Blago’s trial may skew votes

By SpencerRoush

Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s alleged unethical actions in the governor’s office have been at the center of political jokes since his arrest on Dec. 9, 2008. During the past year, Blagojevich has sat on the couch of almost every major TV talk show and he continues to make headlines.  But these headlines and his upcoming trial may be a hindrance to his fellow Democrats who are running for office next year, according to some Chicago political analysts.

With the primaries coming up in February 2010, many candidates from both parties say they are willing to take on Chicago corruption. However, the Democrats have been in charge of every major office in Illinois since former Republican Gov. George Ryan was indicted and convicted on federal charges of corruption in 2002.

“The Blagojevich scandal is something that is fresh on voter’s minds,” said Lee Roupas, chairman of the Cook County Republican Party. “He’ll be on trial next year before the election. I think it’s just a reminder that [it’s] business as usual, which has been perpetrated by the Democratic Party. [The party] has had a complete stranglehold of power in Illinois.”

Russ Stewart, a political analyst and attorney in Chicago, who writes a political column for the Nadig Newspapers, said the Blagojevich scandal and trial will weigh heavily on the minds of voters on Election Day and may be an opportunity for Republicans to take back some state-wide offices.

Blagojevich’s trial date was set for this coming summer, but due to a possible change in charges, there may be a delay. If it is delayed, the trial will be moved closer to the election, which may impact voters, according to Christopher Mooney, a political science professor at the University of Illinois Springfield in the Institute of Government and Public Affairs. The trial is expected to last for three months.

“The Democrats can point to and rightfully say that they threw him out of office, at least the Legislature can,” Mooney explained. “But especially at the gubernatorial level, I think is where it’s going to be the most problematic [for Democrats].”

Mooney said Gov. Pat Quinn may have the hardest time separating himself from Blagojevich during the campaign because he ran with him for two terms, and winning the Democratic nomination will certainly not be a “slam dunk” at this point. Quinn currently has three opponents: Dan Hunes, William Walls III and Ed Scanlan.

The Republican Party and the Green Party both think they will benefit from the Democrats’ blunders. Roupas said the Republicans are taking advantage of the possible changeovers in party control.

According to Patrick Kelly, media coordinator of the Chicago Green Party, the Greens are expecting disgruntled members of the two-party system to vote for a third-party candidate in 2010. Kelly said many Republicans who were distraught over the George Ryan scandal switched to the Green Party for the election, and they are expecting the same reactions from the Democrats. The Greens have one gubernatorial candidate, Rich Whitney, and another candidate who is running for senate, LeAlan Jones.

Mooney said he still expects the Democrats to win state-wide because they have a natural advantage in terms of party identification and demographics in Illinois, but he said he doesn’t expect it to be easy.

Steve Brown, spokesperson for the Illinois Democratic Party, said Democrats will not be the only people hurt by the exposure of the trial during campaign and election season. He said just as many Republicans worked closely with Blagojevich and their relationships will be revealed as well.

Brown said he isn’t sure how the scandal will affect voters, but he doesn’t think it will manipulate the race for the Democrats.

“It’s not just Blagojevich,” Mooney said. “Even though [he’s] a big part of it and that’s what people will remember and will be thinking about with the trial, the state government is a complete mess.”