Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's last minute request to present a closing argument at the Senate impeachment trial has everyone speculating what he is up to. While there are many good speculative arguments as to what Blagojevich will say, there is one argument that no one anticipates: Will Blagojevich call for a special election or secret ballot?
Illinois already is scheduling a special election for Rahm Emanuel's vacant congressional seat. While that election is only in one district, why not expand the election state wide, in a referendum on Blagojevich. Sounds crazy, given Blagojevich's low numbers in the polls, but it makes sense from multiple perspectives.
From Blagojevich's perspective, he must realize that there is very little chance of a not guilty verdict, regardless of his persuasive skills and the evidence. Few if any Senators would want to be seen voting not guilty. Any chance at surviving a special election is better than Blagojevich's chance of a not guilty verdict. Every day that Blagojevich remains in office, he lives to fight another day. Blagojevich has argued, as have I, that the Senate Rules deprived him of a fair and constitutional trial. An alternative, letting the People decide, is a reasonable solution compared to an unconstitutional verdict which may end up in the Illinois Supreme Court (I repeat, "may," not "will").
From the Senate's perspective, a special election lets individual Senators off the hook. From the questions submitted by some Senators, and the public statements of one Senator, it appears that many Senators understand the weakness of the case presented against Blagojevich. Senators understandably are afraid of saying this in public, for fear of retribution by colleagues and the public. Senators who take their oath "to do justice according to law," should hesitate to cast a vote out of political expedience.
Republicans should be in favor of a special election, since it will give them a chance to run a candidate. Given the controversy regarding the Democrats' refusal to call a special election for Barack Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat, there will be substantial public pressure to let the People decide. This is particularly true where the legislators opposing Blagojevich now supported him in the last election, and stand to gain politically from Blagojevich's removal.
In the event the Senate refuses to stay the proceedings pending a special election, Blagojevich could move to amend the Rules to permit a secret ballot. Again, the People vote in private, why not allow the Senators to vote their consciences? Republicans, in private, should want Blagojevich to stay in office to increase their chances of winning the next election. Some Democrats, particularly those from communities generally sympathetic to Blagojevich, would vote against impeachment as well if freed of political pressure from Blagojevich's opponents. Since a super majority is needed to convict, Blagojevich just might pick off enough votes for a not guilty finding.
Letting the People decide has been a theme pressed by Blagojevich in talk shows this week. Calling for a special election or a secret ballot is a long shot, but it may be the only shot Blagojevich has.