published Friday, December 9th, 2011

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's sad fall

We cannot imagine a "good" time for the governor of any state to be not only convicted of criminal charges but sentenced to a long prison term.

But it must be especially painful to the people of Illinois that ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who was sentenced Wednesday, was the second consecutive governor of that state to go to prison for corruption convictions. Blagojevich, a Democrat, was preceded by Gov. George Ryan, a Republican. Ryan is serving six and a half years in prison. Blagojevich was sentenced to 14 years.

Ironically, Blagojevich was elected in 2002 after promising to clean up Illinois' notoriously corrupt political system. But among other things, he was convicted of trying to misuse his power as governor to appoint someone to fill President Barack Obama's former Senate seat. Blagojevich sought either a high-paying job or campaign cash in exchange for the seat.

In a plea for mercy that should be cause for sadness among his political allies and foes alike, Blagojevich on Wednesday admitted he had broken the law.

"I'm here convicted of crimes ...," he said, "and I am accepting of it, I acknowledge it, and I of course am unbelievably sorry for it."

With Blagojevich's wife looking on in tears, the judge took no delight in the proceedings but nonetheless sentenced Blagojevich to 14 years in prison. Under federal sentencing guidelines, he will have to serve almost 12 years before he becomes eligible for parole.

"When it is the governor who goes bad, the fabric of Illinois is torn and disfigured and not easily repaired," Judge James Zagel said.

All Americans have a duty to obey the law, but it is particularly destructive when someone in an elected position violates the public trust. And the consequences can be severe, as former Gov. Blagojevich -- and his unfortunate family -- have sadly learned.

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