The Senate Seat

Top Senate Democrats have warned Gov. Rod Blagojevich not to appoint someone to fill the Illinois Senate seat vacated by the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States. They correctly point out that any such selection by Blagojevich would be tainted by his scandle. If, however, the Governor does attempt to appoint someone, the Senate leadership has warned that they may very well refuse to seat the Governor's selection. The Senate has this right under Section 5 of Article I of the United States Constitution, which states that "Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members..."

Where does this leave the people of Illinois. Currently, Illinois law gives the Governor the right to fill such vacancies (10 ILCS 5/25‑8). However, both houses of the Illinois legislature are schedule to meet in special secessions early next week to change Illinois law to allow for a special election to fill the vacant Senate seat. This will take time. Any bill passed by the legislature would require the signature of the governor. One has to wonder whether Blagojevich will sign such a law. And, he has 60 days to decide whether to sign it or veto it. Assuming he takes no acting, the bill becomes law after 60 days. That, however, puts us well into mid to late February with no Senator in place. Then, with the logistics involved in scheduling an election, it may be April or may before a primary could be held and then another month or two before a general election. Under this scenario, it could be June before and election is held and a winner is determined.

Another possibility is for Blagojevich to resign and have his successor, Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, fill the vacancy. This is the cleanest and simplest solution except for one small problem, the Governor must resign. Despite calls from every major political leader in Illinois, Blagojevich remains defiant and has refused to resign. Quinn could also succeed to the governor's office if Blagojevich is removed by an impeachment proceeding. However, this would most likely take months as well.

The only reasonable solution for the people of Illinois is for Blagojevich to resign immediately. He has been an ineffective governor from the beginning and his legal problems won't contribute to his effectiveness or to good government.

From a purely political prospective, the best case scenario for Republicans would be a special election. This would allow a viable Republican candidate, like Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL), to run for the Senate without giving up his congressional seat unless he wins. It is almost certain that once Kirk retires from his congressional seat, it will go to a Democrat.

This morning, on WLS-AM, both Rep. Kirk and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) said that they would be interested in running for the Senate in the event that a special election were held to fill the vacancy. Kirk is a GOP moderate who represents the 10th district (of which I am a resident). He is the Republicans' best chance of winning this Senate seat. Pundits on both sides said that Kirk would be a formidable candidate. He is a prolific fundraiser, having raised over $5,000,000 in his most recent congressional race. Most conservatives would look past the fact that Rep. Kirk is every Democrat's favorite member of the House of Representatives because it would be a huge coup for the GOP to be able to snatch this seat.

Schakowsy would be a strong candidate for the Democrats, but she has significant baggage. First, this would probably the only statewide race in recent Illinois history where it would not be helpful to be a Democrat. Second, I'm sure that many commercials would be run showing pictures of Schakowsky and Blagojevich standing arm and arm, looking happy and friendly. Finally, Shakowsky's husband was recently release from federal prison. He is a convicted felon. The legitimate question would be asked, "If she can't fight corruption in her own home, how can she do it in elective office?"

Of course, many other Democrats would run in a special election. A few more Republicans would run too. The bottom line is that it is incredibly sad that Gov. Blagojevich has put the people of Illinois in a position that they will not have a Senator for up to seven months.


Rational said...

I think this is as appropriate a place as any to comment on something that has not been metioned with much, if any, frequency in all of this mess. The people of the State of Illinois owe a big debt of gratitude to Senator Peter Fitzgerald for much of what has happened in the last few years as it relates to Patrick Fitzgerald and his success. Senator Fitzgerald was almost solely responsible for the appointment of a prosecutor that came from outside of the Illinois political combine. Without this appointment, which made the Senator a paraiah in Illinios politics, who knows how much of what has come to light would have been exposed in both the conviction of George Ryan as well as the indictment of Blago, not to mention the many, lower level players that have been rooted out. It is a testament to just how much influence one person in a position of power, willing to take a stand and do what is right, despite the negative effects on his career, can have down the road.

Steven L. Baerson said...

Here, here on the point on Sen. Peter Fitzgerald!