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Special election would be costly to taxpayers, and maybe to Democrats

Wednesday, Dec 10, 2008 - Posted by Rich Miller

* Part of my Sun-Times column today discusses a bill that will be taken up by the General Assembly next week to strip Gov. Blagojevich of his power to appoint the next US Senator and instead create a special election

Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin supports this idea. But the Democratic campaign consultants I’ve talked to are worried to death that a Republican such as moderate U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk could win a special election because Blagojevich’s arrest and subsequent prosecution could easily ruin a Democratic candidate.

* RollCall reported late this morning that Rep. Kirk is interested in the race

Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) said Wednesday he is considering running for Senate if there is a special election to fill President-elect Barack Obama’s seat.

* Obama says he’s for the special election…

[Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs] said Obama believes the Illinois legislature should consider a special election to fill the seat.

Gibbs says the hope is to put a process in place to select a new senator who’ll have the trust and confidence of the people of Illinois.

* Hotline On Call provides a cost guesstimate…

A special election to fill Pres.-elect Barack Obama’s Senate seat could cost the state of Illinois between $45 million and $50 million, a state Board of Elections official told On Call this afternooon.

Ken Menzel, an elections specialist with the board, called the figure a “gross guestimate” based on the cost per precinct of running a special election earlier this year to fill the 14th District seat vacated by retiring Rep. J. Dennis Hastert.

“We don’t do specials for statewide offices,” Menzel said. “This is one of the reasons we appoint to them. It’s expensive to do these things.”

Menzel said the counties will largely be tasked with covering the costs.

“If it isn’t there, I don’t know where it would come from,” he said.

After consulting with State Board of Elections Executive Dir. Dan White, Menzel said he based his Senate contest estimate on the cost per precinct — $10,000 — to conduct the race to replace Hastert. He said that at approximately half that rate per precinct, with 11,600 precincts statewide, it could run as much as $50 million to hold a special Senate election.

* Back to my column

The first problem which springs to mind is that Blagojevich, who was arrested Tuesday for allegedly trying to auction Obama’s vacant seat to the highest bidder, would have to sign the [special election] bill into law.

Our jailbird governor could sit on the bill for 60 days before he does anything. And he might just veto it, which would only prolong the process.

* Plus, if he waits to veto the bill after the General Assembly adjourns sine die on January 14th, the bill dies.

And then there’s this

Dawn Clark Netsch, a former state comptroller and an author of the state’s 1970 Constitution, said someone might challenge whether a new law would apply to a vacancy already pending. […]

Even if it becomes law, the matter could end up in the Illinois Supreme Court, which would prolong the drama.

Better to just impeach him now.

* By the way, there is little to no danger that Blagojevich could go ahead and make an appointment anyway. Well, he might, but it wouldn’t stick

Secretary of State Jesse White could refuse to certify the choice.

The U.S. Senate could refuse to seat Blagojevich’s appointee.

* More on that topic…

The office of Sen. Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, is circulating a letter Wednesday to the Senate Democratic Caucus for signatures that recommends indicted Gov. Rod Blagojevich resign and under no circumstances make an appointment to fill Illinois’ vacant Senate seat.

The letter contains a threat to the governor, saying that the Senate is poised to use its power to refuse to seat any appointment Blagojevich makes.

* Attorney General Madigan makes a good political point

“Nobody in their right mind would accept an appointment from this governor,” she said. “It is so tainted at this point…”

* But this baffles me

Madigan said ne of the wilder speculations is that of the governor thinking of appointing himself.

“If he did that, we would be able to step in legally and say there is an inherent conflict of interest. He can’t appoint himself to this seat,” Madigan said.

Huh?. There’s no law against that, is there? He’d just get rejected by SoS White and the US Senate.


  1. - Levois - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 12:51 pm:

    Wow this plural executive system is awesome!

  2. - Mgmax - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 12:56 pm:

    If a special election is going to cost that much, why don’t we just pay Blagojevich to appoint somebody good? Think of the savings…

  3. - Team America - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 12:56 pm:

    Go Mark Kirk! The real icing here is that Kirk would not have to forgo his congressional seat to make a 2009 run in a special election.

  4. - Bill - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 12:57 pm:

    I’m hearing that Rod went to work today,bright and early at 8:30 at his official office at JRT. When was the last time that happened.

  5. - The Doc - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 12:58 pm:

    At a minimum, the estimated price tag for a special would provide political cover for the GA to get crackin’ on impeachment. Empower PQ to select the new senator while we all sit back and watch what the financial experts call “deleveraging”.

  6. - abe froman - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 12:59 pm:

    They could piggyback the special senate election on the Municipal/township/local elections in the spring. The majority of the state’s polling places will be manned and equiped for a primary and general. That would minimize the cost and logistical problems for county clerks.

    Obviously some t’s have to be crossed (How many signatures would candidates need? Could they push the local elections back a few weeks to give a little more time to prepare? Can such a change be made immediately effective?)

    Obviously some Democrats who were crowing about this idea 24 hours ago have realized that they better get the genie back in the bottle because there is a real chance that voters are fed up with all the Dems and that Candidates 1 through 5 are badly tainted already. They are starting to work behind the scenes to kill a special because they realize that there is a very good chance they could lose this seat, especially is a well-funded, moderate, clean Republican (Read-Kirk) gets in the race.

  7. - Deeda - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 1:01 pm:

    Would the election be something that everyone in Illinois would vote on or would it be just the politicians of Springfield. I think the people of Illinois should vote.

  8. - doubtful - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 1:01 pm:

    If Blago appointed himself, wouldn’t he have to resign as Governor? White could accept the appointment, and then Quinn becomes governor. The fed senate refuses to seat Rod and Pat makes a new appointment.

    Either way, the special election idea is too much money. I don’t want to see one single person who argued that a con con was too expensive arguing that a special election is the way to go now.

    I’m sure I will, though.

  9. - Conservative Republican - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 1:04 pm:

    Re the Harry Reid letter, George Stephanopoulos said on ABC News last night that the Senate would “not” seat Governor Blago’s Senate choice.

  10. - taxmandan - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 1:06 pm:

    “Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin supports this idea. But the Democratic campaign consultants I’ve talked to are worried to death that a Republican such as moderate U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk could win a special election because Blagojevich’s arrest and subsequent prosecution could easily ruin a Democratic candidate.”

    Too bad.

  11. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 1:09 pm:

    I’m curious as to how seemingly the state’s entire Democratic power structure — Obama, Madigan, Durbin, Cullerton — got together so quickly on this left-field special election idea. Is it to take the power of appointment away from the presumptive next governor, Quinn?

    The Senate won’t accept Blago’s appointment, so what else could it be? The four of them couldn’t possibly back the same horse in a primary, could they? Alexi, maybe?

    Lisa’s conflict of interest statement is bizarre. She’d step in legally how? Between that and Rule 382, I don’t think she’s acquitted herself very well in the past 24 hours.

    By the way, when Danny Davis was on Fox yesterday denying he was Senate Candidate 5, he was asked if he would still accept an appointment from Blago as Senator. He did his best Dr. Hibbert laugh and said he would.

  12. - TaxMeMore - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 1:17 pm:

    How much money did Obama raise per month during the campaign? How much would it cost to run the special election? Barack, baby, do the right thing and go have a $30 million Hollywood fundraising weekend to pay for a paltry special election we need partly because you went back on your word that you would not run for the Presidency this year and partly because you helped get Rod Blagojevich re-elected.

    If the State Board of Elections had their HAVA act together they could do the special election by mail. Several states already do that.

  13. - Conservative Republican - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 1:17 pm:

    While everyone ruminates on all of this today, the Governor shows up for “work” at the Thompson Center and spends the day at his desk.

    He still has the power to appoint.

    What if the following happen?…The playbook is right out of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”

    NONE of the previously mentioned politician possibilities would be in the running for a current gubernatorial appointment to the U.S. Senate. Jackson has problems now as reported. Schakowski has also been burned a little and has taken her name out of the running. No professional politician would ACCEPT the nomination if offered, given all the reported complications, the most significant being rejection by the U.S. Senate.

    So the Governor has one ace to play. Scour the state to find one pristine, unblemished, sterling individual. Chairman of some charitable foundation. Some recognized and revered community leader.

    He names that person. He announces he recognizes the difficulties of the current circumstances but he still has the power. However, no one who knows Citizen X would ever say that that person would be tainted as an appointee, would not serve the people of Illinois in a diligent, honest, and fair way. This is my demonstration that I am fully capable of exercising this “gift” in a completely honest, fair minded, and forward thinking way — selfless service to the state of Illinois. etc etc

    US Senate might be hard pressed to reject such a nominee.

    Wouldn’t that be something.

  14. - Price Tag - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 1:20 pm:

    So far a lot of the politicians who are FOR the Special Election were AGAINST Con-Con. At the same time, the Con-Con foes generally said the No. 1 reason they were opposed was the $80M it would cost the state. I remember hearing that the state literally did not have that kind of money again and again.

    All of the sudden though the $50M appears for a special election! I guess it was that extra $30M that was too much, right Senator Durbin?

    Can we get some feet to the fire on this?

  15. - Joshua - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 1:21 pm:

    Rich, I really want to commend you on the quality of your recent posts. This is a chaotic and trying time, and the clarity Cap Fax has added is greatly appreciated by your readers. Also, excellent column!

    Has anyone in the ILGA considered just giving the legislature the ability to appoint the successor? That’s how it used to work, and there is no Mark Kirk risk. Seems to me this is a third option(Impeaching and Quinn picking being the 2nd) that people aren’t considering.

  16. - Silverback - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 1:22 pm:

    If the Con-Con was not worth 40 mil I don’t think this is. Because it is a Dem seat I think it should go to a Dem. I would be agreeable to having DD pick or a Bi-Partisan, Dem weighted committee of 5. I am not sure if this is even feasable. Perhaps the best answer is not to get in a hurry and leave it vacant. This seat hasn’t been used much in the last 2 years and most likely will not make a difference in the next 2.

  17. - Downstate weed chewing hick - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 1:24 pm:

    Since when does Harry Reid decide who gets to be a U.S. Senator? RB is charged with a crime, but is the sitting Governor of Illinois. Jesse White has no authority to refuse to certify a legally appointed candidate and Harry Reid has no authority to refuse to seat him/her in the US Senate. We are all up in arms about RB relieving himself on the State Constitution. The situation stinks, but for Jesse White or Harry Reid to respond in kind is just as sickening. Follow the law, not your inflated sense of personal power.

  18. - Joshua - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 1:24 pm:

    I agree with wordslingers treatment of Lisa Madigan’s argument. I can see Jesse White not certifying, although Blago could bring suit to compel him to certify.

    I would think if Blago were to name a member of the Congressional delegation, or another constitutional officer (who was elected by all the people of IL), the Senate would accept the appointment.

    Dep Gov Bob Greenle resigns.

  19. - Gadfly - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 1:30 pm:

    1. Too Expensive — we can’t pay our medicare/medicaid providers and we want to have a special election because of one doofus?

    2. No Senator until mid-April at the earliest, July as a midpoint, or who-knows-when if lawsuits challenging the Constitutionality of a special are allowed to wind through the court system.

    3. Bad public policy to do this because of one person, the aforementioned doofus. If we started doing this every time someone broke the law, our compiled statutes would look more ridiculous than they already do.

    I said it before and I’ll say it again. I think Madigan simply doesn’t want to announce his intentions too far in advance and without due diligence. Yes, he had materials prepared before yesterday, but making a decision and moving forward on an impeachment in a 24 hour time period is moving too quickly.

    Any mistake in the process could be extremely costly. And, even though he hasn’t announced it, the House could still consider impeachment on Monday if Madigan so chooses. They can even still pass the special election legislation (although I think it would be a mistake) for future vacancies. It’s not like they happen a lot.

  20. - phocion - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 1:31 pm:

    The cost estimate is grossly inflated. The State of Illinois is planning on having two elections in the first quarter of the year - one in February, and one in April. Granted, these will be limited to local races, but the infrastructure is going to be in place to keep the costs down.

  21. - True Observer - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 1:37 pm:

    “I’m curious as to how seemingly the state’s entire Democratic power structure — Obama, Madigan, Durbin, Cullerton — got together so quickly on this left-field special election idea. Is it to take the power of appointment away from the presumptive next governor, Quinn?”

    You got it.

    Except you left out Blago was in on the conference call too.

    He gets to stay as gov. but doesn’t appoint.

    Continuing to seve with a cloud is no big deal. Been done before.

    Everybody agreed no way reformer Quinn gets to name.

  22. - Elated - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 1:37 pm:

    Hey Rich, this jame came across the wire:
    “Deputy Gov. Bob Greenlee resigned”

    They’re starting to fall like flies.

  23. - Anon - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 1:38 pm:

    A thought. Isn’t Alexi G. too young (constitutionally) for the US Senate. So, the race for the Dem primary slot is really between the members of the IL Dem Congressional delegation. Anyone one else out there interested, Hynes maybe? Pretty bad, b/c the Blago stink is all over them.

    The GOP seems to be Kirk, cut and dry.

  24. - Critical Dune - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 1:39 pm:

    I dislike it when short term circumstances tempt legislators to go extra constitutional. The succession is in the Constitution for a reason. Let Fitzy cut the deal and Blago & the Mrs. cop the plea quickly. Then let Pat Quinn get sworn in to do his duty. That’s why succession plans are contemplated ahead of time. I love the Abner Mikva idea being floated around the tubes…

  25. - Angry Chicagoan - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 1:42 pm:

    Anon, 30 years is the minimum for the Senate; 30 years upon the date of taking office (Biden was just a month over in January 1973).

    Dems are goofing this up, big time. If they had a spine, they’d move impeachment immediately. As it is this special election situation has gotten out of hand.

    I agree the incumbent party should keep the seat, as in Arizona and Wyoming. I’m skeptical about the special election idea. I think the gubernatorial appointment is a terrible thing.

  26. - Boone Logan Square - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 1:43 pm:

    Alexi is old enough. Senators have to be 30 years old. He’s 32 — still three years shy of Presidential eligibility.

  27. - Happy Happy Joy Joy - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 1:43 pm:

    None of this would be necessary if Steans and Raoul had voted in favor of the recall provision.

  28. - GofG - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 1:44 pm:

    Elated- it’s a start but he resignation that needs to happen went to work today! That is insane- maybe he is going for an insanity plea.

  29. - Boone Logan Square - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 1:44 pm:

    I should say, U.S. Senators have to be 30 when they take the oath of office. Joe Biden was elected at age 29 in November of 1972, but turned 30 a couple weeks later and was thus eligible to be sworn in the following January.

  30. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 1:45 pm:

    Downstate, since 1789.

    Under the U.S. Constitution, the Senate and House have the final say on admitting new members. The Senate could refuse to seat a Blago appointment.

    Under the standing Rules of the Senate, a gubernatorial appointee must have paperwork signed by the state’s governor and certified by the state’s Secretary of State. Jesse could refuse to certify.

  31. - OneMan - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 1:50 pm:

    Two Words
    Alan Dixon

    Two more words

    Adlai Stevenson III

  32. - Shelbyville - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 1:51 pm:

    Why are people ignoring Dawn Clark Netch’s statement? This is really a can of worms because there seems to be no leadership or general agreement.

  33. - NimROD - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 1:59 pm:

    ===I would be agreeable to having DD pick or a Bi-Partisan, Dem weighted committee of 5.===

    What would be the point of this charade? If you’re going to pick a 3/2 Democratic weighted committee you are going to get a Democrat - 100% chance. Talk about a waste of time and money.

  34. - Luis - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 2:02 pm:

    Team America, thanks for the info on Mark Kirk. I was wondering if he would have to give up his House Seat for a Special Election. Since he can keep his seat, he has nothing to lose.

    From what I hear Kirk still has over 5 Million and is the type of Moderate who can win, especially after his big win over Seals with Obama on the top of the ticket.

  35. - Toni H. - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 2:05 pm:

    How about this…the seat stays open until the next election.

  36. - Capitol View - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 2:05 pm:

    The House Democrats will be differentiating themselves from Blago next Monday and Tuesday in Springfield - saying the truth, that Blago is no longer a Democrat but simply a “Blagojevich” - interested only in himself.If there is a special election for the Senate seat, both Democrats and Republicans could and should declare their distance from Blago.

    If the entire Democratic Party united behind one quality candidate, even this governor could appoint that person and end that facet of the crisis. This would be the best resolution.

    One word of caution to both House and Senate members — if we begin impeachment,try and appear objective until the House formally acts and the Senate formally sits as the jury. It isn’t a true trial, so pre-trial publicity and statements by public officials condemning the governor are not formally prejudicial, but in the court of public opinion we need the appearance of a fair trial before the hanging.

  37. - Luis - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 2:05 pm:

    Alexi, the state Treasurer, is another non starter.
    The Democrats will not nominate another tainted candidate after the Blago Scandal. Broadway Bank was fingered by Tony Resko.

  38. - Amy - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 2:09 pm:

    since Dawn knows the law, just appoint her.

    still, at her age, smarter than all of them in SF put together.

    she’s the Illinois embodiment of Lacey Davenport …paging Joanie Caucus and Mike Doonesbury…….

  39. - Dominoes - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 2:09 pm:

    If there were a special election for Senate that coincided with the municipal elections, which a sitting US Congressman won, wouldn’t there need to be a special election to fill that seat?

    Aren’t we talking about at least 2 special elections? And if Jesse Jr. had to be replaced and the time lines did not meet up with either of those timelines, couldn’t there be potentially 3 special elections?

  40. - Luis - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 2:12 pm:

    I like Tammy Duckworth. She served her country.

    The DEMS need to realize that after yesterday it is a whole new Ballgame. They need clean candidates who are not sons and daughters of Chicago Politicians. That is why Lisa Madigan, Alexi, or Dan Hynes need to stay away.

  41. - Bakersfield - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 2:22 pm:

    Tammy Duckworth? Wasn’t she appointed by Blagojevich to something already? Poison.

  42. - Luis - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 2:26 pm:

    Bakersfied, she was appointed to run the Illinois VA, Not some Hospital board.

    Anyways, like Rich Miller said, even if the Legislature passes a Special Election bill it would have to be signed or vetoed by Blago.

    Blago will not resign, he is a fighter like Bill Clinton.

  43. - Shelbyville - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 2:27 pm:

    Don’t the democrats need this seat? They won’t want it vacant for 2 years.

  44. - True Observer - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 2:31 pm:

    Dark Horse-

    Congressman Phil Hare.

    He was never in the equation before.

    Good union connections.

    Not from Chicago and a sitting congressman.

    No need to bring in a neophyte or relative.

    The Senate will seat, no questons asked.

  45. - Luis - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 2:39 pm:

    True, Hare has some political enemies, mainly the Jacobs clan out in Moline. He took over the Lane Evans seat, but you are right, he is a non Chicagoan and would be a better fit than the tainted Chicago slate of candidates.

  46. - Six Degrees of Separation - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 2:42 pm:

    The State of Illinois is planning on having two elections in the first quarter of the year - one in February, and one in April.

    This is what I alluded to in one of my other posts. Piggyback the Special Primary and/or the Special Election on the local election cycle to reduce costs and confusion. The 14th CD (Hastert vacancy) Special Primary was piggybacked on the Feb 2008 local elections, but then the Special Election was held on a random Saturday (as mandated by our criminally-challenged state CEO), causing many headaches and added expenses for the county election boards.

  47. - Legaleagle - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 3:17 pm:

    I agree that a moderate with proven cross-over appeal like Kirk or Coulson could win the seat in a special election - if they could survive a GOP Primary! Right-winger candidate would be dead-meat!

  48. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 4:01 pm:


    Finally, someone who has actually thought this through, instead of a knee-jerk reaction.

    There’s another reason the special election legislation doesn’t make sense.

    The impeachment of Rod Blagojevich is inevitable, and special election legislation just eases some of the pressure on elected officials to do what must be done.

    Why inevitable? Because the tape recordings reveal, in Blagojevich’s own words, that he can’t be trusted to order paperclips for the office without extorting 50 cents from paperclip suppliers.

    How are we going to pass a capital bill, an economic stimulus package, meet the rising needs of the uninsured, as long as Rod Blagojevich is in office?

    We simply can’t. And Democrats can’t afford to make the same mistake Republicans made with George Ryan years ago by allowing Rod to stay in office one day longer.

  49. - Pot calling kettle - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 4:16 pm:

    Appoint Judy Barr Topinka to the Senate seat. It’s the least we could do for her. Rod tore her apart two years ago and Republicans and Democrats both stood back and let him do it!

  50. - Southern Illinois iPhone - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 4:21 pm:

    If anyone would fit the bill of Rod in the context framed by Conservative Republican, it would be Glenn Poshard.

    He can serve two years, take a leave from his job at SIU, serve out the term without running for reelection, and the need for a special election goes away.

  51. - Old Elephant - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 4:52 pm:

    Rich, Yellow Dog, etc:

    Why are you guys so afraid of Democracy?

    You just don’t get it. It’s time to end the backroom dealmaking and give the public the right to pick their own Senator.

    Since when do we not hold elections because they cost money?

    The U.S. Senate seat belongs to the people of Illinois. The man who won the election is quitting. Why shouldn’t we get to pick the next person?

    Why should just one person get to pick the U.S. Senator, whether the person is Pat Quinn or Rod Blagjevich?

    Illinois has already lost any seniority advantage. Senators will be sworn in January 3 and there’s no way Quinn could responsibly complete the vetting process and make an appointment by then. Besides all the leading Dem candidates have been so soiled by Blago that not one of them could accept an appointment now.

    Any appointment, by anyone, will be viewed as a backroom deal.

    Where is it written that the seat “belongs” to a Democrat. People voted for Obama not for just any Democrat. Why shouldn’t the public get to pick the best person, regardless of party?

    If Dawn Netsch wants to file a lawsuit to prevent a freely elected U.S. Senator from taking office, let her.

    Democrats afraid of democracy — typical!

  52. - Captain America - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 6:10 pm:

    I’d trust Quinn to pick someone qualified and deserving.

  53. - Six Degrees of Separation - Wednesday, Dec 10, 08 @ 8:20 pm:

    Piggyback the Special Primary and/or the Special Election on the local election cycle to reduce costs and confusion.

    Funny, I was driving home and WLS’s Roe Conn mentioned the exact same thing to a caller who was trying to make the point of avoiding a Special Election.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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