Why is Michael Madigan waiting to impeach Blagojevich?
HOUSE SPEAKER | Madigan pushed impeachment, until now -- is he trying to give daughter an edge?
December 13, 2008
BY DAVE MCKINNEY Sun-Times Springfield Bureau Chief
SPRINGFIELD -- House Speaker Michael Madigan turned heads last spring by admitting his staff had researched impeaching Gov. Blagojevich, then followed up with a fall memo to Democratic candidates advocating impeachment.
So why on the eve of lawmakers returning to Springfield to address a full-blown political crisis won't the powerful Southwest Side Democrat commit to impeaching a man regarded by some as the most corrupt state officeholder in modern Illinois history?
"It's baffling," said House Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego), who was among the first pushing impeachment after Blagojevich was arrested and charged Tuesday as part of a blockbuster federal corruption investigation.
Even more baffling is the fact that plenty of votes exist in the House to get the job done.
On Friday, Cross had a conference call with his 52-member GOP delegation and said "at least" 45 favored launching impeachment proceedings immediately.
The same day, Rep. John Fritchey (D-Chicago), who is preparing an impeachment resolution independent of Madigan's office, received commitments from 30 House Democrats to back impeachment.
All told, that's at least 75 House members wanting the impeachment process to begin against Blagojevich. Sixty votes are necessary to get the ball rolling.
"The responses so far have overwhelmingly confirmed my belief that there is more than enough support to not only proceed with a motion for impeachment, but to pass such a motion," Fritchey said.
Madigan spokesman Steve Brown repeatedly refused to say Friday whether the speaker would allow a vote Monday or Tuesday on an impeachment resolution.
Brown offered nearly the same refrain he has made every day since Blagojevich was charged Tuesday in alleged schemes to sell Illinois' vacant U.S. Senate seat to the bidder offering the most cash and to buy more favorable coverage in the Chicago Tribune.
"I know we'll have a conversation with Tom Cross. That's what I know. And we welcome everybody to recognize what we've been saying for four years: We're the only one who stood up to this guy," said Brown, referring to the governor.
Madigan scheduled the Monday and Tuesday session to pass legislation establishing a one-time, special Senate election concurrent with next February and April's municipal elections. The bill would block Blagojevich from appointing a permanent successor to President-elect Barack Obama.
If Blagojevich resigns this week, Madigan's noncommittal stance on adding impeachment to the agenda would make perfect sense because the issue would be moot.
But if Blagojevich stays put and his saga drags out, then questions inevitably will grow louder about whether delaying impeachment is a tactic by Madigan not to divert political thunder from his daughter, Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
On Friday, she took the unprecedented step of petitioning the state Supreme Court to declare Blagojevich unfit for office and remove him, under an obscure rule never used before against an Illinois governor.
"The speculation is that the speaker is sitting back on this so Lisa can take the lead and get ownership on the issue," said one House member who favors impeachment but requested anonymity.
The attorney general made clear Friday that she backs impeaching Blagojevich and noted her legal maneuver would be another front against the governor while lawmakers go about trying to impeach him.
"Attorney General Madigan's call for the governor's impeachment has been crystal clear since the charges against him were announced Tuesday. [Her] filing in the Supreme Court does not take the place of impeachment. Rather, it seeks to bring immediate relief to the people of Illinois," said Cara Smith, a spokeswoman for Lisa Madigan.
By having a prominent role in ousting Blagojevich, the attorney general and potential 2010 gubernatorial candidate further insulates herself from the same type of do-nothing charges that Blagojevich employed against his 2002 rival, then-Attorney General Jim Ryan.
During his first campaign for governor, Blagojevich launched a relentless attack over the airwaves alleging Ryan had been passive in probing wrongdoing by his fellow Republican, outgoing Gov. George Ryan, who later was convicted on corruption charges by a federal jury and is serving a 6½-year sentence.
Cross said the possibility Madigan might be delaying to help his daughter better position herself for 2010 is "a question being asked by lawmakers," though Cross isn't sure that's the case.
"I can't speak for the speaker," said Cross, whose expected sit-down Monday with Madigan will be the first one-on-one conversation he's had with the speaker in a year.
Brown reacted brusquely to any hint that hesitance by his boss to launch impeachment proceedings has anything to do with Lisa Madigan. He also criticized Cross for pushing impeachment now so aggressively, given how closely aligned he was with Blagojevich during the last year to push a multibillion-dollar state construction program that stalled in the House.
"This reflects a complete change of course in Tom Cross, who has been the biggest ally of Rod Blagojevich in the Illinois House," Brown said. "He's finally recognizing people should steer clear of Rod Blagojevich. We welcome his reawakening, and we'll sit down Monday with him and have a conversation."
Fritchey is being patient, though he too is not certain why the speaker has been reluctant to give the all-clear signal on impeachment. He wants to speak with Madigan to find out.
"The speaker historically has not been a person to be swayed by external demands for a timetable. I'm confident he understands the seriousness of this situation and the strong desire to move forward," Fritchey said.
"I intend to have a conversation with the speaker to exchange our ideas and to share with him the feedback I've gotten from colleagues. At the end of the day, I'd be surprised if we weren't on the same page."