Choosing A New Senator In Illinois & New York
We have been watching the implosion of Illinois politics, triggered by the arrest of Governor Rod Blagojevich by FBI agents.
Three issues arise. First, this case was urgent, and if the arrest had not been made the conspiracy (if there were one) could have advanced and the seat might have been sold. Second, cursing the President-elect, although offensive, is not a crime in this country. Three, a conspiracy indictment usually requires that some act or conversation take place. The defendant’s puffery alone is insufficient.
Nonetheless, Rod’s trash talk and demands for money make it clear that he has disgraced his office, if that were possible.
Fifty Democratic U.S. senators called for the Governor to resign, and then demanded that he “under no circumstance make an appointment to fill the vacant Illinois Senate seat.”
The Illinois Attorney General jumped into the fray by asking the Illinois Supreme Court to declare the governor incapacitated to appoint a senator.
We also call attention to New York’s soon to be vacated US Senate seat, now occupied by Secretary of State-designate Hillary Rodham Clinton. The prospective candidates are acting with relative decorum, compared to Illinois. Nor would Governor Paterson hang a “For Sale” sign on the vacancy.
That is essential, because if Paterson were to be compelled to resign for any indiscretion, New York would have a real problem with the succession. The state has had no Lieutenant Governor since March 17, 2008, when Eliot Spitzer’s resignation took effect and Paterson replaced him.
Next in line for governor is the president pro tempore of the State Senate, currently Dean Skelos, a Republican from Long Island, who succeeded Joe Bruno in July. The Democrats will control the upper chamber in January, but their slim 32-30 majority, and the publicized defections by the so-called Gang of Three, make it possible that no president pro tempore will be elected when the Senate convenes, or that the Republicans will organize the Senate with help from some Democrats.
Under the New York State Constitution, the succession for governor would then proceed to the Speaker of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver. He has said he would decline the office, but he might change his mind in the interest of the people of the State. His accession would unite the power with the position. It could usher in a new era of state governance. There will no longer be three men in a room deciding public issues. One man will suffice.
Paterson has indicated his intention to appoint a replacement senator that could win reelection in 2010. That can be read to mean a candidate who has the capacity to raise major funding for the two campaigns. It is a qualification that would eliminate many of the aspirants, particularly those whose careers have been in public service.
The celebrity of two of the candidates, Caroline Kennedy and Andrew Cuomo, the daughter of a President and the son of a governor, will bring additional attention to the governor’s choice. Cuomo has plied the trade of politics all his adult life, working in his father’s campaign, going to Washington during the Clinton years, withdrawing from an early race for governor and winning election as attorney general. Ms. Kennedy has been an American icon since she was three years old, and never faulted for anything she ever did, or criticized for ruthlessness.
Both of the famous nominees, and most of the others, are highly qualified individuals who would make fine Senators. Is there a Pat Moynihan or Hillary Clinton among them? If so, could he or she raise the money now required to be elected?
From a practical point of view, the Blagojevich plan (seats for sale) may be easier to implement than the Paterson search for truth, justice, progressivism, geographic, ethnic and gender diversity and electability. New Yorkers will demand the most thorough consideration of this important matter, and a majority is likely to express its dissatisfaction with whatever our governor does.
We do believe, however, that he will make an honest choice on the merits of the case. This is, after all, New York and not Illinois.