Saturday, November 8, 2008

Sen. Emil Jones, D-Ill. – will it be?

Illinois is in need of a new junior senator on Capitol Hill, and already the political infighting is taking place.

There are those who are arguing that an African-American person is preferable, because departing Sen. Barack Obama was the only black man (actually bi-racial, but that’s another argument) in the U.S. Senate.

OTHERS ARE SAYING it would be equally acceptable to pick a woman to fill that seat for the next two years (the term runs through early January 2011). Certain others are arguing that anyone for a replacement is acceptable, as long as he/she is from Chicago (the other senator is an East St. Louis native who has lived his adult life in Springfield).

There are people who are arguing that our senator should be a veteran of Illinois and Chicago political culture, while some people think that’s the absolute last thing we need.

Insofar as figuring out who will be the next senator, there’s really only factor to take into account. Illinois law gives the governor complete authority to pick the replacement – based on whatever criteria he believes to be appropriate.

Rod Blagojevich gets to handle this issue all by himself. And the undisputable fact is that the governor likely is not interested in any of the criteria that has already been picked.

WHAT BLAGOJEVICH WILL be looking for is a political ally – someone who will be grateful for the chance to serve in the U.S. Senate, even if for only two years.

And he’s going to want someone who’s not going to turn around and bite him in the behind the moment that person gets the Senate appointment.

So loyalty to Rod is all that matters. Forget about race or gender or prior experience. Rod is going to do what is best to protect Rod’s political interests, and no one else’s.

What makes it such a priority for the governor to create another high-ranking official who sympathizes with him is that he doesn’t have many friends within the Statehouse Scene.

BETWEEN REPUBLICANS WHO remain bitter that the GOP streak of 26 years controlling the Executive Mansion came to an end, to Democrats mystified that Blagojevich (of all people) got to be governor instead of many other better-qualified people throughout the years, a lot of people are letting their petty jealousies toward Blagojevich take over their thoughts.

Whether you believe the St. Louis Post-Dispatch poll that showed Blagojevich with a 32 percent approval rating or the Chicago Tribune poll that drops the governor’s approval rating to a mere 13 percent, he’s the Illinois equivalent of George W. Bush when it comes to feeling the love of the electorate these days.

Part of what helped prop up Blagojevich politically in recent years is that he had an ally in the form of Illinois Senate President Emil Jones, D-Chicago, who is retiring from his leadership post and did not run for re-election to a new term in Springfield.

It is likely that the new state Senate president will be someone inclined to follow the way the wind blows in Springfield and be less friendly toward Blagojevich than Jones was.

I USED TO think a serious frontrunner for the post would be Tammy Duckworth, the Iraq War veteran who suffered disabling injuries in combat, only to come back and run a serious campaign for Congress in 2006.

Although she lost, she presented such a favorable impression as an advocate for the interests of military veterans that Blagojevich made her the head of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs. Which means Blagojevich is her political sponsor.

If he boosted her up to the Senate, she would truly be in debt politically to the governor, owing her whole career as a public official to him. For all I know, that logic still stands. She may still get the appointment.

I certainly take her name more seriously than I do those of Reps. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., or even long-time Obama friend Valerie Jarrett.

BUT I HAVE been wondering in recent weeks if Jones himself ought to be considered the frontrunner for the appointment.

Jones has certainly shown a willingness to back Blagojevich, even when everybody else in Illinois is screaming at him to act in ways that dump on the governor. If he were given the appointment, it would create a scene where Jones would become one of Illinois’ “Big Four” (currently Dick Durbin, Richard M. Daley, Blagojevich and whoever is chosen to replace Obama).

Having yet another ally among the state’s top political leaders would certainly help bolster his own influence, particularly at a time when it appears that the ongoing investigations by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Chicago are determined to creep their way into Blagojevich’s inner circle.

There’s one other aspect to consider. Suppose there was some sort of unwritten understanding that all Jones is being asked to do is complete Obama’s term.

THERE IS PRECEDENT for taking an aging politico and having him finish off a term before going into retirement. That is what happened in the late 1980s to the one-time Illinois Senate president Cecil Partee, whose last electoral post was that of Cook County state’s attorney when Daley moved from that post to mayor.

That would let all the people with interest in the post (all of the previously mentioned names along with people such as Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill. – who is the favorite of the Chicago Defender newspaper) go at it come the 2010 primary and general elections.

If appointed, Jones gets to finish off his political career at a very elite level – one of only 100 senators. As the only African-American in the Senate, he would suddenly rise to a level of national prominence (I’ll leave it to you to figure out how the Jones persona will reflect nationally upon Illinois), before settling into his retiring years.

All Jones has to do in return for that final burst of glory is fulfill the same role he has served in Springfield in recent years – he watches Blagojevich’s back. It’s why I think Emil ought to be considered a more serious possibility to get the appointment than Jesse Jr.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Emil Jones is leaving the Springfield Scene following 35 years in the General Assembly ( Could his political career end with a short stint in Washington?

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