Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


Backroom Brawling

By Shawn Healy
Happy New Year, and welcome back to our analysis of the theatrics surrounding state government, and by implication national affairs, in the Land of Lincoln. As of my last writing, the impeachment proceedings against Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich had begun, and they have continued in the interim, although delays have ensued over the use of evidence gathering during the federal investigation that produced the criminal complaint brought against him on December 9th.

These details aside, it is likely that the panel will soon produce a recommendation for consideration by the entire state house (UPDATE: a draft report was circulated on Thursday, with a possible vote in the full House on Friday). If impeached, a trial would ensure in the state senate, where the Chief Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, Thomas R. Fitzgerald, would preside. As you may have heard, Blagojevich's potential replacement, Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, predicts that the ordeal will be over by Lincoln's bicentennial next month, but this represents at best an educated guess from a man with more than a little skin in the game.

On the criminal investigation front, the process has trudged forward slowly with testimony by affected figures, including incoming White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, and U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has asked for an extension in his duty to produce indictments against Blagojevich and his former Chief of Staff John Harris. Fitzgerald is also attempting to release edited transcripts of the notorious phone conversations between Blagojevich, his the Chief of Staff, and potential suitors in his pay-to-play schemes.

As for now, Blagojevich remains governor, and he proceeded last week to use his powers to name a replacement to President-elect Obama's senate seat. He elevated former state attorney general and perennial gubernatorial candidate Roland Burris to the position, but Secretary of State Jesse White has refused to certify the appointment. This has provided limited legal cover for U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to refuse to seat any individual appointed by the tainted governor. Burris has already appealed twice to the state supreme court to force White to act or consider Blagojevich's appointment official through bypassing this formality.

Reid is relying on his interpretation of the Constitution, which in Article One, Section Five, reads: "Each house shall be the Judge of the elections, returns, and qualifications of its own members..." Yet Article One, Section Three, sets the requirements of office for the Senate at 30 years of age, residency in the U.S. for the past 9 years, and currently living in the state which he or she will represent. Burris is 72 and a lifelong resident of Illinois, so he is qualified by all measures. Moreover, Blagojevich remains governor and is charged to the duty to fill a vacated senate seat. By implication, then, both Reid and White appear to be standing on thin January ice (Update: On Wednesday, responding to pressure from President-elect Obama, Reid opened the door for Burris' seating once his appointment is officially certified).

An interesting side note enters the equation here, too, for Blagojevich set the dates for a special election to fill the vacated House seat of the aforementioned Emanuel. This was certified by White, and the primary will transpire on March 3rd, followed by the general election on April 7th. This apparent contradiction further weakens the case of those who claim Burris' appointment is illegitimate, as the governor acted according to the law in each instance.

A broader assessment of the situation shows that Blagojevich called called the collective bluffs of those who dared him to make the senate appointment. In naming the African-American Burris, he brought local congressman and former Black Panther leader Bobby Rush into the fray, who claimed that denying Burris a seat would constitute "lynching" in the last "plantation" of politics, the United States Senate (Obama was the only African-American member). Also interesting to note is the fact that Obama himself supported Burris is his quest for governor back in 2002, a race where Blagojevich defeated him in the Democratic primary and went on to win the general election that year, and again in 2006.

It is likely that Burris will assume his coveted Senate seat before long, and he may or may not be tainted by the baggage that is Blagojevich. Regardless, his tenure is a brief one, as he would stand for re-election in 2010, and the race for his seat will undoubtedly heat up by this summer. Illinois residents may have been stymied in their ability to replace Obama via special election (the state house and senate never acted despite initial statements of support in the affirmative), but they will have a voice before long, and perhaps this related soap opera surrounding the Prairie State will soon turn to re-runs.


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Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at

Dave Anderson
Vice President of Civic Programs
McCormick Foundation

Tim McNulty
Senior Journalist
McCormick Freedom Project

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