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Blago’s Blues

Can the governor finesse Burris into the hot seat?


A few weeks ago I received a phone call from two semi-drunken friends who were at a bar on the East Coast. They demanded I write about the idiot formerly known as Gov. Rod Blagojevich. I promised to do so, but deep down I probably wanted the whole shameful situation to go away. As an Illinois native, I had always held, not necessarily convincingly, that there were states like Louisiana and Rhode Island that were far more corrupt than Illinois.

But I knew that Illinois politics was corrupt to its soul. A very close, older relative of mine worked for the state in the mid-1960s in a powerful appointed position that paid relatively well (about $65,000 today). The politicians who had "served" in the job before him had taken home approximately half a million dollars or more from corruption in addition to their salary. The problem was that my relative did not take an illegal dollar and was therefore deemed too untrustworthy for senior positions in state politics.

So I wasn't surprised by Blago. I was surprised by his surpassing stupidity. Even still, I never did get around to writing my Blago piece for The Root and was resigned to moving on to another topic.

That was until last week. When I saw the wire story online, I startled everyone in the house as I literally screamed "NO HE DIDN'T!" Blago's announcement that he was appointing former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris, an African American, to serve the remainder of Obama's term in the U.S. Senate was a travesty with problematic implications on multiple fronts. I normally do not swear in these pieces, but the best way to characterize Blago's action is as a giant "F**k all of y'all" to his numerous detractors inside and outside of government.

It has already set the state's black politicians against each other. In supporting Blago's appointment, Congressman Bobby Rush emphasized the need for continued black representation in the Senate. At the same time, the black secretary of state of Illinois, Jesse White, and Obama have condemned the appointment and have vowed to block Burris.

As a shameless attempt at building on identity politics is used to garner support for a shamed governor, the black community is ill-served.

Joan Walsh at Salon correctly argued that President-elect Barack Obama was probably the happiest person ever, since he and his staff were quickly shown to be untainted by Blago's shenanigans in trying to sell the Senate seat to the highest bidder. Other Illinois black political figures were not nearly so lucky. Valerie Jarrett, who would make a formidable senator, quickly took herself out of the running as Team Obama refused to play Blago's tawdry game. Like the Obama camp more generally, her short-term loss, should result in long-term gains.

Less lucky is Jesse Jackson Jr., who has been identified as the person whose representatives were allegedly willing to play ball with Blagojevich. And even though he has since stated that he has been cooperating with federal authorities since the summer, there is a perception in Illinois that a serious cloud hangs over Congressman Jackson. Further, I was one of many commentators who thought that the scandal made it far less likely that a black politician would gain the seat, since there were worthy candidates, such as Tammy Duckworth, outside of the black community who could very easily have a clearer shot in the primary, particularly if the black vote was divided by aspirants such as Jackson and fellow member of Congress Danny K. Davis.

In Washington, the Burris appointment makes life even more difficult for Senate Democrats who this week must try to find some constitutional mechanism (not a trivial matter) to block the appointment, as they have repeatedly vowed to block any appointment from the tainted governor.

Back here, the highly disorganized Republican Party of Illinois now has a glimmer of hope as it can now attack the Democrats on grounds of corruption and delight in the infighting that is now occurring among its rivals.