Rickey Hendon


If Democrats lose control of the Illinois governor’s mansion and the U.S. Senate seat currently kept warm by Roland Burris, they have no one to blame but themselves.

Last week Gov. Pat Quinn said Burris should resign within two weeks or lawmakers should approve a special election for the seat vacated by President Obama. But on Monday, Quinn reversed his opinion on the matter — for the second time — after meeting with a group of black elected leaders, who pressured the governor to leave Burris alone.

Taking its cue from the governor’s backpedaling, a Democratic-controlled subcommittee of state senators voted 3-2 Thursday against allowing a special election. The legislation, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Matt Murphy, appears dead.

Various Democrats gave excuses why they don’t support a special election. The only reason that makes sense to me is the high cost of such an election, estimated at $62 million at a time when the state can hardly afford to take on such an expense. Yet a special election would finally put to rest the controversy that will continue to dog Burris until he leaves office.

State Sen. Rickey Hendon, a black Democratic legislator from Chicago’s West Side, gave what I consider the worst reason for not supporting a special election: “Why target the only black U.S. senator in the country?”

Burris’s race is not why the senator is being urged to resign. It is the fact that he was appointed to the U.S. Senate by a corrupt governor who has since been impeached and removed from office.

Hendon was the state senator who complained Rod Blagojevich didn’t get a fair trial in the Illinois Senate, so his support of Burris for the weakest of reasons doesn’t surprise me.

For those who say Burris shouldn’t be removed from office solely because of his race, I wish to remind them that while there have been only a few black U.S. senators, Illinois voters elected most of them. Why do they think Illinois voters wouldn’t elect another black U.S. senator? U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., is a strong candidate for the position. Nevertheless, it is our U.S. senator to choose and most voters are going to select that person based on qualifications and issue stances, not race.

Instead, we are stuck with Burris without an opportunity to decide whether we want him to keep serving as our junior U.S. senator, all because top Democrats are too timid to stand up to a vocal group of black leaders who strongarmed them into killing the special election legislation. In this case, the desires of the few outweigh the rights of the many. I hope voters remember that come election time.

Today the impeachment trial of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich focused on four FBI wiretap recordings of the governor and his allies discussing what sounds like an attempt to shake down Balmoral Park racetrack owner John Johnston for campaign contributions in exchange for Blagojevich signing a bill favorable to the horse-racing industry. After FBI Special Agent Daniel Cain was questioned about the recordings, state Sen. Chapin Rose recounted allegations of wrongdoing against Blagojevich that were made in guilty pleas and federal trial testimony by Ali Ata, a former state official and campaign contributor, and Joseph Cari, a former national Democratic fundraiser.

The Chicago Tribune has a comprehensive look at today’s proceedings on its Clout Street blog, which can be found here: http://newsblogs.chicagotribune.com/clout_st/2009/01/senate-trial-today-the-governor-on-tape.html.

Something I’d like to point out is that despite Blagojevich’s claims to the contrary all over the national airwaves, the governor is being tried for allegations of wrongdoing that have nothing to do with his alleged attempt to sell a U.S. Senate seat to the highest bidder. Blagojevich is also lying when he says he can’t defend himself or call witnesses to testify on his behalf. There are some potential witnesses that would not be allowed because they may be part of the criminal case against the governor, but there are plenty of other people who are eligible to defend Blagojevich during the trial – though there might not be anyone who actually wants to be tied to the unpopular governor in that way.

The reality of the situation is that Blagojevich knows he won’t win, so he is blowing off the whole trial as if it is a miscarriage of justice, which is not true. If you listen to coverage of the trial, as I have been doing, you’ll know firsthand the case for impeachment is being laid out in a method similar to a court proceeding. That is why Blagojevich is going national with his pleas of unfairness toward him. There probably aren’t too many people outside Illinois watching the trial beyond the brief clips shown on the cable news networks. Blagojevich isn’t pleading his case at all in Illinois, because most of us here are better informed about the situation. He knows sympathy is more likely to be found outside the Land of Lincoln.

There is at least one Illinois lawmaker in Blagojevich’s corner, though. State Sen. Rickey Hendon, a black legislator from Chicago’s West Side, has expressed concerns that Blagojevich isn’t getting a fair trial in the Illinois Senate. Hendon went so far to say the black community supports the governor while the white community wants him booted from office. Seems another race card is being played from the deck used by Blagojevich and his allies.

Fortunately, the race card shouldn’t save Blagojevich’s political career. But it may keep him out of prison when it comes to a jury judging him in his criminal case.