Quick Quiz: How many Governors of the great state of Illinois, Land of Lincoln, have been charged with crimes? How many have done prison time for those crimes? We will get to the answer, below.
Mid-week, the hirsute former Governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, in a two-day sentencing hearing after a jury found him guilty of 17 separate federal felonies, received a 14-year federal prison sentence. Federal prison time usually does not carry the possibility of parole. Blago could have received literally hundreds of years, though his counsel were arguing for leniency and probation – that argument went over like the proverbial lead balloon in the wake of Blago’s mess. After being caught on tape, profanely seeking to sell the vacated senate seat of now President Obama to the highest bidder, what Blago crudely did was clear enough for a jury of his peers (in his re-trial, after the first jury hung on all but one count of 24, finding him guilty on the sole count of lying to the FBI) to send him to the Big House. 14 years is a very long time for a guy (having a perpetual ‘good hair day,’ but not much else good to brag about) who will turn 55 this coming weekend – happy birthday, Blago.
In 2025, when Blago is about 69 years old, he will once again be able to live where he wishes, without a roommate or room and board paid for by the taxpayers, as a guest of the federal government.
Have you guessed the answer to the Quick Quiz yet? It’s even worse than you have heard. In total, six (6) Illinois Governors have been charged with crimes, either while serving as Governor, or after leaving office. Four (4) have been convicted, but Blago holds the solitary distinction of being the only one to be first impeached and removed from office (January 9, 2009, on a 114-1 vote of the Illinois Legislature); Blago was also disbarred and, by legislative vote, prohibited from ever holding elected office in Illinois again by a 59-0 vote of the Illinois State Senate.
Here are the highlights of the sorry history of Illinois Governors over the last century, for those wagging heads in disbelief:
– Republican Governor Len Small (1921-1929) was indicted on corruption charges in office, but acquitted at trial. Noteworthy are the facts that: 1) eight of Gov. Small’s jurors had the fantastic luck (!) to land state jobs after their juror service, and; 2) Gov. Small’s defense lawyer, Joseph Fifer, himself a former Illinois Governor, argued that a governor enjoys the Divine Right of Kings – pretty lofty stuff for defending against corruption charges, no?
– Republican Governor William G. Stratton (1953-1961) was tried, but acquitted of tax evasion charges in 1965.
– Democratic Governor Otto Kerner, Jr., who succeeded Stratton (and also served as an Appellate Judge for the Federal Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals) was convicted in 1973 of 17 counts of unsavory behavior in office, including bribery, conspiracy, perjury, and income tax issues, served three years, paid a $50,000 fine (back when that was a boatload of money) – the Prosecutor in Gov. Kerner’s criminal case was none other than future Illinois Governor, Jim Thompson; pretty incestuous stuff . . . .
– Democratic Governor Dan Walker (1973-1977) was convicted amid the S&L Crisis for arranging fraudulent loans to himself from a savings and loan which he just happened to own, and served seven years in prison, and another five years of probation after being released from prison.
– Republican Governor George H. Ryan (1999-2003), (defended by the law firm of former Gov. Thompson) was also convicted of corruption charges in 2006, relating back to his term in the 1990’s as Secretary of State, having been bribed to issue commercial truck driver licenses to unqualified drivers – one of those ‘purportedly licensed’ drivers killed six children in a crash. Gov. Ryan is serving a 6 ½ year prison term at a federal prison in nearby Terre Haute, Indiana and is due to be released in 2013.
– And now comes Democratic former Gov. Blago, to fill out this less-than-stellar list of public servants who have governed, and plundered, the Land of Lincoln – who, likely, would turn over in his grave, if he knew. Blago was convicted on charges ranging from conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and solicitation of bribery, to lying to the FBI. Even before his corruption charges, Blago had the dubious honor of being ranked as “America’s Least Popular Governor,” by the Rasmussen Reports. Among the wreckage Blago leaves behind while he is cooling his heels in federal prison for the next 14 years were at least a dozen federal investigations, ranging from allegedly withholding funds due from the state to Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, to an investigation and charges arising out of Blago’s role in the sale of both Chicago’s beloved Cubs Major League Baseball team, and Wrigley Field, the long-hallowed grounds on which they play.
Three Republicans, three Democrats – it is heart warming to see the spirit of bipartisanship in corruption and criminal conduct coming out of the Governor’s office in Illinois over the last nearly 100 years, isn’t it?