Editorial: Blago’s gone, but problems remain

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

A year ago, Rod Blagojevich’s decline from governor of Illinois to quasi-television personality began.

Blagojevich was taken from his home in handcuffs Dec. 9, 2008, and escorted like a common criminal to face charges of political corruption. About a month after his arrest, the Illinois House voted to impeach him. A few weeks after that vote, the Illinois Senate booted Blagojevich.

Three of the last seven Illinois governors have gone to prison, but no Illinois governor in the 190-year history of the state had ever been impeached and removed from office.

“If it isn’t the most corrupt state in the United States, it’s certainly one hell of a competitor,” Robert Grant, FBI special agent in charge of the Chicago office, said after the arrest. “Even the most cynical agents in our office were shocked.”

That oft-repeated quote doesn’t do justice to the damage Blagojevich left behind. The state has a huge budget hole, can’t pay its bills in a timely manner, has crumbling roads and bridges, and has the worst pension debt in the nation.

So like Nero fiddling while Rome was burning, Blagojevich went on every television show that would have him. He told Diane Sawyer he did nothing wrong. He pleaded his case to Barbara Walters, Geraldo Rivera and Larry King. He’s been on the air for longer than some sitcoms.

Blagojevich made Illinois a national laughingstock. He gave “Saturday Night Live” plenty of material, even if the comedian who portrayed him couldn’t get the accent right. We didn’t count how many times Jay Leno, Dave Letterman, et al., took their shots.

Blagojevich’s hair is the subject of television commercials for a Republican candidate for governor.

The former governor seems to love making a spectacle of himself. He’s trying to get on Donald Trump’s “Celebrity Apprentice” show.

Even his wife, Patti, got into the act. She was a contestant on the NBC reality show “I’m a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here!”

Considering Illinois’ problems and the embarrassment that Blagojevich is, you’d think Illinois’ lawmakers would want to work quickly to fix problems and repair Illinois’ image.

Not quite.

Sure, there were some half-hearted reforms that incumbents will trumpet as they hit the campaign trail, but the fiscal problems are getting worse.

The budget hole could be as much as $13 billion, depending on who’s counting. Gov. Pat Quinn wants to borrow $500 million to help the state pay its bills. The borrowing strategy hasn’t helped. The state borrowed $1.25 billion in August.

The Pew Center on the States’ report, “Beyond California: States in Fiscal Peril,” cited Illinois for “its lack of fiscal discipline to balance its state budget.” Illinois’ budget gap was among the top four in the country.

Illinois’ unemployment rate hit 11 percent in October. In October 2008, the unemployment rate was 6.8 percent.

We were encouraged that lawmakers finally passed a capital construction plan, but we worry that a key component to pay for that plan — video gambling — may fall well short of projections. Many communities are opting out, and the Illinois Gaming Board is struggling to figure out how it’s going to monitor the games.

Voters will want clear plans on how to get out of this mess. Blagojevich charmed most voters in 2002 and 2006, but we expect them to be very critical in 2010.

They’ll remember that Blagojevich vowed to do away with Illinois’ culture of corruption when he first campaigned for governor in 2002.

They will recognize that, even by Illinois’ standards, he brought the state to a “truly new low.”

Blagojevich’s trial is expected to begin in June. That could be the start of a new low for him.

Rockford Register Star