In 2003, former Illinois Gov. George Ryan, a Republican who had recently retired after one term, was indicted on federal charges including racketeering, bribery, extortion, money laundering and tax fraud. Most of the charges related to his selling of state influence while in office.
Ryan's immediate successor, Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich — never one to be outdone — was arrested in 2008 on federal charges that he attempted to sell the vacant U.S. Senate seat of then-President-elect Barack Obama.
"I've got this thing, and it's f------ golden," Blagojevich famously said in one wiretapped discussion about whom he should appoint to the seat and what he might get for it. "I'm just not giving it up for f------ nothing."
Ryan and Blagojevich both were convicted and served time. Blagojevich is still in. Together they have, in a touchingly bipartisan way, given Illinois a unique place in America's political history: It may well be the only state ever to see two consecutive governors led away in handcuffs.
“In any state, it would be awful if two governors were convicted in a century," U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald told reporters after Blagojevich's 2011 sentencing, "and yet we’ve seen it twice in five years."
It's actually worse than that.
Two other relatively recent Illinois ex-governors, both Democrats — Otto Kerner, who served in the 1960s, and Dan Walker, who served in the 1970s — both went to prison; Kerner was sentenced for bribery as governor, Walker for bank fraud after his tenure in office.
In all, Kerner, Walker, Ryan and Blagojevich comprised four of the eight consecutive Illinois governors who held the office between the early 1960s and the early 2000s. Which means that, during that half-century, as many Illinois governors went to prison as didn't.
Put another way, courtesy of comedian Jon Stewart: "Let's say you're the present governor of Illinois, and you're in a room with a former governor of Illinois on your right, and a former governor of Illinois on your left. Chances are, the room you're in is jail!"
—Correction: An earlier version of this post misstated Otto Kerner's political party. He was a Democrat.