Let me be clear about something at the outset: Based on the transcripts of some wiretapped conversations released by federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, I have a decidedly negative impression of Illinois' Democratic governor, Rod Blagojevich.
His profanity-laced declarations that he intended to sell his state's US Senate seat reminded me of a pathetic playground pretender who hopes his tough talk will earn him the respect of bigger kids. Blagojevich clearly has some juvenile notions of what it means to be a respected political leader. He may even have intended to follow through on his tough talk, trying to secure payoffs of various kinds for a Senate appointment. Fitzgerald may have boxloads of evidence showing that Blagojevich is guilty of this and many other crimes.
But the point is that right now, all we have are Fitzgerald's allegations, some incriminating tapes, and an arraignment. I may think that Rod Blagojevich is guilty on all counts--and I'm inclined to think that he is--but I don't know that he is. None of us does. Until then, the Illinois governor should be sheltered by the same basic principle of US law that I hope shelters us all: innocent until proven guilty.
And until guilt is conclusively proven, there is no legal reason for him to resign his office. (Although there are plenty of good political reasons for him to step down, not the least of which being that he's unlikely to have any success with his legislative program now. There is a zero balance in his politcal capital account.)
But here's the point of most immediate interest: There are no justifiable reasons for the Illinois secretary of state to refuse certification of Blagjevich's appointment of Roland Burris to the US Senate or for the Senate to refuse to seat Burris.
Politically, Blagojevich's action in tapping Burris is just another playground ploy, a stick-in-your-eye assertion of his continuing politcal relevance.
But Blagojevich is still governor. He hasn't resigned. He hasn't been convicted in a court of law of any crimes. Nor has he been found guilty in state legislative impeachment proceedings. In short, the playground pretender remains the duly elected governor of his state.
The announced intentions of the Illinois secretary of state and of Senate majority leader Harry Reid to ignore Blagojevich's appointment of Burris is, in some ways, as shocking as the allegations against the Illinois governor.
To protect their party and their new president, these Democratic officeholders propose to ignore key legal principles, not to mention the clearly-defined constitutional authority of the governor of Illinois to make an interim Senate appointment.
There are legitimate arguments for putting the selection of Senate replacements exclusively in the hands of voters and not of governors. But that isn't the law now.
If there's a bit of truth in Patrick Fitzgerald's allegations of corruption, Rod Blagojevich shouldn't be governor...or dog catcher. But at present, he is governor of Illinois. There's no indication that his appointment of Burris was bought or sold.
The Senate should seat Burris.
And Fitzgerald should get a move on.