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Pressure Intensifies For Ill. Governor To Resign

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich kissed his wife, rode in his state SUV to the office and sat down at his desk Thursday in front of a bust of Lincoln and an American flag to portray "a return to normalcy." It was anything but. An extraordinary drama built through the day in Chicago as the political establishment of Illinois and the nation lined up against him.

Blagojevich's approval rating dropped to an all-time low of 8 percent, and friends and foes alike feared if they don't act swiftly to get rid of him, he might commit some kind of political mischief.

"The governor is in office, and he needs to be removed from office," Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn said. "It is an urgent matter. Illinois is in crisis."

The governor showed no signs of buckling to growing demands that he quit or be removed after his arrest Tuesday on corruption charges alleging that he tried to sell President-elect Barack Obama's Senate seat to the highest bidder.

While the governor was working — his spokesman would not say on exactly what — President-elect Obama told a news conference just a couple of blocks away that Blagojevich should go.

At the same time, Illinois lawmakers were organizing impeachment efforts, and the state attorney general said that if the governor were not impeached, she would seek a court order finding him unfit to serve.

Obama, speaking directly for the first time on the scandal that has distracted from his otherwise smooth transition, said he was "appalled" by the allegations.

"What I'm absolutely certain about is that our office had no involvement in any dealmaking around my Senate seat. That I'm absolutely certain of," he said. "That would be a violation of everything that this campaign has been about. And that's not how we do business."

The governor spent the day at his wooden desk, reviewing budget issues and talking to his closest aides.

Blagojevich spokesman Lucio Guerrero described the governor's mood as "upbeat" and "positive" and said "there's a sense of trying to return to normalcy." He said he knew of no decision about Blagojevich's political future or what the governor might do with the Obama seat.

Blagojevich's next move was the subject of great speculation in Illinois and around the country. Some observers wondered whether he might be seeking a deal with prosecutors to use the governor's office as a bargaining chip, possibly agreeing to step down in exchange for leniency.

But there was also worry that the governor might still pick a senator.

His refusal to step down has struck some as odd given the fact that wiretaps portrayed him as bored with his job, saying he was "struggling financially" and did "not want to be governor for the next two years."

But staying in office provides a financial benefit amid the turmoil: He continues to draw a $177,000-a-year salary.

Also Thursday, the criminal complaint that outlined the charges against Blagojevich yielded new details. The Associated Press learned that Senate Candidate 4 in the complaint is Illinois Deputy Gov. Louanner Peters. The source was not authorized to speak publicly about the complaint and spoke on condition of anonymity.

In the complaint, Blagojevich said he would put the deputy governor in the Senate before he gives the seat to another candidate and "don't get anything."

The decision to launch impeachment proceedings largely rests with House Speaker Michael Madigan, who, according to several House Democrats, faces a strong desire among his members for quick action. They said voters are demanding it, and lawmakers are transmitting that message to Madigan.

A poll taken since Blagojevich's arrest shows 73 percent of those surveyed support impeachment, and 70 percent think he should resign.

Chicago-based Glengariff Group surveyed 600 Illinois residents by phone Tuesday and Wednesday, and the results showed Blagojevich's approval rating at 8 percent. The margin of error was plus or minus 4 percent.

Four House Democrats sent a letter to their colleagues Thursday seeking support for a motion to impeach Blagojevich. The letter asks members to indicate whether they oppose the idea or support it, or even whether they want to co-sponsor the motion.

Democratic Rep. Jack Franks, one of the governor's fiercest critics, said he hopes Madigan will soon make clear that the House will launch impeachment proceedings unless Blagojevich resigns.

"It would be music to the ear of everyone in this state," Franks said.

Franks said he has gotten "a deluge" of calls from lawmakers wanting to be part of any impeachment committee.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, the daughter of the House speaker, threatened again Thursday to file a lawsuit asking the state Supreme Court to have Blagojevich declared unfit to hold office if he doesn't resign soon or get impeached.

"Obviously right now, in the best of all possible worlds, the governor would do what's right for the people of the state of Illinois. He would resign," said Madigan, a longtime Blagojevich foe considering a run for governor in 2010.

But "at this point he appears to be staying put," and Madigan wants a signal from lawmakers about whether they will move quickly on impeachment proceedings.

Legislative leaders planned a special session Monday to strip Blagojevich of his power to pick a new U.S. senator, putting the decision in the hands of Illinois voters instead.

The White House on Thursday said President George Bush finds Blagojevich's alleged behavior "astounding."

Quinn said the impeachment process should begin when the Legislature convenes. If lawmakers don't take action, he would support Madigan going to the Supreme Court.

Quinn strongly criticized the possibility of a special election to fill Obama's seat, saying it would take too long, leaving Illinois with just one senator in Washington for months. Quinn said he has not spoken to potential Senate appointees and doesn't have a short list of candidates.

If he becomes governor, Quinn said his "first order of business" will be appointing a senator. He did not flatly rule out choosing a Republican, saying he would pick the most qualified candidate.


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