They may be bitter political rivals but Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democrat J.B. Pritzker have one thing in common: They don’t believe imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich should get a shorter sentence.
Pritzker’s campaign said he believes “the former governor is where he belongs.” And Rauner on WLS-TV said experts have concluded “Blagojevich is exactly where he deserves to be.”
There are, of course, many different reasons both may agree on the controversial topic.
Rauner has been trying to link Pritzker to Blagojevich for months in ads featuring FBI wiretapped conversations. And Pritzker is trying to steer clear of the disgraced former governor. He spent weeks earlier this year apologizing to the African-American community for comments he’s heard making on the tape recordings.
Pritzker was recorded discussing potential African-American politicians to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by then-President elect Barack Obama, with Pritzker referring to Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White as “the “least offensive” who would cover the governor on “the African-American thing.” Pritzker also dismissed former state Senate President Emil Jones as too “crass” for the appointment.
Pritzker acknowledged he made a mistake, saying his “intentions were good” but that he “didn’t use the right words.”
Still, Rauner’s campaign isn’t giving up on the tapes. Rauner on Tuesday kicked off the TV air war with a new ad featuring audio of Blagojevich joking about appointing the Rev. Jeremiah Wright –– Obama’s controversial former pastor –– to fill Obama’s former U.S. Senate seat.
The Pritzker campaign, in turn, released the first in a “Rauner Failed Me” series of TV ads aimed at documenting “how Bruce Rauner has failed Illinoisans across the state.”
Rauner’s support for a Blagojevich commutation could put him in lockstep with the president, whom he has been careful about publicly pledging support.
Speaking on WLS, Rauner was asked about the commutation: “I can say that many judges, many legal experts, attorneys have reviewed that case and the facts around Blagojevich, and they all came to the conclusion that Blagojevich is exactly where he deserves to be.”
The Pritzker campaign also told the Sun-Times on Tuesday that “JB thinks there’s plenty of other things that Donald Trump should be focusing on,” while acknowledging that it’s up to Trump whether to pardon or commute his sentence.
Trump last week said he might commute the former governor’s prison sentence, possibly springing the controversial former governor as many as six years early. A commutation would reduce his sentence but would not wipe out his convictions.
The U.S. Supreme Court in April said it would not hear an appeal from Blagojevich. Since then, clemency has been his only chance at being released early.
Blagojevich, 61, is not due out of prison until May 2024. Although an appellate court tossed five of his convictions in 2015, federal prosecutors say he remains convicted “of the same three charged shakedowns” for which he was first sentenced in 2011.
U.S. Sen Dick Durbin, D-Ill., on Monday said he’d support an effort to free Blagojevich from prison, saying he believed the 14-year sentence was “definitely way too long.”
“I thought the sentence was outrageous, and if there’s a way to reduce the sentence for him and his family, I would support it,” Durbin said at a Loop press conference.
Blagjevich attorney Leonard Goodman is a member of the investor group that purchased the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Reader in 2017.