Friday, January 9, 2009

Personal Aside: The Burris Pick is a Good Omen for the GOP.

The all but inevitable seating of Roland Burris as U. S. Senator from Illinois is extraordinarily good news for the Illinois GOP. It remains to be seen if the party…all thumbs as it is…can take advantage of it.

The plan by an ad hoc Democratic hierarchy, state (Mayor Daley and Speaker Madigan) and national (Sen. Harry Reid aided by consorts Dick Durbin and Rahm Emanuel) was clear: avoid a special election which might lead to a Republican elected and bluff Gov. Blagojevich into not making an appointment—allowing Pat Quinn to do it after Blago is impeached and convicted (it being a certainty that Blago will not leave the post voluntarily). The fact that the state senate trial of the governor will last a long time with Illinois voters deprived of a second senator didn’t bother the hierarchy because the stakes to enlarge the Democratic franchise were so great. (Incidentally, I remember some years ago when I tried to get then private citizen Pat Quinn to speak to a certain luncheon group and was told by a second-tier officer, a widely-quoted possessor of conventional wisdom, that Quinn was anathema to the Democratic party. How times have changed now that he’s going to be the next Democratic governor!).

Reid unwisely communicated a “veto” list to Blago which excluded three blacks and touted Lisa Madigan and Tammy Duckworth, two whites, as being likely to win election in 2010. Madigan’s name was suggested by those close to her daddy and probably reflected the family wish no matter the denials from the conventional wisdom crowd. (The conventional wisdom crowd, incidentally, has been wrong far more than right: I remember well when the so-called smart money regarded Jim Edgar as a sure thing to run for yet another term and was aghast when he decided to retire).

When news of that phone call became public, Reid and his group fell back in disarray. Blagojevich’s naming of Roland Burris was a terrible disaster for the Democratic party—but it was a clever ploy by the governor. On the record, Burris is a trailblazer and is free from the charge of influencing his own appointment (the leakage of Fred Lebed’s supposed arrangement of Patti B. to take a job with the Chicago Citizens Industrial League is unproven: it was Gery Chico who did this). But everyone in politics knows that Burris’ future is behind him. He’s a vestige of the last generation of black politics and has not been able to muster a lot of strength in the Democratic party, losing a number of party primaries.

However, Burris added to his stature with his gutsy willingness to challenge Reid with the result that Reid backed down. The meeting with Reid, Durbin and Burris in Reid’s office the other day was nothing less than a surrender by the Dem Senate high command. Burris won the day and will be seated as Senator (barring anything that happens to him along the way, like slipping on the icy pavement or walking in front of a truck).

Thenceforward the job of getting elected is up to Burris. I have known Burris for 30 years and feel the evaluation of him by some glossy media types and power Dems as a stumblebum is wrong. Granted he is a mediocre Dem politician with there are many of these in Illinois and in the U.S. Senate so that won’t disqualify him. The one thing I know about Burris is that he ran his state attorney general’s office superbly—in fact with a higher degree of efficiency than did either Jim Ryan or Lisa Madigan. Lisa has hired seemingly every unemployed hack on the South and West Sides and the service they impart shows it. Excepting a few top officials in his office, Ryan’s middle-level people were unimpressive. Not so Burris’.

Burris has the p. r. savvy to start running for reelection immediately. Already he is a thousand points ahead of any other freshman senator in the chamber: he has a national reputation as one who challenged the bosses and who won. Not bad for a freshman. And he has certainly boosted black loyalty to him with his populist, anti-establishment approach to force himself to be seated.

At the same time, Burris is a far less attractive candidate for election in 2010 than, say a Lisa Madigan or a Bill Daley or a Chris Kennedy (Bobby’s son). It is up to the Republicans now to start thinking seriously about whom to pick to replace him—and not let the bottom feeders of the party to blur the lists by running people like Dr. Steve Sauerberg who are sure losers. The news that Rep. Peter Roskam has just landed a choice Ways and Means slot probably rules him out from taking the plunge. If there had been a special election where he wouldn’t have to give up his House seat, he’d probably be a sure-thing candidate. Not now. Nor should it be Bill Brady. Someone far different.

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