December 24, 2008


The nation, if not the world, is consumed with snickers and derision regarding the antics of Illinois' very own "Rodiot" -- our idiot governor and his delusion that "vindication" is imminent.

But Rod Blagojevich deserves some credit for insight and a grasp of political reality. An appointment to Barack Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat is, as he stated in the feds' wiretap, "a (expletive) valuable thing. You just don't give it away for nothing."

The "Rodiot," not surprisingly, has no grasp of history. Vacant Illinois Senate seats are not "sold," nor are they given away for nothing. Instead, they're bartered and used as a payback for prior services rendered. They are not auctioned and used as a payoff for future contributions made. Dating back to 1900, three Illinois governors have made Senate appointments, and all the appointments were a payback, not a payoff.

In 1969, when the venerable Republican Senate minority leader Everett Dirksen died, Republican Governor Richard Ogilvie named Illinois House Speaker Ralph Tyler Smith to the vacancy. In 1967, when Ogilvie, who then was the Cook County Board president, was exploring a run for governor in 1968, he needed to both clear the Republican primary field and accumulate some Downstate support. Smith, of Alton, also was pondering a bid for governor.

Dirksen, who was born in 1896, was a chain smoker who was in ill health. He was running for re-election in 1968 to his fourth term. Political insiders knew he would win, but they doubted that he would complete his term through 1974. So Smith and Ogilvie cut a deal: Smith endorsed Ogilvie, with the quid pro quo being that if Ogilvie won the governorship and if Dirksen died during Ogilvie's term, Smith would get the Senate appointment.

Dirksen died of complications from lung cancer on Sept. 7, 1969. Ogilvie kept his word, and Smith got his payback and served in Washington for 13 months. Smith was defeated by Democrat Adlai Stevenson III in 1970.

If Blagojevich wanted to emulate Ogilvie and do a payback, not a payoff, he should appoint the man who essentially made him governor: Alderman Dick Mell (33rd), his father-in-law.

In 1939 Democratic Governor Henry Horner was engaged in a protracted political war with Chicago's "Kelly-Nash Machine," run by Mayor Edward Kelly and county Democratic chairman Pat Nash. In 1936 the "Machine" failed to defeat Horner in the Democratic primary for governor, but its candidate, John Stelle, was nominated for lieutenant governor. In 1938 Horner's candidate for U.S. senator, state tax commissioner Scott Lucas, beat "Machine" candidate Michael Igoe in the primary and was elected.

Horner was incapacitated when he suffered a coronary thrombosis in November of 1938, but he refused to cede authority to Stelle, governing from his bed. When Democratic Senator James Hamilton Lewis died on April 9, 1939, Horner appointed state commerce commission chairman James Slattery of Chicago, his 1936 campaign manager, to the vacancy. That was a payback for past services rendered.

Slattery was defeated in 1940 by Republican Wayland "Curly" Brooks, who got an assist from the "Kelly-Nash Machine," which shaved votes from Slattery in Chicago.

In 1926 Frank Smith of Dwight, who had been the commerce commission chairman under Republican Governor Len Small, defeated incumbent Senator William McKinley in the Republican primary and then won the election. McKinley died after the election but before Smith was sworn in, and Small appointed Smith as his end-of-term replacement.

However, when it was revealed after the election that Smith got $125,000 in campaign contributions from Chicago utility magnate Samuel Insull, a Senate investigation was held and Smith was not seated. The seat remained vacant until November of 1928, a period of 22 months during which Illinois had only one senator. Republican Otis Glenn won the 1928 election.

Illinois Senator Dick Durbin is moaning about the state not having a second member in the Upper Chamber, which affects the ability of the Democratic majority to pass legislation, but harkening back to the 1927-28 period, Illinois had only one senator, Republican Charles Deneen.

Durbin and Senate majority leader Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, have stated that no Blagojevich appointee would be seated, given the taint of his arrest. Yet the legal issue confronting Small was that Smith had been duly elected but not seated, and there was no vacancy to fill, as Smith refused to resign from a seat that he had yet to occupy. Eventually, the U.S. Senate declared the seat vacant.

So the scorecard for appointed Illinois Senators is this: Three chosen, two defeated, and one not even seated.

Here's some insight into the Dirksen appointment:

Dirksen, of Downstate Pekin, defeated Lucas in a 1950 upset due to scandals in Cook County. He became the Senate minority leader in 1959. A shrewd pragmatist, Dirksen cooperated with Democratic presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, supporting the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Act. As a result, Washington Democrats discouraged Chicago Democrats (meaning Mayor Richard J. Daley) from trying to beat him.

Stevenson, whose father had been the Illinois governor from 1949 to 1952 and a presidential candidate in 1952 and 1956, and whose grandfather had served as vice president, won the state treasurer's post in 1966, largely because of his name. He wanted to run against Dirksen in 1968 on an anti-war platform.

But Daley blocked Stevenson at the slatemaking in late 1967 and instead chose state Attorney General Bill Clark, who was supposed to be a sacrificial lamb. However, Johnson withdrew from the election. Riots in the streets occurred after the assassination of Martin Luther King and during the Democratic convention. Clark suddenly declared himself the anti-war candidate, and the war supporter Dirksen had real problems.

Meanwhile, Democratic Governor Otto Kerner, who had been first elected in 1960 and who chaired the 1967 National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, which found that "racial discrimination" caused ghetto riots in 1965 and 1966, dearly wanted to be a federal judge. He didn't want to wait until after the 1968 election, as he might lose or a Republican might win the presidency. So Johnson announced Kerner's appointment to the federal Court of Appeals in late 1967, and he was confirmed in May of 1968. Lieutenant Governor Sam Shapiro was slated for governor, and he succeeded to the office on Kerner's resignation.

Ogilvie, who was the Cook County sheriff from 1962 to 1966, ran as a "reform" candidate for county board president in 1966 and won by a substantial margin. When he indicated an interest in running for governor in 1968, Republican politicians were appalled, as he would forfeit his county post to the Democrats if he won. But with Kerner out of the picture and Shapiro a weak nominee, the lure of a statewide run was irresistible to Ogilvie.

However, there was a problem in the Republican primary. John Henry Altorfer, the 1964 candidate for lieutenant governor, was a wealthy Peoria industrialist, and his premise was that any Republican could beat Shapiro and that Ogilvie should be kept on the job in Cook County. The potential candidacy of Ralph Tyler Smith was thought to be more beneficial to Ogilvie than to Altorfer, as it split the Downstate vote.

Smith had first been elected to the Illinois House in 1954, at age 39. Born in Granite City, he practiced law in Alton, and he became the speaker in 1967. Smith was unknown outside of "Metro East" -- East Saint Louis and environs. Yet he was a power in his area. Ultimately, Smith chose to run for re-election, and he endorsed Ogilvie, who narrowly beat Altorfer. In the election, with a sizable vote in Cook County (courtesy of the Daley Democrats), Ogilvie beat Shapiro by 127,794 votes.

After his Senate appointment, Smith wrapped himself tightly to President Richard Nixon, who was then (along with Vice President Spiro Agnew) traipsing about the country denouncing hippies and student radicals, and proclaiming that the "silent majority" would prevail. The "Chicago Seven" trial of convention demonstrators had just ended, and 1970 featured the Kent State deaths and campus chaos.

Mayor Daley, ever the survivor, recognized the magic of the Stevenson name and didn't care for the prospect of Stevenson running for governor in 1972, so he embraced the liberal Stevenson as the Democratic candidate for U.S. senator in 1970.

Nixon and Agnew made numerous trips into Illinois to stump for Smith, whose deep voice and silver hair gave him a senatorial appearance. Smith tried to tie Stevenson to "radiclibs," Agnew's term for radical liberals, but the bland, bald Stevenson ran as an anti-war Democrat, and he had the support of the "Daley Machine" -- an unbeatable combination. Smith lost by a margin of 545,336 votes, getting only 42 percent of the vote. Even the efforts of Ogilvie couldn't save him.

A final thought: The current rumor in Springfield is that Pat Quinn, when he becomes governor, will appoint former U.S. representative Abner Mikva as senator. Mikva, age 82, wouldn't seek a full term in 2010.