Much Ado About Illinois

This week's political comedy should not end with Burris as senator

Tuesday’s spectacle on Capitol Hill reminded us that politics, at its most basic level, boils down to questions of force: Roland W. Burris may call himself the junior senator from Illinois, but an armed man in uniform stood between the former Illinois attorney general and his seat in the Senate chamber. Yet given the circumstances surrounding Burris’ questionable appointment, Senate Democrats should be doing everything in their power to keep it that way.

While Governor Rod R. Blagojevich may technically hold the executive power in Illinois for the time being, his decision to make an appointment to the very seat he is under investigation for auctioning off is preposterous. Democratic leadership was right in originally attempting to stall Burris’ inauguration, and they should have continued to do so long enough for Blagojevich’s impeachment proceedings to fully run their course. Instead, party leaders conceded on Wednesday to clear a path for Burris provided that he receives the endorsement of the Illinois secretary of state and demonstrates to Illinois legislators on Thursday that no impropriety tainted his appointment.

These conditions miss the point. Even if Burris was not involved in any shady dealings, the allegations against Blagojevich call the governor’s judgment into question. Blagojevich has potentially violated the public trust upon which his power to make such a decision rests. Under these circumstances, no one the governor appoints can be considered a credible representative of Illinois, especially if party leaders are reluctant to work with him. Contrary to what Burris’ supporters may think, there is no such thing as a “legitimate appointment from an illegitimate governor.”

Moreover, Burris’ decision to accept Blagojevich’s nomination reflects poorly on his own character. If Burris does, as he alleges, have the interests of Illinois in mind, then he should ensure that the legitimacy of the state’s senate seat is undisputed, even if this means relinquishing his nomination. Sadly, it seems that Burris will continue in his refusal to subordinate his own political ambitions to this higher end. Indeed, one must wonder whether Blagojevich selected Burris knowing that he was one of the few candidates who would accept the nomination from an allegedly corrupt governor.

We are therefore thankful that Illinois’ secretary of state could block the nomination in his refusal to certify it. While the secretary should not have veto power over gubernatorial appointments under normal circumstances, this situation seems extraordinary enough to warrant this check on the Governor. We hope that the Supreme Court of Illinois will intervene to clarify conditions under which such intervention may be legal.

We recognize the need for this situation to be resolved a swiftly as possible, but haste is no substitute for legitimacy. Five of the past 10 Illinois governors have faced criminal charges, and 79 of the state’s elected officials have been convicted of a crime since 1972. Illinoisans have already seen more than their share of corrupt politicians, and at the very least they deserve representation that is not marred with controversy from the start.