Gov. appoints Burris as Senate replacement

December 31, 2008 9:19:12 AM PST
A defiant Gov. Rod Blagojevich appointed former AG Roland Burris to the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by Pres.-Elect Barack Obama on Tuesday. If Gov. Rod Blagojevich is radioactive, then Roland Burris just stepped into the reactor.

Burris says he can be the governor's appointee to the Senate without it soiling his reputation.

But on Tuesday night, there are many who say Roland Burris should have simply told the governor "thanks, but no thanks."

Governor Rod Blagojevich back home tonight -- after lobbing yet another political bombshell.

"I'm here today to announce that I am appointing Roland Burris as the next United States Senator from Illinois," said Blagojevich during a press conference.

Blagojevich says it's his job - his obligation - to fill Barack Obama's Senate seat.

"If I don't make this appointment, then the people of Illinois will be deprived of their appropriate voice and vote in the United States Senate," said Blagojevich.

Not so fast, say Senate Democrats who put out a statement: "Anyone appointed by Governor Blagojevich cannot be an effective representative of the people of Illinois and, as we have said will not be seated by the Democratic Caucus."

Secretary of State Jesse White says he won't certify any Blagojevich appointee.

"I'm not a rubber stamp. I'm also the keeper of the seal of the state. You have to have to have two signatures, that of the governor and yours truly. My position is I'm not going to sign," said White.

"Rod Blagojevich has unclean hands. He should not be able to make any appointment whatsoever. He should be impeached. Convicted in Illinois Senate and removed from office," said Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, (D) Illinois.

The Governor seems determined in his defiance and dead set in his desire to keep up the appearance that he can still do his job.

"Please don't allow the allegations against me to taint this good and honest man," said Blagojevich.

"I know I won't be tainted as a result of the Governor carrying out his constitutional duties," said Burris.

Roland Burris says his 16 years of service as Illinois comptroller and attorney general should be viewed separately from the scandal surrounding the man appointing him.

"Individuals know Roland Burris. They know I'm not part of a scheme or activities that are not in the best interest of the people of the state of Illinois," said Burris.

Burris' plan in the coming days is to get some legal advice on whom does and does not have the power to block his appointment.

The Senate goes back in session next week in Washington, D.C. Burris is planning to be there.

Defiant move by Governor

Gov. Rod Blagojevich said during the press conference since the state legislature failed to set a date for a special election, the responsibility falls to him to make sure Illinois has two representatives in the United States Senate.

The governor's intent was to demonstrate that he was still doing his job. But it may end up showing what little power he has left.

Defiant, determined and undaunted by criticism, Gov. Rod Blagojevich flexed what little political muscle he has left.

"As governor I am required to make this appointment," said Blagojevich said.

In Roland Burris, the Governor finds a politician with nearly 15 years of service in Illinois, first as comptroller, then attorney general.

He's also found a man, apparently unconcerned with being tainted by a Blagojevich appointment.

"This is an appointment done by the governor of the state and based on that I have no relationship with that situation. I'm accepting an appointment by the governor to go to the United States senate," said Roland Burris, U.S. Senate appointee. "That's it." Watch Burris' full statement.

But that's not it.

An avalanche of politicians, Democrats and Republicans, state and federal are saying while they like Roland Burris they will not allow a Governor-accused of trying to sell a Senate seat for his own financial gain to pick the next senator from Illinois.

Secretary of State Jesse White released a statement saying he won't certify the Governor's pick.

"Although I have respect for former attorney general Roland Burris, because of the current cloud of controversy surrounding the governor, I cannot accept the document," said Jesse White (D), Ill. Secretary of State. Read White's full statement or watch his statement.

In Washington, the majority leader Harry Reed said, "this is not about Mr. Burris; it is about the integrity of a governor accused of attempting to sell this United States Senate seat. Under these circumstances, anyone appointed by Gov. Blagojevich cannot be an effective representative of the people of Illinois and, as we have said, will not be seated by the Democratic Caucus." Read Senate's full statement.

Congressman Bobby Rush said regardless of the crimes for which Blagojevich stands accused it's important that the Senate have at least one African-American member.

"I'm not a lawyer but I do know he should be concerned about how people in state of Illinois will react to him not certifying this particular individual," said U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D), Illinois. Watch Rep. Rush's full statement.

Others though see the Governor's move as one last grasp at power.

"It's high time people of Illinois come first and Rod Blagojevich step aside," said Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn (D), Illinois.

The governor wouldn't say on Tuesday what he'll do if Illinois' Secretary of State refuses to certify his appointment or the U.S. Senate refuses to seat Mr. Burris.

In theory, the governor could fight it in court. But between the federal corruption case and the House impeachment hearings, Mr. Blagojevich's legal team is already quite busy.

Can anyone really stop the governor's appointment?

With so many lawmakers refusing to seat any appointee of Rod Blagojevich, Roland Burris faces both a legal and political battle ahead.

Roland Burris himself called on the governor to resign just two weeks ago. On Tuesday, he backed off that position. And since the governor is still in office and has not been convicted or impeached, experts say he is within his legal rights to appoint a senator. Despite the threats on all sides, there may be little anyone can do to stop him.

The U.S. Senate is a body of lawmakers that must follow the laws. And that's why some scholars believe they will have no choice but to accept Roland Burris as the next senator from Illinois.

"The parameters are spelled out in the Constitution. They state the only qualifications have to do with age and citizenship and resident," Prof. Jeffrey Shaman, DePaul College of Law.

The most recent legal precedent was 40 years ago when New York congressman Adam Clayton Powell successfully fought an effort by the U.S. House to block his seating.

There is little question as to whether Roland Burris is qualified to be a senator. The longtime statewide office holder has experience and a scandal-free background, as well as the backing of longtime Congressman Bobby rush who said it's important Burris be seated.

"It has tremendous national importance. We need to have not just one African American in the U.S. Senate, we need to have many african-americans," said Rush.

Roland Burris served as state comptroller under then governor Jim Thompson, a Republican who believes Burris will be seated in the Senate.

"The governor has made a legal appointment. Burris is qualified and I think he should be entitled to take his seat in the Senate," said Thompson. "They just don't have the power to do that,"

Thompson says although Secretary of State Jesse White is refusing to certify the appointment that's just a formality. The incoming Senate minority leader however is still holding out hope the legislature can approve a special election.

"We need to give in power back to the people which is something the U.S. Constitution allows us to do. That is the best, cleanest way to move on from this mess," said IL Sen. Christine Radogno (R), Senate minority leader-elect.

The governor previously said he would support a special election for the Senate seat. But it appears unlikely the legislature will call for a vote on that measure now.

Meantime, members of the House committee working on the governor's impeachment say they will resume hearings on Monday and have no plans to try to reverse the Senate appointment.

Press Conference announcement

Gov. Blagojevich asked the public not to let the allegations of federal corruption against him taint the appointment of former Illinois attorney general and comptroller Roland Burris. Burris said he spoke with the governor about the appointment on Sunday.

Both the U.S. Senate and local lawmakers had asked Blagojevich not to make the appointment because of the allegations against him.

Burris has the advantage of not being directly referred to in the federal criminal complaint, which alleges the governor tried to essentially sell Obama's vacant Senate seat. He was not among those labeled Senate candidates 1 through 5 in the complaint, and therefore, not among those the governor is allegedly heard discussing the financial pros and cons of appointing on the wiretap.

Blagojevich, who was arrested on December 9, alone has the power to fill that Senate vacancy. However, that appointment must be certified by Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, who, on Tuesday, said he would not do that.

Also, leaders of the Senate in Washington D.C. have indicated that they actually may try to block anyone Blagojevich appoints because the process as a whole is tainted.

"It is truly regrettable that despite requests from all 50 Democratic Senators and public officials throughout Illinois, Gov. Blagojevich would take the imprudent step of appointing someone to the United States Senate who would serve under a shadow and be plagued by questions of impropriety," the statement said.

About Burris

Roland Burris, 71, has been making history his entire political career, dating back to his first election as the state's comptroller in 1978. He was the first African American elected to statewide office in Illinois and served three terms in that office from 1979 to 1991. Burris won a term as Illinois Attorney General after that. Currently, he maintains a political consulting firm. And he believes he is a good choice for the Senate.

"I am humbled to have the opportunity and promise the citizens that i will dedicate my utmost effort as their United States senator and i will uphold the integrity of the office," said Burris, U.S. Senate appointee.

Few on Tuesday night are questioning the choice of Burris for the Senate seat. In fact, Illinois political leaders on both sides of the aisle compliment Burris. But say they are unable to support his appointment because of the cloud of suspicion over the governor.

"Roland Burris has been a friend of mine for 36 years. I have known him and he is a good man. I think he made a mistake today in accepting an appointment," said Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn (D).

"I admire and respect the gentleman. He easily can be the person I could sign onto when the next governor is in place," said Jesse White, Illinois Secretary of State.

Burris served as comptroller during Jim Thompson's term as governor.

Burris was born in downstate Centralia. He has a bachelor's degree in political science from Southern Illinois University and a law degree from Howard University. He has also run unsuccessfully several times for governor and mayor of Chicago.

He is used to fighting long odds and says he will fight to be seated in the Senate now that he's been appointed. At least one prominent supporter, Congressman bobby rush will be on his side.

"I will ask you to not hang a lynch for the appointee as you investigate going forward," said Rep. Bobby Rush, (D) Chicago.

Burris has political career has been relatively free of scandals. But, according to the Better Government Association, Burris's firm has contributed about $10,000 to the governor's campaigns. Another firm of his has also done work for the state.

The Scandal

Blagojevich has been under pressure to step aside or resign since his arrest on December 9 on federal corruption charges. He's accused of trying to sell President-elect Barack Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat to the highest bidder.

He has faced dozens of calls for him to step down and the Illinois House has begun the impeachment proceedings.

The governor has denies wrongdoing and hasn't shown any hint that he would vacate his office.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Load Comments