The impact of the upcoming trial of former Governor Rod Blagojevich is already being felt throughout the halls of the Illinois state Capitol.
While the upcoming trial will no doubt bring negative fallout to state Democrats in the coming months, the federal corruption probe into Blagojevich and his administration has spurred numerous ethics-related developments including the formation of a government reform commission headed by former prosecutor Patrick Collins.
The commission proposed campaign finance reform and a renewed push for term limits. Both provisions were rejected by the Democrat majority in the Legislature.
As we witnessed following the George Ryan corruption scandal, statewide Republican candidates were unilaterally rejected by the voters.
Hence, it is likely that Illinois Democrats will suffer the political consequences of Blagojevich’s monumental downfall.
Polling in Illinois is showing that Democrats are viewed less favorably than they were four years ago. On the national front, Republicans will spend big money in Illinois to help the party’s candidates get elected.
Perhaps the biggest wild card in how the Blagojevich trial plays out will be Blagojevich himself and his legendary unpredictability.
Most attorneys advise their clients to keep their mouths shut and to stay out of the limelight before a legal proceeding,
Blagojevich defies logic by seeking out the most outlandish publicity stunts (see Donald Trump reality television show) he can find in an effort to taint the jury pool.
How will Blagojevich try to manipulate the media and the public during the trial? Will he attempt to turn the entire proceeding into a circus?
It’s those questions that have the Democratic leadership in Illinois reaching for the Rolaids as they contemplate their chances in the fall election cycle.
The unpredictability of Blagojevich may also have something to do with why Senate and House leaders Michael J. Madigan and John Cullerton want to get out of the heat in Springfield before June, when the Blagojevich trial is slated to begin.
Democratic Party leaders don’t want to be caught in the harsh glare of the Statehouse press corps to answer to the latest twists and turns of their former governor’s legal troubles.
An unfortunate outcome of political scandal is the negative impact it has on a party’s ability to govern effectively and without distraction.
The other lingering impact the trial will have will be felt by those who are dragged into the scandal through testimony during the trial.
Blagojevich attempted to subpoena President Barack Obama. Blagojevich allegedly was trying to sell Obama’s vacant Senate seat ostensibly to a number of politicians including Jesse Jackson Jr., Lisa Madigan and Valerie Jarrett, among others.
And what of the politicians who may or may not have been caught in federal wiretaps, like presidential Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel?
The tentacles of this trial reach all the way through the Democratic Party in Illinois, which is already reeling from the banking scandal swirling around U.S. Senate candidate and Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias’ and his problem-plagued Broadway Bank failure.
In summary, it is my hope that both parties in Illinois will learn something from the corruption-soiled legacy of the Blagojevich and Ryan tenures in Illinois.
Furthermore, I hope that knowledge will lead to significant campaign and governmental reforms. But before that happens, I see massive political fallout for the Democrats that will likely diminish their chances for success in the November elections.
Dillard ran for governor in the Republican primary election this year and is a state senator representing the 24th District.