Roland Burris is finding himself caught between Pat Quinn and Lisa Madigan’s clashing gubernatorial ambitions. The Governor and the Attorney General are trying to position themselves as the truer reformer, and they are working to upstate each other’s statements and gradually toughening up their rhetoric.
Last week, Quinn called on Burris to resign, announcing that he would reform state law to have Burris replaced via a special election. A few days later, Madigan’s office issued a legal opinion that went much further: Even if Burris does not resign, the state legislature can call a special election which would effectively unseat him!
Quinn endorsed Madigan’s opinion yesterday, announcing that he would direct the state legislature to call for such a special election in two weeks if Burris has not resigned by then. This unexpected move opens a new chapter in the Burris saga, and a particularly controversial one.
Madigan and Quinn’s new position clearly contradicts state law, which holds that a Governor can appoint a Senator whose term will last the next regularly-scheduled federal election; but Madigan points to the U.S. Constitution’s 17th amendment:
When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of each State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct.
This amendment is obviously respected in all states. There are states which interpret “temporary” broadly and don’t schedule a contest until the next federal election date, though it is still a special election. (In New York, for instance, Gillibrand will have to run in 2010 even though the seat is not up until 2012.) Other states (like Oregon) understand the term “temporary” appointment in a more restrictive sense, requiring that a special election be held within a few months.
Madigan is not disputing the constitutionality of gubernatorial appointments, nor is she arguing that the 17th amendment requires that a special election be held within a few months of a vacancy. Rather, her claim is that the (1) 17th Amendment expresses a preference for the electoral process over the appointment process; (2) that this means that an elected contender would have a more legitimate claim on a seat than an appointed one; and (3) that Burris’s term would be cut short as soon as someone won a special election.
Even if we grant the first two parts of this argument, the conclusion is obviously quite a stretch: Can the legislature affect the length of Burris’s term after the Senator has already been seated? Is the definition of “temporary” not settled when the appointment is made? And if a special election is actually held, how is the winner going to go about to claim the seat? Burris is now a sitting Senator, and the Illinois state legislature cannot recall him. Only the Senate can exclude him, and they would not do so before holding lengthy hearings to determine whether Burris or the special election winner should be Senator.
Needless to say, the Senate’s eventual decision is sure to be challenged in court - and perhaps work its way all the way to the Supreme Court given that the disagreement centers upon differing interpretations of the 17th Amendment. In short: we are talking about a very long and muddied process that has no guarantee of succeeding.
While Madigan and Quinn are working to upstage each other, other Democrats are positioning themselves for a Senate run.
Yesterday, the first Democrat announced his candidacy: state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, a 32 year-old who played professional basketball in Greece in the late 1990s. Giannoulias is said to be the Democratic establishment’s favored candidate, if for no other reason than his proximity to Obama and his financial abilities. In 2006, he dumped $3 million of his own money to become state Treasurer; how much would he pour in for a Senate run? On the other hand, The Hill points out that Giannoulias has plenty of baggage, including his ties of Blagojevich and his family’s ties to Tony Rezko.
Giannoulias is a formidable enough candidate that his entry could scare away other Democrats, particularly those that have a lot to lose. If there is no special election but only the regularly-scheduled one next year, Rep. Jan Schakowsky and Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. would have to give up their safe House seats to run for Senate; how likely would they be to do so now that they know they would have to face the establishment-favored, Obama-friend and fundraising-powerhouse Giannoulias? (On the other hand, a special election is expected to feature a free-for-all crowded race, as no one would have anything to lose.)
And we just got word that another potential candidate is emerging: former Commerce Secretary William Daley, the brother of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley. Needless to say, the Daleys are one of the country’s most legendary Democratic families, and William would receive the full backing of the powerful Chicago machine, making him a formidable primary contender.
On the one hand, a Daley run could boost Giannoulias, as it would (frustratingly) allow him to position himself as a reformer running against the Chicago machine rather than find himself blasted as the establishment’s favorite. On the other hand, a Daley-Giannoulias showdown could provide an opening for other Democrats, particularly an African-American.