Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Replacing Governor Blagojevich

Today's top news story, at least in Illinois, is that Governor Rod Blagojevich has been arrested on a panoply of corruption charges.  I'm not going to opine on the likelihood that he's guilty, at least not now.  I'm more interested in what happens now to Illinois state government, especially considering that we've got an open senate seat right now (which is apparently related to the charges, sad to say) and all sorts of problems for which we really could use an effective state government.  That's a bit challenging when your governor is in FBI custody.

The governor of Illinois is elected to a four year term; the last election was in 2006 and the next will be in 2010.  The state constitution provides that the lieutenant governor (currently Pat Quinn) takes over in the event that the governor is unable to serve because of death, conviction on impeachment, failure to qualify, resignation, or "other disability".  There's also provisions that allow the governor to transfer power temporarily to the lieutenant governor.  As far as I can tell, these are the limit of the ways to remove the governor from office (although "other disability" is not defined in the constitution and I haven't found a statute that clarifies this yet).

Let's look at the options for removing the governor, then.  Death and "failure to qualify" are nonstarters; while a lot of people really dislike Blagojevich, I doubt assassination is a significant probability, and he seems to be in decently good health. Further, he pretty clearly seems to meet the relatively minimal qualifications for the office (25 years of age and three years a resident of the state).  That leaves impeachment, resignation, and "other disability".

Of course, Blagojevich could resign, but I really don't expect him to.  The charges against him and his recent public comments quite frankly leave me wondering about his competence, and so while by all rights he should resign, he should also have known that he was under federal investigation (according to one radio report I heard, he's been subject to wiretaps for nearly two months now) and yet continued to behave as if there was no cause for concern.  So that leaves options for involuntary removal.

Of course, I would prefer that he be impeached.  There's a problem with that.  In order for the legislature to impeach the governor, it has to be in session; it's not right now and won't be again until January 12, 2009, when the 96th Illinois General Assembly, which was elected last November, will meet for the first time.  Of course, the constitution provides for special sessions.  Most special sessions in Illinois are called by the governor, but of course it's unlikely that the governor will call a special session so the legislature can impeach him.  But there's another option: under Article IV, Section 5, the presiding officers of the two houses of the outgoing 95th General Assembly (being Senate President Emil Jones and Speaker Michael Madigan) can convene a special session of the lame-duck legislature by joint proclamation.  So that's one way, and probably the only effective way, we can get rid of him without his active cooperation.

The other option would be under the "other disability" clause.  There's some guidance to be found in 10 ILCS 5/25-2, which sets forth conditions under which an elective office becomes vacant.    Being arrested doesn't seem to be enough, although being convicted would.  Unless Blagojevich pleads guilty at his arraignment today (which I deem highly unlikely), I imagine it'll take several months at least to convict him, so this doesn't provide much help either.

There is probably also a procedure for some group of people in the executive branch to declare that the governor is temporarily unable to perform his duties, similar to the federal process set forth in the 25th Amendment.  However, I haven't yet found a state law that sets forth that process.  Pat Quinn is supposed to have a press conference this afternoon, and I imagine there will be some discussion on that issue then.  (Update: Based on comments Pat Quinn made in his press conference, there is a process by which the Illinois Supreme Court may determine that the governor is temporarily unable to perform the duties of his office.)

Personally, I'd like to see him impeached, and quickly.  I would like to have two senators again, and the best way for that to happen is for us to get Blagojevich out and Pat Quinn in.  I think it's likely that Speaker Madigan will support impeachment; the question is whether Senate President Emil Jones, widely regarded as an ally of Blagoyevich, will also do so.  And of course it's always a challenge to get a lame-duck legislature to do anything.

As a side note, there is no provision for filling a vacancy in the office of Lieutenant Governor; the constitution mandates that the office remain vacant should it become vacant.  If both the offices of Governor and Lieutenant Governor become vacant, the Secretary of State (currently Jesse White) becomes acting governor and is required to hold a joint special election within 60 days to fill both offices.  So if Quinn does succeed Blagojevich, we'll be without a lieutenant governor until 2011.