Reforming Illinois after the Blagojevich circus

Saturday, January 31, 2009

ILLINOIS'S 52-DAY televised nightmare came to a blessed end Thursday when the state Senate voted unanimously to convict Rod Blagojevich (D) on an article of impeachment for an alleged pattern of abuse of power, ousted him from the governorship and expelled him from public life in the state forever. He is the first Illinois governor to be impeached, and if U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald proves his case against him, he would be the third Illinois governor since 1973 to be convicted after leaving office. The antics of Mr. Blagojevich since his arrest Dec. 9 have made the Land of Lincoln a punch line at the very moment it should be celebrating having President Obama of Illinois in the White House.

Gov. Pat Quinn (D), the former lieutenant governor sworn in almost immediately after Mr. Blagojevich's fall, wasted no time in setting a new tone in words and in deeds. "We are going to fumigate state government from top to bottom to make sure there's no corruption," Mr. Quinn declared yesterday as he issued his first executive order, creating the Illinois Reform Commission. The body must deliver its recommendations within 100 days. He also expressed support for a state constitutional amendment that would give voters the power to recall elected officials. Mr. Quinn should also push for passage of a special-election law that would have future U.S. Senate vacancies filled not by the governor but by the voters.

Mr. Quinn's efforts add to another significant move by the legislature last year. Effective Jan. 1, businesses with state contracts worth more than $50,000 are prohibited from donating to the political campaigns of the person who signs the contract. Mr. Blagojevich was caught on wiretaps allegedly discussing ways to amass as much campaign cash as possible before the law took effect. And he was overheard allegedly trying to use his appointment of Mr. Obama's Senate replacement as a way to get something "tangible up front" from a potential appointee to demonstrate willingness to raise campaign cash for the governor if he decided to run for a third term in 2010. Now that Mr. Blagojevich has been banished from Illinois's public life for good, there's no danger of that happening.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company