Like a fifteen inning World Series game, the 2008 Senate elections are bound to be memorable by the fact that they continue ten weeks after Election Day. The Merkley/Smith results from Oregon took several days to filter in and determine a victor, while in Alaska the apparent Election Night victory of Ted Stevens turned into a 3% defeat after a recount and the tally of late absentee ballots. Saxby Chambliss groped his 12 year-old niece's breasts in a commercial aired for his early December runoff rematch with Jim Martin, with Sexy Saxby ultimately prevailing. But the aforementioned storylines, which would constitute a historically significant amount of post-election activity on their own, are the tip of the iceberg. The new Senate has been sworn in and the session has begun yet races remain undecided.
First, the presidential election results and subsequent appointments by the President-Elect put a few additional seats up in the air. One of them turned out to be, um, pretty interesting. Others were more mundane. In Colorado, where Ken Salazar stepped down to accept the Interior post in Obama's cabinet, Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter shocked everyone (including Denver Schools Superintendent Michael Bennet) by appointing Denver Schools Superintendent Michael Bennet as his replacement. While this move will have little impact on the current Senate it will make future elections more interesting. Bennet must be considered a weak incumbent and his seat will represent a realistic opportunity for the GOP to make a pickup if they can find a decent candidate.
Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner filled the VP-elect's vacant seat with long-time Biden aide Ted Kaufman in a particularly ham-fisted attempt to set the table for Biden's Iraq War veteran son Beau to run in 2010. Kaufman has already announced his retirement at the end of his mini-term, proving that subtlety is rarer and more precious than moon rocks in Delaware. As the odds of the GOP winning a Senate race in that state are longer than those of Transporter 3 at this year's Oscars, the machinations of Delaware politics matter little in terms of the ultimate outcome.
Obama's seat, well, that's another story. Despite a petition signed by every Democrat in the Senate urging Blagojevich to resign and under no circumstances to appoint a replacement, Hot Rod decided to appoint relatively boring career party hack Roland Burris as a parting "fuck you" to Illinois and the nation. Here's the problem: according to the Illinois Constitution, Burris' appointment is entirely legitimate. Like most states, the Constitution grants the Governor all appointment powers, meaning that various calls for a special election to fill the seat are irrelevant. The State Legislature can't just decide to call for such an election; the Constitution would have to be amended. Secretary of State White has refused to certify the appointment but is similarly bound by the Constitution to do his job. To give the SoS discretion on such a matter would grant him veto power over the Governor, hence the state Supreme Court will eventually order White to rubber-stamp Burris. As they do on every issue Senate Democrats are already caving, recognizing that once the formality of White's signature is obtained Burris has been legally appointed to the letter of the law.
Who are the assholes here? The Illinois General Assembly. They dragged their feet on impeaching Hot Rod, either out of stupidity or the pitifully misguided belief that the man has enough integrity to resign in the face of certain doom. They left him in Springfield and he continued to exercise his authority, essentially calling everyone's bluff. As much as Obama and the Senate Democrats would like to be rid of Burris and his connection to the corrupt Governor forever, the Illinois Supreme Court's impending decision will leave the Senate with no legal basis for refusing to seat him. Shame on Burris for not having the integrity to turn down Hot Rod's offer like so many other Illinois politicians did.
Last but not least we have Coleman-Franken, and we're going to have Coleman-Franken for quite some time. On January 5th the state canvassing board certified Franken as the winner by an improbably slim 225 vote margin. However, John Cornyn of Texas threatened a GOP filibuster of any effort to seat Franken before the Secretary of State certifies official results. I have to agree with him. We, including Franken, can afford to wait until the outcome of the race is indisputably resolved. It's incumbent upon the Minnesota state government to move as quickly as possible to make that happen. Unfortunately Coleman filed a lawsuit on January 6th, meaning that this will ultimately be resolved in court…and not terribly swiftly either. The first hearings are set for January 26. Christ.
Yeah, it looks like the book on the 2008 Senate elections will not be closed for at least a few more weeks. I'm simultaneously amused and irritated by the prospect. I hope the authors of the 2,400 write-in votes in Minnesota (not to mention the 8,900 bedwetters who cast a vote for "Constitution Party" candidate and Richfield cop James Niemackl) are happy with their decisions.