Difference between revisions of "Rod Blagojevich"
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Milorad Blagojevich, (born December 10, 1956) commonly known as Rod R. Blagojevich, is an United States American politician from the U.S. state of Illinois. A Democrat, Blagojevich served as a representative of Chicago, Illinois in the United States Congress and was later elected Governor of Illinois, an office he holds today. He is the second Serbian American to be elected governor of any state of the United States (George Voinovich from Ohio was the first).
Blagojevich is married to the former Patricia Mell, daughter of Chicago Alderman Richard Mell. The couple has two daughters, Amy and Anne. Anne was born just months after her father was sworn in as governor. Blagojevich has no middle name, but uses the initial "R" in honor of his late father Radisaz Blagojevich.
Blagojevich was born and raised in Chicago's northwest side in a middle-class family. His father was a former Chetnik who immigrated to the United States and found work as a steel plant laborer. He has an older brother, Robert. Blagojevich spent much of his childhood working odd jobs to help the family survive. He was a shoe shiner and pizza delivery boy before working at a meat packing plant. In order to afford college, Blagojevich worked at the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System|Trans-Alaskan Pipeline System as a dishwasher.
He graduated from Chicago's Foreman High School after transferring from Lane Technical College Prep High School. After graduation, he enrolled at the University of Tampa because, with his lackluster grades and an ACT of 18 or 19, he could not get into a more prestigious school. After two years, he transferred to Northwestern University in suburban Evanston, Illinois where he obtained his bachelor's degree in 1979. He attended Pepperdine University law school where he obtained his doctorate of jurisprudence in 1983. Upon his return to Chicago, Blagojevich entered the legal profession in the public sector. He served as Cook County Assistant State's Attorney, prosecuting domestic abuse crimes and felony weapons cases.
With the backing of his influential father-in-law, alderman Richard Mell, Blagojevich ran for a seat in the Illinois General Assembly and won in 1992. Most of his legislative accomplishments centered on crime and justice issues. He took from his experiences as a prosecutor to pass laws that he argued would strengthen the state's judicial system and cut down on crime.
The Fifth Congressional District, in which Blagojevich lived, had long been represented by powerful Chicago Congressman Daniel Rostenkowski, who served as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. However, following his loss in 1994 (Rostenkowski pled guilty to mail fraud), the overwhelmingly Democratic district was represented by Republican Michael Patrick Flanagan.
However, in 1996, Blagojevich defeated Flanagan with support from his father-in-law, and served three terms in the United States House of Representatives. (Following Blagojevich's election as governor, the Fifth District elected former Clinton aide and 1992 financial chief Rahm Emanuel. Emanuel was chosen to head the DCCC for the 2006 election cycle.)
In Congress, Blagojevich continued to champion anti-crime measures, especially gun control legislation. In general, though, he was not known as a particularly active Congressman. Blagojevich was thrust into international prominence in the late 1990s when he traveled with Jesse Jackson to Belgrade in the former Yugoslavia to negotiate the release of American prisoners of war with president Slobodan Milošević.
On October 10, 2002, Rod Blagojevich was among the 81 House Democrats who voted in favor of authorizing the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
2002 Gubernatorial election
In 2002, Blagojevich ran for his party's nomination to become governor. Blagojevich won a close primary campaign against former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris, whose base was largely African-American voters, and Chicago Public Schools Superintendent Paul Vallas, who ran strong in the suburban "collar" counties of Chicago. Blagojevich won the primary largely by dominating the downstate Illinois (i.e., outside Chicago and the collar counties) vote.
In the general election, Blagojevich defeated Republican Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan handily (Ryan chose to run for Governor instead of running again for the Attorney General position, which is now held by Lisa Madigan). Ethics scandals had plagued the previous administration of Republican George Ryan (no relation to Jim), and Blagojevich's campaign focused on the theme of "ending business as usual" in state government.
After the 2002 elections, Democrats had control of the Illinois House, Senate, and all but one statewide office. Since taking office, Blagojevich has signed numerous pieces of progressive legislation such as ethics reform, death penalty reform, a state Earned Income Tax Credit, and expansions of health programs like KidCare and FamilyCare. Blagojevich signed a bill in 2005 that prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, public accommodations, and credit.
Shortly after taking office in 2003, Blagojevich continued support of a "moratorium" on executions of Death Row inmates, even though no such executions are likely to occur for years (his predecessor, George Ryan, commuted all of the death sentences in the state shortly before leaving office in 2003). This support has continued through his administration.
Other notable actions of his term include a strict new ethics law and a comprehensive death penalty reform bill that was written by now-U.S. Senator Barack Obama (when he was serving as an Illinois State Senator), and the late U.S. Sen. Paul M. Simon.
Despite an annual budget crunch, Blagojevich has overseen an increase in funding for health care and education every year without raising general sales or income taxes. He has, however, been criticized by Republicans and many moderate Democrats for failing to adequately fund the state pension system. On 10 January 2006, Blagojevich announced a proposal for a new three billion (US) Dollar spending plan for Illinois roads, mass transit, and schools, to be paid for by increased tax revenue and new gambling proposals (such as Keno and Lottery games). The proposal met with immediate opposition by members of the Republican Party in Illinois and many Democrats, who view it as "an election year ploy." The suggestion to legalize Keno within Illinois was later withdrawn.
Another early 2006 proposal included "universal preschool" for all three and four year old children in Illinois. Legislation authorizing the program was adopted as part of the fiscal 2007 budget.
Governor Blagojevich is a long time supporter of gun control. He has tried to raise the price of an Illinois Firearm Owners Identification (FOID) card from $5.00 to $500.00, saying that such a large increase was necessary so people would think twice about wanting to own a gun. Blagojevich vetoed 3 gun bills in 2005, which would have:
- Eliminated the police database of gun purchases
- Eliminated the waiting period for someone wanting to buy a rifle or shotgun, when trading in a previously owned weapon
- Overridden local laws regulating transport of firearms.
In February 2006, in his "State of the State" address, he talked of the need for a state ban on semi-automatic firearms, prompting threats from several gunmakers in the state to leave. Among these were ArmaLite Inc., Rock River Arms, Les Baer Custom and the legendary Springfield Armory.
The Governor has striven to improve traffic safety. Blagojevich proposed and signed into law a bill that was concerned with making seatbelt enforcement a primary offense (no traffic offense required before being stopped for a seatbelt violation). Another bill signed by the Governor allows the Illinois State Police to operate photo radar on Illinois Tollways in construction zones. He has vetoed a bill that would permit trucks to drive 65 mph instead of the current 55 mph.
Criticism, controversies, and scandal
Governor Blagojevich has been criticized by the Illinois State Rifle Association, saying that "Rod should spend more time catching criminals and less time controlling guns." His support for tightening the gun laws of Illinois has earned him the ire of gun owners groups.
Gov. Blagojevich has been criticized for using what his opponents call "gimmicks" to balance the state budget. Republicans have also claimed that he is simply passing the state's fiscal problems on to future generations by borrowing his way to balanced budgets. Indeed, the 2005 state budget called for paying the bills by shortening a state employees' pension fund by $1.2 billion.
In addition, Blagojevich has been criticized for rapidly expanding the role of Illinois State government, despite current difficulties in funding existing programs.
In May 2003, Blagojevich passed a series of measures aimed at raising revenue from businesses around the state to help balance his budget. Among the new sources were a 10-fold to 20-fold increase to automobile dealer license fees and a measure to make businesses print their own tax forms (and all other state forms). These measures are considered controversial because they caused a greatly increased financial burden on small business without attracting much public attention .
In October 2005, the State of Illinois had $1.4 billion in overdue medical bills, yet in November 2005, Blagojevich created two new government agencies and signed the All Kids health insurance bill into law. The bill, criticized as Socialist medicine by its opponents, obligates Illinois to provide affordable, comprehensive health insurance to every child in the state.
On December 30, 2005, it was reported that a leasing deal reached for occupants of the remodeled Illinois Tollway oases has come under investigation by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. This is in addition to other investigations in the Illinois Department of Transportation, the Department of Corrections and the Department of Children and Family Services (see , ). Investigations into other programs related to Illinois' Tollway System, specifically the delivery of I-Pass transponders, have also been announced (see ).
Blagojevich issued a controversial executive order in 2004, requiring pharmacists in the state to dispense "morning after" birth control medication, even if they reject on moral or religious grounds. This order was not well received by some pharmacists (see ,).
In early-2006, after the appointment of Claudette Marie Muhammad, chief of protocol of the Nation of Islam to an Illinois anti-discrimination commission, five other members of this commission resigned. Muhammad has distanced herself from statements made by Louis Farrakhan, and Blagojevich has promised to "oversee meaningful dialogue with leaders of the Jewish, black and gay communities." Despite this, the Anti-Discrimination League has been calling for her removal from the state panel.  The resignation or removal of fellow commission member Rick Garcia has also been called for by the Illinois Family Institute, over statements made by Garcia about Francis Cardinal George.  Republican candidate for Governor Jim Oberweis echoed the call for Garcia's removal or resignation in an e-mail release as part of his campaign for the Illinois Republican gubernatorial nomination. 
On June 30, 2006, it was revealed that state Attorney General Lisa Madigan had received a letter from United States Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, stating that Fitzgerald is looking into "very serious allegations of endemic hiring fraud" in the Blagojevich administration, and thanking Madigan for turning over her office's investigation to the federal authorities. Madigan later stated that she could not endorse Blagojevich because of her office's role in the investigation.
In September 2006, it was revealed that Blagojevich had accepted a $1,500 check from Mike Ascaridis in 2003, whom the governor described as one of his closest friends.  The check was given two weeks after Ascaridis' wife, Beverly, received a state job at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Mrs. Ascaridis received this appointment despite having failed a state hiring exam.  Blagojevich initially asserted that the check was written as a birthday gift to his oldest daughter. He then later said it was a gift for his younger daughter's christening.  U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald  and the FBI  are investigating the matter.
On October 2, 2006, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that a company that contributed close to $120,000 to Blagojevich's 2002 gubernatorial campaign won a no-bid contract. Even though the contract was awarded by the Illinois' Capital Development Board , the board still reports to the Governor .
On October 11, 2006, Blagojevich fundraiser Antoin Rezko was indicted for participation in a scheme to obtain kickbacks from investment firms seeking business from the state teachers' pension system. Friends of Blagojevich also accepted a $10,000 campaign contribution from the Elevator Constructors Local 2 PAC fund on July 23, 2003. In return the IUEC received several board positions on the Illinois Elevator Safety Board. In addition, the governor's wife, Patricia Blagojevich was a business partner of indicted fundraiser Antoin Rezko for at least a decade. In 2004, she received over $38,000 in real estate commissions from him. 
In October 2006, it was revealed that Patricia Blagojevich, a licensed real estate broker, earned $113,700 in commissions from Anita and Amrish Mahajan. The amount was the only commissions earned by Patricia Blagojevich this year. Anita Mahajan owns a urinalysis company that holds a no-bid contract with the state Department of Children and Family Services. Amrish Mahajan is president of a bank that has two requests pending before state regulators to acquire two out-of-state banks. 
On November 27, 2006, a day after the indictment of lawyer Milberg Weiss, "Friends of Blagojevich" returned a $10,000 contribution his campaign received from Milberg Weiss, records show that Blagojevich has not returned another $40,000 from Melvyn Weiss and other lawyers in Weiss' firm. Weiss paid $5,000 toward lodging, meals and entertainment for Blagojevich and others with him during the December 2003 trip to New York. 
In spring, 2007, Blagojevich proposed a $7.6 billion dollar tax increase, with proceeds earmarked to provide universal healthcare in Illinois. The plan, a gross receipts tax on businesses, would have been the largest tax increase in state history. When it became apparent that the plan would be defeated, Blagojevich announced that supporters should vote against it. It was defeated by a vote of 107-0. , 
Daily Show appearance
In early-February 2006, Blagojevich appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to discuss his executive order that pharmacists must dispense any drugs for which a customer had a valid prescription, including birth control pills and Levonorgestrel. This controversial measure was being challenged on the show by state legislator Ron Stephens from Highland in the 102nd District . Blagojevich was interviewed by Jason Jones who repeatedly pretended to be unable to pronounce Blagojevich and simply called him "Governor Smith". This prompted Blagojevich to turn to the camera and ask "Is he teasing me or is that legit?" Two weeks after the interview, Blagojevich admitted that he was unaware of the nature of the show.
A major event of 2005 was Blagojevich's feud with his father-in-law, Richard Mell. The feud went public when Blagojevich shut down a landfill owned by a distant cousin of Patti Blagojevich for environmental problems and it was revealed that Mell had served as an advisor to the cousin. Legislation was eventually passed giving the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency more authority over landfills and preventing relatives of top Illinois officials from owning landfills.
Regarding his decision to shut down the landfill despite the fact the landfill was owned by a relative, he said, "This is the kind of thing that I think frankly separates the men from the boys in leadership. Do you have the testicular virility to make a decision like that knowing what's coming your way? I say I do." This remark was both ridiculed as an undignified comment for a governor as well as criticized for being sexist. 
In June, Mell served as honorary co-chairman of an event for state Representative Jack Franks, a longtime Blagojevich critic. Blagojevich's Lieutenant Governor is Pat Quinn, with whom he has had a sour relationship since taking office. Most recently, Quinn and Blagojevich have publicly disputed the latter's proposed "Gross Receipts Tax" to increase revenue for schools and other projects within Illinois.
During 2005-2006, he served as Federal Liaison for the Democratic Governors Association. Numerous scandals brought the Governor's approval rating as low as 36%, with 56% "disapproving" near the end of 2005  The most recent polling has his approval rating at 38% with 59% dissaproving. 
By early-2006, five Republicans ran in the primary for the right to challenge him in the general election, with state treasurer Judy Baar Topinka eventually winning the nomination.
Blagojevich formally launched his 2006 re-election campaign for Governor of Illinois on February 19, 2006 . He defeated challenger Edwin Eisendrath in the Democratic Party primary election on March 21.
On November 7, he was declared winner in the re-election campaign against challengers Judy Baar Topinka and Rich Whitney.
As Governor of Illinois, Blagojevich is entitled to live in the Illinois Executive Mansion, located in the state capital. However, he and his family have opted to remain in Chicago (other governors have also chosen not to reside in the Mansion, usually retaining their residences in other towns). One reason he gave was an unwillingness to move his infant daughter away from home. In the governor's absence, the Illinois Times, a newspaper based in Springfield, held a satirical contest in 2003 for readers to decide how the mansion should be used. Suggestions ranged from using it as a hotel or homeless shelter to converting it to a "house of ill repute".
- Il. Gov. creates Office of New Americans Policy and Advocacy
- Gov. Blagojevich signs law creating new Illinois Juvenile Justice Department
- Illinois Governor Rod R. Blagojevich Official state site
- Follow the Money - Rod Blagojevich 2006 campaign contributions
- New York Times - Times Topics: Rod Blagojevich Collected news and commentary
- On the Issues - Rod Blagojevich Issue positions and quotes
- Project Vote Smart - Governor Rod R. Blagojevich Profile
- Rod Blagojevich for Illinois Official campaign site
- Washington Post - Congress Votes Database: Rod Blagojevich Voting record 1997-2003
- Federal Election Commission - Rod Blagojevich Campaign finance reports and data 2001-2002
- OpenSecrets.org - Rod Blagojevich Campaign contributions 2002