In the wake of the arrest of Governor Rod Blagojevich for attempting to sell the open US Senate seat to the highest bidder, a question remains: how does the opening get filled? As of this moment, Blagojevich can still appoint anyone to the post, including himself, as his remarks on wiretaps show Blagojevich serious considered. The state legislature will move quickly to strip him of that power:
The state’s top two legislative leaders Tuesday said they will move fast to seize control of the process of selecting a replacement for Barack Obama in the U.S. Senate, taking that power away from Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
In separate statements, House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President Emil Jones said they will call a special legislative session next week to repeal the state law that now gives the governor the power to fill Mr. Obama’s seat. Both said they will press instead for a special election to fill the remaining two years of Mr. Obama’s term.
“I am prepared to convene the House next Monday to change state law to provide for a special election for the U.S. Senate replacement,” Mr. Madigan said. “I would urge U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin to take note of this action.”
Durbin and several of the Illinois delegation on Capitol Hill called for action to hold a special election as an alternative to appointment. The Democrats find themselves on the defensive and have worked to distance themselves from the always-controversial Blagojevich as they face the specter of a statewide meltdown in Democratic politics. After all, the affadavit used for the complaint notes at least six potential candidates for that appointment, and speculation has already begun to put names to the numbers — and undoubtedly they will all be prominent Illinois Democrats.
Emil Jones has come under scrutiny himself as one of the potential suspects for Candidate #5 — the candidate Blagojevich thought would “play ball”. With that hanging over his head, we can probably count on Jones to push hard for the special election as a way of minimizing his exposure in this scandal. After the wiretaps go to the grand jury, however, all bets are off. The grand jury can indict anyone connected to this case, and Illinois lawyers may find their phones ringing off the hook to defend politicians.
Unlike similar but milder scandals in New York and New Jersey, this could have a strong affect on state politics. It wasn’t that long ago that Illinois elected Republicans to statewide office. Not until George Ryan left the governorship to serve a prison sentence and Jack Ryan lied about his divorce records did that change, and that was within the past decade. If this case leads to a series of indictments against Democrats in high places, that seat Obama vacated could get filled by a Republican, as well as the positions vacated by the indicted. Democrats like Durbin understand this and will try to get ahead of the outrage to the extent possible.
In the meantime, the Illinois legislature has made the right move. If Blagojevich outruns them and appoints someone to the post, the US Senate has a duty to refuse to seat the appointment. Dick Durbin should announce his intention to lead that effort in order to force Blagojevich to back off.