SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Officially, Illinois lawmakers will gather soon to consider a special election to replace Barack Obama in the U.S. Senate - but it was already clear yesterday that ousting disgraced Gov. Rod Blagojevich was at the top of many to-do lists.
"On a scale of one to 10, impeachment is 25 and everything else is a two," said Rep. Jack Franks, a fellow Democrat from Woodstock.
A legislative session beginning today will be the first since Blagojevich was arrested last week on charges that he tried to profit from his power to choose Obama's replacement and shook down businesses seeking state deals.
Republicans said yesterday that they plan to put intense public pressure on Democrats to move against Blagojevich. A spokesman for Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan said that he will discuss the idea with Republican leaders today.
Meanwhile, Blagojevich was expected to firm up his legal representation after meeting over the weekend with Chicago attorney Ed Genson, who has defended media mogul Conrad Black and R&B singer R. Kelly. Yesterday, Blagojevich's wife, Patti, went into Genson's building.
Genson, a bulldog who generally takes his cases to trial, has said that he and the governor would make a "mutual decision" today. Blagojevich spokesman Lucio Guerrero said that the governor "has no plans on resigning" today.
Guerrero didn't respond directly to whether the governor could or would do anything to slow down the Legislature's move toward impeachment.
"The governor has indicated in the past there is more to this story that he's wanting to tell at an appropriate time," he said.
David Dring, spokesman for House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego, said that Republicans will step up the pressure on Democrats to remove Blagojevich.
"If they won't work with us, you'll probably see some good theater," Dring said.
The GOP also plans to run television ads pressuring Democrats to approve a special election to replace Obama. Blagojevich still holds the power to appoint a new senator, and if he resigned, that power would go to Democratic Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn.
Illinois Republican Party chairman Andy McKenna told reporters that the ads will "make the point that this is the people's seat, and the people deserve a special election."
A spokesman said that Madigan, who has often clashed with Blagojevich, will discuss impeachment with Cross today.
Franks said that Madigan - a methodical man who never rushes decisions - listens to House members and will probably respond to public cries for impeachment. But Franks also said that members will not be satisfied with a wait-and-see response.
Eighty percent of lawmakers responding to a GateHouse News Service survey said that the Legislature should pursue impeachment quickly.
"Anything short of convening the [impeachment] committee would not be enough," Franks said.
Madigan's daughter, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, has asked the state Supreme Court to remove Blagojevich from office, claiming that he is unfit to serve. Madigan said yesterday that she expects word on whether the court will hear her request "probably just in a few days."
Lisa Madigan is considered one of the top Democratic candidates for governor in 2010.
The state constitution gives lawmakers broad authority to impeach a governor for any reason that they consider sufficient. The House would decide whether to file charges against the governor, and the Senate would ultimately rule on them.
Many officials want to strip Blagojevich of the authority to name a new senator by picking the replacement through a special election, the topic of today's legislative session. The idea probably will be approved in committee today and then considered by the two chambers tomorrow.
Democrats first made the call for a special election, but some are now having second thoughts.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, for instance, was an early supporter but is now calling for Blagojevich to resign so that the lieutenant governor could appoint a senator.
Opponents of a special election cite the time and expense. It would cost tens of millions of dollars and not produce a new senator until April.
Republicans say that Democrats are wavering because they don't want to risk a GOP candidate winning the special election.
Guerrero said that Blagojevich won't take a position on creating a special election until he has seen details of the proposal. Any change approved by lawmakers would go to the governor's desk.
Also today, Lisa Madigan and Quinn criticized the governor anew during appearances on NBC's "Meet the Press" and CBS's "Face the Nation."
"We don't have a governor that can legitimately govern," Madigan said.
Quinn said that he did not know Blagojevich's plans but that resignation would be best for him, his family and the people of Illinois.
"He's got to do something, because our state is in crisis," Quinn said on "Meet the Press."
At the Greater St. John Bible Church in Chicago, the Rev. Ira Acree, who met with Blagojevich at his home Friday morning, made only a passing reference to the governor in his sermon but told his congregation that he had prayed with the governor and that everyone deserves pastoral counsel.
"Pray for our state," Acree said. "No matter what your political position is, pray for our state." *