Senate Democrats now find themselves in a quandary for which they can only blame themselves. In what may prove to be an overreaction to the federal corruption indictment of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, Senate Democrats issued a statement indicating that they would not seat his choice to replace Senator Barack Obama. The idea behind the statement was to keep Blagojevich from making the selection. A replacement chosen by the scandal-tainted governor would give Republicans an opportunity to play the Democrats-are-corrupt card, a charge the Senate majority can't afford going into a new Democratic White House. But now that Blagojevich has chosen former Illinois Comptroller and Attorney General Roland Burris to succeed President-elect Barack Obama, the Senate has a tough choice to make: stick to their poor decision to not seat someone selected by Blagojevich or deny an obviously qualified replacement because they don't like the Governor. For me, this is about Burris, not Blagojevich. Unless there is something about Burris that renders him unqualified, I say seat Burris now.
Doing the right thing, in this case, isn't about race, though that is a legitimate consideration here (Does the overwhelmingly White Senate Democratic caucus really want to deny a qualified African American a seat in their club?). It's about due process. As dirty as Blagojevich seems to be, he is still the sitting governor; it is his pick to make. He is innocent until proven guilty, a fact that should not be modulated by popularity. As long as his pick meets the constitutional requirements and passes legitimate political muster, and it appears Burris does, then the Senate should seat him. Senators should not be in the business of picking their colleagues -- that is the job of voters and, in this case, their elected representatives.
Moreover, Burris is a caretaker pick. He's 71, and while he is a distinguished public servant who has won four statewide races before, he would be tied to his benefactor in a way that makes it unlikely he could win the seat on his own (he would be John McCain to Blagojevich's George W. Bush). That's why I believe Senate Democrats have fumbled their handling of this issue. Unless there is some evidence that Burris "payed to play", then there is no reason to deny him the appointment. Senate Democrats have tainted a number of well-qualified people who could serve with distinction. They've also ensured that the controversy over the governor and Obama's replacement will rage on into the new year. The Senate Democrats' strategy here can't be confused with smart politics.
Seat Burris. Move on. There are bigger fish to fry.
Mike Fauntroy is a professor, author, columnist, and commentator. He blogs at MichaelFauntroy.com
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