Friday, January 30, 2009

REACT: Governor ousted ... but was it proper?

First the obligatory disclaimer: I am no fan of Governor Rod Blagojevich. I did not like his policies. I think he is most likely guilty of criminal conduct, and will be convicted and sent to prison. I think he deserves no less.


I am equally distressed by the way he was removed from office. What transpired is the closest thing to a coup that I have seen under our American system of “innocent until proven guilty” and the quoted more than implemented “rule of law.”

First, there was the highly questionable press conference by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald (who I admire greatly). According to many legal experts, he was out of bounds in bringing the case against the Governor to the court of public opinion before he was ready to announce an indictment. In fact, to this day Blago has not been indicted of any crime. Without that press conference to stir the public against the Governor, and coalesce his political adversaries, there would not have been any serious discussion of an impeachment – bad as Blago may be.

Second, there is the question of the impeachment process. Repeatedly noting that it is a “political process,” and not a judicial process, the leaders of the Illinois House and Senate still failed to explain why “fairness” should not be a consideration. In a unique irony, the Governor was barred by the U.S. Attorney’s office from obtaining testimony from those who might be on the witness list for his eventual criminal trial. He could not cross examine witnesses. The Senate-as-court could only listen to a few minutes out of thousands of hours of wire taped conversations because most of the real “evidence” was being withheld for the trial.

Third: It was not a secret vote. While one may say this provided transparency for the public, it really put the “jury” under the pressure of the mob. The secret ballot protects the individual from the intimidation and retribution of the public. I am quite confident that a secret ballot would have produced a number of “no” votes.

Fourth, since it was quite obvious that the Legislature could not prove a “high crimes and misdemeanors” case, they switched to the less specific “abuse of power” accusation. This dubious charge is in the eye of the beholder. By most standards, the Governor’s battles with the Legislature would not rise to impeachment and removal from office – in fact, the notion of impeachment was not even hinted at the time he took the actions now condemned. This means that the central charges against the Governor were not the accusations of the U.S. Attorney, but things he did several years ago that angered members of the Legislature. In other words, those sitting in judgment took advantage of the public anger over the unproven criminal charges to oust the Governor on the vague “abuse” charges.

Fifth, the leaders of the impeachment effort have demonstrated both chutzpah and hypocrisy. Not only did they not accuse the Governor of abuse of power at the time of the alleged abuse, but they praised him, endorsed him, and served on his campaign committee for re-election in the interim. His abuses of power were not recently discovered, only recently defined by those who engaged in the very same processes as one time comrades-in arms.

Yes, it is good that Blago is gone. And yes, Patrick Quinn (left, being sworn in) will most probably make a better governor. However, the impeachment should only be the first step in a broader effort to clean up Illinois government. The political assassins need to be brought to justice next -- if nothing more than to be booted from office in the next election. Though they will now blame the former Governor for every ill in Illinois, they are still part of the business-as-usual process that has brought national shame to the Land of Lincoln.

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