'It makes us all look bad,' lawmaker says of scandal

Lawmakers say verdict hurts Blagojevich

Published: 6/4/2008 10:01 PM | Updated: 6/4/2008 10:45 PM

SPRINGFIELD -- Suburban lawmakers' reaction to the guilty verdicts against Gov. Rod Blagojevich's former political fundraiser suggests a crucial nail may have been hammered into the Chicago Democrat's political coffin.

Several area legislators questioned how the state would move forward with key policy initiatives given Wednesday's convictions, which will likely pile on to the animosity many feel toward the governor.

"I think this verdict gives credibility to the comments you've been hearing with the lack of trust in this administration," said state Sen. Pamela Althoff, a McHenry Republican. "How we go forward, now that this verdict is in, that remains to be seen. But I think it's going to be difficult to move forward with any significant proposals."

State Rep. Ed Sullivan Jr., a Mundelein Republican, said the conviction dooms Blagojevich.

"I don't see how this cannot send a signal to the governor that his days are numbered," Sullivan said. "I think this verdict will make this governor, no matter what he thinks, a lame-duck governor if he's not one already."

The stinging verdict comes just days after Blagojevich tried and failed to win approval of a $34 billion construction spending plan that would have been financed with gambling expansion and leasing out the lottery.

Blagojevich planned to meet with legislative leaders today in Chicago to try to sway votes, but one suburban member believes the deal is now dead.

"I believe the conviction has probably doomed the capital bill to the dustbin," said state Rep. Jack Franks, a Woodstock Democrat.

Political observers agreed there's a darkening cloud over the Blagojevich administration, which came into office promising to clean up Illinois government in the wake of scandals that ultimately sent former Republican Gov. George Ryan to prison.

"Whatever shred of credibility the governor has clung to has largely vanished with this verdict," said Cindi Canary, director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

Paul Green, Roosevelt University's director of policy studies, said the verdict weakens Blagojevich.

"Given this and other clouds over him, he's playing a lot of low cards," Green said. "He doesn't have a lot of aces and kings in his hands to play, even though he's the governor."

Suburban lawmakers had similar views.

"I feel sad that there's yet another guilty verdict that involves Illinois politics, and I think it certainly seems to tighten the web around this administration," said state Rep. Elaine Nekritz, a Northbrook Democrat.

Others, however, found it hard to believe this could make things worse than they already are.

"I don't know why it would make it any different now --perception-wise," said state Rep. Sandy Cole, a Grayslake Republican.

But lawmakers stopped short of saying Blagojevich should be impeached. House Speaker Michael Madigan, whose spokesman declined to comment, recently acknowledged his legal staff looked into the impeachment process. Lawmakers tried but failed earlier this spring to add recall to the Illinois Constitution.

"I don't think anything's been proven against him as of yet," said state Rep. Randy Ramey, a Carol Stream Republican. "I voted for recall. I think there still has to be more done. If he gets indicted, I think then perhaps that impeachment can go forward. But right now, you can't put anything together in a case to prove any guilt."

Others held out hope the coveted $34 billion construction program would still have political legs and safeguards in the program would override concerns of how the Blagojevich administration might dispense the money.

"You have to look at the compelling needs: the schools, the roads, the bridges. ... There's a laundry list of projects that needs to be addressed," said state Sen. Dan Cronin, an Elmhurst Republican who just days ago voted for the construction plan and the gambling expansion needed to pay for it.

Suburban Democrats agreed the plan needs to move forward.

"Anyone that would use this as leverage to shut down the system would not be doing this as a service to the public whatsoever," said state Sen. Mike Noland, an Elgin Democrat. "This is something that's not going to factor into the legislative process at all, or at least it shouldn't."

Added state Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat: "We cannot stop the operation of state government because of something that could possibly happen or some innuendo."

Other suburban lawmakers said yet another conviction and scandal merely reflects negatively on all of Illinois.

"It makes us all look bad no matter what party you're in," said state Rep. Michael Tryon, a Crystal Lake Republican. "I'm hoping a new day is about to dawn in Illinois -- we seem to have a history of our governors getting indicted and going to jail."