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Paul Hayden

Blago Tries to Force Dems' Hand

January 5, 2009

Whatever else you can say about indicted Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, he certainly is not going to go gently into that good night. In appointing former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama, Blago sent a clear message to the Senate that the Burris appointment is not only legitimate, it's required. And in the 21st century political climate that exists in America, Blago's brazenness may just work.

As you might expect, the presumptive new senator shares at least some of the same political instincts and, shall we say, ample self-confidence as his appointer. In a recent article, it's noted that Burris has already built a tombstone - actually, more of a monument - with all his accomplishments listed on it. To ensure nothing is left to chance, he has provided extra space for additional accomplishments. Also, Roland Burris' children are named Roland II and Rolanda. But the same double-standard that allows George Foreman to name all of his sons George with barely a twitter, while if George W. Bush did the same there would be an uproar, will certainly work in Burris' favor.

That Burris will not hesitate to play the ever-popular race card if his appointment is jeopardized in any way was made clear in the press conference. The first speaker up after Burris was an Illinois Democrat representative who praised to the skies the appointment of a fellow African-American to replace Obama. The implication was clear: no non-black candidate would do, especially in the almost all-white U.S. Senate. Yet, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has insisted that the Senate will not allow any Blago appointee to sit in Obama's seat due to the corruption charges against the Illinois governor. How will the Democrat leaders be able to enforce this position without looking like racists? The irony is indeed delicious.

Meanwhile, whether or not Burris was among the short list of names bandied about for Obama's Senate seat, it's evident that he's been seeking it since it became open. After all, Burris is essentially a career politician who happens to be a lawyer, and he was frustrated in several bids for office in Illinois, including at least three failed tries at the governorship and one unsuccessful challenge to the Daley machine for mayor of Chicago. At the age of 71, he clearly sees the Senate appointment as perhaps his best (and maybe last) chance to land the plum office that he's been seeking for years now after several terms as the state comptroller and attorney general.

While the predictable liberal chorus in Illinois and the national media proclaim Burris as a solid choice, that does not seem to square with the Illinois voters' resounding rejection of him as a gubernatorial and mayoral candidate. However, both Blago and Burris seem to be thumbing their noses at the voters-Blago by making the appointment in the face of legal troubles that should lead to impeachment, and Burris by accepting it despite its tainted nature.

Once again, the Democrats have presented the Republicans, not only in Illinois but nationwide, a golden opportunity to (1) contrast themselves with their Democrat opponents, and (2) take action to ensure the right things are done. And once again, the Republicans will most likely muff that chance. It's certainly reasonable for Republican (as well as Democrat) leaders to call for a special election in light of Blago having lost any moral, if not legal authority to make the Senate appointment. And it seems like the voters of Illinois would indeed be demanding a special election under the circumstances so that they would have some say in whom their next Senator is. However, I'm not holding my breath for either of those things to happen. People have become increasingly jaded about these "where's the outrage" moments, which is why that question is asked so often at times like this.

If the media let Harry Reid and his cronies in the Senate off the hook on their pledge to prevent Burris or any other Blago appointee to be seated, there should be a hue and cry from Republicans the likes of which we have never seen before. With the ongoing Al Franken debacle in Minnesota, Obama's Senate seat takes on added importance in determining the final numbers for each party. If there was ever a time that a special election is justified and should be demanded, this is it.

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