Monday, December 29, 2008

Quinn should do his job, show some backbone and pick the new senator

Illinois’ lieutenant governor got his moment of glory on the Sunday news talk television shows, and gained attention with his comment that Rod Blagojevich would be removed from office before the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth.

That would be Feb. 12. It implies that the Illinois House of Representatives can come up with grounds for impeachment, and that the state Senate can ram a “trial” through on those charges so as to remove him from office – all within the time span of just over one month.

IT MAY BE true.

There are enough blowhards in the Illinois General Assembly who are determined to take an action that they can spin in a way as to claim that they single-handedly punished Illinois’ incumbent governor. Any “trial” by the Illinois Senate will be the textbook example of the concept that impeachment is a political maneuver – not a legal one.

But I think the reports that emphasized the “Feb. 12” date and Lincoln’s birthday miss the point. For Quinn now is saying that should he rise to the post of governor following the impeachment and conviction of Blagojevich, he is prepared to push for the idea of a special election for Illinois to pick a replacement for Barack Obama in the U.S. Senate.

As anyone who has been reading my commentary on this matter is aware, I am primarily concerned about the filling of that Senate seat from Illinois. The idea that our Legislature ought to impose punishment on Blagojevich is a secondary issue to me, because the real punishment will be whatever happens to him in the U.S. District Court system on whatever criminal charges the U.S. attorney’s office for Chicago decides to hit him with.

BY SAYING HE is not going to move forward quickly with filling a vacancy in the U.S. Senate, Quinn is ensuring that Illinois’ representation on Capitol Hill will be short-staffed for a good part of 2009.

That idea bothers me almost as much as anything Blagojevich is alleged to have done.

Of course, this whole “special election” issue is being stirred up by people who resent the way replacements are picked for the Senate. One of the perks of being a governor of a state (aside from usually getting some sort of ornate mansion to work and live in and the power to commute death sentences and other criminal convictions if one is so inclined) is the ability to fill Senate vacancies.

That was why Blagojevich used to openly boast (in such a gauche manner) that he was going to give a “Christmas present” to some public official by making him a U.S. senator for the remaining two years of Obama’s term (which runs through January 2011).

SINCE FEDERAL PROSECUTORS in Chicago made it public knowledge that they filed a criminal complaint against Blagojevich (in part because they objected to the manner in which he was attempting to fill that Senate vacancy), the governor has done nothing toward filling the post.

He realizes that any attempt by him to use his legal authority to fill the post would be perceived as an arrogant act, and that the person who got the appointment would be tainted. In fact, one could argue that if he tried to fill the vacancy, THAT would constitute a ground for impeachment in that he was acting recklessly with regard to Illinois’ representation in Congress.

But it also means that we, the people of Illinois, are stuck in a lull. Blagojevich can not realistically fill the vacancy, but state law does not permit anyone else to take such action.

Now if removing Blagojevich from office were to ensure that a replacement official would promptly name Obama’s successor, I would be content.

INSTEAD, WE’RE GETTING hints that we’re going to have to wait for months (it wouldn’t shock me to learn that it would stretch well into autumn) before we find out who will be Illinois’ junior U.S. senator.

After all, we’d have to have primary elections for all the major parties (Democrat, Republican and Green) in Illinois, then would have to conduct a general election between the primary nominees. No matter how much one tries to rush the process, it takes time.

What most appalls me about this is the fact that Quinn was once able to speak rationally about this issue. On the day of Blagojevich’s criminal complaint, Quinn talked of having Blagojevich “step aside” on the senate replacement issue so that someone else could fill the vacancy without suffering from the Taint of Milorod.

But since then, Quinn has been all over the place on the issue. Now, he appears to be saying that, should he become governor, he is unwilling to fulfill his duties.

LET’S BE HONEST. The people who are most pushing this “special election” rhetoric are the ones aligned with the Illinois Republican Party, which has become so weak they probably can’t win a statewide election under any other circumstances.

But I have to wonder if the party’s chaotic split between social conservatives and moderates (with many of the latter being chased out of the Illinois GOP) means that they would put up a rural conservative candidate who would be so out of touch with the bulk of Illinois’ population (two-thirds of whom live in Chicago or its surrounding suburbs) that they would still wind up losing to whichever Democrat would want to replace Blagojevich.

It might be closer than an election held under more conventional circumstances would be, but it could still be a Democratic Party win. That’s how messed up the Republican Party is in this state.

And for those people who would enjoy seeing such an election, keep in mind that we’re going to get it – in the year 2010. All of this partisan nonsense is still going to be alive that year, particularly since there’s a good chance that Blagojevich himself will go on trial that year.

THE LEGAL SYSTEM’S snail pace could easily provide a Blagojevich verdict some time around the November 2010 date that is Election Day.

My point in saying this is to ask whether Illinois really needs to endure a special election (with its high costs that could run up to $50 million) both this year and next?

Quinn should make the appointment. Or if Blagojevich is going to be in his elective office for some time, our Legislature ought to focus its attention on figuring out how pick a credible replacement for two years.

Any other emphasis by our elected officials creates the potential situation where the Legislature looks pompous. Wouldn’t it be the ultimate in tragedy if Illinois history were to remember this era we’re enduring now as the moment in time when the General Assembly let its personal animosity for Blagojevich get in the way of doing “the people’s business.”


EDITOR’S NOTES: Patrick Quinn (the Illinois politico, not any of the other public officials who share his name) got his moment of national glory on the Sunday morning ( public affairs program “Face the Nation.”

Will Rod Blagojevich really be gone by Feb. 12, 2009? Invoking the memory of Abraham Lincoln ( in connection with Blagojevich has gained national attention for both Quinn and U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.


Bill Baar said...

Quinn should stay away from national networks and let the process work.

He's looking foolish. He sain the Guv is isolated and no one asks him for advice. So how many people over the years have asked Quinn for any advice? Like Quinn hasn't been isolated for years as Lt Gov?

He really needs to tone it down.

Joe Lake said...

Quinn should do his job,...

Gov. Blago should resign, otherwise he will be impeached and/or indicted by the U.S. Attorney,

Gov. Blago has become the most hated man in Illinois.

At some point, Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn will become governor--and he should appoint the next U.S. Senator.

The Illinois Combine will not be happy with 'Governor' Quinn--but the Combine brought it on themselves.

Happy RICOYear!

Joe Lake, Chicago (Bucktown)