For a fleeting minute today, I thought the Burris Gambit worked.
Before the smoke clears from the latest political fire started by Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, it may turn out the Burris Gambit did work.
Former Illinois Attorney General and Comptroller Roland Burris knew he wasn’t on the short list of potential successors to President-elect Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat. But he still wanted to be a U.S. senator without the hassle of running another statewide election, so Burris seized upon his last, best chance to get the job within days of Blagojevich’s Dec. 9 arrest on political corruption charges. Burris organized a press conference to try convincing people he would be the best choice to replace Obama because he was untainted by the pay-to-play allegations made against the governor.
At that time, I thought the Burris Gambit smacked of just that – a calculated political move made by a veteran member of the Chicago political machine. However, I didn’t think Burris actually had a chance of being named Obama’s successor. After serving as state comptroller from 1979 t0 1991 and Illinois attorney general from 1991 to 1995, Burris had all but disappeared from the political scene other than to occasionally run for office and lose. Over the years, Burris unsuccessfully ran for governor three times and U.S. Senate once. He even tried to do the impossible by attempting to unseat Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley in 1995.
I suppose Burris, 71, wanted to write a better ending to his political story. He also may have thrown his hat into the ring just to get a better government pension. Regardless of his intent, he certainly didn’t want to lose another election.
“What I wanted to be is a senator and not a candidate at this point,” Burris said on MSNBC late this afternoon.
Despite his repeated statements trying to convince us otherwise, Burris is not untainted in this matter, and not only because of the simple fact he was appointed by Blagojevich. Burris has been a Blagojevich ally in the past – Burris was vice-chairman of the governor’s transition team in 2002, and has donated thousands of dollars to Blagojevich’s campaigns – and thus it will not be surprising if Burris’s name turns up on the Blagogate wiretap recordings.
Whether Burris actually gets to be a U.S. senator for the next two years remains to be seen. Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White said he won’t certify Blagojevich’s appointment, but I don’t think that would hold up in court. Harry Reid, Dick Durbin and the rest of the U.S. Senate Democratic Caucus say they won’t seat anyone appointed by Blagojevich, but that may not be legal, either. In 1969, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the House of Representatives could not refuse to seat Rep. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., a New York Democrat accused of misusing travel funds and putting his wife on the payroll. So Illinois may be stuck with Burris as its next U.S. senator.
If that is the case, Burris surely will be an ineffective senator. Not only will he be scorned by his fellow senators, he will be eaten alive by the media. Burris barely survived today’s news conference, which was more like a circus than a presser. He will be hounded by questions of illegitimacy until he steps away from this mess, is forced out of it, or fulfills the two years left in Obama’s vacated term – whichever comes first.
One thing is for sure: Burris brought the intense media scrutiny onto himself by accepting Blagojevich’s appointment, even though the questions of illegitimacy are not because of Burris’s political track record or racial background (as insinuated by U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush).
“This is about Roland Burris as a United States senator, not about the governor who makes the appointment,” Blagojevich said during his press conference today.
Wrong again, Blago. This whole mess has everything to do with you.