Sanford D. Horn | Blago’s Senate pick – taint right
Circus Maximus plays the palace – the palace being the governor’s mansion in Springfield, Ill. For a man who doesn’t know how to keep his mouth shut, embattled Illinois Gov. “Lightening” Rod Blagojevich (D) is a shrewd genius for his selection of Roland W. Burris to become the Land of Lincoln’s junior senator. Yes, genius, as the choice of Burris, 71, deflects Blagojevich’s legal and political troubles while turning the selection into a commentary on race.
Simply enough, Blagojevich’s infusion of race into the appointment of Burris now forces the Democratic majority of the U.S. Senate into a veritable Sophie’s Choice – accept the pick by a tainted appointer, Blagojevich, or reject the potentially only black member of that body. And that’s what makes an otherwise imbecilic Blagojevich a shrewd genius. Sure, he’s on his way out of the governor’s house and into the big house for, among other alleged misdeeds, attempting to sell Barack Obama’s Senate seat. Auctioning it to the highest bidder seems more accurate. But before leaving the governor’s mansion, seemingly by force rather than choice, Blagojevich apparently wants to make his last work memorable.
Yet, Democrats nationwide, led by Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, called upon Blagojevich to not fill the vacancy left by Obama. They, along with a number of key Illinois Democrats, have called for Blagojevich’s resignation in order to avoid the inevitable impeachment battle that will only further solidify Illinois as one of the most politically corrupt states in the nation – in any era of American history. Should Blagojevich find himself behind bars, he could share a cell with his predecessor George Ryan (R), currently serving six and one-half years for corruption.
Additionally, Dan Walker (D), governor from 1973 to 1977, served a year and a half of a seven-year sentence in the funhouse on charges of bank fraud, misapplication of funds and perjury. Before Walker, Otto Kerner (D), governor from 1961 to 1968, spent less than a year of a three-year sentence in the gray-bar hotel having been convicted of bribery and tax evasion as well as arranging favorable horse racing dates in return for getting horse racing association stock at reduced prices. And just for kicks, throw in William Stratton (R), governor from 1953 to 1961, indicted on charges of income-tax evasion, but acquitted.
Blagojevich said he would not make this appointment and now there’s a “shadow cast over him,” said Illinois Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn (D) of the governor’s pick. He’s contradicting himself, has “unclean hands…, should be replaced and convicted with speed and removed from office by the Illinois Senate. He’s not fit to serve,” continued Quinn, who as governor would have the constitutional authority to select Obama’s successor.
With the selection of Burris, however, Senate Democrats find themselves in the untenable situation of actually not seating him and suffering the wrath of the ignorant. So, let’s deal with the 800-pound elephant, or in this case, jackass, in the room. Yes, this is about race. No, this is not about race. Either way, this is not about Roland Burris – a man who on any other day would more than likely sail right through the Senate doors and take what could be his rightful place in Obama’s former seat.
Politics aside, Burris has been a solid, long-time public servant in Illinois becoming the first black candidate elected to statewide office serving as comptroller from 1979 to 1991, then garnering the post as attorney general, serving in that capacity from 1991 to 1995. However, Burris suffered several electoral setbacks, thus as a perennial runner-up, when offered the Senate seat, he could hardly turn it down. Or could he?
Burris was not the first person Blagojevich attempted to appoint. U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D) rejected Blagojevich’s offer, saying, “I thought the environment had been poisoned.” Additionally, rumors swirled around U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D) as to his being asked to serve.
On the one hand, this is not about race because there is no such thing as a “black Senate seat,” despite the injection of such an idea from U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D), the former Black Panther and current hypocritical member of Congress. Hypocritical because on Dec. 9 Rush said that in no way should Blagojevich be charged with the responsibility of appointing the next Illinois Senator, as “any appointment would be tainted.” Yet, on Dec. 30, Rush applauded the choice of Burris and turned the already circus-like atmosphere into one of a full blown racial carnival.
“This is a matter of national importance. There are no African-Americans in the Senate, and I don’t think that anyone, any U.S. Senator who’s sitting in the Senate right now, wants to go on record to deny one African-American for [sic] being seated in the U.S. Senate. I don’t think they want to go on record doing that,” Rush said. To further intensify his already overheated racial speech, Rush implored “the public not to hang or lynch Burris because of the charges against Blagojevich.” If Rush were really that concerned about ensuring the seat be filled without controversy, he would have strongly encouraged Blagojevich to make no selection, and suggest several potential choices to Quinn for a clean appointment upon the governor’s resignation or impeachment.
Further demonstrating that there is no hyphenated-American Senate seat, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter (D) is prepared to announce the appointment of Michael Bennet, superintendent of Denver’s schools, to replace Sen. Ken Salazar upon Salazar’s confirmation as Obama’s choice for Interior Secretary. Salazar’s seat is no more a “Hispanic seat” than Obama’s is a “black seat.” With Salazar’s probable departure, two Hispanics remain in the Senate – Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.). Martinez announced last year that he will not seek reelection upon the expiration of his term.
In spite of Rush’s guilt trip, and clearly he played the guilt card hand-in-hand with the race card, even the liberal Washington Post would not fall for such shenanigans. The Post called the Burris pick a “tainted choice in Illinois,” in the headline of its December 31 editorial. “…No one selected by Mr. Blagojevich can take the office with any legitimacy,” said the editorial with pleas for the governor’s resignation.
Even Obama, who supported Burris over Blagojevich in the 2002 Democratic gubernatorial primary, and has no problem with Burris as an eventual U.S. senator, has called upon Blagojevich to resign and allow for his successor to make the appointment.
Despite Rush’s best or worst efforts, clear thinking people will realize this is not about race, nor is this about Burris or any other potential appointee – black, white or brown. This is about honesty, integrity and clean hands making an appointment that passes the smell test. The U.S. Senate would be right to deny any Blagojevich appointee a seat amongst their ranks. Such denial would be the first since 1947 when Theodore Bilbo (D-Miss.) was refused his seat due to corruption. Once Illinois cleans its own house, then they can add to the nation’s upper house. Until then, taint right.
– Sanford D. Horn is a writer and political consultant living in Alexandria.