When I met Rod Blagojevich at a Chicago Cubs game in 2007 (that's us), he was a wily incumbent who had just won easy reelection despite longstanding rumors of corruption. Today, facing a federal corruption trial, Blagojevich may soon join the fraternity of governors who have gone to prison.
With help from the chaps at the Political Graveyard, I identified at least 17 governors who achieved this unfortunate distinction. Here are four who make me gag.
1. "A truly heartfelt apology"
Ironically, Rod Blagojevich campaigned as a reformer, promising to clean up the corruption of his predecessor, Illinois Governor George Ryan, imprisoned for fraud and racketeering. In his most infamous scheme, Ryan oversaw the sale of driver's licenses to unqualified drivers—one of whom, in 1994, killed six children in a highway accident. Just this winter, fourteen years later, Ryan officially offered "a truly heartfelt apology" in hopes that it would earn him a Presidential pardon.
2. "The Rascal King
James Michael Curley, elected Governor of Massachusetts in 1935, avoided prison for taking bribes when Bostonians collected $46,629 to pay his fine. A working-class Democrat and Irishman, Curley enjoyed great popular support, which allowed him, among other abuses, to appoint cronies to office, use state patrolmen as golf caddies, and throw a wedding banquet for his daughter that featured 2,000 pounds of lobster. These antics eventually caught up with the Rascal King, though. Convicted of misconduct in 1946, he spent five months in prison while still the sitting mayor of Boston.
3. "Vote for the Crook"
A resilient Cajun politician who served as the 48th, 50th, and 52nd governor of Louisiana, Edwin Edwards weathered two dozen investigations during his long career. During one campaign, Edwards' supporters even distributed bumper stickers reading "Vote for the Crook." Edwards liked to gamble. He often registered in Las Vegas under names like "T. Wong" and settled his tabs with suitcases full of cash. Convicted in 2000 of fraud and racketeering, Edwards turned 81 behind bars this year. Like George Ryan, he's hoping for a pardon.
4. "Overcoming adversity and surviving"
John G. Rowland was a popular three-term governor of Connecticut until 2004, when a federal investigation revealed his penchant for accepting gifts, like a hot tub, a canoe, free vacations, a $14,000 kitchen for his summer home, Cuban cigars, cases of champagne, and—coolest of all—a vintage Ford Mustang convertible. Having completed a ten-month prison stint, Rowland today advertises himself as a motivational speaker, warning audiences about the perils of power and sharing life lessons about "overcoming adversity and surviving."