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Column

Relax, Blago can’t return to state government

Trump's talk of commuting former governor's sentence creates a stir

Doug Finke
Doug Finke

With President Donald Trump’s statement that he is considering granting early release to ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, there was some panicked speculation about what the future could hold.

It basically went: Could a disgraced, but freed, Blagojevich inflict himself on Illinois government again? And the answer is: It depends.

If Trump were to commute the remainder of the sentence, then Blago would remain a convicted felon and be ineligible to serve in a local government capacity because it is forbidden by the Illinois Municipal Code. He could try to run for a state office – except in his specific case, he can’t.

When Blagojevich was impeached and removed from office, the General Assembly also barred him from ever serving in state government again. He could run for Congress, and Washington probably deserves him, but Illinois state government would be spared.

“With a unanimous vote, the Illinois Senate removed him from office and barred him from ever serving here again and there’s not a damn thing Donald Trump can do about that,” said Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, responding to reports that Trump would commute Blagojevich’s sentence.

The Blagojevich development helps bring a rare show of disagreement with the president by the state’s Republican congressional delegation.

The five U.S. House members sent a letter to Trump saying they were taking a “strong stand against pay-to-play politics” which is important in a state where four of the last eight governors have gone to federal prison.

“Commuting the sentence of Rod Blagojevich, who has a clear and documented record of egregious corruption, sets a dangerous precedent and goes against the trust voters place in elected officials,” they said.

How excited?

Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton, during the ribbon cutting for this year’s state fair: “I’m excited about the food, I’m excited about the rides, I’m excited about all of the vendors, I’m excited about what we’re going to see about agriculture here all week and I’m excited for all the families of Illinois who are going to come to this fair and know the very best of Illinois.”

Think she’s excited?

Fair heckling

Gov. J.B. Pritzker had to deal with a heckler during the ribbon-cutting event.

The governor took questions from the media and the first one sought his response to the developments in the Blagojevich case. As he answered the question, a gentleman standing behind the bank of reporters began yelling something about when Pritzker would deal with all the corruption in the state. Although the event occurred in midafternoon, the heckler had clearly consumed a significant amount of alcohol.

Pritzker carried on, but a short time later, the man again tried to interrupt by yelling about state corruption. By that time, one uniformed State Police officer had moved in toward the man along with some plainclothes officers (or maybe it was members of the public who happened to be wearing earpieces). The uniformed officer spoke to the man, possibly on exhibiting proper manners in a public setting, and that was the end of the yelling. Shortly after, the Q and A session broke up, Pritzker went onto the fairgrounds, and his heckler stumbled away.

For the record, Pritzker, one of the richest people in the state, paid to get inside, continuing a tradition begun by former Gov. Pat Quinn.

Pritzker was asked the age-old question of what fair foods he plans to sample during his first fair as the state’s chief executive.

“I’m trying to avoid most of them,” Pritzker said. “I’m going to be enjoying virtually everything about this fair. Virtually anything fried tastes great, there’s no doubt about that, and I’ve seen virtually everything fried.”

He finally settled on corn dogs.

He also wisely said he won’t be going on any carnival rides after eating fair food.

Contact Doug Finke: doug.finke@sj-r.com, 788-1527, twitter.com/dougfinkesjr.

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