CHICAGO (Reuters) - The Illinois House of Representatives impeached Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Friday for abuse of power, including a charge that he tried to sell President-elect Barack Obama’s former U.S. Senate seat.
Blagojevich dismissed the impeachment, the first ever of an Illinois governor, blaming it on long-standing conflicts with House lawmakers. He repeated he had committed no wrongdoing.
The Democratic-controlled House voted 114-1 to impeach the two-term Democrat. That clears the way for a trial in the state Senate, where conviction by more than two-thirds of its members would result in his removal from office.
The scandal kept Obama’s former Senate seat in limbo.
Illinois’ senior senator, Democrat Dick Durbin, said an Illinois Supreme Court ruling on Friday that allowed a state official to withhold his signature from Blagojevich’s appointment of Democrat Roland Burris meant the seat would have to remain vacant for now.
The court ruled the appointment of Burris was valid without Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White’s signature, but Durbin said Senate rules required the signature before Burris could be seated.
No one should be seated until the impeachment proceedings are over and the governor’s successor can make a new appointment, Durbin said.
Rep. Barbara Currie, a Chicago Democrat who headed the inquiry committee that recommended impeachment, told the House that Blagojevich had betrayed the public trust, “a public servant who has chosen not to serve the public ... who has betrayed his oath of office ... who is not fit to govern.”
A trial in the Democratic-controlled state Senate could begin on January 26, two weeks after the next legislature takes office, said a spokesman for Sen. John Cullerton, a Democrat who will lead the body.
Since a new session of the House begins next week, members will have to repeat Friday’s impeachment vote when they convene. Approval was considered highly likely as most House members were re-elected.
The Senate will then have to arrange a trial, overseen by the chief justice of the state Supreme Court, which Cullerton’s office predicted could last until mid-February.
The charges against the 52-year-old governor cited a wide range of abuses involving political favors, including charges brought by federal prosecutors that he tried to sell Obama’s vacated Senate seat to the highest bidder. He has rejected demands he resign, and prosecutors have not yet produced an indictment.
Blagojevich said he was not surprised the House voted to impeach him.
“From the very moment since my re-election, I have engaged in a struggle with the House to get things done for the people,” he said.
Blagojevich cited accomplishments where he “found ways to use my executive authority to save lives,” using as a backdrop to his news conference a dozen citizens he said he had helped. “Is that an impeachable offense?” the governor asked rhetorically, after listing each accomplishment.
Only a handful of governors have been impeached in U.S. history. The last governor to be impeached was Arizona Republican Evan Mecham in 1988. Mecham was convicted by the state Senate and removed from office.
Additional reporting by Karen Pierog in Chicago and Thomas Ferraro in Washington; Editing by Peter Cooney