Illinois Lawmakers Focus On Ousting Governor

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Republicans and Democrats alike are calling for Illinois lawmakers to begin impeachment proceedings against Gov. Rod Blagojevich, saying the step is necessary to restore public confidence in state government.

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“The General Assembly must move to impeach Rod Blagojevich immediately,” said DuPage County State’s Attorney Joe Birkett, a potential Republican candidate for governor in 2010.

“We should have started yesterday,” agreed Rep. Jack Franks, a Democrat.

Legislators were to meet Monday afternoon for the first time since Blagojevich was arrested last week on charges he shook down businesses seeking state deals and tried to profit from his power to choose a replacement for President-elect Barack Obama‘s vacant Senate seat.

The session’s focus was supposed to be about considering a special election, but impeachment is likely to be the chief topic of conversation.

Blagojevich spokesman Lucio Guerrero said the governor “has no plans on resigning Monday.”

Guerrero didn’t respond directly to whether the governor could or would do anything to slow down the Legislature‘s move toward impeachment.

“The governor has indicated in the past there is more to this story that he’s wanting to tell at an appropriate time,” he said.

The calls for impeachment put the spotlight on House Speaker Michael Madigan, who ultimately will decide the timing of any impeachment effort.

Madigan, a Democrat representing Chicago, hasn’t taken any public position beyond saying Sunday that he will talk to the House Republican leader about the issue Monday.

David Dring, spokesman for House Minority Leader Tom Cross, said Republicans will step up the pressure on Democrats to remove Blagojevich, perhaps raising the issue on the House floor.

“If they won’t work with us, you’ll probably see some good theater,” Dring said.

The GOP also plans to run television ads pressuring Democrats to approve a special election to replace Obama. Blagojevich still holds the power to appoint a new senator, and if he resigned, that power would go to Democratic Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn.

Illinois Republican Party chairman Andy McKenna told reporters the ads will “make the point that this is the people’s seat, and the people deserve a special election.”

Madigan often has clashed with the Democratic governor, and his office produced a memo this year outlining all the arguments legislative candidates could make in favor of impeachment.

But spokesman Steve Brown wouldn’t say Sunday whether Madigan was even considering impeachment proceedings. Brown said Madigan wants to “maintain some neutrality” in case he winds up presiding over an impeachment.

Madigan’s daughter, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, has asked the state Supreme Court to remove Blagojevich from office, claiming he is unfit to serve. Madigan said Sunday she expects word on whether the court will hear her request “probably just in a few days.”

Lisa Madigan is considered one of the top Democratic candidates for governor in 2010.

The state constitution gives lawmakers broad authority to impeach a governor for any reason they consider sufficient. The House would decide whether to file charges against the governor, and the Senate would ultimately rule on them.

Democrats first made the call for a special election, but some are now having second thoughts.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, for instance, was an early supporter, but is now calling for Blagojevich to resign so that the lieutenant governor could appoint a senator.

Opponents of a special election cite the time and expense. It would cost tens of millions of dollars and not produce a new senator until April.

Republicans claim Democrats are wavering because they don’t want to risk a GOP candidate winning the special election.

At the Greater St. John Bible Church in Chicago, the Rev. Ira Acree, who met with Blagojevich at his home Friday morning, made only a passing reference to the governor in his sermon Sunday but told his congregation that he had prayed with the governor and that everyone deserves pastoral counsel.

“Pray for our state,” Acree said. “No matter what your political position is, pray for our state.”

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