Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Roland Burris

So I realize this is almost to a point that it's practically blown over, but I still think it is a rather interesting topic for discussion and such. If you're even remotely up on your news you should know a little something about the political scandal in Illinois with Governor Rod Blagojevich. If you don't, I'll have a link to a blog post I plan to do about it sometime soon. The key issue at heart of the scandal is the prized Obama Senate Seat. Illinois law currently dictates that the governor makes that choice and through some rather odd circumstances, that man was Roland Burris. Now I'll admit, I'm not particularly up on Illinois politics and such and I'm not terribly aware of Mr. Burris. I have read some things here and there about his political experience, which seems reasonable enough. Of course a variety of issues have arisen as far as the seating of Mr. Burris.

1. Pay-Rod is dirty. Really that is the core issue here. Federal authorities arrested the governor for attempting to sell the Senate seat. That really is where everything runs from there. You have a guy who is rather sketchy who tried to sell the Senate seat originally, which if he were to make an appointment would be sketchy. So sure enough, when he decided to appoint Burris it was a questionable move to say the least. The Illinois legislature finally impeached Blagojevich, but that wasn't until after his seating of Burris as the new Senator from Illinois. The simple placement by a dirty governor definitely makes people ask questions though.

2. Is Burris clean? Since Burris was the eventual choice of a man who allegedly sought to sell the Senate seat, it seems like Burris might have somehow enticed Blagojevich to give him the seat. More than likely if it was actually sold, the federal authorities would have caught onto that and they both would be on trial right now, so that probably didn't happen. However, it is possible that Burris pulled some sort of unethical/illegal strings to earn the seat. I think this is a rather far fetched theory, but it is a possibility given the history. It does appear from what people have looked into as far as things that Burris is clean though.

3. Democracy. This really is my biggest beef with the whole system of it. Why do we have a vote only to turn around and appoint somebody instead? This is an office that is typically done by election, why does it change when somebody decides to leave their office mid-term? I do understand that logistically it does make sense to have somebody in the seat to enable the state of Illinois to still have that vote in the Senate, but frankly it seems like it's a bigger deal that the state of Illinois is represented by the person the people want to represent them. Maybe they could have an interim appointee that is placed while the election is conducted to make sure that they don't miss out if it's really that big of a deal (Yes, arguably that is the system that already is in place, but I'm talking about something VERY short term). It seems like an election is vital. Maybe I'm being a bit ridiculous, but it just seems like it puts too much power in the hands of the governor and the person who is appointed to that seat. Incumbents win elections rather easily and so it seems like the appointee would quite likely win reelection if they so desired, so it seems like the democratic process is circumvented even more. Of course, prudence is certainly needed in this matter altogether. I do feel like it is important that we have individuals in the Senate working. Of course we have a similar issue (minus the scandal) occurring in New York, but the governor there is dragging his feet. Caroline Kennedy, or some other individual, has still not been seated there. That seems ridiculous because the needs of the state must be looked after, they need to protect their interest in the Congress. The state has a lot of issues, but this is a quick one to fix to make sure the state can have a say on the federal level. Of course here's a lack of democracy yet again, which I still don't like.

4. The Senate. This is somewhat of a non-issue now, but for a bit, Harry Reid insisted that he had the authority to deny Burris the Senate seat. Of course it became rather apparent that assuming he had the proper credentials, he was good to go. Currently it appears that he will be in fact seated. Frankly, it seems like this was a ridiculous notion by Harry Reid because the Senate should not have this kind of ability, especially if there is no criminal investigation into such a person. If they were to have "free" reign over the ability to seat Senators they could freeze out any opposition whatsoever. It would create an absolute mess.

So all of this has certainly created some interesting drama around Washington. I think my conclusions to all of this are not quite that simple. I won't approach the Blagojevich topic here, look for it in another post, that really is part of the equation, but unfortunately because of the nature of Illinois state law and the slothfulness of the Illinois state legislature to block Blagojevich, I think we just have to accept that an appointment was made and we can't change that. It looks like from everything I've seen, Burris seems like a reasonably good choice for the seat. He seems like a decent individual and politician. I'm sure there could have been better choices out there, but I don't think he'll disappoint. I must say I wasn't the most impressed with his handling of asserting his seat, rather than being a bit more cooperative. He has to know that he was given the post by a rather dirty individual, so asserting so heavily that it is basically his possession seems unfair and unwise. Of course I can understand why he pushed so hard, but hopefully he hasn't made any enemies through the process. It would be a sad thing if the state of Illinois had a severe handicap while dealing with the federal government due to this issue.

My key conclusion about the whole thing though is certainly democracy. I just can't fathom why on earth we can't have elections for this kind of thing. Yes, elections aren't the easiest things to stage and they certainly cost a bit of cash. But isn't democracy worth it? Isn't it worth it to make sure that the people have a voice in something like this? I understand there is the argument that our elected officials (i.e. the governor) have been put in place to handle situations such as this, but why do we have elections in the first place for this particular position of Senator if democracy is so callously circumvented? Hopefully we learn from this debacle and come up with a better system, especially one more true to the tenets of democracy.

UPDATE: Politico just ran an article this morning about the difficulty of Burris assuming his Senate seat. The Dems aren't too happy with how everything went down and the GOP sees him as a symbol of what is wrong with America. He makes a perfect target. The Dems claim they will be okay with him if he will fall into party lines, which seems like a childish thing to say, but is probably rather true. He isn't likely to receive support from his party if he seeks reelection and he will probably always be seen as somewhat of an outsider and his legitimacy/the legality of his appointment will always be questioned. That of course coming from the questionable appointment from Governor Blagojevich. Money Quote: an advisor from Burris' staff when questioned on Burris' relationship with the governor stated that Burris "really had no relationship" with the governor and opposed his 2002 gubernatorial bid. If that's really the case, why on earth did Pay-Rod appoint him? I understand the "political wisdom" in severing ties with a man that is so dirty, but claiming that you have no ties to the man who appointed you whatsoever seems like something fishy is going on. We'll see how this plays out.

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