Monday, January 05, 2009

Mr. Smith Goes To Washington

Roland Burris has been named to fill Barack Obama's seat in the US Senate by embattled Governor Rod Blagojevich. Mr. Burris is the former Attorney General of Illinois and was the first African-American elected to statewide office in the history of the state when he became Comptroller in 1979. Mr. Burris arrived in DC today and is planning on attending the meetings for freshman Senators tomorrow. He will be faced with a few obstacles however. Harry Reid, the Senate Majority leader, has said that he will not seat Burris, and his appointment has not been validated to the Illinois Secretary of State.

Mr. Burris is proceeding under the assumption that he has been legally nominated by the Governor and he is now the junior Senator from the Illinois. We are now set up for a confrontation on the steps of the Senate tomorrow. According to the rules of the state of Illinois, the Governor is indeed the only person in the state who can appoint someone to take Barack Obama's place. He is under investigation by the US Attorney's office, but until he is removed from office, he still has the power to fill that seat. The certificate of appointment is supposed to be signed by both the Governor and the Secretary of State of Illinois, who is currently refusing to do so. This is the technicality that will be used to refuse admittance to Burris to the Senate.

The question is, should Burris be allowed to take Obama's seat? There are many who will say that Governor Blagojevich is in a compromised position and therefore anyone he picks illegitimate. No one is suggesting that Burris offered anything for the seat, but the fact that people were excluded from the process because they refused to play ball with the Governor, means that even an appointee who is apparently clean would be tainted. I personally don't think that Burris should be penalized because of the ongoing scandal. He is qualified for the position and he has been appointed by the Governor. That really should be it.

The fact is that the Governor has actually made a very good tactical choice. It may very well be a public relations ploy, but it is a very good one. He picked an African-American who has been elected statewide on multiple occasions and is someone who seems qualified for the position. Barack Obama was the only African-American in the Senate (in fact he was only the third Black person elected to the US Senate) and there has been a lot of talk about trying to find a qualified African American to replace him. By picking Burris, Blagojevich has provided himself with some political cover. The press cannot accuse him of making a bad decision or of having sold the job to the highest bidder. The press is now split over seating Burris. Blagojevich has managed to deflect unanimously negative coverage of him and turn that into a debate about the Burris appointment.

I have no idea what is ultimately going to happen, but it may come down to how badly the Democrats need the extra vote. With Al Franken's apparent win in Minnesota, seating Burris would mean that they would only need two votes from the Republicans in order to have a filibuster proof majority. I think that in the end it's not going to matter who appointed the replacement for Obama, but whether the Democrats need the vote or not. I'm sure that Harry Reid would never admit to this, but because the Blagojevich impeachment may drag out for months, he's probably going to blink first.


SJ said...

Although I think few would argue against the soundness of Roland Burris appointment in an isolated or clinical sense, I'm nauseated at the way Rod Blagojevich continues to brazenly go about his days as if he weren't under the biggest cloud of suspected corruption since Senator Stevens of Alaska got pinched for all but buying contractors lap dances to finish his home renovation projects last year.

I'm frankly annoyed at Roland Burris.

I'm angry at Mr. Burris although I realize it is entirely unrealistic for any politician here or anywhere in the world to have the decency not to play along with a crook if it's legal and beneficial.
Burris knows he's being used by Blagojevich both as a shield and as a distraction, but Mr. Burris probably doesn't care because he just wants the seat. I don't know of any politician who would walk far enough away from Blagojevich if it meant a Senate seat, but I still wish Burris had done just that. Governor Blagojevich stands accused with compelling and widely reported taped evidence, that he attempted to sell the same power he is now exercising in appointing Roland Burris.
Blagojevich's ability to appoint anyone to anything seems a mere technicality or trick of time at this point: if he's convicted of trying to sell the Senate seat in 2008, does it make his subsequent appointments illegitimate? Definitely... But probably still not illegal, or unbinding.
I guess I'd judge it differently if Blagojevich stood accused of some other charge unrelated to the power to appoint a Senator. It's reminiscent of situations when corporate criminals post million dollar bail, with money they probably shouldn't have in the first place, because they stole it... not the cleanest of analogies, but such is the nature of this latest Illinois politics scandal.
I realize that Blagojevich is still Governor and still has the right to due process but his transparent ploys to foster a pretense of innocence, the sheer "business-as-usualness" of his day to day actions is just further criminality from this "con artist elect" who governs Chicago.
Reid didn't blink today, for all it can mean in today's political world.
The lawyers will fight it out, they always do.

SJ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SJ said...

""con artist elect" who governs Illinois."