Ill. Ex-Gov. Weighs In On Blagojevich Decision

Former Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson offers his insight into Gov. Rod Blagovjevich's appointment of Roland Burris to President-elect Barack Obama's former Senate seat. Burris served as Thompson's attorney general.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Some reaction to these developments now from a former Illinois governor, a Republican - Jim Thompson. Mr. Thompson is qualified, by the way, in multiple ways to comment in all this. Before his 14 years as governor, from which he emerged completely unindicted, I should add, he served as U.S. attorney for the Northern Disctrict of Illinois and he prosecuted a former governor, Otto Kerner. Welcome to the program, Governor Thompson.

Former Governor JIM THOMPSON (Republican, Illinois): Thank you, sir.

SIEGEL: And first, from a simple point of legality, Governor Blagojevich is not convicted of any crime, he's not impeached, he's still in office. Is his appointment of Roland Burris legal or illegal?

Former Governor THOMPSON: It's legal, completely legal. Look, regardless of what you think of Governor Blagojevich or what you think of what's going on in the politics or the government of the state of Illinois now, as of this moment, Rod Blagojevich is the governor of the state of Illinois. He has not been impeached, he has not been convicted in an impeachment, he has not been convicted of a criminal offense, and he has, under Illinois law, the right and the duty to fill a vacancy in the United States Senate.

SIEGEL: OK. Could you clarify that point for one second? He described it as - more as a duty, as an obligation.

Former Governor THOMPSON: It's both.

SIEGEL: It is both.

Former Governor THOMPSON: I mean, first of all no one would want the State of Illinois to go unrepresented in the United States Senate come next January when the nation faces a staggering series of challenges, and Illinois is entitled to full representation.

SIEGEL: Next question. If the secretary of state of Illinois, if Mr. White, were to refuse to certify the governor's appointment - I believe it is an appointment...

Former Governor THOMPSON: Yes.

SIEGEL: of Roland Burris, would he be acting legally?

Former Governor THOMPSON: Well, look. Let me make it clear. I love Jesse White. I think he's a great secretary of state. He's been a friend of mine for decades, and we have been partners in government together, but the duty of the secretary of state to certify the appointment by the governor to fill a vacancy in the United States Senate is a ministerial duty. He does not have any discretion so long as the appointment comes from a man who is governor at this moment and so long as the appointment is proper according to the form of it. So if the governor sends to the secretary of state a nomination, he is obligated to certify it.

SIEGEL: Well, from what I'm hearing from you, Roland Burris is going to be legally a United States senator from Illinois, shortly, in that case.

Former Governor THOMPSON: Well, and...

SIEGEL: Talk us out of this problem. Tell me how your state gets out of this mess.

Former Governor THOMPSON: What mess?

SIEGEL: The mess that you have a governor who's been called upon by everybody in creation to step down it seems and the Senate vacancy.

Former Governor THOMPSON: Well, look, there are several answers to it. First of all, let's get back to Roland Burris for a moment. The Democratic caucus apparently has said they won't accept him as a senator. Let's be clear about that. They have no power to do that. Forty years ago, the Supreme Court of the United States, in a unanimous opinion, made it clear that the Senate or the House or either, one, can only question a senator or representatives who's been elected or appointed as to their age, their citizenship and their residence. They have no power beyond that to exclude somebody from the Congress.

SIEGEL: And since I'm - it's my fault. I'm running out of time - but you were saying, he has to be seated.

Former Governor THOMPSON: He has to be seated.

SIEGEL: And well, Governor Thompson, thanks for that view of what's happened.

Former Governor THOMPSON: OK.

SIEGEL: Good to talk with you.

Former Governor THOMPSON: Thank you.

SIEGEL: It's Jim Thompson who is the former governor of Illinois, and as you heard, he believes that the nomination, the appointment of Roland Burris to succeed Barack Obama is legal and must take place.

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