It's been quite the day here in the Land of Lincoln. Early this morning, federal authorities arrested Gov. Rod Blagojevich in connection with a lengthy probe of alleged corruption. Apparently the U.S. Attorney's office decided to move today out of concern that the corruption might extend to various quid pro quo scenarios for the nomination to replace President-Elect Barack Obama in the U.S. Senate. (I hasten to point out that, the guff from the Republican National Committee notwithstanding, there does not appear to be any connection between Obama or his transition team and Blagojevich. Indeed, it would be surprising if there were any such connection, given that the two men have never been close. You have only to listen to the tapes of the conversations that Blagojevich was having over the last few weeks to find out what he thinks of our soon-to-be president.)
While I'm sorry that we now have our second consecutive governor under federal indictment for corruption, and also that this time it's a Democrat, I'm perfectly happy with the process and I'm looking forward to sweeping the state and its government clean of the Augean Stable-esque mess that has been Rod Blagojevich. It's possible that the only thing known to science bigger than the macro-cosmic universe is Rod Blagojevich's ego.
If even a tenth of the allegations contained in the 76-page indictment (PDF link) turn out to be substantially correct, our sitting governor was not only a crook and a monumental egotist, but galactically stupid--on a level that comes awfully close to Worst. President. Ever. territory. I mean, really: if you're going to attempt to extort someone for a favor, most people of normal intelligence would probably figure that anybody who works for a major newspaper (let alone a major newspaper that hates your breathing guts and everything that you stand for) should probably not be at the top of your "To Be Bribed Today" list. But not our Rod. No, siree. He offered to help the Tribune Company (which cooperated with the investigation) with the sale of Wrigley Field if the company would fire members of the Chicago Tribune's editorial board who had been critical of Blagojevich. Given that I think that set is probably identical to the set of members of the Trib's editorial board, that's a pretty big request to make.
I quite agree with U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's statement that Blagojevich's behavior would make Abraham Lincoln roll over in his Springfield grave--a location with which I'm sure Blagojevich is as unfamiliar as I am, given how little time he's spent in Springfield since being elected governor six years ago. (Despite living in Illinois for most of my life, I've never actually done more than drive past our state's capital city. One of these days, I've got to rectify that situation.) And I concur with Obama's statement that today's revelations are deeply saddening to any resident of Illinois.
However, despite the fact that this means yet another protracted court battle that will almost certainly end up with our second consecutive chief executive winning an all-expense-paid not-exactly vacation at federal expense in a nice medium-security prison, and the fact that there will be all manner of forgetting-the-planks-in-their-own-eye Schadenfreude from all manner of Republicans within and without our fair state, and the fact that Blagojevich is at least in theory a member of the Democratic Party, this was entirely the right thing to do and the right time to do it. Blagojevich may have ridden into office on a promise to clean up the scandals of the Ryan administration which preceded his, but it was apparent to most politically astute and observant folks that he was just as big a hack as his predecessor well before his first term came to a close. Long-term readers of this space will remember that I really wanted someone to put up a primary challenge to Blagojevich when he ran for re-election a couple of years ago. (I actually wrote in Pat Quinn's name for governor when that didn't happen, so maybe I'll finally get my wish.)
Forget his corruption (OK, "alleged corruption"). Forget his monumental ego and his equally monumental stupidity. Blagojevich has never been able to govern effectively, because it's always been his way or the highway. Meanwhile, we're stuck in a huge budget deficit and we still don't have an actual budget in place for the current fiscal year (which is half over), and our governor was apparently more interested in finding a way to duck out of his last two years in office here to actually carry out any of the functions of his office. I don't much care whom we get to replace this fatuous git, though I would like for it to be another Democrat, considering the Republicans in Illinois have been scraping the bottom of their barrel so long that it's worn through. But I absolutely insist on getting someone into the governor's mansion who will actually do the job s/he's getting paid to do.
Ironically, one of the first things Blagojevich did upon taking office was to mandate that every state employee, from himself on down to the temporary workers hired to clean snow during winter storms and the student workers in our state universities, had to take and pass an annual ethics test. We just completed our round for 2008 (for which, naturally, we get neither monetary nor personnel support from the state) six weeks ago. Judging from the complaints enumerated in the indictment against him, it seems fairly clear that Rod the Bod wasn't paying attention when he took his test this year. It would only be fair if, in addition to whatever other penalties he will have to accept, he also has to pony up the $5,000 fine for either failing to complete the test or doing so fraudulently.