Tag Archives: Rod Blagojevich

I Heart NY Politics

I thought that the l’affaire Blagojevich was the best argument for my belief that Senate vacancies should be filled only by special election. But witnessing what has transpired with Hillary Clinton’s Senate seat, I have changed my mind — New York, not Illinois, should be Exhibit A.

As illustrated by Governor Rod, any institution designed by humans can be corrupted by corrupt individuals. But the process that let to Kirsten Gillibrand’s appointment shows that gubernatorial Senate appointments are a bad idea even when otherwise decent and well-meaning people are involved.

I have no particular beef with Senator-appoint Gillibrand. By all accounts, she is a talented up-and-comer. Her centrism will probably be a boost both to New York and to the Democratic ticket in 2010. But the average New Yorker certainly knows far less about her than they do about Caroline Kennedy, Carolyn Maloney, Andrew Cuomo, or any of the other leading contenders.

Although I never thought it was a good idea to appoint Kennedy to the seat, there is something terribly unseemly about the insinuations and innuendo that are now flying back and forth between her people and Patterson’s people. Whether she had a nanny or tax problem, wouldn’t it have been better to have it in the open before a voting public rather than have David Patterson be the judge and jury about whether it disqualified her from office?

It will be interesting to see whether Carolyn McCarthy carries through with her threat to challenge Gillibrand in the Democratic primary over her support for gun rights. Based on DW-NOMINATE scores, Gillibrand is the most conservative Democrat in the NY delgation while McCarthy is 4th most (of 23). So I suspect guns is one of only a handful of issues that divide them. It is not in the Democratic Party’s best interest to have a contested primary focused exclusively on gun control.

The Good Old Days

Maybe it’s a sign that I am finally getting old, but I seem to recall a quaint time in years past where governors seemed content to fill Senate vacancies with caretakers who served out the term and did not seek reelection. The norm against using the appointment to launch a Senate career was so strong that many serious politicians shied away from accepting.

Fortunately, the useful people at the Senate Historical Office have compiled a list of all appointed Senators since the adoption of the 17th amendment and whether they ran for and won election to a full term. So I can test my recollections against hard data.

The list contains 180 appointed Senators. More than a third, 63 to be exact, chose not to run for election to a full term (one died in office). And many of those that did run suffered an ignominious fate. Twenty-two were not nominated by their party and 34 were defeated in the general election for a full term. So only 60 appointees, less than a third, actually won a full term as senator.

So how have things changed over time? To see, I have broken up the data by decade.

Decade Total Appointees Did Not Run Lost Nomination Lost General Won
1910’s 16 7 1 2 6
1920’s 26 7 2 6 11
1930’s 29 10 5 3 11
1940’s 38 19 4 5 10
1950’s 21 11 2 5 3
1960’s 20 3 3 7 7
1970’s 9 3 4 1 1
1980’s 6 1 0 2 3
1990’s 8 2 1 2 3
2000’s 7 1 0 1 5

Some interesting patterns emerge. The number of vacancies filled by gubernatorial appointment has fallen. I’m not sure, but I suspect it is some combination of the increasing use of special elections and increased longevity of senators (fewer die in office). There is also some evidence in favor of my recollections of the good old days. A greater percentage of appointed senators run for a full term over the past several decades than before (full discloser: I’m actually not old enough to remember those good old days). The appointees have fared significantly better in elections over time (especially in the last decade). If Blago is right and an appointed Senate seat is “an f—-ing valuable thing”, it appears that its appreciation is quite recent.

It seems to me that the changing expectations about how this appointment power is to be used calls further into question the continuance of this practice. Back in the day when most appointed senators were placeholders and caretakers, granting this power to a governor seemed okay. Now that the norm is that appointed senators are expected to run for reelection and hold the seat, the practice creates more opportunities for corruption and conflicts of interest than we really ought to tolerate.

Absolutely Shocking (not)

Illinois politics has never been a font of civic virtue, but (if true) the charges that Governor Rod Blagojevich tried to sell Obama’s Senate seat may represent a new low.

Not to absolve Blagojevich, but much of the problem lays in the anachronistic powers that allow many state governors to fill U.S. Senate vacancies. This may be one of the most unfettered and unaccountable powers vested in most governors. Even pardon and commutation powers are often subject to more procedural openness and limitations. While I’m unaware of an abuse as extraordinary as the one Blogojevich was allegedly perpetrating, recently we’ve seen the appointment of family members and speculation about the appointment of semi-qualified celebrities. (Can someone explain why other than the fact that she can pay for her own reelection Caroline Kennedy is the most qualified New Yorker to serve in the Senate?).

It is not clear why most governors still retain the unilateral power to fill Senate vacancies. The typical argument is that states are at a large disadvantage if they are even temporarily underrepresented in the Senate. But this argument seems very weak. Why is Senate under-representation so much more disadvantageous than House under-representation that special elections are okay for the House but not for the Senate? Second, the delays associated with a special election need not be that great. After all, in the time Blagojevich has taken to create a market for the Illinois Senate seat, the state of Georgia has already successfully completed a runoff election for Senate. Of course, running statewide special elections are expensive. But it is hard to think of anything as expensive as the debasing of the public trust that appears to have happened in Illinois.