Your NPR news source

3 Crazy Things That Just Happened In Illinois Politics

It’s not often that Rod Blagojevich, sexual harassment allegations, and an extraordinary political detente converge on Illinois politics in a single day.

But Thursday was that day.

SHARE 3 Crazy Things That Just Happened In Illinois Politics

In this Dec. 7, 2011 file photo, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, left, speaks to reporters as his wife, Patti, listens at the federal building in Chicago.

M. Spencer Green/AP

It’s not often that Rod Blagojevich, sexual harassment allegations, and an extraordinary political detente converge on Illinois politics in a single day.

But Thursday was that day.

Lawmakers approved a state budget for the next year on the final day of their legislative session, President Donald Trump said he’s considering commuting the sentence of Illinois’ most recently imprisoned ex-governor, and a longtime Illinois House member resigned his position in the Democratic leadership after a medical marijuana advocate accused him of harassment.

Here’s what else you need to know.

2019’s drama-free, no-mess state budget

For the second time in almost a year, legislative hell froze over in Springfield as Democrats and Republicans came together to pass a budget.

On Thursday, the House overwhelmingly approved a $38.5 billion budget in a resounding, bipartisan vote. A day earlier, the same storyline unfolded in the state Senate.

The last time both parties came together on a spending plan for state government was last July, when Democrats and Republicans delivered a strong rebuke to GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner by overriding his veto of the spending plan for the 2018 fiscal year.

This go-around, Rauner is in a new, cooperative budgetary mood as he faces a tough re-election bid. He described what lawmakers passed as “a step in the right direction” and vowed quick action to enact the plan.

Blagojevich: From ‘fired’ to commuted?

The last time President Donald Trump and convicted former Gov. Rod Blagojevich were known to have come face-to-face, Trump had two words for the impeached governor: “You’re fired.”

That was back in 2010, when Trump was the star of the NBC television series, Celebrity Apprentice.

On Thursday, with Blagojevich in year six of a 14-year federal prison term for corruption, Trump suggested he’s “seriously thinking” about doing a big favor for his one-time co-star by commuting Blagojevich’s sentence.

Trump said the ex-governor’s only crime was displaying “a lot of bravado” on government wiretaps. “Plenty of other politicians have said a lot worse,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One. “And it doesn’t … he shouldn’t have been put in jail.”

Blagojevich’s brother, Robert, told WBEZ that he is “cautiously optimistic” that Trump will extend mercy to the ex-governor.

“If President Trump were to be gracious enough to commute Rod’s sentence, to me, it would be an ultimate act of humanity that was missed by the previous president,” Robert Blagojevich said.

Former Illinois first lady Patti Blagojevich made a personal plea for her husband’s release Thursday evening on Fox News, Trump’s cable network of choice. She called Trump “a kind man, a compassionate man.”

More harassment accusations in Springfield

The accusations against him were still rolling out when Democratic state Rep. Lou Lang, a 31-year veteran of the Illinois House of Representatives, announced he was resigning his party leadership position Thursday afternoon.

His accuser, Maryann Loncar, was in the middle of holding a press conference in Springfield announcing her allegations when Lang dropped his resignation. Loncar had advocated for legalizing medical marijuana in Illinois, and Lang was a key negotiator on the bill.

She accused Lang of bullying and harassment over the course of several years. In separate incidents, the lawmaker inappropriately touched her lower back, shouted at her, and said intimidating things about her to her ex-husband, Loncar alleged.

“That shows me that he’s absolutely guilty and that I am absolutely right,” Loncar told reporters when she learned of Lang’s resignation from leadership during her news conference.

But while he may be giving up his party leadership post, Lang made it clear he’s not resigning from his seat in the Illinois House, where he represents parts of north suburban Skokie and Lincolnwood.

Lang said Loncar’s allegations are “absurd” and “false,” and suggested she’s retaliating against him because she didn’t get what she wanted out of the medical marijuana legislation. He asked that the legislative inspector general investigate Loncar’s claims, though Loncar cast doubt that the investigation would be fair or whether she would participate in it at all.

“This is nothing,” Lang said. “The allegations are absurd. I’m running in November.”

Dave McKinney and Tony Arnold cover state politics for WBEZ. You can find them at @davemckinney and @tonyjarnold.

The Latest
It’s election day, and hundreds of teens are serving as election judges. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments today in a case that could impact more than one million student people in Illinois with college debt. Local groups are stepping up to provide shelter for asylum seekers arriving in Chicago.