Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich said he enjoyed returning to his alma mater more than visiting the state’s other major university last spring. At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Democrat governor was met with t-shirts that read: “Blagojevich sucks.”
“They were so organized that they had home and away t-shirts,” Blagojevich said. “They had white on blue, or you could get blue on white.”
But Blagojevich, who graduated from Weinberg in 1979, received a warmer welcome when he spoke to about 150 people at Fisk Hall at 5 p.m. on Wednesday. Northwestern’s Political Action Organization (PAO), a new group founded by Weinberg juniors Andrew Madigan and Daniel Schaffer, sponsored the event. Madigan is the son of Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, a friend and colleague of Blagojevich.
“I’ve known Andrew since he was eight years old,” Blagojevich said. “I’m a big fan of the whole Madigan family.”
Blagojevich jokingly recalls an encounter with former Pres. Bill Clinton:
“The phrase ‘pursuit of happiness’ to me means you’ve got a right to good healthcare,” Blagojevich said. “For me, the way to pay for healthcare and education is to make these big corporations pay their fair share.”
Read more about Blagojevich’s Gross Receipts Tax proposal.
Blagojevich encouraged students to get involved in the political process, consistent with the stated mission of PAO.
“The changes you’ll make and force in our society are significant,” Blagojevich said.
Blagojevich said the country can’t rely on federal officials to solve problems with healthcare. He has made the issue a priority for his second term.
“This is an administration that is not interested in consolidating the healthcare crisis, and I think it would be disingenuous and almost cynical to fall back on that,” he said.
Instead, Blagojevich stressed the need for change at the state level.
“I don’t believe I was elected to simply blame others when you can actually do something when you’re the governor,” he said.
Evanston Mayor Lorraine Morton introduced the governor. She reminded students that Blagojevich was once in their place as a Northwestern student.
Blagojevich took time at the end to answer a few questions, including why he didn’t support House Bill 750 (a rival tax bill) and how he would make a college education more affordable. To the latter, Blagojevich vowed to put more pressure on higher education officials and fight for a freshman tuition freeze.
Although his speech largely focused on healthcare and his Gross Receipt Tax proposal, Blagojevich also shared a few humorous anecdotes from his political career. His conversational tone prompted several moments of laughter from the audience.
Blagojevich remembers a trip to Yugoslavia with Rev. Jesse Jackson:
Photos by Tom Nunlist