Obama’s run may result in vacant office

Illustration by Debby Su

Illustration by Debby Su

By Paolo Cisneros

For the first time in nearly 40 years, Illinois may soon be faced with a midterm vacancy in the U.S. Senate.

Sen. Barack Obama has the opportunity to become the first president from Illinois since Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated in 1861. If elected, Illinois will be without one of its two senators, and Gov. Rod Blagojevich will find himself in a position of rarely utilized power.

The Illinois Constitution permits a governor to appoint a senator when a space becomes available because of resignation, election to a higher office or death. The appointment, unlike most others, does not require approval by any legislative body.

“The governor doesn’t really have to take anything into account if he doesn’t care about his political future or the futures of those around him,” said Jim Nowlan, senior fellow at the University’s Institute of Government and Public Affairs. “I think Gov. Blagojevich would consider it a free choice on his part without any constraining circumstances.”

The governor is even permitted to appoint himself, though such an appointment is unlikely, Nowlan added.

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Illinois, unlike a number of other states, has not had many gubernatorial appointments to the Senate over the course of its history.

“We haven’t had a lot,” said Brian Gaines, professor of political science at the University’s Institute of Government and Public Affairs. “Mississippi and Wyoming have had appointments within the past year, but Illinois hasn’t had one in a very long time.”

While such an appointment can be an extremely volatile situation for a politician, Nowlan said he does not believe such risks will deter Blagojevich from appointing whomever he sees fit.

“He’s not worked with the legislature in the past,” he said. “He’s put himself in a stance which puts him at odds with the state establishment, both Republican and Democrat.”

Despite Blagojevich’s individual situation in Illinois politics, certain factors often play a role in how a governor determines who to appoint.

Factors, including party, personal relationships and qualifications, can be influence a governor’s choice.

“Blagojevich (may) appoint someone seen as a leading possible challenger to him in the next election,” Nowlan said. “Political considerations will be at the top of the list, I think.”

While the possibility of the governor having to choose a new senator is now a real possibility, politicians and political scientists agreed that it is still too early to begin predicting who, if anyone, will get the nod.

“I think there will be lots of people interested in the seat,” said Sen. Michael Frerichs, D-Champaign. “I’m sure there are people jockeying right now.”

Gaines said Blagojevich would face a great deal of pressure to appoint another black individual if the situation eventually presents itself.

Secretary of State Jesse White and Sen. Emil Jones, D-Chicago, are two possible contenders.

Despite the fact that the law does not require the governor to consult with anyone while making his choice, if the situation becomes an issue, Blagojevich would be wise to work with Obama to fill the spot, Frerichs said.

“If there’s a vacancy in the Senate because Barack is the new president of the United States, I think that the governor would be foolish not to listen to what he has to say,” he said.