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Illinois lawmakers focus on ousting governor

Blagojevich (Morry Gash / The Spokesman-Review)
Blagojevich (Morry Gash / The Spokesman-Review)

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Officially, Illinois lawmakers will gather soon to consider a special election to replace Barack Obama in the U.S. Senate – but it was already clear Sunday that ousting disgraced Gov. Rod Blagojevich was at the top of many to-do lists.

“On a scale of one to 10, impeachment is 25 and everything else is a two,” said Rep. Jack Franks, a fellow Democrat from Woodstock.

A legislative session beginning today will be the first since Blagojevich was arrested last week on charges that he tried to profit from his power to choose Obama’s replacement and shook down businesses seeking state deals.

Republicans said Sunday that they plan to put intense public pressure on Democrats to move against Blagojevich. A spokesman for Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan said he will discuss the idea with Republican leaders today.

Blagojevich was expected to firm up his legal representation after meeting over the weekend with Chicago attorney Ed Genson, who has defended media mogul Conrad Black and R&B singer R. Kelly.

Blagojevich and his wife, Patti, left Genson’s office building Sunday evening, declining to comment beyond wishing gathered reporters and officers a “merry Christmas.”

Genson, a bulldog who generally takes his cases to trial, left shortly afterward. He wouldn’t talk about the meeting but told reporters, “I have to check some conflicts, but I’m sure I’ll be retained.”

Genson has previously said he and Blagojevich would make a “mutual decision” today.

Blagojevich spokesman Lucio Guerrero said the governor had no plans to resign today. Guerrero didn’t respond directly to whether the governor could or would do anything to slow the Legislature’s move toward impeachment.

“The governor has indicated in the past there is more to this story that he’s wanting to tell at an appropriate time,” he said.

David Dring, spokesman for House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego, said Republicans will step up the pressure on Democrats to remove Blagojevich.

“If they won’t work with us, you’ll probably see some good theater,” Dring said.

The GOP also plans to run television ads pressuring Democrats to approve a special election to replace Obama. Blagojevich still holds the power to appoint a new senator, and if he resigned, that power would go to Democratic Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn.

A spokesman said Madigan, who has often clashed with Blagojevich, will discuss impeachment with Cross today.

Eighty percent of lawmakers responding to a GateHouse News Service survey said the Legislature should pursue impeachment quickly.

“Anything short of convening the (impeachment) committee would not be enough,” Franks said.

Madigan’s daughter, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, has asked the state Supreme Court to remove Blagojevich from office, claiming he is unfit to serve. Madigan said Sunday that she expects word on whether the court will hear her request “probably just in a few days.”

Lisa Madigan is considered one of the top Democratic candidates for governor in 2010.

The state constitution gives lawmakers broad authority to impeach a governor for any reason they consider sufficient. The House would decide whether to file charges against the governor, and the Senate would ultimately rule on them.

Many officials want to strip Blagojevich of the authority to name a new senator by picking the replacement through a special election, the topic of today’s legislative session. The idea will probably approved in committee and then considered by the two chambers Tuesday.

Democrats first made the call for a special election, but some are now having second thoughts.

Opponents of a special election cite the time and expense. It would cost tens of millions of dollars and not produce a new senator until April.

Republicans say Democrats are wavering because they don’t want to risk a GOP candidate winning the special election.

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