OAK BROOK, Ill. (CBS) – Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich told high-schoolers attending the Junior Statesmen of America convention in Oak Brook Saturday that politics needs them.
“You must get involved and run for office and make things better,” he said.
Blagojevich said that the nation’s youth have idealism and ideas, elected Barack Obama president and cannot afford to sit back next year.
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The ex-governor made it clear he bears no ill will toward billionaire Donald Trump, who fired Blagojevich after four weeks on the reality TV show “Celebrity Apprentice.”
“Look, I’ve been fired before,” Blagojevich said, drawing mild laughter from the crowd. “But he’s the only guy who’s fired me whom I really like. I think he has a tremendous amount to offer. He’s not a politician. He’s a man who’s hugely successful, a billionaire probably many times over, who’s also had his share of adversity.”
One problem — Trump is a Republican, and Blagojevich is not. But he said he will be “rooting” for Trump anyhow.
He shared much harsher opinions of Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), Illinois Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) and successor Pat Quinn, whom Blagojevich branded “a liar.”
Blagojevich told the students that Illinois’ tax increases will hurt its economy, said “conflict is good” in politics and said the students represent the future, although he said he would not want his daughters to become politicians.
“You will get your heart broken,” Blagojevich said. “But you pick yourself up and you never quit, you never give in. It’s the adversity that shapes who you are.”
He said he is “big on second acts,” and said his desire is to win vindication in the courts on corruption charges and return to Springfield to document what he termed “the baloney in the system.”
Blagojevich said Illinois has no need to cut education spending in the coming fiscal year by $200 million, despite its financial crisis.
Madigan and House Republican leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego) proposed the cuts in the past week. Quinn has called for a $225 million increase in education spending.
Blagojevich said there is plenty of money in the state’s restricted funds that could be raided to avoid a decrease, which would cost the Chicago Public Schools alone $40-60 million.
Several student leaders said Blagojevich did not address the questions they asked and went on at length about “tangents.”
He also participated in a “Jeopardy!” styled quiz in which students paid to compete against him. The former governor had to be told repeatedly to wait till the question was asked before pounding the gavel that took the place of a buzzer.
He said he retains confidence in his legal team, even though he admitted that he has not paid them in six months. He was convicted last year of lying to the FBI, but jurors deadlocked on 23 other counts. Jury selection is scheduled to begin in his retrial on April 20.