Durbin Softens Special Election Demand

Posted December 12, 2008 at 10:06am

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on Thursday relaxed his call for an immediate special election to fill President-elect Barack Obama’s Senate seat, saying a gubernatorial appointment is preferable and that disgraced Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) should be given a chance to resign.

“The best outcome is if our governor resigns and the lieutenant governor takes over, and we can at least consider the option of an appointment,” Durbin, Illinois’ senior Senator, said during a brief interview. “It hasn’t even been 72 hours since he was arrested, so I think in fairness, he needs to seek legal counsel and decide what his options are.”

Within hours of Blagojevich’s arrest Tuesday on federal corruption charges — including that he was peddling his appointment to succeed Obama to the highest bidder — Durbin was on the phone with state legislative leaders, urging them to pass a law mandating a special election and removing the governor’s power to fill a vacant Senate seat.

Statehouse leaders responded immediately, announcing plans to convene special legislative session next week so that a bipartisan, veto-proof bill could be approved and sent to the governor’s desk. But Democrats, including Senate leaders on Capitol Hill, have grown nervous that such a move might provide an opening for Republicans to flip Illinois’ vacant seat.

Durbin and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) are now pressuring Blagojevich to resign, hoping that Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn (D) can ascend to the governor’s office and appoint a Democrat to succeed Obama in the Senate. Democrats generally are now downplaying their demand for a special election as the only means by which the new Senator could take office without the ethical taint of the Blagojevich scandal.

“My preference is [a special election]. But I’m dealing with the reality of schedules, as one General Assembly leaves and another starts, of elections that are currently scheduled in 2009 and whether we can catch up with them to piggyback on, or the cost of them, if we can’t if we have to do an independent special election,” Durbin said. “All of these are elements that I’ve talked to the legislative leaders on, and they are wrestling with that.”

It is estimated that a special election could cost Illinois taxpayers as much as $50 million.