CHICAGO (CBS) — Illinois politicians were quick to weigh in after former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was sentenced to 14 years in prison on Wednesday for his corruption convictions, largely saying they hope it puts an end to corruption in the governor’s office.
Gov. Pat Quinn, who succeeded Blagojevich after he was removed from office in January 2009, said, “This is a somber day in our history. The sentencing of my predecessor Rod Blagojevich is a day that no one will forget.”
“Justice was served by the sentence meted out by the judge today,” he added.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) issued a written statement: “I hope today’s sentencing finally draws this sad chapter in Illinois history to a close.”
Republican State Treasurer Dan Rutherford – who, as a state senator in 2009 voted to remove Blagojevich from office – also issued a prepared statement: “Rod Blagojevich brought the 14 year sentence on himself. He deceived the people of Illinois far too long for what the jury substantiated as his own personal gain. Today’s sentencing is proof that such corrupt, embarrassing behavior will no longer be tolerated in Illinois.”
Quinn, who was Blagojevich’s running mate in 2002 and 2006, said he felt betrayed by Blagojevich, who first ran for office on a reform platform in 2002, in the midst of a federal investigation of then-Gov. George Ryan, who is now serving a 6 ½-year sentence for his own corruption convictions.
“I think he (Blagojevich) let me down like he let down the people of Illinois,” Quinn said. “When you betray a trust, that’s a serious crime and I think the sentence magnifies how important it is to not have … that ever happen again.”
State Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale), who ran for governor two years ago after voting to remove Blagojevich from office – said, “The sentence is tough, but it’s fair.”
“It sends a loud message to everyone in Illinois, including voters: We need to do more, we need to be more vigilant,” he added. “I want to make sure that Illinoisans don’t get discouraged and give up. They need to vote, because if they don’t go vote, you end up with just the worst people in government.”
Dillard also said he hopes Blagojevich’s sentence spurs lawmakers to work with good government groups to enact more strict ethics laws in Illinois.
“While you’ll never legislate morality, you can put up parameters that will hopefully keep people within the boundaries,” Dillard said. “Government and politics and campaign funds do not mix and you’ve got to separate the two.”
Quinn also pushed for ethics reform, in particular calling for an amendment to the Illinois Constitution that would allow voters to start petition drives to enact new ethics laws, rather than simply allowing on lawmakers to come up with new ethics legislation on their own.
“Illinois government belongs to the people. They’re the boss and they ought to have the right by petition and binding referendum to enact ethical standards for officials in state government and local government that the people see fit,” he said. “We should not just have to rely on a legislature or city councils or county boards.”
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, whom Blagojevich claimed he considered appointing to the U.S. Senate in order to appease her father, House Speaker Mike Madigan, said Blagojevich’s sentence won’t repair the harm he did to Illinois.
“Blagojevich became governor by promising ethical reform, but from the start, he relentlessly used his position to pursue illegal and morally bankrupt schemes motivated by power and greed,” Madigan said. “His conduct was disgraceful, and the cost to the state has been devastating. Blagojevich refused to govern responsibly and, instead, put Illinois up for sale. He tarnished the state’s reputation nationally and internationally, and he destroyed the public’s trust in government.”
U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Illinois), who was elected to the Senate seat Blagojevich was convicted of trying to sell, said, the “sentence is a clear warning to all elected officials that public corruption of any form will not be tolerated. Illinois families have long suffered from an estimated $500 million hidden corruption tax. U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has done a great service to Illinois by bringing two criminal governors to justice.”