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In Shadow of Death Penalty Crisis, Illinois Swears In New Governor

January 14, 2003|From Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Democrat Rod Blagojevich was sworn in Monday as Illinois' 40th governor, warning of "tough times and tough choices" as he deals with a nearly $5-billion budget deficit.

The former congressman succeeds Republican George Ryan, whose single term was dominated by his efforts to reform the death penalty and questions about his role in a corruption scandal.

Elsewhere, new governors were inaugurated in Georgia, Kansas and Oklahoma.

Blagojevich starts work with his predecessor still in the spotlight: Ryan pardoned four men on death row last week and granted clemency to the 167 inmates who were left. A closely watched corruption trial for Ryan's former chief of staff is scheduled to start today.

Blagojevich said Ryan was wrong to grant blanket clemency but said he will not carry out any executions until the criminal justice system is overhauled to reduce the chance of killing an innocent person.

The 46-year-old Blagojevich (pronounced blah-GOY-uh-vich) is the state's first Democratic governor in 26 years. He had previously served three terms in the Illinois House and two terms in Congress.

He campaigned on a promise not to raise taxes and committed to a variety of new programs, even as the budget deficit grew far beyond earlier estimates.

"We will balance the budget, and we will end the budget games," Blagojevich said minutes after taking the oath of office. "It took years of mismanagement and waste to create the mess we now face -- and it will take tough times and tough choices to fix it.

"Some say it will take higher sales or income taxes to fix the mess we now inherit. I say we shouldn't ask taxpayers to bail out a flawed system in desperate need of reform."

Blagojevich has promised not to expand gambling, another possible source of new money. At the same time, he vowed to protect many areas from budget cuts, including education and public safety.

Ryan was buffeted throughout his term by revelations of corruption in his previous office, secretary of state. He also broke campaign promises on everything from taxes to abortion to gambling.

Other governors sworn in Monday:

* Sonny Perdue became Georgia's first Republican governor in more than a century, pledging not to let the historic party shift disrupt state government.

* Democrat Kathleen Sebelius sounded a note of optimism in Kansas and vowed to help solve what could be a $1-billion budget shortfall.

* Brad Henry, a little-known Democratic state senator a year ago, took the helm in Oklahoma and immediately pledged to help find a way to address a $600-million state budget gap.

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