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Rod R. Blagojevich (born December 10, 1956) is an American politician from the state of Illinois of Serbian extraction. A career Democrat, Blagojevich served as a representative of Chicago in the United States Congress and was later elected Governor of Illinois, an office he serves today. He is the first Serbian American to be elected governor of any state of the United States. Blagojevich is married to Patricia Mell , daughter of Chicago Alderman Richard Mell. The couple have two daughters, Amy and Anne. Anne was born just months after her father was sworn in as governor.
Blagojevich was born and raised in Chicago's northwest side in near poverty. His father was a former Chetnik, who immigrated to the United States and found work as a steel plant laborer. Blagojevich spent much of his childhood working odd jobs to help the family survive. He was a shoe shiner and pizza delivery boy before working at a meat packing plant. In order to afford college, Blagojevich worked at the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline System as a dishwasher. When he was not at work, Blagojevich found time to become an accomplished Golden Gloves boxer. Upon graduating from a local high school, he was enrolled at Northwestern University in suburban Evanston where he obtained his bachelor's degree in 1979. He briefly left the state to attend Pepperdine University Law School where he obtained his doctorate of jurisprudence in 1983. Upon his return to his hometown, Blagojevich entered the legal profession in the public sector. He served as Cook County Assistant State's Attorney, prosecuting domestic abuse crimes and felony weapons cases.
Largely with the backing of his father-in-law, Dick Mell , Blagojevich ran for a seat in the Illinois General Assembly and won in 1992. Most of his legislative accomplishments centered around crime and justice issues. He took from his experiences as a prosecutor to pass laws that he argued would strengthen the state's judicial system and cut down on crime.
The Fifth Congressional District, in which Blagojevich, lived had long been represented by powerful Chicago Congressman Daniel Rostenkowski, who served as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. However, following his loss in the 1994 Republican Revolution, (Rostenkowski had been plagued by ethical issues), the overwhelimingly Democratic district was represented by Republican Mike Flanagan . However, in 1996, Balgojevich defeated Flanagan with support from his father-in-law, and went on to serve three terms in the United States House of Representatives. (Following Blagojevich's ascencion to the governor's office, the Fifth District elected former Clinton aide and 1992 financial chief Rahm Emanuel. Emanuel was chosen to head the DCCC for the 2006 election cycle.)
Representing the state's fifth Congressional district, Blagojevich continued to champion anti-crime measures, especially with his authoring and sponsoring of gun control legislation. Blagojevich was thrust into international prominence in the late 1990s when he traveled with Jesse Jackson to Belgrade in the former Yugoslavia to negotiate the release of American prisoners of war with dictator Slobodan Milosevic.
In 2002, Blagojevich ran for his party's nomination to become state governor. Blagojevich advanced to the general election where he defeated Republican Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan, Libertarian Cal Skinner and Independent Marisellis Brown.
On January 21, 2005 Blagojevich signed a bill that expanded the state's civil rights law and prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, public accommodations and credit. Illinois joined 13 other U.S. states, in addition to the District of Columbia, that have non-discrimination laws protecting homosexuals. But unlike most municipal prohibitions on sexual orientation discrimination, the law Blagojevich signed did not expressly exempt religious organizations from their coverage. Religious groups criticized the governor out of fear the law would compel religious organizations to set aside convictions about homosexuality when hiring clergy and other staff.
Shortly after his gubernatorial victory in 2002, Blagojevich received criticism for creating a six-year plan with his advisors for winning the presidency in 2008. Having won statewide office in a generally poor year for the Democratic Party, Blagojevich considered himself a skilled campaigner who could perhaps then win the White House. With the defeat of John Kerry, Blagojevich may consider a run for President in 2008. Blagojevich has not commented publicly on this possiblity.
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