Blagojevich pays a high price
Rod Blagojevich will have a long time behind bars to reflect on his criminal activities.
Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich Wednesday came face to face with the consequences of his actions, and he didn't like what he saw.
But citizens of Illinois who are sick to death of the relentless corruption of their public officials can take satisfaction in knowing that the 54-year-old Blagojevich got what he deserved.
Blagojevich, who actually aspired to the presidency before he was impeached and removed from the governor's office, was sentenced to 14 years in prison and ordered to pay a $20,000 fine as a result of his conviction on a slew of corruption charges, including one alleging he tried to sell President Obama's former U.S. Senate seat.
It was a different Blagojevich who appeared in federal court before U.S. Judge James Zagel.
Gone was the fast-talking, cocksure politician who baited prosecutors and blithely dismissed allegations of wrongdoing. This Blagojevich sought mercy for himself and his family, expressed deep regret for his indefensible conduct and apologized for his three-year effort to try his case in the news media.
"I'm here convicted of crimes. The jury decided that I was guilty and I am accepting of it. I acknowledge it and, of course, am unbelievably sorry for it," he said.
There is no question that Blagojevich is sorry. But he was so relentlessly corrupt from the first day of his six years as governor, it is impossible to believe that he's sorry for anything other than being caught.
Indeed, U.S. Judge James Zagel dismissed suggestions that Blagojevich was led astray by his advisors or corrupt associates. He said "the governor was not marched along this criminal path by his staff. He marched them."
That is, of course, what the evidence overwhelmingly showed, including the tape recordings of Blagojevich conversations in which he discussed how to enrich himself by trading an appointment to the Senate for cash or a high-paying job.
The Obama Senate seat is what drew much of the public's attention following Blagojevich's December 2008 arrest, and it's easy to see why. It was a spectacular outrage.
But the other charges for which Blagojevich was convicted are equally outrageous. He put state contracts, jobs and grants up for sale. Along with fellow lowlifes like Tony Rezko and Stuart Levine, Blagojevich presided over a vast extortion conspiracy aimed at collecting cash payoffs and campaign contributions.
All the while he was asleep at the wheel of state government, so uninterested in actually doing his job that he routinely refused to go to work.
Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka was right when she said after the sentencing that "the damage (Blagoevjich) has caused to our state will far outlast any prison sentence he will serve."
In a state full of hucksters and hustlers who aspire to elective office, Blagojevich is one of the strangest ever to solicit the public's stamp of approval. He was desperate to be something, but not to do anything. Boosted by his alliance with a powerful father-in-law, Chicago Alderman Richard Mell, Blagojevich ran for the Illinois House, the U.S. House of Representatives and the governor's office.
But once elected, he was the epitome of the indifferent slacker motivated only by self-interest, displaying a stunning disregard not just for the people of Illinois but his family as well. Under federal law, he'll be required to serve most of his 14-year sentence. That means his two daughters will be well into adulthood and he'll be pushing 70 before he's released.
That's a staggering price to pay. But it's payment for staggering crimes.
One would hope that Illinois' only native criminal class — its elected officials — would be deterred by the Blagojevich example. But Blagojevich wasn't deterred by the George Ryan example. Ryan wasn't deterred by the Dan Walker and Otto Kerner examples.
It's pretty clear that Illinois politicians haven't learned a thing. They just keep doing what comes naturally, and they will probably continue doing so until voters insist on a higher standard of behavior.