Blagojevich sworn in for second term
Springfield, Ill. – llinois Governor Rod Blagojevich officially started his second term in office on Monday, saying his goals for the next four years include continued expansion of access to health care.
But the governor also faces a budget that's deep in the red, federal prosecutors investigating his administration and complicated, expensive promises to keep.
"What I propose to do won't be easy," Blagojevich acknowledged in his inaugural address. "But nothing worth having ever comes easy."
Despite the obstacles, even some of his critics said Blagojevich can succeed, but only if he gets more involved in the day-to-day business of running government and working with other officials.
"He can still be successful as was proven by George Ryan, who was under investigation while he was governor but it takes time and hard work," said state Sen. Kirk Dillard. "You've got to roll up your sleeves and govern."
Blagojevich offered few details about what he wants to accomplish in his second term. His speech emphasized health care but included no specifics on that or on helping schools or curing the state's ailing finances.
He also skipped over ethics reform, an issue that helped him win a first term but largely is being ignored now that his administration is under federal investigation and prosecutors have indicted friend and fundraiser Tony Rezko.
Blagojevich, the 40th governor of Illinois, devoted much of his 18-minute address to recounting the successes of his first four years.
He reminded his audience that he expanded health care programs for the working poor, twice raised the minimum wage, eliminated thousands of state jobs, devoted money to stem cell research and closed corporate tax "loopholes" all while battling a massive budget deficit he inherited.
Blagojevich boasted of balancing the budget but didn't note that state debt has increased and Illinois still faces a major gap between revenues and expenses. His budgets have been built around slowing payment of medical bills, skipping contributions to pension systems and spending money set aside for special purposes.
After Blagojevich was sworn in, five other Chicago Democrats took the oath of office: Patrick Quinn as lieutenant governor, Jesse White as secretary of state, Lisa Madigan as attorney general, Dan Hynes as comptroller and newcomer Alexi Giannoulias as treasurer.
At times, their assessments were not so rosy as the governor's. Hynes warned that the state's budget problems require "courageous" action, and all the officials stressed the need to fight government corruption.
But even the governor's political opponents shied away from direct attacks on a day of celebration.
"The election's over," said House Republican Leader Tom Cross. "I think people are tired of bickering, tired of partisanship at the national level and the state level, and I think we all have a responsibility to sit down and try to work issues out."
Blagojevich did not answer questions from the press. Security guards shooed away reporters who tried to talk to Blagojevich after his speech.
Blagojevich, 50, becomes the first Democrat elected to a second term as Illinois governor since Otto Kerner in 1964.
He won that second term with just under 50 percent of the vote still enough to soundly defeat his major challenger. With the victory, he claimed "a mandate for action."
"For the 1,461 days remaining in our second term, you will see an activist government, not a bloated one an activist government offering bold solutions that make a difference for people."
Blagojevich did not use his speech to launch any new initiatives, sticking instead to familiar themes.
He said the central challenges of that second term will be cutting government spending while holding taxes flat, and improving access to health care. He also promised to improve education, help small business grow and support ethanol development and job growth in downstate Illinois.
He said the goal on health care is to make it available to the 20 percent of Illinoisans, 1.4 million people, who lack insurance. He called it "providing health care security to every family."
Blagojevich said the details would come later. A close legislative ally, Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Collinsville, emphasized that Blagojevich is not talking about a single, government-run health program for all but instead an expansion of existing programs to cover people who lack private insurance and don't qualify for government aid.