When former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was sentenced to 14 years in prison Wednesday, local politicians and many following the case closely expressed relief, while others railed against the sentence as "extreme" and "total BS."
Before Judge James Zagel handed down the stiff sentence, he said that Blagojevich's actions " disfigured" the fabric of Illinois, leaving many to assume the lengthy prison term was meant to discourage future Illinois politicians from corruption. But, in a state that has seen four of its last eight governors convicted, many are skeptical that making an example of Blagojevich will accomplish much.
"As Judge Zagel put it, 'When a governor goes bad, the fabric of Illinois is torn,' " U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald after the sentencing. "We've had too much fabric torn in Illinois. In any state it would be awful if two governors were convicted in a century, yet we've seen it happen twice in the last five years."
Fitzgerald went on to say that "this needs to stop," which is no doubt what all Illinois residents have been thinking for awhile. But will Blago's long sentence really make corrupt public officials think twice?
"While I will shed no tears for Blagojevich, I do believe that by the year 2020 a lot more folks will be asking themselves whether he still belongs in prison," Mark Brown of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote in a Thursday column. "Absolutely, it needs to stop. But it won’t, not from prosecutions alone, nor from stiff prison terms, which is why we will need Fitzgerald and his successors to remain vigilant, while the rest of us vote smarter."
Blagojevich's attorneys do plan to appeal the sentence, but most experts expect the former governor to serve at least 12 years.
Longtime Blagojevich critic and Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass wrote in a Thursday column that if Blagojevich's likely 12 years in prison "doesn't freeze the grabby fingertips of the Illinois political class, nothing will."
"For more than a century, the thugs who've run governments in Illinois have pushed good people around," Kass wrote. "This Combine of Democrat and Republican insiders thrives on large government, and chops down any weeds that grow to threaten them. But a prison sentence like this one, a real sentence of 12 years, a sentence to freeze them and frighten them, that's something. It's called a start."
Since Blagojevich's arrest, Gov. Pat Quinn and state lawmakers have pushed for campaign finance reform and more transparency in state offices, but as Quinn said Wednesday, there is much more work to do.
Illinois lawmakers on both sides of the aisle Wednesday said that for real change to come, voters must be "vigilant and get involved.”
Sen. Kirk Dillard didn't mince words with NBC Chicago:
"[The] bottom line is the voters, myself, everybody needs to be more diligent about who in the heck we elect to these offices."
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