Gov. Pat Quinn has endorsed legislation that would end
the current practice of letting the governor decide who
should be appointed to the Senate. Instead, voters would
choose a new senator in a statewide special election.
That would eliminate the possibility of a governor
essentially selling a Senate appointment, as former Gov.
Rod Blagojevich was accused of doing in criminal charges
that led to his removal from office. After his arrest,
Blagojevich appointed Roland Burris to the position,
creating a cloud of suspicion that has led to calls for
Burris to resign.
But top Democrats in the Legislature show little
interest in switching to a special election to fill
Senate President John Cullerton supports the general
idea but won't take a position on a specific bill unless
the House passes something, his spokeswoman said. House
Speaker Michael Madigan simply says the idea is under
"We do a lot of reviewing around here. It's good. We
review a lot," Madigan said Tuesday.
One version of the plan was assigned to a House
committee that supporters call "a graveyard." Meanwhile,
local officials object to the potential cost of a
special election -- perhaps $50 million.
Supporters aren't giving up.
Rep. Jack Franks, a Democrat, said he hopes to talk
to Madigan about the need for special elections. The
speaker rarely rushes into anything but has shown a
willingness to keep an open mind and eventually take
action, notably on impeaching Blagojevich, he said.
"I think Madigan is deliberative and it takes some
time, sometimes, for him to come around," Franks said.
Quinn spokesman Bob Reed said the governor will
continue pushing for the change. "I'm sure he'll make a
strong case with all involved," Reed said.
While Democrats ponder the issue, Republicans are
accusing them of putting politics ahead of cleaning up
Illinois government. They claim Democrats don't want to
risk holding an election they might lose if another
Senate vacancy occurs.
"It's time for Speaker Madigan to do what is right by
giving the people of Illinois a vote in choosing their
next U.S. Senator," said Andy McKenna, chairman of the
state Republican Party.
Like most states, Illinois fills Senate vacancies by
letting the governor appoint someone to serve until the
next regularly scheduled election. That meant
Blagojevich had the power to name a new senator when
Sen. Barack Obama was elected president.
Federal prosecutors say Blagojevich used that power
to try to help himself financially and politically. They
arrested him a month after the election, alleging that
they captured him on tape essentially trying to sell the
Senate seat to the highest bidder -- a charge that
[to top of second column]
Immediately after his arrest, politicians lined up to call for
stripping the governor's power to appoint a senator and switching to
an election instead. But many Democrats backed away from that.
Critics argue the reversal was prompted by worries that a
scandal-weary public might elect a Republican senator if they had
Calls for a special election were renewed after Burris began
amending accounts of his discussions with Blagojevich's aides before
his appointment. Eventually Burris acknowledged the governor's
brother asked him to raise campaign money for Blagojevich and that
he tried but failed to do it.
Scores of Illinois leaders, including Quinn, have called for
Burris to resign. They argue he hasn't been forthright and can't be
an effective senator because of the doubts about how he got the job.
Burris insists he did nothing wrong and won't resign.
Republicans even proposed changing the terms of Burris'
appointment so that it would end this spring and a special election
would decide who takes over. That has generated little support,
however, as people on both sides agree it would probably generate
long legal battles.
But the idea of changing the rules for any future vacancy --
perhaps created by Burris' resignation -- has more support.
Franks' bill would require a special election whenever a vacancy
occurs more than 180 days away from a regularly scheduled election.
The governor could appoint a temporary senator to serve until the
special election takes place.
The latest version of his bill hasn't been assigned to any
committee. An earlier version was sent to the Executive Committee,
where Madigan has tremendous influence over the votes
By CHRISTOPHER WILLS]
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