EXCLUSIVE: Illinois Gov. Quinn: 'I Hope Roland Is Reflecting This Weekend'

Twenty-four hours after he called for the resignation of newly-appointed fellow Illinois Democrat Sen. Roland Burris, Gov. Pat Quinn told HUMAN EVENTS that he hopes his old friend is reflecting on the growing calls for him to exit the Senate seat formerly held by Barack Obama. Quinn, who spoke to me between sessions at the National Governors Association meeting in Washington, also walked me through his plan for a “snap” special election to fill the seat if Burris does quit.

“I hope Roland is reflecting this weekend,” said Quinn, who succeeded Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich following his removal from office last month.  “He’s a God-fearing man and a decent person.  [However], he made a mistake in accepting this appointment.”

Quinn recalled how he “made it clear from the start that no one should accept appointment to the Senate from Rod Blagojevich.  It would be a tainted appointment.  And now the chickens are coming home to roost.”

In recent revelations that have made news reports worldwide, the 71-year-old Burris made evolving statements over the past month — three of them under oath — that appear to contradict an earlier statement in January as to whether he actively sought appointment by the embattled Blagojevich to the seat Obama resigned to become President.  Last week, the Senate Ethics Committee and the Sangamon County State’s Attorney began investigation of Burris and his answers under oath.

Following the sensational charges by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald that Blagojevich was trying to “sell” Obama’s Senate seat, then-Lieutenant Gov. Quinn and other Prairie State politicians called on the state legislature to replace the governor’s power to fill vacancies in the U.S. Senate with an immediate special election.  But Democratic legislative leaders such as House Speaker Michael Madigan did not move on the special election proposal.  Blagojevich did move and appointed Burris, a former state attorney general who is the first-ever African American to hold statewide office in Illinois.

“I spoke to Speaker Madigan the night before I called on Roland to step down [Friday]” Quinn said.  As to whether the powerful speaker would finally move on the special election proposal, Quinn said, “I hope so” and that Madigan should be “hearing the voice of the people.”  Statewide surveys have consistently shown more than 70% of Illinois voters want a special election to replace Obama in the Senate.

Under Quinn’s plan, a primary would be held 72 days after a vacancy in the Senate was certified and the special election would be held six weeks after the primary.  

“But there are a lot of things related to war and peace that can occur in 115 days, so there would be an appointed senator until the election was held to fill the [remainder of Obama’s term,” the governor added. “I would appoint someone who would agree not to run in the special election.”

Quinn’s promise to appoint a senator who would not would run would appear to rule out the much-discussed scenario of naming State Attorney General Lisa Madigan, daughter of the House speaker and a potential rival to Quinn for governor in the 2010 Democratic primary.  One Illinois reporter attending the NGA told me flatly “Lisa’s not interested in the Senate.”

But one Democratic name that comes up increasingly as a candidate in the special election is that of State Treasurer Alex Giannoulias, a 32-year-old banker and one of Obama’s closest political friends.  Nicknamed “the Greek Obama,” Giannoulias was a key fund-raiser in the President’s winning Senate race in ’04 and won the treasurer’s post with Obama’s strong backing in ’06.  The two frequently play basketball one-on-one.

Chicago Rep. Jan Schakowsky, who also has vast personal resources, has signaled her interest in running in a special election.
Two Republican U.S. House Members — moderate Mark Kirk and conservative Peter Roskam — are likely to compete for nomination in the event Quinn’s scenario comes true.

The same reporter who said Lisa Madigan wasn’t interested in the Senate also predicted to me her father would move soon on Quinn’s special election bill because “if he feels public heat on something, Mike will change positions or throw friends under the bus — whatever he has to do.”

But all of it depends on what Burris does and, as of Friday, his spokesman Jim O’Connor made it clear the senator wasn’t going anywhere and called on Quinn and other elected officials to “stop their rush to judgment.”

“In the end, an Ethics Committee investigation and an investigation by a state’s attorney will take months,” noted veteran Chicago political consultant Bill Pascoe. “The decision will be up to Burris, and I seriously doubt he will leave.  He doesn’t have to.”

A former Member of Illinois’s congressional delegation who spoke to me after I left Quinn was blunter:  “Burris won’t go at all because he’s a Chicago Democrat:  he saw an opportunity and took it.”