US president-elect Barack Obama’s Cabinet choices have sent change trickling down through state politics, sparking a scramble to replace his nominees that will play out in the shadow of the Chicago scandal over filling Obama’s own Senate seat.
The shift started with the election of Obama and US vice president-elect, Joe Biden, senators from Illinois and Delaware respectively. His Cabinet and White House staff selections created two more Senate openings, as well as two in the House and two in gubernatorial seats, arousing interest from some of the nation’s most famous political families while creating opportunities for less prominent rising stars.
But it hasn’t all been optimism and upward movement.
Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has been charged with trying to sell the Senate seat Obama vacated after his election last month. The scandal has tainted the selection process for that seat and touched the search for replacements for other offices — including the House seat held by Obama’s incoming White House chief of staff, Representative Rahm Emanuel.
Colorado Governor Bill Ritter is three states and 1,600km from the scandal roiling Blagojevich. But that wasn’t far enough to keep the unpleasantness in Illinois from creeping into a press conference about Ritter’s choice to replace another Obama Cabinet pick, Senator Ken Salazar.
Given the Blagojevich scandal, what would the governor do to ensure that Salazar’s replacement is not tainted, Ritter was asked.
“We’ll have a process in place when the process is final,” Ritter said.
Political observers suggested that transparency would be key.
University of Colorado political scientist Ken Bickers said Ritter “will want something so he’s not susceptible to any kind of allegation that it’s a political payoff.”
In Illinois, the legislature earlier this month shelved plans to call a special election to fill Obama’s Senate seat, leaving Blagojevich with the appointment authority for now. But lawmakers also initiated impeachment proceedings against the governor, leaving the status of that seat up in the air.
If Lieutenant Governor Patrick Quinn took over as governor, he could appoint someone, or the legislature could try again to force a special election. A host of prominent politicians are known to be interested, including Democratic Representatives Jesse Jackson Jr, Jan Schakowsky and Danny Davis.
As for Emanuel’s seat, state law requires a special election.
Ditto for the House seat California Representative Hilda Solis will give up if she’s confirmed as labor secretary.
Obama’s designees are fueling another drama in New York. Senate confirmation of his choice of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton to be secretary of state would give Governor David Paterson the power to appoint her successor.
Caroline Kennedy, the scion of a political dynasty who has been very private, indicated she’s interested and Paterson has said he’s considering her. But if she doesn’t work out, he might call on another legacy, New York state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, son of former governor Mario Cuomo.
A key question is who can raise the most money to keep the seat in Democratic party hands in the special election that would follow in 2010.
The scenario is a bit more complicated in Arizona. Obama has tapped Democratic Governor Janet Napolitano to be secretary of homeland security. State law says the secretary of state — in this case Republican Jan Brewer — would be Napolitano’s successor.