Capital Briefs December 15

SPECIAL ELECTION IN ILLINOIS? No sooner had the sensational arrest of Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich hit the airwaves last week than Democratic leaders in the Illinois legislature moved rapidly to pass a law providing for a special U.S. Senate election rather than permitting the embattled governor to appoint a successor to Barack Obama. “No appointment by this governor could produce a credible replacement,” Sen. Richard Durbin (D.-Ill.) told reporters. Should the legislature change the law on Senate vacancies, a special election could come as early as March of ’09 — and Republicans, who last won a Senate race in Illinois in 1998, might have a chance. With at least ten Democrats, including Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. and former Commerce Secretary William Daley (brother of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley) eyeing the race, the GOP could unite behind one of its U.S. representatives, none of whom would have to give up his seat to run in ’09. Among those mentioned for the Republican nomination are conservative Rep. Pete Roskam and moderate Rep. Mark Kirk, both of whom survived strong challenges this year.

FITZGERALD’S NEW LEASE ON LIFE: That could well be one of the legacies of the 76-page indictment of Gov. Blagojevich last week, as several Republicans called on Barack Obama to keep Patrick Fitzgerald as U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. Last week, Illinois State Republican Chairman Andy McKenna reminded Obama and Sen. Durbin to “keep their commitment of retaining Patrick Fitzgerald” and said that “we must have a fighter like Patrick Fitzgerald to complete these investigations.” Widely criticized by Republicans for not pursuing enough Democrats (and for what many thought was his self-promoting prosecution of Dick Cheney’s former top aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby), Fitzgerald most recently oversaw the prosecution and conviction of Obama fund-raiser Tony Rezko.

NOT OUR FAULT, SAY FANNIE, FREDDIE BOSSES: To a person, a parade of past chief executives of mortgage titans Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac told Congress last week that they had nothing to do with the current economic turmoil and that the failure of the market caused their collapse, not the other way around. “It [the housing crisis] did not result from Fannie Mae’s recent business decision or its accounting practices,” former Fannie CEO Franklin Raines, a longtime activist Democrat, told the House Government Reform Committee. “If anything, Fannie Mae played catch-up to the banks and investment banks who drove the securitization of the most toxic subprime mortgages.” Visibly angry committee member Chris Shays (R.-Conn.) told CNS News “That’s just bull****! The bottom line to this was they [the mortgage giants] were entering into a market they didn’t have to enter into.” Noting that Fannie and Freddie would never have gotten into trouble had they stayed out of the sub-prime market, Shays pointed out that Raines left Fannie “when it was disclosed that their books didn’t meet any of the [federal] standards and that they had overstated — by billions — their profits. That’s why he left.”

OBAMA AND OLMS: Little-noticed but mentioned in the 76-page indictment of Gov. Blagojevich last week was the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Labor Management Standards (OLMS), which has a long record of successful probes and prosecutions of unions for embezzlement and other crimes. The OLMS had been brought in as part of the Blagojevich probe amid reports that an official of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) had been acting as “an apparent intermediary” between the governor and President-elect Obama. According to the complaint filed against Blagojevich, the governor had spoken with an “SEIU official” on the understanding that the official was an emissary to discuss the interest of Obama operative and Chicago businesswoman Valerie Jarrett in the Illinois Senate seat. Labor Department officials told HUMAN EVENTS off the record that the SEIU tie-in the Illinois scandal means there will be increased attention on whom Obama names as secretary of Labor and who heads the OLMS, which just last month brought in ten convictions, nine indictments, and restitutions totaling $625,000 from unions.

ATR TO HOST GOP DEBATE: Days after Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) head Grover Norquist and other conservative leaders called for debates among the candidates running for Republican National Chairman, a debate has been scheduled for January 5 and five announced candidates for the chairmanship have accepted the invitation to debate. The event will be held at the National Press Club from 1:00-3:00 p.m. and participating so far are State Party Chairmen Saul Anuzis of Michigan and Katon Dawson of South Carolina, former Lt. Gov. Michael Steele of Maryland, former Tennessee State GOP Chairman Chip Saltsman, and former Ohio gubernatorial candidate Ken Blackwell, who entered the race last week. Current RNC head Mike Duncan, who says he will seek another term at the party’s winter meeting January 28-31, has yet to reply to ATR’s invitation. The final details on television coverage are being worked out.