Democrats' Dilemma in Illinois: To Appoint or to Elect?

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other national Democrats would like to see Barack Obama's Senate seat filled by appointment, once Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is out of the picture. Leading Democrats in Illinois, however, join Republicans in calling for a special election.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other national Democrats would like to see Barack Obama's Senate seat filled by appointment, once Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is out of the picture. Leading Democrats in Illinois, however, join Republicans in calling for a special election. (By Richard A. Lipski -- The Washington Post)
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By Chris Cillizza And Paul Kane
Monday, December 15, 2008

Whether or not Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich resigns today (and The Fix is loath to predict what "Pay-Rod" will do), Senate Democrats may well have a problem on their hands as they seek to decide how to fill the seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama.

National Democrats, led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, are advocating for the seat to be filled by appointment, a job that would probably fall to Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn (D), assuming Blagojevich either resigns or is impeached.

Top Democrats in the state -- led by attorney general and 2010 gubernatorial front-runner Lisa Madigan -- seem to favor a special election. Yesterday on NBC's "Meet the Press," Madigan said, "The best thing for the people of the state is to have a special election, have somebody put in that position legitimately by the people."

That sentiment for a special election has been echoed by state and national Republicans as well as leading editorial boards, including those of the Chicago Tribune and The Washington Post. The Tribune, in an editorial published late last week, wrote: "Quinn is an honest soul and no friend of Blagojevich. But a caretaker senator appointed by a caretaker governor . . . that wouldn't be a great situation."

Another complicating factor for Reid and national Democrats is that a special election is the preferred route of a number of ambitious pols (including many in their own party), meaning that some fellow Democrats may well be working against Reid's stated preference for an appointment.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D) has confirmed that she will be a candidate if there is a special election, and even the most rudimentary political handicapping makes it clear that she has a far better chance of winding up in the Senate through a special election than by appointment. Ditto, probably, for Rep. Danny Davis and any number of other state politicians with an eye toward the future, including Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias and Comptroller Dan Hynes.

The political plates are also shifting on the Republican side of the ledger, where Rep. Mark Kirk has made it clear that he is interested in a special-election bid; the names of Reps. Peter Roskam and Ray LaHood have also surfaced in connection with a possible run for the Senate.

Given the forces lining up behind a special election, it may be hard for Reid and Senate Democrats to stand in the way. Politics is about perception, and right now Democrats can't risk being seen as trying to subvert the democratic process. Although the law is clear that the governor -- whoever that might be -- gets to appoint the next senator, the allegations surrounding Blagojevich are the most special of circumstances and may demand a change in that law.

The Illinois legislature is expected to meet in a special session to weigh impeachment proceedings against Blagojevich and the possibility of instituting a special election to fill Obama's seat.

The Absentee Chronicles

If there's a really important, even historic, vote on Capitol Hill, and dozens of lawmakers don't bother showing up, was it really all that significant?

That's the question The Fix is left pondering after watching almost 40 members of the House and the Senate miss last week's votes on the proposed $14 billion auto industry bailout, which were the final votes of the 110th Congress.

Even more intriguing, the absentee rate in both chambers was driven up by lawmakers who are retiring or were not reelected, meaning that the final act of their political careers was to blow off a vote meant to save Detroit's Big Three.


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© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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