WASHINGTON — The Illinois legislature should quickly schedule a special election to fill President-elect Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat rather than leave that power in Gov. Rod Blagojevich's hands, Sen. Richard Durbin said Tuesday.
Blagojevich, a second-term Democrat, was arrested Tuesday in connection with allegations that he sought favors to influence his choice for Obama's replacement.
"No appointment by this governor, under these circumstances, could produce a credible replacement," Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, told reporters in the Capitol.
Durbin, the Senate's second-ranking Democratic leader, said his state faces a messy and uncertain future with Blogojevich holding the power to name someone to finish the last two years of Obama's term. He urged Illinois legislators to pass a bill, by a margin big enough to withstand a Blagojevich veto, to schedule a special election to fill the seat.
Special elections are costly, Durbin acknowledged, but it might be coupled with a special election that will be needed to replace Rep. Rahm Emanuel. The Chicago Democrat will resign his seat soon to become Obama's White House chief of staff.
The Constitution requires House vacancies to be filled by elections. Senate vacancies can be filled by appointment, and Illinois, like most states, gives the power to the governor.
Blagojevich must be presumed innocent until proven guilty, Durbin said, but if the charges against him are true, "he has clearly abused the public trust." He did not call for the governor to resign, citing the innocence presumption.
Durbin said his relationship with the governor has been cordial but not close. Blagojevich waited 12 days to return Durbin's recent phone call requesting a discussion of the Obama vacancy, Durbin said. The two men discussed about 20 possible replacements, Durbin said, and Blagojevich made no hint that he was seeking payments or other favors in making his choice.
Durbin said Blagojevich's arrest should not cast a shadow over Obama's inauguration and early days as president because there was nothing improper in their relationship.
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