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Dems explain why they let governor make appointment
Appointment has "only happened in some dark corner of the governor's mind," Madigan spokesman says
By Robert McCoppin | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 12/31/2008 5:51 PM

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Illinois Democrats stand by their decision against holding a special election to choose the state's next senator, maintaining that even if anyone anticipated Gov. Rod Blagojevich would name a new senator, they were confident the appointment wouldn't stand.

With Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White refusing to sign papers authorizing Blagojevich's appointment of Roland Burris, and Senate Democratic leaders refusing to seat anyone appointed by Blagojevich, House Speaker Michael Madigan's spokesman Steve Brown maintained that the appointment is moot.

Asked why Democratic leaders didn't foresee Blagojevich naming a senator, Brown essentially said there is no appointment. "It hasn't happened. That's only happened in some dark corner of the governor's mind. It hasn't been certified, so that makes it null. There was nothing to anticipate."

But Republican leaders continued to rip the Democrats for failing to take away Blagojevich's appointment power and hold a special election.

Illinois Republican Party Chairman Andy McKenna issued a statement putting the blame squarely on Democrats, who control the General Assembly: "Once again, Blagojevich Democrats have failed the people of Illinois by refusing to strip Rod Blagojevich of his Senate appointment power and blocking a vote of the people."

On Dec. 9, federal prosecutors announced charges against Blagojevich, saying he was caught on tape trying to sell the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama for personal gain, among other allegations.

Democratic leaders including Madigan, Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, Sen. Dick Durbin, and Senate Majority leader Emil Jones quickly came out in favor of a special election.

But soon after, the leadership shifted to urging Blagojevich to resign so that Quinn could appoint Obama's replacement.

Madigan doesn't regret the decision against a special election, saying it would have cost more than $30 million and wouldn't have been resolved until mid-2009.

But Rep. Danny Davis, a Chicago Democrat, conceded that both Democrats and blacks didn't want to lose the seat in an election.

"There was a feeling on the part of many African-Americans that a special election would be a disadvantage to Africa-Americans who wanted to run," he said, "because they traditionally don't raise as much political money."

Davis confirmed Blagojevich asked him to take the Senate appointment before approaching Burris, but he declined because of the cloud over the process.

Dick Simpson, a political-science professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago and a former Chicago alderman, said Democrats could have lost the Senate seat in a vote, just as the Republicans lost the governor's seat after charges against former Gov. George Ryan.

So now, Democrats will try to fight Burris' appointment, and proceed with impeachment proceedings against Blagojevich. If Quinn succeeds Blagojevich, he could try to rescind the appointment and make his own choice for Senate.

To avoid the perception Democrats are trying to put the fix in for one of their own candidates, Simpson said Quinn then should appoint a blue-ribbon panel to vet and recommend candidates, like for a judicial nomination.

Then, a respected statesman like Jim Edgar or Dawn Clark Netsch could agree to hold the office only until the next regular election, to avoid gaining any advantage from incumbency, he said.