Huffpost Chicago

Schakowsky: Hold Special Election To Replace Burris

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UPDATE 2/19

State Republican leaders unveiled a proposal Thursday to mandate a special election for Burris' Senate seat in May, with a primary on April 7.

From the AP:

While Sen. Roland Burris fights for political survival, Illinois Republicans said Thursday they're pushing legislation to change state law, allowing a special election on May 26 that could potentially oust the beleaguered Democrat.

More than a dozen GOP lawmakers announced the effort, Senate Bill 285, at the Capitol, saying it's the only way to fix the state's political mess.

"We can begin repairing our state's reputation," said Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine. "Returning - to use the phrase - that 'bleeping golden' Senate seat back to the people is the only real solution to the state's embarrassing problem."

Murphy was referring to a profane reference Blagojevich allegedly made on an FBI wiretapped conversation about trying to auction off the seat vacated by Barack Obama to the highest bidder.

Democrat Blagojevich was arrested and later impeached and removed from office, but not before appointing Burris to the seat. Now Burris faces mounting pressure from lawmakers and editorial writers to resign because he's accused of not being truthful about contacts he had with Blagojevich before his appointment.

Burris insists he has done nothing wrong.

Murphy's bill would also remove the governor's power for filling Senate vacancies in the future.

Setting up an immediate election is questionable constitutionally and would result in "a protracted legal battle," said Mike Weir, a spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan. As for taking future appointments out of the governor's hands, that would leave the Senate seat vacant too long while balloting is set up, he said.

The Senate would consider a special election bill, but Democrats have not decided whether it will address the immediate situation or the long term, said Rikeesha Phelon, spokeswoman for Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago. Cullerton wants input from Gov. Pat Quinn first, Phelon said.

A Quinn spokesman did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Murphy estimated a special election's cost at $5 million to $25 million, a continuing cause of concern for Democrats.

"We're already short of money right now," said Rep. Elaine Nekritz, a Northbrook Democrat and chairwoman of the House Elections and Campaign Reform Committee.

But Jack Franks, a Marengo Democrat among those asking for Burris to resign, said there's no "price on integrity."

The GOP's proposal follows U.S. Rep. Schakowsky's call for a special election (see below), but the timeline of the bill could backfire, notes Greg Hinz on his Crain's blog:

The bill risks coming across as a bit of a political stunt as it is written now.

April 7 is only six weeks away and, while the GOP establishment may have unofficially selected north suburban congressman Mark Kirk as its nominee, the Democrats would be much, much divided. In addition, the bill would apply not only if Mr. Burris resigns -- he says he won't -- but also if he stays on, setting the stage for one mother of a legal challenge.

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U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky called on Gov. Pat Quinn to hold a special election to replace Senator Roland Burris-- regardless of whether the embattled Senator chooses to step down.

From Schakowsky's statement:

At the time, I made it very clear that Senator Burris should not have accepted the appointment from former Governor Rod Blagojevich. The Illinois State Legislature and Governor Quinn could put this all to rest by calling for a special election to allow the people of Illinois to decide who will serve out the 22 remaining months in President Obama's unexpired senate term. Under the 17th Amendment, the Governor has a right to end the temporary term at any time and call for a special election. Whether or not Senator Burris resigns, the best way to put credibility back into the process is through a special election.

(via Progress Illinois)

Schakowsky's call comes a day after Fifth District Congressional candidate Tom Geoghegan issued a reminder of his claim, laid out in a January New York Times op-ed, that the 17th Amendment mandates a special election:

"In January, I wrote a piece published in the New York Times about the need to hold a special election to replace not just Barack Obama, but all Senate seats that are vacated. I didn't write this for political expediency, but to point out that this was a century-old constitutional reform made to take power away from large, monied special interests. We don't need a new amendment. We just need to follow the one that's there: the 17th Amendment.

"Once again we see our political system at the local, state and federal levels flooded by the influence of big money. Banks receive trillions in bailouts while working people lose their jobs, health care and homes. We are in desperate need of reform in this country; let's start by holding elections to fill vacant Senate seats."

Former Illinois Comptroller and constitutional scholar Dawn Clark Netsch said a special election would likely be challenged in court, as the Constitutional provision permitting it requires a vacancy and Burris still occupies the seat.

Numerous politicians have called for Burris' resignation. Click here to see an updated list.