No backdoor boot for Burris: Special election plans defeated, stalled

  • U.S. Sen. Roland Burris

    U.S. Sen. Roland Burris Associated Press

By Dan Carden
Daily Herald Staff
Updated 3/5/2009 4:26 PM

SPRINGFIELD -- A suburban lawmaker's proposal for an immediate special election that could replace beleaguered U.S. Sen. Roland Burris appears to be stopped for good after a Senate subcommittee rejected his plan Thursday.

State Sen. Matt Murphy, a Palatine Republican, said he was disappointed his plan requiring special elections for U.S. Senate vacancies will not be voted on by the full Senate.


"I think they've made it pretty clear that the guys in charge down here don't want to have a special election," Murphy said. "Unfortunately it seems that Governor Blagojevich's enablers are still enabling his final act."

Blagojevich, a Chicago Democrat, appointed Burris, a Chicago Democrat, to Democratic President Barack Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat following Blagojevich's Dec. 9 arrest on federal corruption charges. Murphy said it was the fact the governor making the appointment had been arrested - and not Burris - that prompted his special election plan.

"I don't know Roland Burris and I'm not here to cast aspersions on his character," Murphy testified before the subcommittee. "We wanted a special election to fill this vacancy before there was even an appointee."

However, state Sen. Rickey Hendon, a Chicago Democrat, argued that even though Blagojevich was arrested, he was still governor at the time and still entitled to make the appointment.

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"I think it's wrong to say that because the governor did it that we're against it," Hendon said, pointing out that Blagojevich signed the film tax credit plan he'd sponsored into law after the December arrest.

While many legislators and state elected officials have called for a special election, this is the first plan to get any kind of vote at the Capitol. Last week Attorney General Lisa Madigan said lawmakers could legally replace Burris by ordering a special election.

But the estimated cost of a special election factored strongly in Chicago Democratic state Sen. Ira Silverstein's decision to vote against the plan, Silverstein said. The three Democrats on the subcommittee voted to stop the plan while the two Republicans voted for it.

Republicans and Democrats went back and forth over the possible costs of a special election.

Murphy said a special election would cost $62 million and proposed using $15.4 million in unspent Senate funds to pay a quarter of the cost. Hendon countered with an estimate that the real cost of the special election would be between $71 million and $101 million. Murphy replied that cost shouldn't be an overriding factor.


"We spend a lot of money around here and we spend it on a lot of things less important frankly than restoring the faith of the people of Illinois in their elected officials," Murphy said. "The people of the state want this and we have the power and the authority to give it to them."

Several county election officials told the subcommittee a special election would deplete their already strained budgets.

"If the policy of the state is to spend more money to have more elections, we would go with that. But it would be an expensive process," said Michael Kreloff, representing the Cook County clerk's office. Kreloff said a special primary and general election would cost the county $12.5 million.

Lance Gough, executive director of the Chicago Board of Elections, said a special primary and general election also would cost the city about $12.5 million. Tuesday's special election for a Congressional seat cost $3.5 million, or $33 per vote, based on the 18 percent voter turnout, Gough said.

While the state board of elections reimburses counties for a part of the cost of hiring election judges, counties still have to pay for moving equipment, renting polling places, and publishing election notices. Those fixed costs top half a million dollars even in less populous counties, said Katherine Schultz, McHenry County clerk.

Several special election plans also are stalled in the Illinois House.

State Rep. Jack Franks, a Marengo Democrat, has a plan similar to Murphy's stuck in committee. Gov. Pat Quinn endorsed Franks' plan two weeks ago when Quinn called on Burris to resign.

House Republicans have also introduced several special election plans but Democratic leader Barbara Flynn Currie, of Chicago, has stopped them from being assigned to a committee, much to the chagrin of Republicans who fume daily about it.

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