The public does not like appointments to elected offices. Whether it’s a group of committeemen, the mayor of a city, or the governor -- the appointment process never seems or feels completely fair. For starters, the preliminary interviews and vetting typically occur behind ...
The public does not like appointments to elected offices. Whether it’s a group of committeemen, the mayor of a city, or the governor -- the appointment process never seems or feels completely fair. For starters, the preliminary interviews and vetting typically occur behind closed doors. Prospective appointees advocate for the job, but only to those who control the appointment decision. The public might hear rhetoric about the criteria for the decision, but is left thinking that the rationale offered is little more than spin.
Normally, once the appointment has been made, there is some initial grumbling about the lack of public input in the process. And no more. But the recent allegations that Gov. Rod Blagojevich sought to sell an appointment to the U.S. Senate has changed the old political calculus about appointments.
Prominent Democrats, Republicans, and editorial boards have opined that this time the appointee should be elected rather than selected. I too have supported calls for a special election. And I continue to believe that a special election is the optimal solution for guaranteeing transparency and public accountability. But there is a considerable downside -- the cost. The bill for a statewide special election could reach $30 million. Not chump change at a time when the state has been forced to borrow upwards of $1 billion to pay its bills.
And that $30 million will have to come from somewhere. Maybe the money will siphoned from early childhood education, workforce development programs, or Medicaid providers.
There is another way. After I am sworn in next month as a member of the Illinois House, I will introduce a bill to create an alternative selection process.
Here’s how it works: The governor will retain the appointment power. However, the governor will be required to submit a message to the House and Senate naming the appointee along with his/her qualifications to serve in the United States Senate. A committee of the House and a committee of the Senate will conduct two public hearings, one in Chicago and one in Springfield, on the qualifications of the appointee. The House and Senate will then confirm the appointee through the adoption of a joint resolution.
The law will apply only to the Obama vacancy and will expire in two years.
The Illinois constitution requires the advice and consent of the Senate on most gubernatorial appointments. (The Legislative Inspector General, for instance, is selected through a resolution adopted by the Illinois House of Representatives and Senate.) In this case, it makes sense to add the approval of the vacant U.S. Senate seat to that list of responsibilities.
Committee hearings are open to the public; the public can testify, submit written testimony, etc. Likewise, floor debates are broadcast on the General Assembly’s website and are also open to the public. As a result, citizens could share their opinions with lawmakers regarding the appointment.
This alternative process is obviously not as democratic as an election. Nonetheless, it would be a dramatic improvement over current law, where one person decides, and the selection is made behind closed doors.
Will Burns is the state representative-elect in Illinois' 26th District.