Friday, February 20, 2009

The Burris predicament

I had no problem supporting Roland Burris being seated in the U.S. Senate a while back despite the fact that he was appointed by scandal-tarred Gov. Rod Blagojevich largely because I thought he was adequately qualified and because he appeared to be clean from all the pay-to-play allegations swirling around the governor then.
Now it appears that if Burris was clean it wasn’t for a lack of trying to get dirty. He has recently acknowledged that he tried to raise money for Blago while under consideration for the Senate appointment without any success. He surely hid this tidbit away from his fellow lawmakers knowing full well that it would have sunk his changes of getting the Senate nod. But now that the beans have been spilled there are lots of calls for his resignation. I cannot defend him at this point, although I still see him as a mostly sympathetic character. What concerns me are the calls to have him resign and then fill his seat with a special election - after state lawmakers pass a law allowing such an election to be held. I would only support such a plan if the governor can still appoint a temporary replacement. Otherwise, Illinois would be without full representation in the Senate for possibly months while the election campaign is underway.
No doubt, this prospect will delight Republicans. It is pretty clear right now that the only reason Norm Coleman is continuing his futile lawsuit in Minnesota is to keep Democrats from having another vote for as long as possible.
We just saw how crucial this is in light of the Republican strategy of filibustering everything that comes to a vote from here on out. Nevermind that Democrats have an overwhelming majority in the Senate, they will be stifled if Republicans can continue to tie up two or three Senate seats indefinitely. During the filibuster of Obama’s emergency stimulus package, we saw that there were just three Republican senators willing to crossover and support their country over their party.
Right now Democrats should have a 59-41 majority in the Senate, requiring just one Republican crossover vote to defeat a filibuster. But because Coleman has tied up Al Franken with his frivolous lawsuits, they only have 58 votes. If Ted Kennedy is sick and can’t make if for a vote, they are down to 57. Now if you take away Roland Burris for the duration of a special election campaign, they are down to 56 and suddenly three Republican crossover votes are no longer enough.
Democracy was never meant to be abused in this manner. At a minimum, we will need a temporary replacement if Burris is forced to resign and the Minnesota recount lawsuit should be wrapped up immediately or else allow Franken to be seated temporarily until it is done.
And finally, we desperately need to reform the filibuster that has been so misused and abused by the Republican minority.

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