For Immediate Release: September 1, 2009
Paul Fidalgo, communications director - [email protected]
Rob Richie, executive director - [email protected]
In previews of a new tell-all book by Rod Blagojevich, the disgraced former Illinois governor explains his version of the political machinations behind the filling of the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Obama. Blagojevich claims that his original intent for filling the Senate seat blatantly revolved around pursuing "pet projects" favored by the governor--appointing someone who would best represent the people of Illinois was nowhere in the calculation. Blagojevich also alleges that current White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel asked him to appoint a temporary "placeholder" U.S. Representative to his congressional seat, according to an August 31 Associated Press story by Deanna Bellandi.
"Whatever the veracity of the former governor's stories, they showcase how gubernatorial appointments for U.S. Senate vacancies are prone to influence peddling and shady backroom dealing, and nearly always pursued to further the political interests of the governor or governor's party rather than serve the people," said FairVote executive director Rob Richie.
Gov. Blagojevich's allegations involving Mr. Emanuel's ambitions spotlight an important difference between how vacancies are filled for U.S. House seats and U.S. Senate seats: no one has ever served in the House of Representatives without being elected by their constituents. The Constitution explicitly states that appointments to fill House vacancies are not an option, declaring, "When vacancies happen in the Representation from any State, the Executive Authority thereof shall issue Writs of Election to fill such Vacancies."
Currently political leaders of Massachusetts are debating legislation that would allow Gov. Deval Patrick to appoint a Member to the U.S. Senate rather than wait to fill the seat by election. If this legislation passes, by the end of the year nearly 29% of Americans will have an unelected senator representing them in the U.S. Senate. Nearly a quarter of all U.S. Senators were first appointed rather than elected in the years since passage of the 17th amendment requiring direct election of U.S. Senators.
Said Richie, "Our constitutional founders grounded representation in the U.S. House on the fundamental principle that Members should be elected rather than appointed. They did so at a time when the U.S. House was much smaller than today's Senate and when some states had only one House Member. Elections may sometimes seem inconvenient, but they keep voters in control. We would do well to follow the founders' example and enact measures to ensure that everyone who serves in the U.S. Senate does so through election by the people of their state."
* * * *
Established in 1992, FairVote is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that educates and enlivens discourse on how best to achieve a democracy that respects every voice and every vote. We pursue innovative research, strategic outreach and civic education in order to promote fair access to political participation, fair elections, and fair representation. For more information, contact communications director Paul Fidalgo at [email protected] or (301) 270-4616.