and Family Services director Barry Maram defended the expansion of state-provided medical care over the objection of the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules [see related article] and purchasing of $2.6 million worth European flu vaccine that had not been approved by the Federal Drug Administration and never made it to Illinois. Auditor General William Holland testified about failure of agencies under Blagojevich’s control to cooperate with Holland’s office.

Week two featured testimony from former Assistant U.S. Attorney John Scully, who testified about the procedure to obtain wiretaps and who, ironically, lost his first case to Blagojevich attorney Ed Genson. Matt Brown, head of the Illinois Procurement Policy Board and Cindi Canary from the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform also testified.

In the coming weeks, stay tuned for more testimony about closures of state parks, historic sites, prisons, jobs, and facilities than allegations of trying to sell Senate seats.

Among those who could testify is Jonathan Lackland, executive director of the state worker advocacy group, Illinois Association of Minorities in Government. The IAMG and others have criticized what they’ve characterized as the politicization of state hiring under Blagojevich.

While Lackland stresses that the governor is innocent until found guilty by the criminal courts or impeached, he adds that the allegations against Blagojevich are “of grave concern” to the organization’s members, most of whom are employed by agencies that Blagojevich controls.

“We have members who have undergone great adversity,” says Lackland, citing “egregious firings” and suspensions by Blagojevich administration officials.

Lackland says the group has voiced its concern to members of the impeachment inquiry panel and there’s a “significant possibility” that he’ll receive an invitation to testify on behalf of the organization.

A number of IAMG members have filed lawsuits against the governor and members of his cabinet in recent years. Among them, five employees of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources lodged complaints with the federal courts or state human-rights department against Blagojevich and administration officials [See R.L. Nave, “Hostile environment,” Feb. 19, 2006].

One of them, former parks superintendent Ray Coleman, who charged that he was terminated and improperly replaced with a political appointee, agreed to accept a $65,000 settlement from the state in 2006.

“We should pray for his family, but also pray for his resignation,” Coleman says, referring to the governor.

Blagojevich has been clear that he intends to stay put, though one of his attorneys, Sam Adam Jr. stated at a recent Chicago news conference “If the people of Illinois suffer, he will step aside.”

Coleman, who asserts that his personal finances were ruined when he was fired unfairly, asserts the people have been hurting for a long time. If Blagojevich doesn’t step down, Illinoisans should begin circulating petitions demanding his resignation, he says.

Contact R.L. Nave at rnave@illinoistimes.com.

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