Rod Blagojevich

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Rod Blagojevich
RodBlagojevich.jpg
Governor of Illinois
Former officeholder
In office
January 13, 2003-January 29, 2009
PartyDemocratic
Elections and appointments
First elected2002
Term limitsN/A
Prior offices
Representative, United States House of Representatives
1996-2002
Education
Bachelor'sNorthwestern University (1979)
J.D.Pepperdine University School of Law (1983)
Personal
BirthdayDecember 10, 1956
Milorad Blagojevich, (born December 10, 1956) commonly known as Rod R. Blagojevich, is a Democratic politician and the former Governor the state of Illinois. Blagojevich previously served as a representative of Chicago, Illinois in the United States Congress. He is the second Serbian American to be elected governor of any state of the United States (George Voinovich from Ohio was the first).

Biography

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.[1]

Education

  • Juris Doctor - Pepperdine University School of Law (1983)
  • Bachelor's of Arts - Northwestern University (1979)
  • Foreman High School

Political career

Governor of Illinois (2003-2009)

Following his arrest on charges of an attempt to sell the vacant U.S. Senate seat, and after an entrenched public relations campaign, Blagojevich was impeached on January 8, 2009 and removed from office on January 29, 2009.

Issues

After the 2002 elections, Democrats had control of the Illinois House, Senate, and all but one statewide office. Since taking office, Blagojevich 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.

  • Death penalty

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 continued through his administration.

  • Gun Control

Blagojevich was a long time supporter of gun control. He 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:

  1. Eliminated the police database of gun purchases
  2. Eliminated the waiting period for someone wanting to buy a rifle or shotgun, when trading in a previously owned weapon
  3. 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.

  • 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). He also signed a bill allowing the Illinois State Police to operate photo radar on Illinois Tollways in construction zones. He vetoed a bill that would permit trucks to drive 65 mph instead of the current 55 mph.

  • Budget

Gov. Blagojevich was 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 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 [1].

  • Healthcare

Blagojevich issued a controversial executive order in 2004, requiring pharmacists in the state to dispense any drugs for which a customer had a valid prescription, including "morning after" birth control medication, even if they reject on moral or religious grounds. This order was not well received by some pharmacists (see [2],[3]). Blagojevich appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to discuss the controversial measure, which was being challenged on the show by state legislator Ron Stephens from Highland in the 102nd District [4]. 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.[5]

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.

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. [6], [7]

Executive Mansion

As Governor of Illinois, Blagojevich was 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".

United States House of Representatives (1996-2002)

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.

Illinois State House of Representatives, District 33 (1992-1996)

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.

Elections

2006

Blagojevich formally launched his 2006 re-election campaign for Governor of Illinois on February 19, 2006 [8]. 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.

2002

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.

Controversies

Feud

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. [9]

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.

2006 re-election

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 [10] The most recent polling has his approval rating at 38% with 59% dissaproving. [11]

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.

Federal arrest and corruption charges

Blagojevich was accused of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud, as well as soliciting bribes to fill the Illinois Senate seat vacated when Obama was elected president. On December 9, 2008, at 6:15 a.m., FBI special agents arrested Blagojevich and his chief of staff, John F. Harris.[2]

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald charged Blagojevich with several offenses, including mail fraud and wire fraud, and attempting to sell Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat for personal financial and influential gain.

On January 8, 2009, the Illinois House of Representatives voted to impeach Blagojevich by a 114–1 vote on the grounds of corruption and misconduct in office. He was then convicted and removed from office by the Illinois State Senate with a unanimous 59–0 vote on January 29, 2009. The state senate appointed Pat Quinn (D) in his stead. Before Blagojevich left office, he appointed former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris

After a year and a half, Blagojevich's trial in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals began June 3, 2010.[3]

It was expected to last six months, however, on July 21, 2010 Blagojevich's attorney, Sheldon Sorosky, ended the 19-month saga with the words: “At this time the defendant Rod Blagojevich rests.”

Trial observers and the prosecution were surprised at this as Blagojevich’s defense team had told the 18 jurors Blagojevich would be taking the stand in his own defense.

“It is my decision under advice of counsel (not to testify),” Blagojevich told federal Judge Zagel after the jury was dismissed.

Blagojevich faced more than 400 years in prison if convicted of the more than 20 corruption charges, including racketeering.[4]

Personal

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.

See also

External links

References

Political offices
Preceded by
George Ryan
Governor of Illinois
2003-2009
Succeeded by
Pat Quinn