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Editorial: A grasping schemer leaves the building

Updated: April 12, 2012 4:18PM

Illinois is officially done with Rod Blagojevich.

With a conviction on 17 of 20 counts, our disgraced former governor can begin counting down his days as a free man. Even if he appeals, as of course he will, a looming prison sentence means the Rod Show is drawing to a close, thank you very much.

That means the end to Blagojevich’s radio appearances, to his grandstanding press conferences and, most importantly, to the ongoing damage he has inflicted on image of the State of Illinois every time he opens his mouth.

Though Blagojevich’s second trial prolonged this sorry show, it was worth it. The public heard from the man himself, always entertaining in a way that he will never comprehend, as he tried to explain away the unexplainable. Better still, elected officials across the state were put on notice that the feds will take them down if they’re on the take, even if they never actually get anything.

In a slimmed-down case, prosecutors made the worthy point that even if you’re a lousy schemer, you’re still a schemer. The cop who demands a bribe but comes up empty-handed is still a crook.

But with the trial’s end, can Illinois finally move on?

Since Blagojevich’s arrest in December 2008, the state’s for-sale reputation has been the butt of endless jokes. (“Gov. Rod Blagojevich says he will not fill Barack Obama’s seat any time soon,” joked Jay Leno, leading the way more than 2½ years ago. “He says he’s going to wait until next summer when prices improve.”)

Worst still, the state has been crippled by a massive budget deficit, brought on, in part, by Blagojevich’s mismanagement.

Look closely, though, and you’ll see that Illinois already has begun putting the Blago era behind it.

The state Legislature passed important ethics reforms in the dark months following Blagojevich’s arrest. Illinois enacted its first-ever limit on campaign donations, improved the way it lets contracts and strengthened its freedom of information law. And this spring, for the first time in years, we witnessed the workings of functioning state Legislature.

During the Blagojevich years, the governor was deemed so untrustworthy that few in the Legislature would work with him, bringing the process to a halt.

But this spring, the Democratic-led Legislature started its budget work by responsibly projecting state revenues — a novel concept! — and passing a budget. The
Legislature passed a major education-reform package and fixed a broken workers-compensation system.

That was progress, although nobody would call it a whole new day. As Jim Bray of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, puts it: “The bar was extremely low.”

If Illinois is finally serious about clean politics, the Legislature must close a gaping loophole in the campaign finance law that exempts political parties from contribution caps. The state must reform the manner in which legislative maps — for Congress and state offices — are drawn, taking the remap power out of the self-serving hands of those already in power. And the state must find a way to select judges that safeguards their impartiality on the bench.

Fix the rules, and Jay Leno just might have to look elsewhere for material.

Nobody should take great pleasure in the prospect of Rod Blagojevich being dispatched to prison. A family has been crushed.

“Patti crying. Brother comforting her. Blago no expression,” a TV reporter texted as the verdict was read.

Two trials and the occasional Elvis impersonation revealed a man who is not so much venal as hapless, less malevolent plotter than bumbling, grasping schemer.

Not that it mattered much.

As Illinois has learned, a hapless, bumbling, grasping schemer can do a lot of damage.

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