Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Roland Martin: Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich

It is total hypocrisy for the naysayers of embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to assert that he didn't have the legal right to appoint Roland Burris to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama.

According to the Illinois Constitution, the governor of the state has the sole discretion of appointing the replacement. Has Blagojevich resigned or been impeached? Nope. If you call Springfield, Ill., and ask for the governor's office, they'll tell you that Blagojevich's name is still on the door.

It seems a lot of folks are excited and happy that Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White took a stand by refusing to sign the paperwork certifying Burris as the Senate appointee. Yet what these same folks somehow refuse to recognize is that Blagojevich isn't some guy sitting around in his office, twiddling his fingers, flipping through the cable channels with a remote, and waiting to get impeached. He still is carrying out his duties as governor.

Did you know that since his arrest in early December, Blagojevich has pardoned 22 people? I haven't heard a huge outcry over this tainted governor setting folks free.

Did you know that Blagojevich continues to sign bills that were passed by the General Assembly? U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald cited a pending bill on the governor's desk related to horse racing as a reason for arresting him, but Blagojevich still can sign any bill he so chooses.

Did you know that earlier this week, Blagojevich, as determined by state law, set March 3 as the primary date and April 7 as the general election date to fill the U.S. House seat of Rahm Emanuel, who resigned after agreeing to become Obama's chief of staff? By the way, guess who signed the certification of that election? Jesse White!

The law says Blagojevich can set a special election to fill a congressional seat, so doesn't the same law state that he can fill a U.S. Senate seat?

Yes, Blagojevich's appointment of a Senate seat is easily seen as being tainted because of what has been described by federal law enforcement officials in their criminal complaint against him. But the reality is that Blagojevich hasn't been indicted, convicted or impeached. And whether we like it or not, no matter how smelly it looks, he still maintains the absolute right to do the job he was elected to do.

I was one of the many voices who said that in light of what he was arrested for, Blagojevich should resign his seat because his presence paralyzes the state government.

And I still believe that.

But we are way beyond that now. He chose not to do so, which is his right.

Then the Illinois General Assembly had the authority to strip Blagojevich of the right to choose the Senate replacement, but the Democratic-controlled body got greedy and chose not to. Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, who is also chairman of the state Democratic Party, had a bill in committee to do so and had signaled that he was going to pass the bill. But Democrats were scared that a Republican could win a special election, and they didn't want to risk it. I'm sure they also were banking on a Blagojevich resignation.

So in the end, could the spectacle of Burris being turned away at the door of the U.S. Senate have been avoided? Yep. But Democrats chose not to do so, and now they look like fools for leading this circus.

But let's go back to Blagojevich and the law. Critics contend that Blagojevich doesn't have the right to appoint anyone to the seat. Yet even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid conceded that according to their rules, and not law, Blagojevich has the right to walk on the floor of the U.S. Senate and talk with Senate members.

Think about that for a second. Senate Democrats are objecting to Blagojevich's appointment, saying they will reject Burris and not allow him to walk on the floor, but the guy who appointed Burris has floor privileges? Have we gotten to the point that we are picking and choosing what rules and laws with which Blagojevich must comply?

It's worth noting that Sen. Larry Craig was arrested in an airport bathroom and pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct yet got to keep his seat and focus on his job. Sen. Ted Stevens was arrested on corruption charges, tried and convicted, but he was still able to carry out his official duties. So if Craig, Stevens and any number of other House members who have been arrested were allowed to continue doing their jobs even after being arrested on state or federal charges, should the rules be different for Blagojevich?

We have moved beyond what we all think Blagojevich should do. Folks wanted him to resign; he didn't. Others wanted him not to appoint a Senate replacement; he did. All we are left with is the real question, and that is whether Blagojevich had the legal right to do what he did, and the fact is yes, he did.

It may not look right, feel right or smell right, but when it comes to the law, it's crystal clear. And if you don't like it, change the law.

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