Sunday, January 04, 2009

The attacks on Senator Roland Burris

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich exercised his duties by appointing someone to the Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama. His choice is Roland Burris and some people (including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid) think they can refuse to seat Senator Burris.

Let's explore a little Illinois history via the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.

*1950 Gwendolyn Brooks (b. 1917) becomes the first African-American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize; is named Illinois poet laureate in 1968.

*1959 Chicago native Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965) wins the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for A Raisin in the Sun, the first play by an African-American woman to be presented on Broadway.

*1971 Chicago political and civil rights leader Jesse Jackson (b. 1941) founds Operation PUSH -- People United to Save (later Serve) Humanity.

*1979 Centralia native Roland Burris (b. 1937) becomes Comptroller, the first African-American to hold a statewide elective office in Illinois.

From 1950 to 1979, those are the highs, the landmarks for Black History in Illinois. And while there's very little to note for 29 years, Roland Burris has earned his place in that history, along side Rev. Jesse Jackson, Lorraine Hansberry and Gwendolyn Brooks.

Roland Burris is a trailblazer and a pioneer.

Senator Roland Burris

Announcing his decision, Governor Blagojevich declared, "Roland Burris was born and raised in Illinois. He attended school in Illinois, and has represented the State's people both as comptroller and as attorney general. He understands the people's needs. With his experience and knowledge, I believe there is no one better suited to serve as Illinois' next United States Senator."

Like many trailblazers, Senator Burris can point to Howard University, he's a graduate of their law school.

Is there anything wrong with his record? No one's found anything to object to. And as late as 2002, Barack was all on board with Burris -- Politico notes that in 2002, Barack supported Burris in his run for the Democratic Party's gubernatorial nominee. Wow. Barack - It's - the - judgment - Obama supported Burris in 2002 (same year as Barack's groovy speech!) to be the governor of Illinois and people want to pretend Roland Burris isn't qualified to be a US Senator?

White Harry Reid is making noises that he won't seat Burris.

People may not care for our noting "White" Harry Reid but race does play into it and we found it very interesting that, in covering this story, Monica Davey and The New York Times only identify race when it is "Black." If it's "White," that's apparently the norm and not necessary to note. Davey teamed with Rachel L. Swarns for one report last week where they noted:

On Wednesday, four black Democrats in the House said Mr. Burris should be allowed to join the Senate despite opposition to the appointment by Senate Democrats.
Some of those House members warned that black Democratic voters could be angered if Mr. Burris is prevented from taking the seat. Those who called for Mr. Burris to be seated were Representatives Maxine Waters of California, Donald M. Payne of New Jersey, Donna M.C. Christensen of the Virgin Islands, as well as Mr. Davis.
Senate Democrats said they were standing their ground in opposing Mr. Burris because he was chosen by Mr. Blagojevich.

No, they're standing with systematic racism in opposing Roland Burris.

No one disputes that Burris is accomplished and experienced. At the same time Harry Reid states he won't sit Burris, he's gabbing to the press about how he thinks Caroline Kennedy would be the perfect pick to replace Senator Hillary Clinton should Clinton become Secretary of State. Caroline has NO experience.

A Black man with experience, one who has stated he has no plans to run for re-election in 2010, isn't qualified? (Barack was elected in the 2004 elections. His term expires in January 2011.) There have been four Black US Senators in our country's history. Two were during Reconstruction (the time immediately after the Civil War when the country was 'reconstructed'): Hiram Revels was the first (1870, from Mississippi), Blanche K. Bruce (1874, Mississippi), Edward Brooke (1967 - 1979, Massachusetts) and Carol Moseley Braun, the first Black woman elected to the US Senate (1993-1999, Illinois). Since Braun left the Senate at the start of 1999, there has been no Black person serving in the Senate. Barack is not Black. While a person of color, he is bi-racial and not Black. Roland Burris would be only the fifth Black person to serve in the Senate.

Systematic and overt, direct racism is the reason there have been only four Black US Senators. There have been attempts to mind-read Blagojevich to determine why he appointed Burris. Another contender, also Black, came forward to say he was sounded out before.

So some have tsk-tsked that Blagojevich is trying to appoint a Black person just to save his own ass (there has been talk of impeachment for weeks now). Apparently, bored with panty-sniffing through Governor Sarah Palin's garbage, the same crowd now wants to mind-read Blagojevich. Maybe he just grasps the obvious: The US Senate is our Whitest federal institution. Maybe grasping that, he wants to do his part to change it?

What was really sad was to see some of the same people who insist that Hillary's seat must be filled by a woman turn around and attack Blagojevich for wanting to fill the seat of a person of color with another person of color. Ty exchanged e-mails with one such woman last week and, no, she never got it. And besides, she insisted in her e-mail, the press is reporting that Blagojevich is just doing it to save his own ass!

Would that be the same press that distorted Hillary Clinton? The same press that the female blogger spent months calling out for its lies?

It's really sad.

We have not taken the position that Hillary Clinton's seat -- if vacated -- must be filled by a woman. We haven't because C.I. and Elaine know (and like) Andrew Cuomo and are staying out of it for that reason. That's why we highlighted both Carolyn Mahoney and Andrew Cuomo -- both qualified candidates -- last month. We can see the logic in appointing a woman and we can see the logic in appointing the best candidate who might be or might not be a woman.

We know the qualified candidate is not Caroline Kennedy. So does Sol Bellel who is charting that at his site:

But we didn't make an endorsement in New York and we didn't make one in Illinois. We can see the need for more women in the US Senate and for more women and men of color. We're not making an endorsement now.

"How can you say that! This whole article argues that Burris should be the Senator!" Burris is the Senator. The governor of his state appointed him.

All we're arguing is that, having been appointed, Burris needs to be seated.

There is nothing illegal about Burris' appointment. Governor Blagojevich acted within the rights of his office when he made the appointment. If the legislature is not happy that Blagojevich made an appointment, they shouldn't have sat on their asses. They did sit. And maybe Blogjevich is innocent of what's whispered about him? Maybe he's not? He made the appointment.

To refuse to seat Burris is racist.

It's racist because the Senate has traditionally been a White zone. Immediately after the Civil War, two Black men finally made it into the US Senate and, after they were out, it would be almost 100 years before another Black person was a US Senator. Four. That's the 'big number.' Now the Civil Rights movement challenged these Whites Only zones and did so via many tools and methods. One of the most famous was the sit-in.

So when White Harry Reid starts threatening not to sit Burris, it does go to racism. It goes to the historical and systematic racism and it may very well go to racism on Reid's own part since he's made it very clear that the unqualified Caroline Kennedy should be the next senator from New York. That's only making him look more racist as he champions an unqualified White for a Senate seat and attempts to prevent a qualified Black Senator from being seated.

If Harry Reid doesn't like people wondering if he's racist, too damn bad. He brought it on himself by butting in. It is not Harry Reid's business whom New York Governor David Patterson appoints or whom Governor Rod Blagojevich appoints.

The Supreme Court already ruled that it was not the Congress' business whom the people elected. There are two ways to get into the Senate: Election or appointment. (Caroline Kennedy wants to go the third-rail: Buy your way in.) If the Court found that the Congress could not refuse to seat someone elected (Adam Clayton Powell -- funny how the efforts to refuse seating Congress members are always directed at Black people, just a coincidence?), the Court would have to twist logic to find that the second means of admission (appointment) could be evaluated by the Congress after a governor had made the appointment.

Burris is the US Senator. Barack's already resigned. That's why Burris could be appointed. And why this talk of "Paterson's about to announce Caroline!" is crap. If true, Paterson is the buffoon everyone says he is. Not because we'd disagree with the choice (though we would) but you do not appoint someone to a filled seat. Hillary may be the next US Secretary of State. She might not be. She might withdraw her name. Barack might decide he wants someone else. She might be nominated and the Senate might not vote to confirm her. Anything could happen. Her seat is not currently empty.

But Barack resigned. His seat is empty.

A point that did not escape the governor who explained last week, "This state has 12.8 million residents. During a time of economic crisis, they deserve to be represented by the two Senate positions to which they are entitled -- not just one."

Burris is the Senator. The governor has appointed him. The Illinois Secretary of State is attempting to monkey with the rules and avoid certifying the appointment. Ask yourself if anyone thinks they could get away with that if the appointee was Caroline Kennedy?

It is racism.

It's systematic racism and historical racism, absolutely.

But it's personal racism as well and here's how. With Burris, they think they can push him around. Harry Reid and the others think they can ignore him, think they can humiliate him, think they can boss him around and disrespect him. Never happens with a White Senator. It's past time it stopped happening with our Black Senators.

Mike Dorning and James Oliphant (Los Angeles Times) reported last week, "Should Roland Burris show up for duty in the Senate on Tuesday, armed police officers stand ready to bar him from the floor. This cinematic showdown is among an elaborate set of contingencies that Democratic leaders are planning if, as expected, the former Illinois attorney general appointed by Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich shows up with newly elected senators to press his claim that he is the legitimate replacement for President-elect Barack Obama." Again, were Roland Burris named "Caroline Kennedy," you can be sure these threats would never be made. Are we going to need a sit-in to get Senator Burris seated?

While pondering Caroline's scant credentials, this is Burris' most recent resume:

Roland W. Burris, 70, Independent Director since 1996; Chairperson of the Nominating and Corporate Governance Committee. Mr. Burris has been manager and chief executive officer of Burris & Lebed Consulting LLC since April 2002 and of counsel to the law firm Gonzalez Saggio & Harlan LLP since February 2007. Mr. Burris was of counsel to the law firm Burris, Wright, Slaughter & Tom, LLC from April 2002 to February 2007. Prior to that, Mr. Burris was of counsel to the law firm of Buford & Peters LLC from January 1999 to March 2002, and served as the managing partner of Jones, Ware & Grenard, a law firm, from June 1995 to December 1998. Mr. Burris concentrates his practice primarily in the areas of environmental, banking and consumer protection law. From 1973 to 1995, Mr. Burris held various governmental positions in the State of Illinois including State Comptroller (1979 to 1991) and Attorney General (1991 to 1995). Mr. Burris serves on the board of the Illinois Criminal Justice Authority, the Financial Accounting Foundation and the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada. Mr. Burris also serves as president of the National Association of State Comptrollers and president of the National Association of State Comptrollers, Auditors and Treasurers. He is an adjunct professor in the Master of Public Administration Program at Southern Illinois University and chairman of a commission formed by the Governor of Illinois to study and recommend solutions relating to the State of Illinois pension funds.
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