Friday, December 12, 2008

What’s more important, picking a new senator or punishing an old governor?

The priority for Illinois political people these days ought to be replacement of a U.S. Senate member from our state as quickly as possible.

The problem with achieving that goal is that too many people are letting their ill will toward Rod Blagojevich overcome their common sense. In short, these people are more interested in punishing our incumbent governor, rather than trying to figure out how to choose a replacement for Barack Obama.

AND THAT DESIRE could be what causes the delay that leaves Illinois’ one senator short of its full representation on Capitol Hill, once the newly-elected Senate takes office in January.

Part of the reason that I, as an Illinois citizen with particular interest in – and ties to – Chicago, am displeased with the Blagojevich story is that it is mucking up the process of filling the vacancy that was created when Obama became President-elect, rather than the junior senator from Chicago.

I want to know who will become the new senator.

After that appointment is made, we can deal with Gov. Milorod and try to figure out how low he has to go before the general public’s desire for retribution will be satisfied. Of course, it is not possible to keep the issue that simple, because the two issues are intertwined.

ILLINOIS LAW GIVES the sitting governor the right to pick a new senator in the event of vacancies – and he can do so based on just about any criteria he deems worthy.

So when Blagojevich inevitably claims he was just engaging in political negotiation when talking with prospective replacements for Obama, it will become an issue of determining just where the line is between negotiation and extortion – and how far over that line did the governor go?

Is it wrong to imply, as the governor apparently did during conversations picked up of telephone conversations wiretapped and monitored by the FBI, that someone who gets the U.S. Senate appointment should have to show some gratitude to Blagojevich?

Not really. Anyone with sense has always realized the governor’s top priority in picking an Obama replacement was going to be to place a public official in a high office who would serve as a Blagojevich ally – willing to sing his praises on that inevitable day when the governor would be indicted (be real, after three years of investigation, an indictment was bound to happen).

BY HITTING BLAGOJEVICH with criminal charges via a complaint (rather than an indictment handed down by a grand jury), it implies that the prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s office in Chicago were more interested in knocking the governor down before he could create himself a political ally.

It would mean that Blagojevich would have to endure the ordeal of criminal prosecution all by himself – no political allies, and only his wife (the daughter of a Chicago alderman) at his side.

It also means there’s no way Blagojevich can fulfill his legal duty to pick a replacement for Obama. Even if he were to try to name someone out of spite (and I wouldn’t put it past him to do that), the leadership of the U.S. Senate has already made it clear they would prefer Blagojevich do nothing.

They also say they’re more than willing to interpret Senate rules in ways that would give them the authority to reject any Blagojevich choice for the Senate – even though it is questionable whether they have such authority.

SO WHILE I don’t see Blagojevich’s situation quite as black-and-white as the people who are out for his hide, I am concerned about it because it is mucking up the process.

There are those who want the governor to resign, as soon as possible, with Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn rising to the top spot and gaining the authority to make the replacement. That would be the ideal situation, except that I don’t believe Blagojevich would give his political critics the pleasure of seeing him leave so simply.

There also are those who want the Illinois General Assembly to impose a change in state law to allow the Legislature to name a replacement.

Illinois House of Representatives’ leadership said Thursday they may try to pass a bill making such legal changes as soon as next week, and that they could give it their final approval by Tuesday or early Wednesday.

YET THE PROBLEM with that idea is the bill would then go to the sitting governor, who would need to sign it into law. Who really believes Blagojevich would willingly sign a measure depriving him of one of the professional perks of being a governor?

He’d probably veto it, which would send it back to the Legislature. They probably could get the 67 percent majority needed to overrule a gubernatorial veto. But Blagojevich has up to 60 days before he has to act on a measure.

So he could sit on it until mid-February, before vetoing it – which means nothing could happen until then. IN fact, I could imagine a scenario by which Blagojevich waits until the absolute last minute before vetoing the measure AND naming a replacement simultaneously.

There’s also the option of a special election. But that also takes time, and makes it likely that Illinois would not have a new senator until spring at the soonest. After all, both political parties would have to hold primaries, then a general election would be held later in the year. The legal procedures to hold an election could cost election entities across the state as much as $50 million.

ADMITTEDLY, IT IS likely that the Illinois 5th Congressional District will have some sort of special election to pick a replacement for their representative – Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, with a primary some time in February and a general in April. Perhaps the rest of the state can join in the electoral fun?

But do we really want to have to wait that long until we know who will represent us in the Senate? And do we really want to have to rely on the largesse of Obama in the White House for Illinois to get its fair share, knowing that anything Obama does for Illinois will be scrutinized by political observers.

So for once, I was glad to hear the words of “wisdom” from Jim Edgar. Illinois’ former governor appeared on WTTW-TV’s “Chicago Tonight” program earlier this week and said that while his Republican beliefs would love to have a crack at winning the Senate seat, he thinks the people of Illinois are better off by a Democrat picking a replacement – the sooner, the better.


EDITOR’S NOTES: The Rod Blagojevich “vigilantes” won’t want to hear this, but there are some attorneys ( who think the governor has a chance of being acquitted on the charges he will face in U.S. District Court.

The Chicago Sun-Times is trying to dress up its coverage of Blagojevich’s plight on the Internet by putting it at a website (at http:// Interestingly enough, that site also includes links to coverage from other news organizations, including the Chicago Tribune.


Griff said...

Blagojevich was a low functioning governor before his arrest. He'll be even lower functioning now.

One point a political insider made is that political insiders don't like to make deals with people who may be wired or are trying to mitigate their problems with the feds by giving someone else up.

I'll go along with the idea that Blagojevich may beat the charge on the U.S. Senate seat.

But trying to clawback the $8 million to Children's Memorial b/c the CEO didn't come through with $50K?

And extorting the firing of editorial writers as part of a Wrigley deal?

I buy the argument by Al Alshuler,, that the honest services clause should be made more specific.

And I even think Blagojevich should be able to argue that corruption driven by the need to pay legal bills is a kind of entrapment if the prosecutor can't demonstrate by a preponderance of the evidence that there was corruption before the investigation started. A prosecutor should not be able to go after an innocent public official and cause him/her to accumulate legal bills and then wait for him to do something corrupt to pay for his legal bills.

But dealing with Blagojevich should be the priority. We only have one governor and he performs essential services.

Having one U.S. Senate seat vacant isn't that big a deal in the grand scheme of things.

When Sen. Tim Johnson was gone for medical reasons, did the U.S. Senate miss him much? Can you picture a governor gone that long?

Anonymous said...

The thing to remember is that as a politician in the same state and party any politician has to interact with people. However, he or she does not have to befriend a person, and limit the interactions to professional boundaries. Obama might have endorsed Blago in the general but in the primary he did endorse his opponent. So, the conclusion is that all the interactions were strictly professional. In a similar analogy, a lots of folks who endorsed Hillary then turned their endorsement to Obama when he won the primary. Even though he was not their first choice, he was the Democratic nominee so they endorsed him. That is politics works. Obama does not need to discuss any interaction once he indicates that he has not have any discussions regarding the vacant seat. Therefore, he was not involved in any wrongdoing - it's time to move on and look forward! Let's focus on all other critical problems at hand!