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updated: 1/23/2012 8:01 PM

Kirk can keep seat as he recovers

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As U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk recovers from a stroke, it'll be his decision alone on how he wants to proceed with his Senate career.

Doctors say Kirk's recovery could take weeks or months. His term ends in 2016.

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Other elected officials have had to grapple with similar issues involving health and public office. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, for example, remained a member of Congress while performing few official duties for more than a year as she recovered from injuries suffered in an assassination attempt. She announced Sunday she plans to step down.

On the other hand, Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota suffered a high-profile stroke in 2006, returned to active work in the Senate the next year and remains a member today.

"It's a personal decision," said former Illinois State Board of Elections director Ron Michaelson. "It's kind of a sensitive issue, obviously."

If Kirk ever vacated the seat, it would be up to the governor, now Pat Quinn, to appoint a temporary successor until a special election could be held -- likely no later than the next scheduled congressional election.

That would give Quinn, a Democrat, the power to appoint someone of his own party to replace the Republican Kirk.

Such high-profile appointments can be controversial, famously so when former Gov. Rod Blagojevich appointed Roland Burris to take President Barack Obama's U.S. Senate seat a few years ago.

That's the Senate seat that Kirk now holds.

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