Mark Kirk had a stroke
But remained our Senator
There wasn't much choice
Mark Kirk is recovering from a stroke and has been unable to represent Illinois in the United States Senate. As a result, we've been without half of our representation there for almost a year. Illinois law, and current circumstances, effectively made it politically impossible for Kirk to resign. That's a problem.
It's good news that Senator Kirk was able to climb 37 stories of
Sears Tower Willis Tower earlier this month, and even better news that he is planning to return to the Senate in January. I've been thinking about this situation for a while, but didn't want to seem insensitive to his personal challenges due to his medical condition. Now that it seems the Senator is ready to return to Washington, I thought it would be appropriate to opine.
The problem is that current Illinois law gives total power to the Governor to choose a replacement when a Senator resigns. The power given to the Governor is a big enough problem when there aren't partisan considerations (see: Blago). But with a Democratic Governor in Springfield, Republican Kirk had little choice but to retain his seat because his departure would have changed the partisan makeup of a closely divided Senate.
But this can be fixed.
The rules for replacing Senators are set by each state. When Governor Rod Blagojevich was deciding how to
choose Obama's replacement sell Obama's Senate seat after the 2008 election, Eric Zorn wrote in the Chicago Tribune about the various state laws that control replacement of departing Senators.
Hawaii, Utah and Wyoming have rules that might have allowed Kirk to step aside while limiting any partisan political consequence. In those states, according to Zorn, officials representing the party of the departing Senator submit a list of three candidates to the governor, who must choose from among those candidates for a replacement.
If we had such a law in Illinois, Kirk could have resigned and the Republican Party would have essentially chosen his replacement. It's even possible that, when Kirk was ready to return, the replacement could have stepped aside, and the Republicans could have included Kirk on the list of candidates to replace the "temporary" Senator.
Perhaps the law could provide for a temporary replacement in case of a medical disability like Kirk's, eliminating the need for a second list of candidates to the Governor. Kirk could have taken a leave of absence, the GOP would have submitted a list of potential replacements, and the Governor would have chosen one of the GOP's candidates to serve until Kirk's doctors deemed him fit to return.
Of course, this isn't perfect. The people of Illinois voted for Mark Kirk, not some other choice of the officials of the Republican Party, and intra-party fighting isn't unheard of. We'd also need provisions to ensure the decision to resign or take a leave is made by the Senator, so that an elected official couldn't be removed from office (even temporarily) except in extenuating circumstances.
While I'm a proud liberal, I want to make clear that the ideas I'm expressing here are not intended as a knock on Kirk personally - while I didn't vote for him, the Senator no doubt makes the Republican caucus in the Senate a bit more moderate than it would be without him.
But I think that, all things considered, having two Illinois Senators in Washington is better than having only one. And with the Senator's party providing a list of potential replacements, as suggested here, there would be some limit on the political fallout of such a change.
Do you think it would have been better to have had another Republican representing Illinois in the Senate while Mark Kirk was recovering from his stroke? Or has it been acceptable to lack representation for a year?