Bye Bye, Blago: Senate Removes Gov From Office

Former governor can never hold Illinois office again

Speaking outside his home after he was ousted from office Thursday, Rod Blagojevich said he loves the people of Illinois, and he's saddened but not surprised by the outcome of his impeachment trial.

Blagojevich seemed prepared to make a brief statement, after which he even turned to go back into his home, but reporters' questions and the spotlight of the cameras drew him back out until he was literally surrounded by people.

"The fight goes on. Just because I'm not governor anymore doesn't mean I'm not going to keep fighting for you and the causes I've fought for all my life," he said.

Senators unanimously voted (59-0) to remove Blagojevich from office after he made an impassioned closing argument earlier in the day.  Two-thirds of them were required to convict.

A second vote, also unanimous, disqualified Blagojevich from ever again holding public office in the state. 

Pat Quinn was sworn in as the state's 41st governor at 5:02 p.m.   

At the close of the trial, senators spoke one by one about corruption, the need for change in the state government and bemoaned the fact that Blagojevich never took the stand or sent a lawyer to participate in the impeachment trial.  No one spoke in his defense.

One of the best quotes came from Sen. James Meeks, who hearkened back to Blagojevich's own words.  He was sworn in a second time in a ceremonial event on the Senate floor at about 5:40 p.m., to cheers and applause.

"We have this thing called impeachment, and it's bleepin' golden, and we've used it the right way," Meeks said, to laughs in the Senate gallery. 

[Day 4 Blog: Follow Developments | Wiretaps: Tape 1 Audio, Transcript | Tape 2 AudioTranscript | Tape 3 AudioTranscript | Tape 4 AudioTranscript | Read the FBI Affidavit | See Blago Quotes Used in Trial | View Senate Trial Exhibits]

"The ordeal is over. The citizens can be extremely proud of our elected representatives today," the new governor said, adding that he and state lawmakers have a "duty, a mission" to restore people's faith in government.

Senators weren't swayed by Blagojevich's emotional closing statement where he  tried appealing to their sympathy, asking them to "walk a mile in my shoes."

"Imagine ... your whole world changes, not even knowing what it's all about ... and before you can even catch a breath, everyone's convicted you," he said. "It's painful and it's lonely."

The governor said that if he's guilty of anything, it's pushing too hard to do the right thing.

"Charge it to my heart. Charge it to a desire to help families I came from and life stories I heard along the way," Blagojevich said.

His removal capped a state crisis that began with his Dec. 9 arrest on corruption charges -- including that he tried to sell President Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat. 

The former governor issued two pardons on his final day in office, and in classic Blagojevich style, apparently circumvented the Prison Review Board to do so.

With Blagojevich gone, Quinn gains control over a windfall of billions of dollars that would have been under control of the state Legislature.  A provision in the U.S. House stimulus bill would have blocked Blagojevich from exercising any control over the money due the state from President Obama's economic recovery plan.

The idea behind the provision was to make sure Blagojevich couldn't have used the money to enrich himself or his associates.

Illinois stands to gain about $1 billion just for road projects to be contracted across the state.

Blagojevich will immediately stop receiving his $177,000-a-year salary, with his final check issued today.   However, there is a chance he could qualify for a pension of about $64,000, according to the Associated Press. But if he is convicted of felony corruption charges in federal court, the State Employee Retirement System would likely deny him of the money, as they did former Gov. George Ryan.

The 52-year-old Blagojevich isn't eligible to start collecting retirement benefits for another three years, in any case.  

Other than a ban from holding office again, the state's constitution rules out further punishment after an office holder is removed through impeachment.

As the cleanup from the Blagojevich administration began, state tollway authorities said that the former governor's name will come off toll plaza signs, but not immediately.

Instead, the signs on tollways across the state will be partially covered up, only identifying the plaza name until new signs are created, tollway spokeswoman Joelle McGinnis said.

Blagojevich became the first U.S. governor in more than 20 years to be removed by impeachment.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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