The trouble with Roland


by Jeff Fecke | February 18, 2009 • So back in January, when now-ex-Illinois-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, D-Joliet, appointed Roland Burris to the Senate, I had this to say:

Jeff Fecke is a freelance writer who lives in Eagan, Minnesota.In addition to his own blog, Blog of the Moderate Left, he also contributes to Alas, a Blog, Minnesota Campaign Report, and AlterNet. Fecke has appeared as a guest on the “Today” show, the Alan Colmes radio show, and the Mark Heaney Show. Fecke is divorced, and the father of one really terrific daughter. His debut novel, The Valkyrie’s Tale, is now available.

Burris’ appointment is offensive, and it should be fought until it can’t be fought anymore.

Let’s not mince words. Rod Blagojevich was arrested for trying to sell this appointment. Nobody — not Abraham Lincoln, not Mahatma Gandhi, not Jesus Christ — can be appointed to this seat by Blagojevich without being tainted by that very fact. That Burris doesn’t appear to have given Blagojevich money is beside the point; nobody can be appointed to this seat without being fatally compromised.

Burris, of course, should have done the honorable thing and refused the appointment, but like all politicians, he’s got an ego, and he wants to believe that his wonderfulness can somehow remove the taint of the appointment. It can’t. Indeed, by accepting the appointment of an accused felon, Burris has proven that he does not have the moral or ethical judgment to be a United States Senator. (That others, like Ted Stevens and Larry Craig, also do not is no reason to accept Burris’ shortcomings.)

Now, at the time, some of my ideological cohort challenged me on that. After all, there was no specific evidence of wrongdoing on Burris’ part; Blagojevich was a bad guy, but maybe Burris was okay. And besides, wasn’t it a good idea just to get this over with, rather than dragging things out for a fight that would only end up making the Democrats look bad? Wasn’t it better to get Burris in the Senate to have his vote?

Well, until Al Franken is seated, no, it wasn’t, but that’s beside the point. The point was that Burris had already demonstrated that he was a bad guy; he took the appointment of an accused felon, a man who had been arrested for trying to sell that very appointment to the highest bidder.

Which is why the latest revelations about Sen. Burris are not surprising in the least:

The benefit of the doubt had already been stretched thin and taut by the time Roland Burris offered his third version of the events leading to his appointment to the U.S. Senate. It finally snapped like a rubber band, popping him on that long Pinocchio nose of his, when he came out with version four.

Let’s see if we have it right: Burris had zero contact with any of Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s cronies about his interest in the Senate seat being vacated by President Barack Obama— unless you count that conversation with former chief of staff Lon Monk, and, on further reflection, the ones with insiders John Harris, Doug Scofield and John Wyma and, oh yeah, the governor’s brother and fund-raising chief, Robert Blagojevich. But Burris didn’t raise a single dollar for the now ex-governor as a result of those contacts because that could be construed as a quid pro quo and besides, everyone he asked refused to donate.

That’s the long and the short of it. Burris was more than happy to provide quid to Blago, if only he could find some; he tried to raise money despite being aware that Blagojevich was facing jail time. He was more than willing to participate in the selling of the Senate seat once held by the President of the United States — on the purchasing end.

And given how many times his story has changed, it’s not out of the question to wonder just what price Burris paid.

Burris is now facing a probe in Illinois regarding whether he perjured himself in testimony to the impeachment panel. He’s a laughingstock. He’s going to damage the Democrats’ chances to hold the seat in 2010 no matter what he does. And this is going to happen precisely because the Democrats were too eager to hold the seat in the short term to risk a special election for the seat.

Unfortunately, it’s now too late for the Senate to play for time while the Illinois legislature puts together a special election; Burris is in the Senate, and while an ethics probe is probably waiting for him, it’s likely that action will be delayed pending the perjury probe. If the Ted Stevens precedent is still in effect — and it is — the Senate will hold its collective breath and hope that they don’t have to do anything rash like expelling the junior senator from the Land of Lincoln. They’ll hope that he just decides not to stand for election, and that they can simply watch him walk out the door two years from now.

But until the day he walks out the door, he’ll be a reminder that the Democrats had a chance to stand for ethics above all else — and failed, for simple, short-term partisan gain. That’s the kind of thing that leads to long-term partisan damage.