As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Everyone's Fingers In The Punchbowl

The situation with Rod Blagojevich is pulling a scab off of the Senate appointment process, with all the various players and all of the backroom deals. Blagojevich may have wanted to sell the seat to the highest bidder, but competing interests had their own views on the pick, including Harry Reid:

Days before Gov. Blagojevich was charged with trying to sell President-elect Barack Obama's U.S. Senate seat to the highest bidder, top Senate Democrat Harry Reid made it clear who he didn’t want in the post: Jesse Jackson, Jr., Danny Davis or Emil Jones.

Rather, Reid called Blagojevich to argue he appoint either state Veterans Affairs chief Tammy Duckworth or Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, sources told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Sources say the Senate majority leader pushed against Jackson and Davis — both democratic congressmen from Illinois — and against Jones — the Illinois Senate president who is the political godfather of President-elect Barack Obama — because he did not believe the three men were electable. He feared losing the seat to a Republican in a future election.

Blagojevich spokesman Lucio Guerrero confirmed that Reid (D-Nev.) and U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) — the new chief of the Senate Democratic political operation — each called Blagojevich’s campaign office separately Dec. 3. Sources believe that at least portions of the phone conversations are on tape.

We have an outline of what happens in the event of a Senate vacancy now. Local leaders and electeds call the Governor with their views. Potential candidates call the Governor. The Senate leadership from the particular party and the chief campaign operative calls. If the seat involves the President-elect, someone from their office calls. All of them have their own offers to make, and they clearly go beyond "appreciation."

It's called influence-peddling, and it's the natural outgrowth of an election process where one man or woman casts the deciding vote. The less people there are involved in a decision of this nature, the more potential for corruption. It's just common sense.

Section 2 of the Seventeenth Amendment reads like this:

"When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct."

The amendment is written specifically to provide for a special election, but allowing for temporary appointments in the interim if the legislature of the state allows it. The legislatures, then, could DISALLOW such an appointment, and move to undertake the special election with all deliberate speed instead of the next November in the two-year cycle. There are potentially ways for the legislature to limit the power of the appointment process (say, providing a list of names from the state party of the former officeholder, as they do in Wyoming), but there's a pretty strong case to made that such limits are unconstitutional, and before long some Governor with their back up will contest that. So the solution here is to either compel state legislatures to disallow temporary appointments, or to write a NEW Constitutional amendment, taking the appointment process away from the Governors, which is fully keeping with the Constitution, as these are seats for federal office. Chris Bowers notes, the fact that Reid didn't want three black candidates to be selected because of electability suggests that he doesn't think Roland Burris is particularly electable either, putting a new spin on the efforts to block the Capitol door and stop the appointment.

One of the major problems here is the corruption associated with the concept of "electability" itself. Not only is it anti-democratic, but in truly retrograde fashion it reinforces oppressive cultural perceptions--such as African-Americans being unelectable, and Democrats needing to turn to veteran's in order to shore up foreign policy credentials--rather than challenging them. To a large extent, the Constitutional method of appointing Senators, rather than holding special elections, is itself to blame. Additionally, the lack of intra-party democracy and top-down elitism of our political process is also to blame. None of these problems would have occurred if we had simply held an election, and engaged in the radical experiment of letting the people decide.


Labels: , , , , , , ,