My children and I sat by the radio listening intently as each name was called.
“Shh… Now listen. This is a huge day in the history of our state,” I said. “I want you to remember this.”
When the vote was tallied, 59-0, a huge lump formed in my throat. It wasn’t that I felt sorry for our governor who had lost his job. Or that I didn’t agree with each lawmaker who voted yes. It was just a sad and monumental day that the affairs of our state had come to this.
I think about the men who actually drafted the articles of impeachment. I’m sure they wrote them with great care — and also a hope they would never be used.
Back in my reporter days, when I had the job of covering the Illinois Legislature, I always loved the process, the procedure and the chance to witness history unfold. Sitting in the press box, the reporters tried to hide any outward signs of anything but objectivity.
A young reporter would get an evil glare if he or she accidentally clapped in a moment of celebration, like a big announcement during the State of the State address. But I often fought those lumps in my throat as I realized the importance of what was happening in front of me: the swearing-in of a new governor, a close vote on a bill, or the black drape on the chair of a member who had passed away.
When you are up close and personal, you realize that these are real people, with real families and real hopes and dreams. Politics often seems like a game surrounded by so much cynicsm. But, at times, these elected officials are confronted with a task that is so monumental it will change the course of lives.
The temptation must be so great. To take the task lightly. To think of personal gain. To get caught up in the power of it all. Those are temptations all of us face. But the effects of a bad choice aren’t nearly so public, or so far reaching.
It was a sad day. Not just for Gov. Rod Blagojevich. I don’t feel sorry for him because he was removed from office. But I do feel bad that he just doesn’t get it. He was so eloquent in his words and yet he gave hints at what lies deeper in his heart: This is just how things work in politics.
It was a sad day because the culture of corruption in our state brought our governor to this place. Elected officials are afraid to change campaign finance laws that would make it easier for an incumbent to take over their job. It’s a culture where once in office, many accept that money and politics will always be linked.
It was a sad day in the history of our state that lawmakers had to brush the dust off the constitution and read the articles of impeachment. They had to make sure they were following those rules to the letter of the law and then cast their votes.
“What’s happening, Mom,” the kids kept asking.
“Well… the governor broke the rules. He did something he shouldn’t do. And now he has to be removed from office.”
We weren’t celebrating his downfall. It was a day to stop. Listen. And learn from history.