Well, yes, sometimes the ends do justify the means, particularly in politics. With Barack Obama gone, and not another Carol Moseley Braun in sight from Illinois, there was no African American in the U.S. Senate as of Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, 9, 8 and 7 days from the inauguration event of this early century (and the previous three, if truth be told).
So, with significant help from a scheming and desperate governor, Bobby Rush et al basically Mau-Maued themselves a Black U.S. Senator. Until recently, those tactics had been mothballed as ineffective. This time, old school politics worked and Black folk in America are better for it. Hopefully, Mr. Burris, Illinois’ new junior senator at 71 years plus, will be a credit to us all and not another Mr. Connerly on the public stage.
Race shouldn’t have been in it, but as always when people of color are involved, it was. It could have and maybe should have only been a question of law, procedure and protocol. But besides our natural human rights, laws are manmade and always subject to interpretation and selective enforcement. The U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 2, gives the sitting U.S. Senate the authority to evaluate the qualifications of the senators sent to it from each state. It has not been tested in court yet exactly how far that authority extends, ever since U.S. Senators stopped being elected by their state legislatures and gained the right to be elected directly through constituent democracy.
Thus, after embarrassing Mr. Burris for showing up uninvited during the re-opening of the Senate on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of the New Year, the Senate Majority leader, Mr. Reid, reported several conditions that Mr. Burris had to satisfy-remember Jason and the Argonauts and other such quests-including obtaining the signature of the Illinois Secretary of State, testifying before the Illinois impeachment proceedings, and submitting his paperwork to the Senate Rules Committee. Well, that was then, and this is now.
The Illinois Supreme Court held, in a special session, that the Illinois Secretary of State was not required to sign Mr. Burris certification as the legitimate Senate appointee. This was after Mr. Burris’ attorneys sued the state of Illinois in a writ of mandamus action (which means you can sue any elected public official to do his or her job). After that decision, the Secretary of State signed the form anyway.
Mr. Burris testified before the Illinois legislature, and that body reported to the U.S. Senate that Mr. Burris was not apparently involved in any pay-for-play schemes with Governor Blagojevich.
Two quests down, though Mr. Burris seemed too gentlemanly a Jason for this tumult.
By Monday afternoon of the week before the inauguration, Mr. Burris had returned his credentials to the Senate for seating consideration. The Senate leadership, with Barack Obama reportedly indicating that he no longer saw any problem in working with Mr. Burris, was mulling over its options through Tuesday, but it was clear that the die had been cast: Mr. Burris could no longer be denied. He would-and did-become the fourth African American member of the U.S. Senate since Reconstruction, with three of the four coming from one state-Illinois-and the other, Massachusetts (Edward Brooke).
This seating was more than a bit unusual, however, compared to the other three. Those latter just had to contend with the usual racism embedded in American politics and rise above it. Mr. Burris, a civil rights trailblazer in his own right, and a two-time statewide elected official in Illinois, had to battle a deep purple blemish-being appointed by a criminally indicted and impeached governor (and quite probably a soon-to-be-removed from office governor). Guilt by association was definitely in season, so whether Mr. Burris was really qualified to be a U.S. Senator or not was not, at first, significant. Nor had Mr. Burris been the only or the first African American offered the job by the governor. In fact, he had been the third. The first two, including one sitting member of the Congressional Black Caucus from Illinois, refused the governor’s gambit. In came Mr. Burris, who gladly accepted. In his eyes, apparently, good fortune can come from strange places, but one had to be ready to name it and claim however it came to one’s doorstep. And so he did.
The governor clearly had and has his own agenda regarding this appointment, including creating a big mess to take the negative spotlight from himself and trying to provide a legal argument against his impending impeachment and removal trial. For those domino and bid whist aficionados among us, we have all seen someone knock the bones to the floor, or throw his or her cards back into the deck and mess up all the cards, generally to escape from having an extraordinarily bad hand. So, we understand the governor’s move, even though time has shown that neither of those intentions panned out. The governor has stayed in the spotlight, mainly by his own bizarre behavior and a calculated media blitz, and the Illnois legislature has ignored it all and impeached him (and as we go to press, is working on removing him as governor).
But, for that U.S. Senate seat, in came the Black political cavalry, riding up to the big house, sword and Black shield in hand, demanding justice and equity. A gift horse had been presented, and the Black political band wanted it, no serious questions asked or entertained. Principle in this situation had to be held in abeyance. But there is a great historical lesson in all this that too many of us seem to be missing. “Things got goodly from a poisoned fruit can often kill and it won’t be long.”
We shall see. Taking the long view, so far, the excitement of this political period is still going strong. But, “Lawd, have mercy,” it has certainly been exhausting. Stay tuned for more drama, no matter what. “No drama Obama” may work for the new president, but certainly not for those around him. We are in high cotton indeed, this early 2009!
– David Horne, Ph.D., is executive director of the California African American Political Economic Institute (CAAPEI) located at California State University, Dominguez Hills.
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