The Land of Burris

21 02 2009

Roland Burris once remarked that the slogan of his home state of Illinois may one day change from the “Land of Lincoln” to the “Land of Burris.” That’s certainly sounds bold. But his wish may be temporarily granted as the current face of the state’s reputation for political seediness given his contradictory explanations involving his appointment to the U.S. Senate.

According to the Chicago Sun Times, Senator Burris failed to inform an Illinois impeachment panel in January that he was contacted by then Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s brother for $10,000 in campaign contributions prior to his appointment. But in a sworn affidavit submitted earlier this month he did own up to it.  In the same affidavit he also admitted to having contacted Blagojevich’s top aides about his interest in the Senate seat, even though he said he had no contact with the now ousted governor’s staff when testifying before the Illinois impeachment panel. In December, Blagojevich and his chief of staff John Harris were arrested on bribery charges.

Now with the Chicago and national media world focus trained upon the widening scope of this pay to play scandal many of Chicago’s black clergymen, the Chicago Sun Times, and Illinois Governor Pat Quinn have all rightfully urged him to resign. Senator Burris could have come clean at the January 8th impeachment hearing about the nature of the contacts he had with Blagojevich’s staff in his exchange with Republican State Rep. Jim Durkin. The Chicago Tribune recently published the relevant parts of the testimony:

Durkin: At any time were you directly or indirectly aware of a quid pro quo with the governor for the appointment of this vacant Senate seat?

Burris: No sir.

Durkin: Ok. If you were aware of a quid pro quo, what would you have done?

[snip]

Burris: Rep. Durkin, knowing my ethics, I would not participate in anybody’s quid pro quo. I’ve been in government for 20 years and never participated in anybody’s quid pro qu0

To be sure, the inconsistencies in Burris’s statements do not amount to wronging, but they are enough to warrant an investigation from the Senate ethics committee and a local Illinois prosecutor. But he could have admitted that he was asked about raising money on behalf of the governor and then rebuffed if that’s in fact true. It may have been awkward to admit then but he would at least not be as isolated as he is now.

Perhaps Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada was right to be cautious about the whiff of impropriety of the Senate appointment of Roland Burris by the then already indicted Gov. Rod Blagojevich. “It is truly regrettable that despite requests from all 50 Democratic Senators and public officials throughout Illinois, Gov. Blagojevich would take the imprudent step of appointing someone to the United States Senate who would serve under a shadow and be plagued by questions of impropriety,”  said Senator Reid in a December 2008  press statement believed to reflection the prevailing opinion of all the other Senate Democrats in his caucus.

Of course, Reid, feeling he had no choice but to seat Burris, later relented and even loaned him a trusted aid to help the Illinois senator get situated. Maybe he should have stuck to his guns.

At any rate, like many people, I seriously underestimated the temerity of Roland Burris to even tease Blagojevich’s people with idea of paying for the Senate seat knowing the governor was being wire tapped by the FBI.

Hasn’t he ever watched the Wire?

Oh well I suppose that’s how some people roll in the Land of Burris. Meanwhile Congressman Bobby Rush, a fixture of Chicago’s rough and tumble politics and urged reporters “not to hang or lynch the appointee as you try to castigate the appointor” is maintaining a low profile and said through a spokesperson that he is still waiting for more info.

Umm…yeah.

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