Steve Chapman

In 1776, the authors of the Declaration of Independence noted that "governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves." But Illinoisans know, as those patriots did, that at some point you just can't take it anymore.

For most, that point came after Gov. Rod Blagojevich got himself arrested in December on charges of soliciting bribes. It took less than a month for the House to vote to impeach him. The real mystery is not that people became completely disgusted with the governor so suddenly, but that the process took so long.

His conduct over six years in office suggests that his only goal was to see how far he could push his luck before it ran out. Or else to prove journalist H.L. Mencken's claim that "government is a broker in pillage, and every election is sort of an advance auction sale of stolen goods."

The House vote set the stage for the Senate trial to decide on his removal. As it happens, neither the House nor the Senate needs any reason to act. The U.S. Constitution provides for impeachment and removal in cases of "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors." The Illinois Constitution, by contrast, provides for it in any instance where the General Assembly feels the urge. Legislators could eject Blagojevich because they detest his hair, and who could blame them?

But to their credit, lawmakers have never been disposed to resort to impeachment just to get rid of someone whose personality or policies they find obnoxious. They treat it as a last resort, to be used only for the most intolerable behavior.

In the case of Blagojevich, that gave them plenty to choose from. From wiretapped conversations, federal law enforcement agents concluded he schemed to trade a U.S. Senate appointment for lucrative favors, tried to coerce the owner of The Chicago Tribune to fire his editorial board and demanded a campaign contribution from an executive at a children's hospital that was hoping to get state reimbursement for pediatric care.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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