Pressure on Burris Could Lead to Special Election
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's blunt warning to Sen. Roland Burris that he should resign amid revelations that he did not tell the whole truth about his contacts with associates of former governor Rod Blagojevich ramps up the pressure on other lawmakers to follow Quinn's lead, and drastically increases the chances of a special election being held to fill the seat.
In a press conference this morning Quinn, who stepped into the job following Blagojevich's impeachment over allegations that he sought to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Obama, insisted that Burris must "act as quickly as possible for the best interests of Illinois" and resign. "This should not be a matter that takes weeks."
Quinn also called on the state legislature to pass legislation that would allow a special election to be held to fill the vacancy; currently the governor has the sole power to appoint a replacement.
While Burris has insisted he would not leave office, Quinn's announcement could well set off an avalanche of elected officials calling on the appointed senator to step down. The Senate Ethics Committee has already opened an investigation into whether or not Burris was truthful in his testimony before an Illinois state House panel regarding his contacts with associates of Blagojevich.
Burris initially said he had only talked with one associate of the governor -- Lon Monk -- but has subsequently acknowledged that he spoke on several occasions with Blagojevich's brother and even tried to organize a fundraiser to benefit the embattled governor.
Those inconsistencies coupled with statements of concern from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Ill.) had already badly imperiled Burris's political future. Quinn's statement today may well be the tipping point.
So, if Burris does step down what might the special election field look like?
The Republican field is clear: Rep. Mark Kirk (R) is clearly the strongest candidate and would likely enjoy the support of state and national Republicans believing that only by uniting behind a single candidate could they hope to win in this Democratic-leaning state.
The Democratic side is FAR more complicated. Here's the Fix's early handicapping:
• Lisa Madigan: The current state Attorney General, Madigan is the straw that stirs the drink (to quote Reggie Jackson) when looking at a special election. Madigan is clearly more interested in being governor than serving in the Senate but Quinn is extremely popular right now (as almost any politician who followed Blagojevich into office would be) and might be tough to beat in a 2010 Democratic primary. With the gubernatorial window seemingly shrinking, Madigan may decide that the Senate -- especially an abbreviated special election race -- is the right next move for her. If she runs, she is the clear favorite thanks to her statewide name identification and the power of her (and her father's) political machine.
• Jan Schakowsky: Just 24 hours ago the Chicago-area congresswoman called for Quinn to unseat Burris and set a special election. That's a pretty quick turnaround, no? Schakowsky is clearly the candidate who benefits the most from a special election rather than a gubernatorial appointment as she is a proven fundraiser with strong ties to labor. But, if Madigan is in, it's hard to see Schakowsky not being overshadowed.
• Alexi Giannoulias: Giannoulias had made clear that if Burris ran for a full term in 2010 he would challenge the incumbent in a primary. If Burris steps aside, Giannoulias is unlikely to get a clear field, which may well impact his decision. He is well liked by political insiders close to both Obama and Durbin -- a fact that could help in what would be a major insiders' struggle if and when a special election is announced. Giannoulias is just 32 years old, however, and may decide to bide his time if the likes of Madigan jump in.
• Dan Hynes: Hynes, the state comptroller, beat Quinn by a day in his call for Burris to resign -- sending a letter to newspapers insisting the appointed senator was a "distraction" and should step aside. Hynes has already run for the Senate once -- coming in a distant second to Obama in the 2004 Democratic primary. Hynes has made no secret of his desire to move up the political ladder and his strong organizational ties in Cook County (Chicago) could make him formidable.
• Danny Davis: Davis is the lone African-American candidate seriously mentioned given Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.'s ties to the Blagojevich investigation. Davis initially expressed interest in a special election candidacy but was an early supporter of the Burris pick and seemed to shelve his ambitions for statewide office. Will that ambition bubble back up?
Who did we miss? The comments section awaits.
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