Wednesday, June 20 , 2018, 1:00 am | Fair 61º


Mark Shields: Is Blagojevich Dumb and Crazy?

The Illinois governor's actions were so low that they could be the basis for an insanity defense plea.

As of this writing, according to the deputy historian of the House of Representatives, Fred Beuttler, 11,991 individuals in the past 219 years have served as House members. Every one of them has been elected to the House.

Mark Shields
Mark Shields
Winning a popular election is the only way anyone can get to be a House member. Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution requires that all House vacancies be filled by special election. House members take some justifiable pride in the fact that while U.S. senators (177 of them since senators were first popularly elected in 1913), vice presidents and even presidents can be appointed, no House member has ever been appointed to his or her office.

One House alum who obviously never grasped that basic truth about the institution in which he had served was the former three-term representative from the 5th District of Illinois from 1996 to 2002, Democrat Rod Blagojevich.

In wiretaps obtained by the FBI, now-Illinois Gov. Blagojevich can be heard, when not plotting how to allegedly “sell” the U.S. Senate seat recently vacated by President-elect Barack Obama, discussing with his staff members whether and how they might profit from appointing a successor to Rep. Rahm Emanuel of the same 5th District of Illinois, because Emanuel has agreed to be Obama’s White House chief of staff.

We have learned from the tapes how venal, craven and avaricious Blagojevich is, but here we see just how ignorant he is. This is a man who served as Cook County assistant prosecutor (under then state’s attorney, now Chicago Mayor Richard Daley) and who is widely regarded as one of the most prominent graduates of Pepperdine University School of Law. And he thought he could shake down some deep-pocketed airhead for a couple of grand for an appointment to the vacant House seat.

This guy Blagojevich is as deep as a birdbath. He must be able to clean out both his ears with one long cotton swab. On tape, he is heard stating that if the Senate appointment doesn’t bring him the vast riches he so relentlessly covets, he could always appoint himself to the Senate: “And I can always use it. I can parachute me there.”

In addition to being no constitutional scholar, Blagojevich shows he is no threat to historians Doris Kearns Goodwin, Henry Steele Commager or Arthur Schlesinger Jr.

The track record of governors who have gone through the charade of resigning their governorships so the lieutenant governor can take the oath and then appoint the resigned governor to the Senate is less than dismal. Voters don’t like their elected state officials playing too-cute musical chairs with phony resignations followed by Senate appointments.

How much do voters object? A whole bunch of precedent is a good guide.

Donald Ritchie, the assistant Senate historian, lists the last nine governors who have resigned their office to then be immediately appointed by their successors to a vacant Senate seat: Wendell Anderson of Minnesota, Donald Russell of South Carolina, J. Howard Edmondson of Oklahoma, Edwin Mecham of New Mexico, John J. Hickey of Wyoming, Edward Carville of Nevada, Charles Gossett of Idaho, A.B. “Happy” Chandler of Kentucky and John E. Erickson of Montana. All nine — except Happy Chandler (who later became the commissioner of baseball who integrated that sport with the Dodgers’ Jackie Robinson) — lost their Senate re-election races. Voters don’t like cute.

Blagojevich is demonstrably dumb, and by “planning” as he does on the tapes — with a current job rating somewhere in the margin of error of 4 percent favorable to 12 percent favorable — to make a run for president in 2016, he proves himself totally delusional. This may be the basis for an insanity defense plea.

For Obama and his staff, which have been forced by this scandal to divert precious time, energy and attention away from the transition tasks, Blagojevich is a living reminder of the second rule of U.S. politics: There will always and inevitably be somebody on your side you wish devoutly was on the other side.

Mark Shields is one of the most widely recognized political commentators in the United States. The former Washington Post editorial columnist appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. Click here to contact him.

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