Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=117655
Story Retrieval Date: 5/23/2013 6:52:43 PM CST
Republican state lawmakers are hoping a legal loophole will let them replace embattled U.S. Sen. Roland Burris as soon as late May, 19 months before his term would expire.
Speaking Thursday at the State Capitol, Republicans said that, because Burris is a temporary appointee, state law allows his name to appear on a special ballot the next time voters pick a U.S. Congress member.
Under normal circumstances that wouldn’t happen until November 2010. But on April 7, voters on Chicago’s North Side and in some northwest suburbs will go to the polls to fill the congressional seat vacated by Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s chief of staff.
“With bipartisan cooperation we can install the people’s senator in the U.S. Senate this spring,” said Sen. Mike Murphy (R-Palatine), who is sponsoring a bill in the General Assembly calling for the special election. “In doing so we can begin to repair our state’s reputation, to return the phrase ‘bleeping golden Senate seat' back to the people.”
If the bill passes -- it is now in committee -- a special statewide primary would be held on April 7 and a general election on May 26. Murphy estimated the election could cost between $5 million and $25 million, money he said could come out of a state budget laden with legislators' pet projects.
“The question is, are you willing to give up your member initiative money so that the people can choose their senator and we can stop being an international embarrassment?” Murphy said.
Seventeen Republicans attended Thursday’s press conference and called on Democratic leadership to act.
“All kinds of excuses have been made for why we haven’t … elected a new [U.S.] senator,” said Sen. Dave Luechtefeld (R-Okawville). “That will happen only if the majority party decides it’s in our best interest that we better do this.”
Neither House Speaker Mike Madigan nor Senate President John Cullerton, both of Chicago, has commented on the situation, though Reps. Susana Mendoza and Sara Feigenholtz, both Chicago Democrats, have called on Burris to resign.
Mike Weir, a spokesman for Madigan, doubted whether the Republican proposal was on solid legal footing. “We’re not really sure that it’s constitutional,” he said Thursday.
He also said Madigan would not comment on whether Burris should resign pending ongoing investigations by the U.S. Senate and the Sangamon County state’s attorney.
Rikeesha Phelon, spokeswoman for Cullerton's office, said he is open to the idea of holding a special election, but is waiting to hear Gov. Pat Quinn's opinion.
Cullerton has not directly called for Burris' resignation. However, Phelon added, Cullerton "is very troubled by the, shall we say, recent memory lapse of Burris."
Burris, appointed in December by then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich to fill Obama's Senate seat, is in trouble for amending testimony he gave in January to an Illinois House impeachment panel. Burris said then that he hadn’t had any contact with Blagojevich’s staff before the appointment. Burris also said he hadn’t offered anything in return for the seat.
FBI agents had arrested Blagojevich in December on charges he had plotted to sell the seat. He was impeached, and was removed from office in January by a unanimous General Assembly vote.
But earlier this month Burris admitted that he had spoken with key Blagojevich staffers, including the governor’s brother Robert, about raising campaign contributions, and admitted Monday that he tried unsuccessfully to raise money for Blagojevich.
Rep. Jim Sacia (R-Freeport), who sat on the impeachment panel, said Thursday he had questions from the beginning.
“There was a strong feeling on the particular day that [Burris] was testifying that we weren’t getting the full truth,” Sacia said.
Burris said he didn’t disclose his contacts with Blagojevich insiders because he wasn’t asked properly. But Sacia insisted the panel’s line of questioning left Burris plenty of room to tell the whole truth.
“Mr. Burris spun the answers,” Sacia said. “For a man of his stature to spin things the way he did before our committee was, simply put, out and out wrong.”