WASHINGTON - The U.S. Senate's top two Democratic leaders said yesterday that any senator chosen now by Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich would be irrevocably tainted by the allegations of corruption against the governor.
Assistant Senate Majority Leader Richard J. Durbin of Illinois called for the state Legislature to quickly pass legislation for a special election to fill President-elect Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat. Other Illinois lawmakers in Washington went further, calling for Blagojevich's immediate ouster, either by resignation or impeachment.
"This is a sad day for my state," Durbin said. "No appointment by this governor under these circumstances could produce a credible replacement." The Democrat said that if the charges are proved, the governor has "clearly abused the public trust."
House Speaker Michael Madigan said he is ready to convene the Illinois House on Monday to vote on a special election to fill the Senate seat.
Senate President Emil Jones said he was ready to call senators back. "The faith of the citizens of Illinois has once again been shaken," he said.
Durbin said he spoke to one state legislative leader and urged him to work with Republicans to pass legislation providing for a special election by a big enough margin that it could overcome a gubernatorial veto.
Even if Blagojevich resigns and is replaced by Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, the state should shift to a special election, Durbin said. "I really think the process now would be poisoned by the allegations that have been made," he said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called the charges against Blagojevich "as serious a breach of the public trust as I have ever heard."
"It is clear that anyone Governor Blagojevich appoints to the Senate will fairly or unfairly be tainted by questions of impropriety," the Nevada Democrat said. "A different process to select a new senator must be put in place - and that process should not involve Governor Blagojevich."
Chicago Tribune and the Associated Press