By Abdon M. Pallasch
Sun-Times Political Writer
CHICAGO--State political party leaders will get to pick who's on the ballot for the special election to serve out the remainder of Barack Obama's senate term, U.S. District Judge John Grady said Monday.
Grady has not yet signed a final order, but under the framework he outlined at a hearing Monday, The Republican and Democratic state central committees of Illinois would decide who their nominees would be to fill out the last six weeks or so of Obama's term. The Green Party would do the same and independent or other third-party candidates who qualify for the ballot would also be eligible.
Current Sen. Roland Burris and gadfly Republican Andy Martin objected - seeking a more open process, but the judge and lawyers involved in the case noted they are free to seek the slating from their respective party leaders.
It's anticipated that party leaders will stick with the nominees they have for the full six-year terms: Rep. Mark Kirk for the Republicans and State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias for the Democrats,
"I can't speak for the state central committee but I'm confident the nominee will be Mark Kirk," said Republican Party Chair Pat Brady.
Will the Democratic Central Committee allow Burris to present credentials for the spot? Steve Brown, spokesman for Party Chair Mike Madigan, would say only: "We'll follow the direction of the court."
Voters will cast two votes on Nov. 2, one for the full, six-year senate term; one for the remainder of the current term, probably from about Nov. 15 to Jan. 3. But exactly how quickly the state will have to certify the ballot and swear in the new senator after Election Day is something lawyers are still debating.
Rep. Bill Foster was sworn in three days after he won the race to succeed Rep. Denny Hastert. But lawyers for the state and federal government want 14 days after the election for military ballots to come in from overseas.
If the race is close, that might matter, "But most races, it's clear who the winner is the day after the election," said Marty Oberman, the attorney who brought the suit.
Ironies abound in this lawsuit: Oberman and attorney Tom Geoghegan brought in the days after former Gov. Rod Blagojevich appointed Burris to the seat. The theory was that the people, not a politician, should choose the senator. But because the court took so long to rule, and there's no time for a primary election, so politicians will choose.
And while Oberman and Geoghegan are Democrats, the suit could result in Democrats losing their 60-vote majority in the U.S. Senate six weeks early if Kirk or someone else beats Giannoulias in the special election.
The Special election also doubles the amount of money individuals can contribute to candidates for the senate, even more campaign ads can flood Illinois airwaves in the next three months.
As of Monday, Kirk, Giannoulias and Green Party candidate LeAlan Jones were assured spots on the ballot for the six-year term. Eight other candidates have objections pending to their candidacies. If they survive, they would be eligible for the six-week spot as well.
Grady at one point contemplated giving Burris a guaranteed spot on the ballot for the six-week stint but the other lawyers objected and Grady abandoned the idea.