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Dems urge special election to succeed Obama

December 9, 2008 8:33:46 PM PST
There will be a special session in Springfield on Monday to consider ways to curb the governor's appointment power. In the meantime, he could name anyone - including himself - as the next U.S. Senator from Illinois.Democratic leaders are scrambling to fill the vacant Senate seat. They don't want the governor to make that decision so most are urging the Illinois legislature to schedule a special election.

Despite the federal charges, the governor is still the governor, and technically he still can make the decision to fill the vacant U.S. Senate seat by himself. But Democratic party elected officials are working as quickly as possible to stop any such appointment by Rod Blagojevich.

As recently as Monday morning the governor said he was still interviewing candidates for the vacant U.S. Senate seat and said he would meet with one prospect later in the day.

"I'm having a meeting with Congressman Jackson this afternoon," Blagojevich said Monday.

But, less than 18 hours after the Jackson meeting, Blagojevich was arrested at his north Side Home and charged with -- among other offenses -- trying to sell or trade the Senate appointment for financial or personal gain.

U.S. Congressman Danny Davis, who had spent the past several weeks campaigning for the job, was stunned to learn that it may have been for sale.

"I'm saddened, I'm disheartened. It puts a real damper on our state," said Rep. Danny K. Davis, (D) Chicago.

Along with Jackson and Davis, other announced contenders included U.S. Congress members Jan Schakowsky and Luis Gutierrez and Illinois Senate President Emil Jones.

Jones, who called the charges shocking, said he would soon call the chamber into session to pass a bill to establish a special election to fill the vacancy. He did so moments after Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., urged the state House and Senate to do so by a margin that could withstand a Blagojevich veto.

"No appointment by this governor, under these circumstances, could produce a credible replacement," Durbin, told reporters in Washington.

Durbin, the Senate's second-ranking Democratic leader, said his state faces a messy and uncertain future with Blagojevich holding the power to name someone to finish the last two years of Obama's term.

Durbin said his relationship with the governor has been cordial but not close. Blagojevich waited 12 days to return Durbin's recent phone call requesting a discussion of the Obama vacancy, Durbin said. The two men discussed about 20 possible replacements, Durbin said, and Blagojevich made no hint that he was seeking payments or other favors in making his choice.

The FBI's complaint alleges that an associate of one contender, identified as "Senate Candidate Five," approached Blagojevich offering to raise as much $1 million for the governor's campaign fund.

Davis told ABC7 he is not "Senate Candidate Five." ABC7 has been unable to reach the other major contenders to ask if any of them made the alleged offer.

Meanwhile, State Representative Jack Franks of McHenry County says he will introduce legislation in the Illinois House that would take away the governor's power to appoint Obama's successor.

"I don't believe that any chief executive who's under federal indictment should be able to make a federal appointment of U.S. senator...I'd like to file a bill to change the way we appoint the vacancies in the U.S. Senate to have an open and transparent system, and what I'd like that see is an election as soon as practicable ," said Rep. Jack Franks, (D) Woodstock.

Late Tuesday afternoon, Illinois Senate President Jones and House Speaker Michael Madigan issued statements saying they would reconvene their legislative chambers as soon as next Monday. Representative Franks also said that lawyers at his direction are trying to get a restraining order to prevent Governor Blagojevich from making a U.S. Senate appointment between now and then.

A bill to take away the governor's power to fill the senate vacancy would require a two-thirds majority of both the house and senate.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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