State Rep. Tim O'Brien (D-24) gets a well deserved accolade from Connecticut Local Politics this weekend on his legislation requiring that special elections be held when vacancies occur for the U.S. Senate.
O'Brien saw his proposal die in the 2007 General Assembly with a criticism that his motive was "partisan." Democrats haven't held the Governor's office in a long time and Jodi Rell, the incumbent, would be the sole appointing authority now should Chris Dodd or Joe Lieberman move on before their terms end.
You can't blame O'Brien for bringing up the legislation (filed as HB 5034) again in light of the machinations of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the bipartisan calls springing up in the Land of Lincoln for "Blago's" removal. "Blagojevich, according to FBI-related wiretap sources, wanted to sell Barack Obama's vacated seat to the highest bidder, among other "pay to play", indictable ideas.
U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL)quickly called for a special election. It is a likely scenario that the Illinois Legislature will move quickly to impeach the sitting governor and set a date for an election -- denying the cornered incumbent the chance to appoint or leaving it to the Lieutenant Governor who has called for the incumbent's resignation. An Illinois special election, however, would bring electoral credibility to whoever fills Obama's shoes and certainly promote the idea in other states.
O'Brien, who researched and offered the legislation as a member of the General Administration and Elections Committee (GAE), found it odd that U.S. Representative seats are always filled by special elections but not U.S. Senate seats. There was a time when senators were not elected by the people, but by legislatures. Gubernatorial appointment powers may be a throwback to those days. O'Brien cited the contradictory methods in filing the bill.
"My proposal was simple - let the people decide who represents them." says O'Brien on his blog. "It is already the process we use to fill a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives when someone leaves that office. There is no good reason for why the process for filling vacancies in the U.S. Senate should be any different."
O'Brien intends to file the bill again in the 2009 session. Opponents arguing that the Governor should remain the sole appointing power will be sure to have the Illinois situation thrown back at them.