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Hermene Hartman

Hermene Hartman

Posted January 28, 2009 | 04:29 PM (EST)

Warning: What They do to Blago They Can do to You


Impeachment is a serious process.

Briefly, it means that an elected public servant is so bad that he/she should be removed from office before his/her term is fully served. While we watch as history unfolds positively, we're also witnessing it as it unfolds negatively in the State of Illinois. Governor Rod Blagojevich has been elected governor of this state twice, and he will be the first governor from the state to undergo the impeachment process. His peers--the upper House of the Illinois legislature--will try him. Our forefathers introduced the impeachment course to safeguard against tyranny. After all, our democracy is based on the vote, not royalty.

Illinois' impeachment rules are based on the impeachment trial of former President Bill Clinton. The trial's purpose is to see if Blagojevich committed wrongdoing while in office. If so, the goal is to remove him from office. An elected official can be impeached for bribery, treason, crime or high crime and the abuse of power. High crime and abuse of power are not well defined. Is high crime a shot in the temple? Is high crime stealing billions of dollars from investors? Is abuse of power passing a bad law? Knowingly putting the wrong person in jail?

There are some special rules that apply to legislators that don't apply to the court which merits question, and may even defy the democratic process. For example: A witness cannot be called because the U.S. Attorney has the power not to call a witness that will be harmful to his criminal case. Is this fair? Is it right that the voting legislators cannot ask a "live question?" They must write a question and give it to the judge? If so, then direct examination of witnesses sound like a game show.

The governor is accused but he cannot have his accusers appear before the Illinois Legislature to be questioned. Does this mean you are assumed guilty until proven innocent? This defies the American judicial process. This is the base reason that the governor and his lawyers won't appear before the Illinois legislators. The case is stacked, and it resembles a kangaroo court. It also resembles cases in the South where the black man was guilty as charged for the myriad of rape or murder cases that nobody witnessed but a black male was in the wrong place at the wrong time and was whisked to jail or lynched by a mob. The jurors might have been Ku Klux Klansmen at night.

My point: This impeachment business is treacherous and a dangerous precedent can be set when implementing personality politics. The terms "high crime" and "abuse of power" are too ambiguous and require a clear definition. A case could be stacked against anyone, as history has cruelly demonstrated. A part of the American judicial creed is that a person has the right to a fair trial. Fair implies without restriction of a call to witnesses. At best, we have heard about conversations but they have been one sided and not full. A cross examination is in order.

If, indeed, Governor Blagojevich asked for money for an appointment to a Senate seat, he should be removed from office. However, his lawyers, in front of the impeachment committee, should question those who have accused him. The tapes should be unearthed. And since the public voted for the governor and voted for the impeachment committee, we, too, should be allowed to fully hear the tapes. That is, both sides of the conversations, rather than a sensationally-selected TV sound bite.

It is imperative that Blagojevich has a fair trial. The results of the Illinois impeachment committee and the real court should come to the same conclusion working under the same laws, rules and regulations.

I'm reminded of a poem attributed to Pastor Martin Niemöller about the inactivity of German intellectuals following the Nazi rise to power and the purging of their chosen target, group after group, until no one was left.


First They Came

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.