Steve Chapman

In many places, voters become disenchanted when politicians move directly from high offices to lucrative jobs as lobbyists and consultants. Not in Illinois. Here, we are just happy when a politician doesn't go directly from high office to prison.

Of the most recent eight governors (not including the incumbent), three have been convicted of felonies. That's a batting average of .375, which is high in any league. And then we have the last governor, who got impeached and is now on trial.

It would not have been hard for Rod Blagojevich to raise the ethical standards of his office. His immediate predecessor, George Ryan, is serving a 6 1/2-year term in federal prison for bribery, extortion and other mischief.

Yet Blagojevich has managed to disappoint even the most pessimistic voters. His tenure brought to mind comedian Lily Tomlin's lament: "No matter how cynical you become, it's never enough to keep up."

All he did was get caught on wiretapped phone calls running his office like a used car lot. Most notable was his effort to trade an appointment to the U.S. Senate for money, campaign contributions or a job -- such as secretary of Health and Human Services, which was about as plausible as his winning the Cy Young Award.

Yet last week, it came as a stunner to find we cannot believe everything he says.

For months, the state's most infamous Elvis impersonator had vowed to take the stand at his corruption trial.

In June, he told reporters, "I can't wait to testify, to set the record straight and clarify some of these conversations, and tell the people of Illinois exactly what was on my mind and what I was trying to do and what I ultimately attempted to do."

But after the prosecution rested, he elected to maintain a discreet silence. Given a choice of hanging himself in court or being exposed as a brazen fabricator, well, you know which one Rod would choose.

He's not entirely alone. The events involving that particular Senate seat, which was vacated by Barack Obama in November 2008, have generated an epidemic of mendacity.

There was Obama, who the White House said "had no contact or communication with Gov. Blagojevich or members of his staff about the Senate seat." But it emerged in the trial that Obama had personally called Tom Balanoff, head of the Service Employees International Union, to suggest the appointment of his longtime aide Valerie Jarrett. Balanoff promptly set up a meeting with Blagojevich to pass on the recommendation.

Steve Chapman

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

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