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January 6, 2009

A Tale of Three Senate Seats

Just a few months after winning a landslide victory that landed them the White House and both houses of Congress, the Democrats have found themselves knee-deep in complications and high drama involving not one, not two, but three different U.S. Senate seats, all in blue states.

The three controversies are not only different from one another but generally unique in recent political history. It appears that one has been resolved, but the other two situations are likely to drag on well after the new Congress actually convenes. At any rate, the party, and the Chamber itself, should feel lucky that control of the Senate doesn't hinge on any of this.

Oddly enough, a recount that has dragged out longer than Florida 2000 did may be the minimal headache of the three. In Minnesota, Al Franken and Norm Coleman have entered their third month of challenge after challenge in their recount battle.

As of this writing, it appears that Franken, the former Saturday Night Live comedian, who was behind on Election Night, will emerge victorious, pending any more legal challenges, of course. Minnesota's Canvassing Board certified Franken the winner on Monday, with a 225-vote lead, although Coleman is still planning an election contest and, failing that, a lawsuit.

The Republican line since Election Day has been that Coleman won and that Franken is "trying to steal" the election – although I don't really understand why. State law mandates a recount for elections within a certain margin, which this one was. Coleman was never declared winner at the time, and Franken exercised his legal right to a recount. How that counts as "stealing" is beyond me. Both sides are attempting to use the law to their advantage – what's wrong with that?

At least no one involved in the Minnesota contest is facing criminal charges, which is more than I can say for Illinois, where Gov. Rod Blagojevich last week named Roland Burris to succeed President-elect Obama in the Senate, despite an effort by his own party to impeach him and threats to refuse to seat Burris.

Blago did so amidst a nauseating press conference during which he loudly proclaimed his innocence. Then the proceedings hit yet another nadir when Rep. Bobby Rush took the stage and implored the public and fellow Democrats to avoid "lynching" the new senator, and all but accused anyone opposing Burris's seating of being on par with segregationists.

It was clear, naked identity politics, argued in supremely bad faith, and it would be offensive were it not so absurd. Is there anyone on the planet who really believes that the Democrats oppose the appointment of Burris not because he was appointed by a crooked governor, but because they're racists who want to keep the Senate all-white? Blagojevich certainly doesn't believe that, and I don't think Rush does either.

I had thought that throwing around casual references to lynching, and comparing of political opponents to Bull Connor, was the sort of bomb-throwing racial politics that had come to an end after last November. It’s to the credit of the Democratic leadership – and to President-elect Obama himself – that none of them fell for it. That's what makes the half-hearted conservative attempts to tie Obama and Blagojevich so laughable. The display in that press conference was about 180 degrees away from everything our president-elect has stood for throughout his career.

There's no alleged criminality involved in New York's Senate circus, just an even bigger media frenzy than either of the other disputed seats. That's because former First Daughter Caroline Kennedy has decided that she wants Hillary Clinton's former seat, and despite having next to no political experience and a skill in interviews reminiscent of Sarah Palin, she appears the frontrunner, even though I've yet to hear anything resembling a convincing argument that she belongs in the seat.

The strangest thing, the race seems to be like one of Saddam Hussein's old sham elections – the choice is between "Caroline Kennedy" and "Not Caroline Kennedy." It's odd that in a huge state dominated by Democratic officeholders, none have made a big play about wanting the seat. It's been over a month since Hillary was picked as Secretary of State, and I've yet to hear any viable alternative emerge.

Count me as against the pick. I'm sure she's a wonderful person and has gone a good job with the various posts she's held. But she in no way is deserving of a U.S. Senate seat. Picking her would open Democrats up to every "limousine liberal elitist" charge there is, and besides, if she wants the Senate seat so much she's free to run, in what should be a lively Democratic primary, in four years.

After last year's marathon presidential election, perhaps its fitting that we've gone into "overtime" on these three seats. But eventually, it might be preferable to get back to the business of governing instead of campaigning. Until the next cycle
starts, that is.


© 2009 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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