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January 5, 2009, 3:15 P.M.

Illinois State appointee Roland W. Burris is headed to Washington for what it appears will be a less-than-cordial reception. Burris, who has been appointed to the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Obama by embattled Governor Road Blagojevich, claims that he will aggressively fight any attempts by the Senate to avoid seating him.

In reality, the Senate should have no choice. Burris has been duly appointed by the still-sitting Governor of Illinois and he has his appointment papers in hand. There is nothing to suggest that the appointment procedure is illegal or improper, or that any other legal impediment exists that would block Burris from taking his seat.

It may be important to remember at this point that, while allegations have been leveled against Blagojevich at this time, he has not been convicted of any crime or impeached by the State legislature. Until the Governor is removed from office or resigns, he is still the Governor with the full power and authority of that office, including the authority to fill Senate vacancies. It may also be important to remember that, as bad as the charges against Blagojevich may look, he remains innocent until proven guilty.

There may be a lot of fuss in the next few days around this appointment, but I expect that Roland Burris will be seated. The Senate has really got no option. There is no legal basis to deny him and the political fallout would be devastating to the new Democratic majority. Of course, there is also the race card which Burris and his supporters are playing with zeal. Just this morning, the talking heads on MSNBC pointed out how bad the Democratic leadership will look if “99 white guys” line up against one, duly elected, black Senator from Illinois.

Of course, this angle is not lost on Burris’ supporters back at the New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago, where Burris enjoyed a rousing sendoff from friends and supporters. You also have to give credit to Blagojevich for an appointment which, while controversial, will ultimately stick.

The appointment will no do Burris much good in the long run because his re-election would seem unlikely, even without the cloud of Blagojevich. Burris has been unsuccessful in several elections (including mayor of Chicago and State Representative) and his support does not seem widespread enough to make him a legitimate candidate. He might have actually improved his chances at an election if he had declined the appointment.

His aggressive playing of the race card suggests that Burris is really interested in carving “U.S. Senator” on his elaborate tombstone, and that he may not be looking at the long game. In the end, his lukewarm credentials, the Blagojevich appointment, and an over-aggressive use of race as leverage into the seat will weigh against him.


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