Illinois Republicans are crying foul after state House Democrats took control of the investigation of beleaguered Gov. Rod Blagojevich, refusing to give the GOP equal representation on a panel probing a host of corruption charges.
The Republicans complain that they have been assigned a “minority role” on the 21-member committee investigating Blagojevich. Democrats have taken 12 seats on the panel, while the GOP has been given just nine.
House Speaker Michael Madigan said the lopsided makeup of the investigating committee reflects the "partisan composition" of the state’s past two general assemblies, both of which were controlled by Madigan's lock-stepping Democrats. Madigan added that he alone will decide who will be subpoenaed to testify during the investigation, irate Republicans noted.
The blue-ribbon committee will be drawn from House members with at least six terms in office, with House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie as committee chair and Madigan's chief legal counsel serving as “special legal counsel on the impeachment matter," Madigan said in a statement.
Rep. Chapin Rose, a former Republican prosecutor from rural Charleston, Ill., alleged that rules essentially giving Madigan and the Democrats sole subpoena power are neutralizing Republicans. Without Madigan's signature on subpoenas, they won't be served, Rose said.
"This is not a perfunctory matter where somebody has to sign a piece of paper that says 'subpoena' before it goes out. This is a different ballgame. A subpoena could be shut down – not only by a vote of the committee members – but by Madigan himself. This is not the transparent way," Rose said.
In a rancorous session of the Illinois House Monday night, members voted unanimously to impeach "Lightning Rod" Blagojevich for alleged political malfeasance, including attempting to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama to the highest bidder.
Blagojevich and Obama were fostered in the same Democratic camp in Chicago that rules Illinois with a dominant hand. The vote comes a week after federal authorities arrested Blagojevich on a variety of political corruption charges, including the allegation involving Obama’s seat.
House Republicans, meanwhile, want Madigan to push through a bill to remove the governor's constitutional authority to replace Obama with a candidate of his choice. They also want to enact legislation to authorize a special election while the impeachment process moves forward so Illinois will have two senators as soon as possible.
Republican Rep. Tim Schmitz said, "A special election is what the people of Illinois want."
Republicans circulated a Dec. 11 Rasmussen poll indicating that 61 percent of Illinois voters want Obama's replacement selected in a special election.
Madigan's daughter, Lisa, the state attorney general and oft-mentioned Democratic gubernatorial candidate, has asked the state Supreme Court to declare Blagojevich incompetent to govern, turning the authority to replace Obama in the Senate over to the lieutenant governor.
"We need to turn this decision over to the people of Illinois," said Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington.
Despite the rhetoric, politicians and lobbyists dotting the visitor gallery overlooking the House chamber almost unanimously said a special election is a non-starter among Democrats because they might lose it.
Democrat Dick Durbin, the lone U.S. senator from Illinois for the time being, called for a special election the day after Blagojevich was arrested, a move that angered Madigan and other veteran Democrats in the state, one lobbyist confided.
"I have been coming up here for 30 years and this is the most divided I have ever seen the House, and that is saying something in Illinois," said the lobbyist, who asked to remain anonymous.
During Monday’s heated, 90-minute debate in the House, Madigan traded barbs with exasperated Republicans who said he was stepping back from his promises to be completely open and candid with voters by seeking the truth wherever it may be. Madigan and Blagojevich are personal as well as political foes who once confronted each other in a shouting match inside a Springfield restaurant.
"They certainly aren't friends," said Bruce Pitchford, a local politician and veteran political watcher.
Information dribbling out of U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald's Chicago office suggests that Democrats might have opened a Pandora's box they are now trying to shut, Rose said.
Outgoing Illinois Senate President Emil Jones, another powerful Democrat, called Monday for restraint and introspection before "rushing to judgment" over the guilt or innocence of Blagojevich. One Republican hustling around the state capital claimed Jones was trying to warn Madigan to "slow the process down" a bit before Blagojevich's indiscretions were linked to the indiscretions of the ubiquitous Chicago Democratic machine.
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