Happy New Year! I usually limit my screeds to local issues, that is the purpose of this Blog. However...I hear that a spat over fees between cable providers might close out the Comedy Channel, so I look to other sources.
Locally we are in a sort of political doldrum, and the national scene is providing just entirely too much fun to ignore. I refer, of course to the new wrinkle out of Illinois, with embattled, but still serving, Governor Rod Blagojevich going back on his promise (whodathunkit) not to appoint a Senator to replace President-elect Obama. I promise, this is not a partisan screed, one of the former Illinois Governors now incarcerated is Republican. Corruption in Illinois is an equal opportunity sport.
One solid prediction; Blago's appointee, Roland Burris will be seated, Harry Reid didn't do his homework before he said otherwise. Shakier prediction; Blagojevich will likely be impeached and removed, but a criminal conviction is looking about even odds, maybe less.
For openers, Obama appears quite clean on this, if anything his office's over-reaction has kept that in the news. The Blagojevich tapes released so far have Blago complaining plainly and in unrepeatably salty language that Obama won't give anything of value.
Just to set the players, a bit of Illinois history. Blagojevich served three terms as Ill-5 Congressman. This is the district held since 2002 by Rahm Emanuel, Obama's new Chief of Staff. Blagojevich gave it up to run for Governor in '02. His main opponent was Paul Vallas, also white, but very tight with Jesse Jackson Sr. (not to be confused with Jesse Jackson Jr., 7 term Congressman, Ill-2, and confessed "candidate 5" in the tapes). Since District 5 contained the predominately black Washington wards, Vallas was favored. Then comes a late entry, Roland Burris, former Atty General and first black candidate elected to any state-wide office. The black vote splits, Blago wins by 26,000 votes, with Burris polling 363k of presumptive Vallas votes. Note: my 2002 Congressional Directory, Blago had the same ridiculous hair.
Until about three days ago, Burris (71) was a well-respected, retired senior statesman of Ill. politics, not a whiff of scandal. In a state where an FBI wiretap is almost a badge of honor, that speaks well of him.
Now Blago did sound guilty as sin on the tapes released to the public, but two points there: we have a Governor TALKING about selling a Senate appointment, but drunks and fools talk about all sorts of nonsense; and Blago is still the sitting Gov. solely empowered by Illinois law to appoint. Think on the cases one reads about where some fellow thinks to rid himself of an inconvenient wife by termination with extreme prejudice. The lawmen always provide a willing "hit-man" to take the money before actually busting this freedom-seeking murderous hubby. Thanks to an over-eagar Patrick Fitzgerald, all we have is a fool, definitely drunk on power, TALKING about selling a seat. Fitz might make a case on a vague conspiracy charge, but his office is now seeking an extension of the requisite 30 days between arrest and indictment. Seems we have a fool for a prosecutor to go with the fool of a Governor.
The controlling case law here is going to be Powell v McCormack, and here is where Harry Reid should have done his homework. Article 1, sec. 5 of the Constitution says, "Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns, and Qualifications of its own members..."
For those too young to remember, Adam Clayton Powell was a flamboyent Congressman from New York's Harlem district, never bothered to conceal his multitudinous criminal enterprises, but much beloved by his constituents who were proud to have him. He ran his last campaign from Bimini, he could only sneak back to Harlem on weekends as there were live warrants out for him. The Congress of the day, (McCormack being Speaker of the House) tried to refuse to seat Powell, Powell went to the Supreme Court. SCOTUS ruled that the election and return was beyond dispute and it limited "Qualifications" to those needed to run for the office. Now the second paragraph of sec 5 allows either house to expell a member by two-thirds vote, which the House of that day promptly did.
Unlike Powell, Burris has done nothing to deserve expulsion by whatever margin. Think what one will of Blago, he IS the person empowered to make the appointment. If Majority Leader Reid tries to block Burris, the man has already said he will go to court, and I am joined by several of the top law school deans in opining that Burris has a slam-dunk winner. Once in, does Reid think he can find enough Republican Senators who aren't too busy laughing their asses off to join an expulsion motion? Against a man who would then be the ONLY serving black Senator? You really want the Republican cavalry riding to the rescue of a black Democrat Senator? Comes showtime, some of Reid's Democrats will bail out on that vote. Surely you jest Harry.
This would be a poor time to open the question of "Qualifications" for the new administration. In 1972, VP-elect Joe (not the plumber) Biden became the fifth member of a small club started by Henry Clay in 1806: Senators elected prior to their Constitutionally required 30th birthday. Not necessarily a bad thing; Clay is recognised as one of the five most influential Senators in history. Among other things, he introduced the mint julep to DC and opposed Texas Statehood. Biden ducked it by not taking his Oath until he was of age, becoming the fifth and most recent member of the "under-age" Senatorial club
Speaking of appointments, the last time we elected a Senator as President, JFK had the Massachusetts Gov. appoint his college roommate for two years to hold the seat until brother Teddy was 30 and eligible. A Barkeep Political Junkie Gold Star to the first person to name that interim appointment. A Lone Star Political Junkie Gold Star for the name of LBJ's appointive replacement. Best I know, the only time both Prez and VP have been sitting Senators.
Special election has been thrown about as an Illinois solution, but that can't happen in time for this election cycle. As to the general idea of Governors appointing term fillers in such circumstance, only three states provide for special election. Alaska, Arizona, and interestingly, a recent entry from 2004, Massachusettes. Yes, the same Mass. that had its Gov. put JFK's roommate in the Senate. In 2004, the legislature overrode Gov. Romney's veto to change to special elections and prevent his being able to make the appointment in case John Kerry won. Additional trivia, completely below the media radar screen, Biden has prevailed upon his Governor to appoint a term-filler to hold his seat until Biden's son returns from Iraq in time to run in 2010. Ain't political dynasties fun?
Hope this digression from local affairs has been at least interesting. I suspect that if I can dig this up online overnight, the powers that be have their political ops whispering reality at them by now. Beg pardon, but this is the sort of high humor political junkies live for.