Governor Rod Blagojevich was impeached on Friday by Illinois lawmakers furious that he turned the state government into a “freak show,” setting the stage for an unprecedented trial in the state Senate that could get him thrown out of office.
The 114-1 vote in the Illinois House came exactly a month after Blagojevich’s arrest on charges that included trying to sell US president-elect Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat. The debate took less than 90 minutes and not a single legislator rose in defense of the governor, who was jogging in the snow in Chicago.
Later, a defiant Blagojevich insisted again that he committed no crime, and said: “I’m going to fight every step of the way.”
He portrayed himself as a victim of political payback by the House for his efforts to extend healthcare and other relief to ordinary people.
“The causes of the impeachment are because I’ve done things to fight for families,” the 52-year-old Democrat said at a press conference where he surrounded himself with people that spokesman Lucio Guerrero said had benefited from the state’s expanded healthcare program, including a man in a wheelchair and a kidney transplant recipient.
He took no questions.
Blagojevich becomes the first US governor in more than 20 years to be impeached. Arizona’s Evan Mecham was impeached, convicted and removed from office in 1988 for trying to thwart an investigation into a death threat allegedly made by an aide.
No other Illinois governor has ever been impeached, despite the state’s storied history of graft. Blagojevich’s immediate predecessor, George Ryan, is behind bars for corruption and two earlier governors also went to prison.
The Senate trial is set to begin on Jan. 26. While impeachment in the House required only a simple majority, or 60 votes, a two-thirds vote would be needed for conviction in the 59-member Senate.
After his arrest on Dec. 9, Blagojevich defied practically the entire political establishment by appointing someone to the Senate, former Illinois attorney general Roland Burris. That provoked a furor as state and federal officials struggled over whether to seat Burris.
On Friday, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that Burris’ paperwork was valid and that the Illinois secretary of state did not have to sign his appointment.