Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Extinguished Senator from Illinois

The drama in the Senate as the 111th Congress of the United States assembled for the first time was palpable. Not since John F. Kennedy's days as the junior senator from Massachusetts has a member of the world's most exclusive club vacated his post because of his selection as president. As any student of the Constitution knows, when a senator resigns office or dies in office, his replacement is made by an appointment from the sitting governor of that state. The Constitution is very specific about this, because our founding fathers considered the Senate as the "upper" body of Congress, not unlike the House of Lords is considered in Great Britain. If a member of the lower house needs replacement, as in the case of the House of Representatives, an election process is instituted. This was a compromise between federalists and those favoring states rights at the time of the drafting of the Constitution. Many of our revered early leaders felt the people should not be entrusted with direct replacement of a member of the upper chamber and named governors as those who could best determine the best person for the job. Sometimes this causes major difficulties. When Louisiana Senator Allen J. Ellender, the 94th president pro tempore of the Senate, died in 1972, he was already in the midst of a re-election campaign against J. Bennett Johnston, who had just lost the gubernatorial election to Edwin Edwards and decided to throw his hat into the ring. Edwards was forced to name someone to the Senate right away whom he could trust. So who did he name to the Senate? Why , none other than his own wife Elaine! She served as the junior Senator from Louisiana from July to November of 1972 and resigned to give eventual winner of the campaign, J. Bennett Johnston, more seniority. Illinois Governor Rob Blagojevich may have been crazy to think he could sell a Senate seat to Obama's replacement, but give the man credit. At least he didn't try to put his wife into the chair. Meanwhile, Roland Burris, the former attorney general of Illinois whom Blagojevich named to fill the vacancy, is clearly enjoying himself at center stage in the media circus. He'll be back again today to try to persuade other Senators that his appointment is legitimate, which I believe it is. Also, there have been a number of former detractors, like Diane Feinstein, who now believe he should be seated among all the other members of the Senate. Burris could be seated as early as today or tomorrow if Feinstein's influence has anything to do about it. Then again, it is possible that Burris may be heading back to Illinois with his proverbial tail between his legs. We shall see. There is also the tale of woe in Minnesota that needs to be played out as the junior senator-to-be Al Franken is being challenged by the incumbent Senator Norm Coleman after a recount certified the former rather than the latter as the winner. That contest will be determined by the courts, a precedent of which was set in the 2000 year election for president. Hmmm... that's a switch. Normally comedians make fun of politicians. What happens when the politicians turn out to be comedians?


Anonymous said...


whalechaser said...

Gee, maybe Blago would've named his wife if he had known history!