The Illinois Education Association is calling for Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich to resign after the governor and his chief of staff, John Harris, were arrested this morning on corruption and bribery charges.
The Democratic governor allegedly tried to benefit financially from the pending appointment of the Senate seat recently vacated by President-elect Barack Obama, according one of a number of accusations included in the FBI’s 78-page indictment. Blagojevich has sole authority to select Obama’s replacement.
In a statement on the matter released today the teachers’ union said:
We are appalled by the allegations found in the complaint against Gov. Rod Blagojevich. Illinois has serious problems that can only be addressed by leaders who command respect. We urge Gov. Blagojevich to resign immediately. We also support the immediate commencement of impeachment proceedings against the governor.
Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, also a Democrat, would take over Blagojevich’s spot if the governor resigns or is forced from office.
If Blagojevich is ousted from his post because of the allegations, it doesn’t sound like education organizations in the state will miss him much.
“According to our members it would not be a huge blow,” said Ben Schwarm, an associate executive director for the Illinois Association of School Boards. He said some districts had been angry with Blagojevich for his refusal to support a dedicated funding mechanism for education, although he did acknowledge that schools had gotten spending increases during the governor’s tenure.
Ken Swanson, the president of the IEA, agreed that Blagojevich had been “a roadblock” to educators’ push to get a designated revenue source for schools. The union endorsed neither the governor nor his opponent during Blagojevich’s 2006 re-election bid.
Blagojevich is known more for his work on health care than on education. As governor, he promoted the concept of universal pre-K, although the state never provided enough funding for it. And he helped champion new high school graduation standards that required students to take an extra year each of math, science, English, and writing. He also fought to appoint political allies to the State Board of Education.
The indictment also accuses Blagojevich of threatening to withhold state assistance from the Tribune Company, which publishes the Chicago Tribune, unless the newspaper’s editorial board fired members who had been critical of the governor. He is accused of specifically singling out John McCormick, the paper’s deputy editorial page editor, who remains employed by Tribune.
And the indictment mentions Blagojevich’s association with Chicago businessman and political fundraiser Antonin “Tony” Rezko, whose name became infamous nationally during the presidential campaign because of his ties to Obama. Rezko was convicted on corruption charges in June. One of the prosecution’s witnesses in that trial was attorney Stuart Levine, sits on the board of the state Teachers Retirement System and allegedly steered its investments to Rezko’s preferred businesses.