|A special Illinois House committee met yesterday for the first time on the possible impeachment of Governor Rod Blagojevich, shown leaving his home in Chicago. (Joshua Lott/Getty Images)|
Ill. Democrats, GOP battle over fate of Obama's vacant seat
Move away from election draws fire
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Even without an election, the battle over Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat resembles a classic political campaign, complete with negative ads and heated rhetoric.
Illinois Democrats, after initially supporting a special election to replace Obama, this week canceled a vote on an election and backed away in the name of good government. They say an election would cost up to $50 million and leave the state with a Senate vacancy until at least April - giving the new senator an even shorter window before the 2010 campaign cycle heats up.
Republicans say Democrats are simply afraid of losing the election, particularly if a potential backlash arises from the criminal charges against Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich. They say Democrats want to hold onto the power to appoint a senator.
"The people of Illinois deserve better than another political power grab," says a television ad from the Illinois GOP.
The head of the Republican National Committee said the Democrats' insistence on avoiding a special election shows that the party does not value openness and transparency unless it's politically convenient.
The battle over Obama's seat unfolded as a special Illinois House committee met for the first time to consider impeaching Blagojevich, who is accused of trying to auction off the seat to the highest bidder.
The panel's review is expected to include the criminal charges against Blagojevich as well as a long list of other possible wrongdoing during his six years in office: abuse of power, taking action without legal authority, ignoring state laws, and defying lawful requests for information from the General Assembly.
The committee met only briefly, postponing any real action until the governor's attorney arrives today.
But members of the committee, which will make a recommendation on impeachment to the full House, said they will not rush to judgment.
"Let us remember that we're not Alice in Wonderland. We're not the Red Queen. We do not sentence first and then do the verdict," said the chairwoman, Representative Barbara Flynn Currie, a Democrat from Chicago.
Blagojevich was arrested last week at his Chicago home.
Meanwhile, shortly after his 2002 election, Blagojevich told Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. that he didn't appoint the congressman's wife as lottery director because he had refused him a $25,000 campaign donation, a person familiar with the conversation told the Associated Press yesterday.
"Blagojevich went out of his way to say, 'You know I was considering your wife for the lottery job, and the $25,000 you didn't give me? That's why she's not getting the job,' " the person said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing federal investigation.
Jackson's name has played prominently ever since Blagojevich was arrested. Jackson has been identified as one of the candidates Blagojevich was considering for Obama's vacant seat, and a criminal complaint said his supporters were willing to raise $1.5 million for the governor if he picked the congressman.
The complaint quotes Blagojevich as saying on federal wiretaps that an associate of the candidate offered to raise money for him if he made the Jackson appointment happen.
Jackson spokesman Kenneth Edmonds declined to comment on the account of the exchange shortly after Blagojevich's 2002 election but said the congressman, the son of civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, has approached federal investigators to discuss the governor and others for years.
"He has shared information with federal prosecutors about public corruption during the past several years, including information about Blagojevich and others," Edmonds said.
Randall Samborn, spokesman for the US attorney's office in Chicago, declined to comment, as did Blagojevich spokesman Lucio Guerrero.
Jackson has openly sought the Senate position but denies initiating or authorizing anyone to promise anything to Blagojevich on his behalf. The congressman has said federal prosecutors told him he is not a target of their investigation.
The person did not know whether Jackson's wife, Sandi, who has since been elected to the Chicago City Council, had asked for the state lottery job. At the time, Blagojevich was the first incoming Democratic governor after years of Republican rule and had scores of state jobs to fill.
"The governor had kind of penciled Sandi in as lottery director and then asked for contributions from the congressman," the person said.