Our look back at highlights and key turning points in the political career of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich continues with the years 2001 through 2005. Part 1 can be found here.
August 21, 2001: Blagojevich announces campaign for governor Blagojevich enters the Democratic primary race for Illinois governor, vowing to end “24 years of corruption, mismanagement, and lost opportunities.”
March 19, 2002: Wins Democratic Primary Largely on the strength of his downstate support, Blagojevich wins a close three way race over former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas and former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris to become the Democrats’ nominee for governor.
November 5, 2002: Elected IL Governor In a sweeping victory for Democrats statewide, Blagojevich defeats Republican Jim Ryan and Libertarian Cal Skinner with 52 percent of the vote to become the 40th governor in Illinois history. Democrats took control of all 3 branches of government, and kicked the Republican Party out of the governor’s mansion for the first time in 26 years. Channels Elvis and declares “I’m all shook up” during election night victory speech.
2003: Approves $10b bond deal with Bear Stearns Republican National Committeeman Robert Kjellander earns $800,000 fee for his role as a consultant in helping arrange a $10 billion bond deal between Bear Stearns and the State of Illinois. Blagojevich signs off on the deal. Fee raises eyebrows and later becomes an element in the federal government’s probe into the Blagojevich administration’s pay-to-play schemes. Government alleges some of these monies later wound up in the business account of Patti Blagojevich.
September, 2003: Battles FDA Over Prescription Drugs Criticizing the rising cost of drug prices in the U.S., Blagojevich asks the FDA for permission to import prescription drugs from Canada. Later, Blagojevich teams with U.S. Representative Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) to put pressure on the Bush Adminstration to allow consumers to purchase prescription drugs from abroad in an escalation of the issue - and his own national profile.
December 9, 2003: Signs new ethics legislation into law Citing the excesses of the administration of his predecessor, George Ryan, Blagojevich signs what his administration calls the “toughest, most comprehensive” ethics legislation in Illinois history. In a statement, Blagojevich says, “today, we are reestablishing the primacy of principle over politics, and in Illinois, that is real change. We are renewing the promise of public service. And I hope it’s a step in the on-going process of giving people a reason to start believing in their government again.”
August, 2004: Announces open road tolling plan Blagojevich and the Illinois Toll Highway Authority announce plans for an “open road” tolling system and upgrade of tollway oases. The plan is boldest remake of the Toll Highway Authority in years, and comes after the previous governor, George Ryan, failed in his efforts to eliminate tolls entirely. Among the beneficiaries of the oasis contracts: friends and fundraisers Tony Rezko and Christopher Kelly.
November, 2004 : Pays $2.6m for flu shots In the midst of a national shortage of flu vaccine, Blagojevich makes international news and stirs controversy by paying $2.6m to a U.K. firm to secure flu vaccine for the state, only to find that the FDA blocks the vaccine from entering the country. Ultimately, he has the vaccine shipped to earthquake victims in Pakistan a year later, but by then it had expired and was destroyed.
November 15, 2004: Signs “All Kids” bill into law Blagojevich successfully passes his ambitious plan to extend state health insurance benefits to more than 230,000 children in Illinois during the Fall Veto Session. The legislation becomes one of his signature accomplishments, despite concerns over the cost of the program and its potential impact on the state finances.
January, 2005:‚ Blago orders IEPA to shut down landfill Blagojevich orders the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to shutdown a landfill owned by Frank Schmidt, distant cousin of Blago’s mother-in-law. The highly publicized action sparks a public feud and bitter falling out between Blagojevich and his father-in-law, Chicago Alderman Dick Mell. In the process, Mell publicly alleges that the Blagojevich administration routinely traded political jobs for state contracts and campaign contributions.