By Henry J. Stern
December 12, 2008
We have been watching the implosion of Illinois politics, triggered by the arrest of Governor Rod Blagojevich at 6 a.m. Tuesday morning by FBI agents working for U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, the prosecutor who secured Scooter Libby’s conviction in the Plame affair. BTW, Libby is not to be confused with Gordon Liddy, the Watergate mastermind whose 20-year sentence was commuted by President Carter in 1977.
The pre-breakfast apprehension of the state’s highest official came without the benefit of a grand jury indictment. The U.S. Attorney also released a 76-page document detailing the defendant’s wiretapped conversations. Through the wonders of technology, you can link to the complaint here. For those of you who may not have time to peruse all of it, the President-elect is referenced on pages 63 and 64.
Mr. Obama’s switch from being “saddened and sobered” at the arrest on Tuesday, to demanding Blagojevich’s resignation Thursday, is a situation illustrated by Rule 13-G-2 “Go with the flow,” (a Rule that necessarily follows 13-G-1: “Go to the source.” )
It also shows Mr. Obama’s flexibility, which is a useful talent in statecraft, particularly when your man does it. When your opponent does it, he is a “flip-flopper” (Cf. John Kerry, “I was for it before I was against it.”)
Three issues arise. First, this case was urgent, and if the arrest had not been made the conspiracy (if there were one) could have advanced and the seat might have been sold. Second, cursing the President-elect, although offensive, is not a crime in this country, nor is it alleged to be. Three, a conspiracy indictment usually requires that some act or conversation take place. The defendant’s puffery alone is insufficient. This requirement may be attenuated in cases involving national security, since it is wiser not to wait for terrorists to strike, and it is all right to listen to their telephone calls..
Nonetheless, Rod’s trash talk and demands for money make it clear that he has disgraced his office, if that were possible. His immediate predecessor as governor (George Ryan) was tried and convicted of racketeering and bribery. Since he is in federal prison, Ryan cannot be pardoned by his successor.
Yesterday, fifty Democratic U.S. senators called for the Governor to resign, and then demanded that he “under no circumstance make an appointment to fill the vacant Illinois Senate seat.”
The Illinois Attorney General jumped into the fray today by asking the Illinois Supreme Court to declare the governor incapacitated to appoint a senator. The Wall Street Journal looks at his mounting personal and political debts (BLAGOJEVICH LEFT LEGAL BILLS UNPAID). The article also reports that the law firm that represented him, Winston & Strawn, is no longer being paid, and says he owes them money.
A Vacancy of Our Own. How New York State is Dealing with the Prospect of a New Senator When Ms. Clinton is Confirmed by the Senate. Governor Paterson's Dilemma. Distinguished Rivals Offer Their Services.
We also call attention to New York’s soon to be vacated United States Senate seat, now occupied by Secretary of State-designate Hillary Rodham Clinton, who succeeded the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan in 2001. The prospective candidates are acting with relative decorum, compared to Illinois. Nor would Governor Paterson hang a “For Sale” sign on the vacancy.
That is essential, because if Paterson were to be compelled to resign for any indiscretion, New York would have a real problem with the succession. The state has had no Lieutenant Governor since March 17, 2008, when Eliot Spitzer’s resignation (for sins unrelated to his official duties) took effect and Paterson replaced him..
Next in line for governor is the president pro tempore of the State Senate, currently Dean G. Skelos, a Republican from Long Island, who succeeded Joe Bruno in July. The Democrats will control the upper chamber in January, but their slim 32-30 majority, and the publicized defections by the so-called Gang of Three, make it possible that no president pro tempore will be elected when the Senate convenes in January, or that the Republicans will organize the Senate with help from some Democrats..
Under the New York State Constitution, the succession for governor would then proceed to the Speaker of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver. He has said he would decline the office were it offered to him, but he might could change his mind in the interest of the people of the State of New York. His accession would unite the power with the position. It could usher in a new era of state governance. There will no longer be three men in a room deciding public issues. One man will suffice.
Back to the United States Senate seat from New York.
In a podcast late yesterday, POLITICS IS STILL PERSONAL, Sam Roberts of the Times wrote that Mike Royko, a Chicago journalist, had said “while most politics is local, it’s all personal.” This comports with our Rule 20-E “Everything is personal.”
Governor Paterson was recently quoted by Azi Paybarah in an article appearing on Stephen Dubner’s ‘Freakonomics’ blog for the New York Times. Attributing quotes is getting as complex and protracted as movie credits.) Paterson said, inter alia, that the trouble in Illinois had only highlighted the importance of his own choice for New York senator. Under the headline, NEW YORK GOVERNOR HIGHLIGHTS THE DISMAL RECORD OF SENATE APPOINTMENTS, Paterson also indicated his intention to appoint a replacement senator that could win reelection in 2010 to the two remaining years of Ms. Clinton’s term, which means another state-wide election in 2012. That can be read to mean a candidate who has the capacity to raise major funding for the two campaigns. It is a qualification that would eliminate many of the aspirants, particularly those whose careers have been in public service.
The celebrity of two of the candidates, Caroline Kennedy and Andrew Cuomo, the daughter of a President and the son of a governor, will bring additional attention to the governor’s choice. Cuomo has plied the trade of politics all his adult life, working in his father’s campaign, going to Washington during the Clinton years, withdrawing from an early race for governor and winning election as attorney general. Ms. Kennedy has been an American icon since she was three years old, and never faulted for anything she ever did, or criticized for ruthlessness.
The Kennedy-Cuomo relationship is complicated by issues of dynasty and divorce, which brings to mind the Napoleonic era, where relatives were married off so that sovereign nations would forge ties that would help keep the peace. It has been suggested that if Ms. Kennedy were to become a Senator, she would be a very good one, and she could use her Hyannis residence to take the seat now occupied by her uncle Teddy, should it become vacant. The governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick, is a Democrat, so there should be no political problem
Both of the famous nominees, and most of the others, are highly qualified individuals who would make fine Senators. Is there a Pat Moynihan or Hillary Clinton among them? If so, could he or she raise the money now required to be elected?
From a practical point of view, the Blagojevich plan (seats for sale) may be easier to implement than the Paterson search for truth, justice, progressivism, geographic, ethnic and gender diversity and electability. New Yorkers will demand the most thorough consideration of this important matter, and a majority is likely to express its dissatisfaction with whatever our governor does.
We do believe, however, that he will make an honest choice on the merits of the case. This is, after all, New York and not Illinois.