Governor ROD BLAGOJEVICH (Democrat, Illinois): Please don't allow the allegations against me to taint this good and honest man. Ladies and gentlemen, Roland Burris.


Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich announcing his appointment of Roland Burris to President-elect Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat. Studs Terkel, also a Chicagoan, once said Chicago politics are no more corrupt than in other cities, just more theatrically corrupt. And here to talk about the latest theater is Roger Simon of And I guess you watched that press conference. What did you make of it?

Mr. ROGER SIMON (Chief Political Columnist, I did. Yeah, it was high theater. Studs was right. But it was also sad. I mean, the people of Illinois have gone through quite a bit when you think about it. In my lifetime - I grew up in Illinois - there have been three governors who have gone to prison. That's quite an embarrassing record.

And this whole kabuki dance that's playing out in front of the American people, I think it is intentionally embarrassing to the people of Illinois. I mean, in New York, a governor resigned, Eliot Spitzer, and he wasn't even accused of a crime. He was just caught, you know, consorting with prostitutes, but he had the decency at least to give up his office.

We're involved in a real constitutional clash between not just the three branches of government, executive, legislative, and judicial, but between federal authority and state authority. I called it a clash instead of a crisis because I don't think we should be so quick to buy into Governor Blagojevich's argument that he had to do something - he had to make this appointment because otherwise, there would be a crisis because Illinois would have only one senator, and it can't survive with one senator.

BRAND: Right. And in fact, in Washington, Senate Democrats said that they wouldn't seat Roland Burris. Nothing against him personally, but just because he was appointed by Blagojevich. And then the press conference got even more surreal, at least to people who don't normally go to Chicago press conferences, and when Bobby Rush, Congressman Bobby Rush was in the audience, and he was called up to the podium to make some comments, and then basically accused Senate Democrats of being racist if they denied this African-American his Senate seat.

Mr. SIMON: It's the worst possible argument you want to hear it if you are the incoming president, Barack Obama. Barack Obama's case to the American people was not, you have to elect me and make me the first African-American president. And to hear Bobby Rush say, no senator could possibly vote against Roland Burris because it would be a lynching if they did is just not the message that the president-elect wants to send.

And in fact, the president-elect from Hawaii was very quick to issue a very clear and unequivocal statement saying he has nothing against Roland Burris, but Roland Burris should not take this seat. Rod Blagojevich should resign, and in fact, the Senate should refuse to seat any choice made by Governor Blagojevich. The Senate has now been given a cover by President-elect Obama to say, look, if President-elect Obama says we can vote against Roland Burris, then I guess we can vote against Roland Burris.

BRAND: Just on a lighter note, you have a photo up at of a giant tomb Roland Burris has built in a cemetery for himself and his family, and it's emblazoned with the word trailblazer on it.

Mr. SIMON: Yeah. And he left room because he was hoping they could also engrave governor on it. I mean, Roland Burris is not a bad guy in Illinois terms simply because he served three terms as comptroller and one term as attorney general and was never indicted for anything. He's been out of politics for a while, and you can see from his point of view, this is my way back in. In retrospect, I think he's going to regret having accepted it.

BRAND: Roger Simon, senior correspondent at, always great to talk with you. Thank you.

Mr. SIMON: Thank you so much.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.