SPRINGFIELD – Imagine the disappointment of getting ready to put on civilian clothes and walk out the prison gate and then being told, “Oh, never mind.”
That’s what reportedly happened to former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich last week, when President Donald Trump waffled on whether to commute his sentence.
I almost felt sorry for Blagojevich. Almost.
But then I remembered Blagojevich also governed with a wetted finger in the air trying to figure out which way the political breeze was blowing any particular day. He changed his mind often.
So far, he has served a little over half of his 14-year sentence. But Trump said, “I think he was treated very, very unfairly. His name is Rod Blagojevich and I’m thinking about commuting his sentence.”
The statement hacked off Illinois’ Republican members of Congress who wrote a letter to Trump telling him to keep Blago in the clink.
Later, the president tweeted about Blagojevich’s sentence, saying “White House is continuing review of this matter.”
According to Fox News, a member of the president’s administration halted the commutation because the person was “concerned from the public push back”
Imagine what it must have been like to find out by tweet that you will remain separated from your wife, two daughters -- and hair dye -- for maybe another seven years.
I wanted to feel bad for Blagojevich, but then I remembered Lynn Raney.
You probably have never heard of Raney]. He was an ordinary fellow who worked for the state of Illinois organizing ceremonies and events. He taught art in schools and volunteered for the Boy Scouts. He was a nice guy all the way around.
On Blagojevich’s first day in office, Raney organized a news conference for the governor. I was standing next to Raney, notebook in hand ,when Blagojevich’s press aides handed out a news release announcing the people the governor was firing.
I heard Raney gasp as he read the release and saw his own name on the list.
Imagine being asked to organize the news conference where they would announce your firing.
Does it get any lower than that?
Well, maybe finding out by Tweet that you’re not going to be released from prison after all comes close. But still…
The same week that Raney learned of his firing at the news conference he organized, Blagojevich hosted another media event. This time it was to condemn people who were being paid for unused vacation time at the end of their careers with the state.
Blagojevich issued a press release listing names of the “worst offenders.”
One of the people on the list was Kim Knauer, a hard worker who was spokesperson for the Illinois Board of Education for 20 years. Even during her seven-year battle with breast cancer, she worked long hours. She died two weeks before Blagojevich took office.
At the end of the news conference, several reporters approached the governor and asked if he was aware one of the people on the list had just died.
The governor responded by saying if she had taken more vacation time she might still be alive.
Try as I might, I just can’t feel sorry for Blagojevich. I do have sympathy for his wife and two daughters though. Like 2.3 million other American families, they know the pain of being separated from a loved one who is incarcerated.
But should they get special treatment because the criminal in their family knows the president?
Let’s not forget Blagojevich is in prison for attempting to trade an appointment to Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat for personal gain as well as for trying to shake down executives from a children’s hospital and the horse-racing industry for campaign contributions.
Corruption of this severity warrants a lengthy prison sentence. My thoughts when he was sentenced were that 14 years wasn’t nearly enough.
There are many people in prison serving lengthy sentences who deserve to have their time behind bars shortened. But Blagojevich isn’t one of them.
– Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse journalist and a freelance reporter. ScottReeder1965@gmail.com.